Earlier this month, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) sat down with Jan Markell, radio host of Understanding the Times, and discussed President Barack Obama’s September decision to support vetted Syrian rebels, who she calls terrorists, with equipment and training. In this discussion she said,
“This happened and as of today the United States is willingly, knowingly, intentionally sending arms to terrorists, now what this says to me, I’m a believer in Jesus Christ, as I look at the end times Scripture, this says to me that the leaf is on the fig tree and we are to understand the signs of the times, which is your ministry, we are to understand where we are in God’s end times history.
“Rather than seeing this as a negative, we need to rejoice, ‘Maranatha Come Lord Jesus’, His day is at hand. And so when we see up is down and right is called wrong, when this is happening, we were told this; that these days would be as the days of Noah. We are seeing that in our time. Yes it gives us fear in some respects because we want the retirement that our parents enjoyed. Well they will, if they know Jesus Christ.”
When I heard this, I sighed. What is with the fundamentalist obsession with the end times? Check out these recent statistics:
- 67% of evangelicals believe natural disasters are signs the end is near (vs. mainline Protestants 34%, Catholics 31%)
- 77% of evangelicals believe we’re living in the end times (vs. mainline Protestants 54%, practicing Catholics 45%)
The constant amending of end times timelines with every new middle eastern news story is unhealthy, ridiculous, and replaces the Gospel’s good news with obsession, apprehension, and fear.
Here are 3 reasons I take apocalyptic teachings with a grain of salt:
1. There is more than one interpretation of biblical eschatology
Believe it or not, neither Left Behind or The Late Great Planet Earth represent the final word in eschatology. Orthodox Christianity is woven from a rich tapestry of teaching on Daniel, Revelation, and other end-times literature in the Bible—and it’s not all one-world governments and raptures.
The honest truth is that, while the Pre-Tribulation influence in social and political circles grew in the last 30 years, it has not been the interpretation of choice historically or in a majority of mainline seminaries.
2. Interpretation is constantly being rewritten to accommodate current events
The weakness of so many end-times teachings is the constant scrambling to repackage and reinvent the message. As the Cold War came to an end, many teachers had to scrap their complicated scenarios and attach new significance to Scriptural imagery—and the consumers of these teachings pretend like these faulty predictions never happened.
Looking back over my lifetime, I can remember so many little events that were suppose to be significant—and weren’t:
- Iran Hostage Crises (1977)
- The Cold War (approx. 1947–1991)
- U.S. Bombs Libya (1986)
- Black Monday (1987)
- Gulf War (1990)
- Collapse of the Soviet Union (1991)
- Y2K (2000)
If you were privy to the Christian teaching surrounding Y2K, you know how it helped manufacture fear and anxiety surrounding a non-event. Consumers of these teachings poured hard-earned money and energy into preparing for something that never happened (sometimes buying merchandise sold by people teaching this eschatological nonsense). If there’s anything about this issue that actually makes me angry, it’s the fact that these teachers pocketed their royalties and moved on to new books. No one seems to be holding these teachers responsible for their teaching.
Don’t get me started on the number of people who have been accused of being the Anti-Christ.
3. Every generation thinks they’re living in the end times
It’s true. Look at this Wikipedia list of apocalyptic predictions; these predictions are not particular to Christians.
I think it’s important to note that standing on the street corner yelling, “THE END IS NEAR” is not an exclusively Christian message. We need to be thoughtful about the way we discuss eschatology, otherwise in the eyes of the world, we’re lumped in with with the Sun Myung Moons and Heaven’s Gate Cults of the world.
To focus on the sensational, speculative aspects of biblical prophecy undermines the message that is uniquely Christian—hope.
I’m sure many will disagree with me, but if your message encourages more anxiety than hope, you’re doing it wrong.
All Scripture is important and prophecy plays an integral part in the biblical canon. In fact, it’s too important to communicate with speculation and sensationalism.
I’d love to hear about your experience with prophetic teaching in the church? Disagree with me? Tell me about it.