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3 Reasons To Be Skeptical of End Times Teachers

endisnearEarlier 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.

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16 Responses to “3 Reasons To Be Skeptical of End Times Teachers”

  1. As I mentioned, the stories I could tell. . . As a kid, my father took my mother and me to see Thief in the Night. It changed our lives. After seeing that movie, I was scared stiff. What got me to that altar call wasn’t the love of Jesus, but fear, fear of the rapture, fear of judgment, fear of getting beheaded by the police state. In the years to follow, I would have this anxiety about whether I was really saved. I would come home, not finding my mom (who was working in the yard or cleaning the closet), I would think that she had been raptured and I was left behind. Focusing on the end times, pushes people to God for the wrong reason, and with a misunderstanding of God’s love and character.

    In the years to follow, my dad became increasingly immersed in End Times theology. We attended Calvary Chapel, where Chuck Smith constantly taught that the end was near. He really thought that Jesus was coming back during the 1980’s. Jesus would come back within 40 years of Israel becoming a nation. Each year, we had these “updates” in prophecy, where Smith shared about world events and tell us how prophecy was being fulfilled. (I think Hal Lindsey of the “Late Great Planet Earth” shared many of the same things) Each year brought a new interpretation of scripture and people just soaked it in. This focus on End Times led some churches to adapt Christian Zionism. I was often told growing up, how Israel is always right. If you wanted to be blessed, you should bless Israel. Supporting Israel became more important than loving our neighbor. Even when Israel was wrong, they were right. Threats of war and destruction in the Middle East were celebrated, because this was a prelude to Jesus’ return. The crazy thing is that I see a lot of this same teaching today. We never learn our lesson.

    I know that some people might disagree, but in my opinion, churches that focus on End Times totally get God’s heart wrong. Instead of loving today, and caring today, and having compassion today, Christians focus on the end times. They focus on making a decision for Jesus, rather than living for Jesus, because that “one decision” is going to get you in the rapture. So much damage has been done to so many people as a result.

    That said, let me say, “Yes, I believe Jesus will return someday.” How will I prepare myself for his return? By trying to love others, and sharing His grace, by being a good steward of the earth, by praying for and living out His peace in my life.

  2. There is only one INTERPRETATION of eschatology. There are many UNDERSTANDINGS of it. As it is written: No Scripture is of any private interpretation.

    Before 1830, most Christians were either post-millennial or amillennial. Those who WERE pre-millennialists didn’t believe in the secret rapture, but rather what is referred to today as post-tribulational.

    Let’s face it folks: Sensationalist prophecy brings in the big bucks. Look in your local Christian bookstore and I guarantee you will find lots and lots of rapture books, but few books like David Chilton’s PARADISE RESTORED or Kenneth Gentry’s BEFORE JERUSALEM FELL.

    One book I do think has some merit is Jonathan Cahn’s THE HARBINGER. It’s not really eschatological in nature, but does warn of coming judgment on the US for its national sins. It’s not a huge tome, and it’s written as a piece of fiction with Scriptural undertones.

    Most of the Rapture crowd needs to be embarrassed by guys like Edgar Weisenant (false prophet) and Harold Camping (false prophet). Unfortunately, they’re not. That’s the sad part.

    Jesus will come when He comes. Even He doesn’t know when the Father will send Him back. There is even a select few who believe that the Second Coming occurred in 70 AD. (I think they’re wrong, but they believe it.) Personally, I believe the destruction of Jerusalem kicked off the millennium and that the coming of the atomic bomb ended the millennium and that we’re now in the War of Gog and Magog as outlined in Revelation 20.

  3. Besides turning faith into apprehension and obsession, I think focusing on the End Times just didn’t fit with the actual message of the Gospel. The real victory is Jesus overcoming death on the cross and gaining salvation for the world. We’re called to be a people of joy and hope. I also think you nailed it on the head with every generation thinks they’re living in the end times. That’s what the Book of Revelation says to me. Every generation is tested in their faith and their love for one another, and blessed be they who hold firm in every tribulation.

  4. The Book of Revelation is primarily the story of the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 to bring in the promised Messianic Kingdom and punish apostate Israel, except for the 20th chapter.

  5. I had a great pastor who used to say this and only this about the End Times: “I think we are closer to the end times than we ever have been before.”

  6. Most of my childhood was in fear of the second coming. There was so much I wanted to do. Of course guilt would kick in. To think that way was sin and defying God’s Sovereignty. Why wouldn’t I want Jesus to come back? The world is so horrible. My Mom would tell me not to worry about it. Only God knows the day and the hour. Live like it will be tomorrow and live like it will be decades from now. My Grandma, EVERY major news event

    Then I grew up.

    Now, I think Revelation will happen when and however it happens. I will worry when there is peace in Israel. Until then, I will live each day touching the lives around me with his love because that is what matters.

    Remember what Screwtape tells Wormwood something along the lines of this-Keep the patient in the future or the past. It is when he lives in the present that he touches the future.

  7. Jayson, I am old enough to remember the 6-day war with Israel in 1967. I was at Campus Crusade for Christ headquarters later that summer and heard Hal Lindsay say this is a true sign of the end. The next summer, 1968, after riots, assasinations (MLK, RFK), Soviets into Czechoslovakia, a Christian leader told me “this is the year the Lord is going to return.” Did I miss something?

  8. Did you ever read the scripture that says “Lord, Lord, we cast out demons in your name, and healed the sick, and caused the blind to see, and did all these great WORKS in your name”, but the Lord will say unto them “get away you workers of iniquity for I never knew you”. I think that this is referring to the end times. We have to understand that the mind of Christ and the only commandant given to us in the new testament, “love your neighbor as I have loved you”. That is a hard thing to do, to love a stranger enough to give your life for theirs. We get so caught up in things your supposed to do or not do, instead of focusing on living a TRUE CHRISTIAN LIFE living to love people in a Godly sense, and living with our lives bearing the fruits of the spirit. Who cares if you can allow God to heal somebody through your hands, its STILL HIM DOING IT, but many folks “DO WORKS”, yet works do not get you into heaven…. Its not about what you do, or what you don’t do… Its about why you do what it is you do, to give glory to God, and further His kingdom, or to bring glory to yourselves and to make money off of people in times of crisis… I don’t want to be one of those people gnashing teeth and weeping at the gates of heaven because I had a form of Godliness, but no real Godly love… We cannot serve two masters..

  9. AGREED. I was almost out of college before I learned that Left Behind wasn’t the one, definitive Scriptural truth. :P I see end-times mania as a huge waste of energy, and a big distraction from our callings in the present. More often than not it’s pure fearmongering. I figure that God will end the earth as we know it however He likes regardless of our interpretations, so I’m not going to worry about it!

  10. Great post, as usual.

    I do agree with you in that it is rather sickening to hear so much false teaching in the world today (not like that has always been a issue or anything). The scariest part is that there seems to be more and more Biblically illiterate members in our churches, and then when someone ‘brings forth a word’, they take it as directly from the mouth of God. But my question would then be, how do you suggest we go about dealing with these individuals (or perhaps groups) that seem to be bringing forth a pile of crap and then adding the tag “thus sayeth the Lord”?

    I personally would like to go all 1 Timothy 1:20 on them, but some may see that not fitting.

    What do you suggest we do differently? And other thoughts?

  11. Jayson,

    I was converted via the radio ministry of Harold Camping about the time of his very first failed end-of-the-world prediciton back in 1994. The turmoil, confusion and denials by Camping were enough to cause a church split. A bunch of us wised up and left. Camping’s prediction failed, then we listened as Camping re-invented his eschatology almost daily as each new tweaking of his prediciton also failed.

    Many people were terrified, the church leaders had their phones ringing off the hook, and many others gave their life savings to Camping’s radio ministry, never having it returned after each failed prediction. Although it was a truly sad part of my life, I feel like I learned a great deal and also how to watch out for false teachers in the future.

    • Thanks for sharing your story, Steve. The lack of accountability on Camping’s part regarding the number of people who have turned their lives upside-down for him breaks my heart.

      I am thankful that, crackpot or not, his ministry has borne some fruit in you.

  12. Sometimes end-times stuff kinda comforts me, and keeps me going. Like “just hold on a little bit longer and Jesus will rescue me” type stuff. Sometimes end times mania is used to whisk people out of their every day troubles and give them a manic hope, a hope nonetheless, but still a manic hope. Hey, it can hinder, but also can comfort. Jesus please come, I know he will, and if I wanna keep my eyes on the middle east to remind me, I will, because sometimes that is the only hope I have in such a dark depraved world.

    Sorry, all this seems like babble. I dont even understand it myself, lol! :)

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