As Long as We Approach the Bible This Way, We’re in Trouble


I will confess: I have been away from this kind of thinking for quite awhile now, so whenever I hear a clear example of it, I am almost shocked at how silly it sounds to me at this point in my journey.

I saw a post recently by Pastor/Evangelist Greg Laurie with this title:

Where is the United States in the End-Times Scenario?

For those of you who don’t know, I was once immersed in the world of fundamentalist Bible teaching that grew out of the Scofield Reference Bible and the dispensationalist approaches taken by schools like Dallas Theological Seminary. But even back when I was in that world, topics like this annoyed me because I didn’t find anything in the Bible that seemed to resonate with such a question.

Even back then I think I might have responded to such a query with an answer like this: “Because the Bible is not about America and its prophecies are not detailed “news reports” of the events of our day cloaked in ancient language.”

But before we get to what I have to say, let’s see how Greg Laurie handled this issue.

First of all, he starts by assuming that modern nations are part of the prophetic teaching of Scripture:

It is interesting to note that a number of nations are mentioned in the Bible that will be active in the last days. Libya is mentioned by name. Persia, which became modern Iran and Iraq, is mentioned. Ethiopia is specifically mentioned. Quite possibly China and Russia are mentioned. And certainly Israel is mentioned. But the one nation that is strangely absent is the United States of America.

Second, he assumes the absence of the U.S. from prophecy means bad news for the nation. Laurie suggests that the U.S. might be destroyed in a nuclear war. This enables him to bring up the enemy du jour, the terrorists and rogue states that might get hold of a weapon and use it against us. He also suggests an internal collapse, giving him the opportunity to express concern about the “soul” of our country and go to preaching against the common contemporary moral concerns of the religious right:

As our country becomes more and more secular, systematically eliminating God and the Bible from our education system, courts, and the arts we will begin to reap the inevitable results of sin. We will begin to rot from the inside.

Historian Will Durant pointed out that a great nation is not destroyed from the outside until it has first fallen apart on the inside. Certainly you can see the moral decay in America today. The Bible says, “Godliness makes a nation great, but sin is a disgrace to any people” (Proverbs 14:34 NLT). If we forget God and abandon the Bible, which is his Word, then we will reap the inevitable results of sin. I think to some degree, we already have as we have seen the breakdown of the family, rampant crime and so many other problems that have come from disobeying God.

What once was freedom of religion seems to have now become freedom from religion. We have succeeded in getting God out of our schools, out of our sporting events, out of our public places and out of our workplaces.

Christmas – which was once, at least to some degree, a celebration of the birth of Jesus – now has simply turned into Happy Holidays and Seasons Greetings and for some, even winter solstice. Good Friday and Easter, which are times to remember the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus, have now turned into spring break.

And why would one ask specifically about the U.S. anyway? That betrays a great deal of national hubris on the part of the questioner and the preacher who thought it a worthy inquiry. Sure we’re the world’s biggest superpower at the moment. And perhaps that’s it. Everyone’s being told that we’re living in the “last days,” and the U.S. is so prominent in the world today — why then aren’t we mentioned?

There are so many wrong assumptions bound up in the question alone.

Laurie’s third possibility strains credulity even further than some of his other points. He says perhaps the U.S. will have a massive revival that will result in a significant percentage of the population getting saved. Consequently, when the Rapture occurs, the infrastructure of U.S. will be so weakened because of the absence of those Christians that it will simply collapse.

Finally, Greg Laurie concludes his message by calling his listeners to pray that the U.S. will “turn back to God.” This gives him the opportunity to repeat the standard historical assertions of the Christian Right — that the U.S. is a Christian nation, founded upon biblical principles, whose founders “called upon God” in the early days of the country. The subject of prophecy disappears completely from the message at this point. In true form, the evangelist calls us to return to the old ways that presumably brought God’s blessing upon us in the past, and forsake the wayward paths we’ve since taken.

* * *

As long as we approach the Bible this way, we’re in trouble. Unfortunately, this kind of prophetic teaching is still all too popular in fundamentalist and conservative evangelical churches and organizations. It turns the Bible into a giant puzzle book of detailed divine plans for the future. In combination with a moralistic approach that sees the Scriptures as “God’s instruction book for life,” it creates Christians and institutions that separate from the world in all the wrong ways and set their minds on teachings that are esoteric and and in some cases, simply silly.

Such cartoonish eschatology mirrors the craziness of much YEC creationist teaching. The end is like the beginning. And you will note that evangelists use both to promote the agenda of the religious right.

To think that the Bible was written to talk about modern nations and specific historical events in our day or in the future is a big stretch. Most of the prophecies in the First Testament find their fulfillment in the return from exile and the coming of Messiah. Most of the prophecies in the New Testament look forward to the fall of the Jerusalem and the subsequent extension of the Gospel to the ends of the earth. There is a final eschatology, but its details are difficult to envision or describe with specificity. Many of us are loathe to go too far beyond our creedal commitments when speaking of the future:

He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.
…We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

One would hope that contemporary scholars and theologians like N.T. Wright, Scot McKnight, Andrew Perriman, and others will have a wider hearing in the church and we can leave these remnants of dispensational theology and its heirs behind.

Left behind. One can only hope.

* * *

Note: For more on my journey from dispensationalism, see the post, “Time to Leave Behind the Rapture.”

For a saner and more biblically grounded message, check out “The Road to New Creation,” a sermon by N.T. Wright.

152 thoughts on “As Long as We Approach the Bible This Way, We’re in Trouble

  1. Actually that great dispensationalist (hee hee!) theologian Karl Barth made the connection between reading the Bible and the newspaper.


  2. July 27, 2013

    Guys, I’ve been in this stuff too over my short 49 years upon this terrestrial ball – I was raised in dispensationalism via my dad’s interest in it plus that was my rural SBC church’s position as well. We even had a copy of the book – The Dispensational Truth in our home library so yes I’ve seen/heard it all and my dad now in his late 70s still swears by the dispensational idea of end times – I do not which I think baffels him at times.

    As to the conspiracy issue…… I must confess I do read and listen to several persons that would fall in that catagory based on general end times positions here however, I find it very interesting. My biggest issue with many of the conspiracy guys/gals is that many of them have made claim, after claim after claim that “such and such / this or that” is to happen/will happen yet many of those things have not happened while some have and some will but generally most haven’t possibly won’t – I just find all of it interesting and occasionally you might find a little grain of truth stuck in there somewhere and that in itself is scary because one can take a truth and build something around it that gets out of control to the point that the original truth it was based on is nowhere to be found.


  3. Yes, one of the great ironies of ignorance-based theology is the charismatic/Pentecostal embracing of dispensationalist eschatology! Dispensationalism, by definition, denies virtually everything that charismatics see as distinguishing themselves from other evangelical Christians. It systematically eliminates the possibility of “sign gifts,” healing, or prophetic words of comfort & knowledge, tongues, and virtually any other ‘supernatural’ manifestations of the Holy Spirit after the completion of the first apostolic generation and the biblical canon of scriptures. Yet the eschatological system of pre-trib rapture and all that, which had never before appeared in 2000 years of Christian theology, until it was invented by the dispensationalists in the 19th century, is held by Pentecostals, of all people ! Doesn’t make sense.


  4. yes, crime is WAY down. Laurie apparently doesn’t know that. Also he (and other right-wing evangelicals who equate Republican economics with bringing in the Kingdom) apparently don’t associate the coming judgment and fall of the nation with the neglect and in fact direct abuse of the poor by the ever-increasingly rich tiny percentage of the top profit-earners (not accurate to call them “wage earners”). Yet Scripture, particularly the prophetic scriptures, always taps this reason as among the most consistent bases for God’s judgment on nations. Why don’t those who espouse right-wing economic policies see that their own anti-society preference for an increasingly divided American people is right at the center of the target of biblical warnings of judgment?


  5. There are a LOT of “67th Books of the Bible” out there, superseding the other 66. From Late Great Planet Earth to Atlas Shrugged.


  6. In any age, if you look hard enough, you can find plenty of reasons for believing that you are living in the last days. Our parents’ generation (my parents’ generation, at least) lived through the Cold War and Vietnam, and we know they thought it was the last days. The generation before that lived through WWI and WWII and saw the first nuclear bomb go off. I am sure the people of medieval times who lived through the Black Death thought they were in the last days. Same with the people who lived through the fall of Rome. We know that first-century believers prior to the fall of Jerusalem thought they were in the last days.

    The upshot: We can’t know when the last days are going to be. We would do well to focus on Jesus and the Gospel and not go far beyond the statements in the Nicene Creed that pertain to Christ’s return and the resurrection of the dead.


  7. Can’t remember the name, but it’s that BIG one that stocks only non-fiction and has flyers out at the motels and even the Turnpike travel plazas.


  8. One thing I do to challenge the evangelicals at my church is the say that the US could be the Whore of Babylon… I tell them that when you think about it, the Statue of Liberty is a woman standing on many waters holding a “cup” with spikes coming out of her head. That usually gets their goat, then I tell them that they should read more of the gospels and less of the end times stuff that they all go crazy over. Alas of course they dismiss me as some eccentric, or worse a non believer, and curiously I end up being of the prayer list that week. hehehe, Oh Well.


  9. Aww Chaplain Mike. You have gone liberal on us.

    If you were in my stream (Anglican), you would probably say alleluia during Lent as well!


  10. Never heard of “Lester Sumrall” or “Hilton Sutton” and I used to be up on conspiracy/kook literature (including David Icke and Francis E Dec).

    If it doesn’t go too far off-topic, could you summarize?


  11. There was a movie review of Left Behind titled “Do Fake Boobs Go to Heaven?”

    It sparked speculation about post-Rapture infestations of “mysterious Jellyfish on the sidewalks of Hollywood.” (Though I’d give the Dallas Megachurch Whirl a better chance for Jellyfish Infestation than Hollywood, if you’ve seen some of those Megachurch Pastor’s Wives…)


  12. Indeed. Without Scoffield’s weaving his theology into the text of Scripture itself, it’s unlikely that the intricacies of Dispensationalist theology could ever have gained any traction. Scofield was a genius — of a certain genus, anyway.


  13. Bishop Wright has a reputation as a thinker, and for having his head on straight.


  14. And according to Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, you usually find Pin-the-Tail-on-The-Antichrist Pre-Trib Rapture doctrines linked with Young Earth Creationism Uber Alles.

    A 6017-year-old, ending-any-minute-now, Earth-and-some-lights-in-the-sky Punyverse has no room for anything grand or great.


  15. Pastor Greg Laurie(TM) is Calvary Chapel, right?

    I remember his name on heavy rotation on 1980-vintage Christianese AM radio, and those airwaves were dominated by the various Calvary Chapels.


  16. It’s popular in Evangelicals to hear it said that a Pastor should begin his day with a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other.

    There used to be actual Christianese radio programs that were exactly that — news items presented as Fulfillments of End Time Prophecy. One of them actually had as its opening credits “TODAY’S NEWS IN LIGHT OF *BIBLE* PROPHECY!!!!!”

    I propose that perhaps a history book would make a better Biblical supplement.

    Dude, I’ve seen My Little Pony fanfics that “would make a better Biblical supplement”. That’s how flaked out some of these Prophecy types are.


  17. In my lifetime one possible Antichrist after another have been presented.

    Anyone remember Henry Kissinger and/or the King of Spain?


  18. Well, they’re already shapeshifted cannibal alien lizards, so that’s not much of a revelation…


  19. With all due respect, I believe you are referring to Lester Sumrall. I do not know the man, so I will not call him a blighted moron, but I will call his YouTube videos that. Study the rhetoric of conspiracy theory and get back with me 🙂


  20. Not quite balanced as they are from a Christian Reconstructionist perspective, but very helpful to me…

    David Chilton’s “Paradise Restored” and “The Days of Vengance”
    Ken Gentry’s “Before Jerusalem Fell” and “The Beast of Revelation”


  21. Two years ago, in a used bookstore in Harrisburg, I came across a book titled UFO Religion: Inside Flying Saucer Cults and Culture by a Gregory L Reece. Does anyone remember “Heaven’s Gate” (formerly “The Two” or “The Bo-Peepers”), that mass cult suicide in San Diego a few years back? Here’s UFO Religion‘s commentary on them at the end of the “Beam Ships from the Pleiades” chapter; does this sound familiar?

    The teachings of Heaven’s Gate did not differ all that much from the teachings of other contactee organizations nor, for that matter, of the Adamski-era contactees themselves. However, in place of the openness to others that is a common theme espoused by those claiming contact with extraterrestrials, Heaven’s Gate was a closed society, suspicious of the outside world. In place of the kooky fun of most contactees, Heaven’s Gate was deadly serious.

    Unlike most other contactee groups, and practically all of the individual contactees, Heaven’s Gate found little that was good in human nature, little that could give them hope. What hope they had was coming from above, a starship in a comet’s tail. They had given up on transforming the world, the best they could do was to escape it.


  22. If a Rapturist movie MUST be made, I wish it was of BeauSeigneur’s Christ Clone Trilogy or that Quentin Tarantino would tackle Brian Caldwell’s We All Fall Down….

    Or we’d get Part Five of the Thief in the Night series OR Cloud Ten’s Revelation series with Nick Mancuso as the best movie AntiChrist evah!


  23. More than dots. I’ve heard of End Time Prophecy checklists choreographed almost down to the minute. Now that’s OCD.

    Christian Apocalyptic fiction shows this checklist mentality. For example, Left Behind‘s main story arc is just checklist item after checklist item after checklist item. (With the Author Self-Inserts rushing around as roving POVs to Witness each and every checklist item going down.) Finish one checklist item, go to the next. Check, Check, Check.


  24. On another note, it has always concerned me that so many Christians have bought into a pre-Trib notion that the LORD will remove them before He unleashes what has been promised in Revelation.

    i.e. “Before anything bad could personally happen to Me.”

    Do I need to go into detail how dangerous an attitude that is?


  25. “Is there any real evidence to support these general assumptions about “Americans” or “Christians” in general?”

    Is there any real evidence to support even the idea of a “rapture”? I say not. The accepted “evidence” is based on flawed grammar and eisegesis.


  26. Let’s not forget the speculation as to what gets beamed up along with our bodies, like clothes, eyeglasses, breast implants, etc. We know, though, that hot Chevy Camaros will be left behind. It says so on the license plate rings. 😉


  27. Wright could never fill the stadiums Laurie does because Laurie does not cater to thought but to fear. Laurie has no desire for thinkers, only obedient converts who will keep the coffers clinking (for the Lord of course).


  28. Wouldn’t that be a great way to get out of a marriage?

    Sorry, babe, you know I want to marry you, but now Jesus is here, and we’re going to heaven, where there will be no marriage. You understand, right?


  29. Is it Garrison Keillor who mentions that as a teenager, he would pray “please return, Lord Jesus, but at least wait until after my wedding night.”


  30. Dispensationalism is a gnostic heresy with roots as old as Adam’s desire to know the mind of God by eating of the fruit of the Tree.

    One of today’s lectionary readings is from Exodus 3 when God reveals his name to Moses as “I AM” — as mysterious a name as any, and that reveals God himself as a mystery. Many cannot accept the mystery of God and choose to construct their own images of God or presume to know the mind of God as Dispensationalists believe they can do.
    If we believe Jesus to be fully God and fully man (do dispensationalists believe this?), and that not even Jesus knows the time of his return; only the Father knows (Matt 24:36 & Mark 13:32), where does that leave them?

    Earlier in Matthew (22:36ff) Jesus reminds us what is most important: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: Jesus replied: “?‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” That’s it: not easy to do, but that what Gods asks of us. All the rest belongs to him. Dispensationalist adherents need to focus on this… as do I.

    Darrell Young above notes “. .. these guys are never held accountable.” One reason is Dispensationalists do not share in an accountability tradition that would offer them correctives to error. The rest of us, acting out of love, are perhaps too nice to hold them accountable. Its great to see so many doing so here.


  31. NT Wright’s “Surprised by Hope”
    Hank Hanegraaff’s “The Apocalypse Code”
    Barbara Rossing’s “The Rapture Exposed”


  32. As long as their are Scofield Reference Bibles in plenty around, and other Bibles like it, read by countless Christians who take the annotations for an extension of Holy Writ, this kind of approach will continue.


  33. What really torques me relative to the Darby/Scofield Dispensational Abuse-The-Prophets conspiracy is that what God in Christ accomplished on the cross is reduced to a failure of the Jewish nation to accept Jesus as their Messiah and allow him to be their King in Jerusalem, therefore, God had to go with Plan B and set up The Church as a city of refuge that must be escaped into because next time Jesus comes it’s no more Mr. Nice Guy.

    The next major problem with Dispensationalism is that in the final analysis Grace simply becomes another form of law keeping in order to be acceptable to God, who by the way, intends to reinstitute animal sacrifices in Jerusalem which necessitates the reconstitution of the Mosaic Priesthood/Sacrifice/Purity system.

    I know that I’m being simplistic, but when the perspective is boiled down to 90 proof, what I’m written are the basic conclusions.



  34. I’m far from an expert on church history but I wonder…

    Is it possible that, in a redux of “extremes breed extremes,” that the dispensational/fundamentalist types and those who translate the Bible literally as much as possible, are rebelling against what they see as the unbiblical trend in the early church where, often, allegory and figurative language were so often used when interpreting the Scriptures? Closer to our time, I wonder if maybe they were rebelling against the “modernists,” those odious types who dared use allegories and nonliteral language when discussing the Scriptures.

    Musing further: maybe the bigger question is hermeneutics.

    Anyone have any suggestions/books’principles that would present a balanced approach?


  35. When The World Ends Tomorrow and It’s All Gonna Burn, don’t expect any long-range planning or daring great things.

    This shows up not only in their eschatology but in their views on the environment, education, the poor, the arts, foreign polIcy…..

    Off-topic. Sorry, Mike.


  36. We will meet the Lord who will be returning in the air. We are not going up to Heaven, Heaven, Christ, are returning to the earth. Like when dignitaries went out to meet a king coming to their city. They met him and then all entered the city. I think this is the imagery that has been twisted into this rapture business.


  37. Nice trick.

    Have you heard the one why the REAL Second Coming will NEVER go down as predicted by any End TIme Prophecy chart? Besides God’s known tendency to do the Unexpected, imagine what would happen if The End DID go down according to some Prophecy type’s checklist. The guy would be insufferable for all eternity — “I WAS RIGHT! SEE? SEE? SEE?”


  38. Biblical teaching on the Second Coming is always given for a reason — to wake us up to the reality of life here and now. The time is short; we have much to do. Let’s get on with it.

    But sadly, contemporary Christian culture is singing another tune in relationship to the coming of Christ. The song that exemplifies the current mood better than any other is not even a “Christian” song; it’s a “moldy-oldy” first recorded by the Drifters in 1963: “When this old world starts to gettin’ me down . . . I know a place that’s trouble proof . . . up on the roof.”

    What a fitting theme song for our born-again culture to which the Second Coming has become no more than a way out. It’s as if a whole society has taken up residence on the roof, far away from the noise and filth of the streets below, and is presently waiting for the holy helicopter to come and take it home where it belongs.

    Our rooftop correspondent declares, “Yes, we’re playing Christian music, doing Christian aerobics, and having a great time up here! All the prophetic indications tell us it could be any moment now, so check your rapture watches and stay tuned to Christian TV for the latest update!”

    Twinkle, twinkle, coming Christ,
    Take us all to paradise.

    Escapism — that’s the real danger. Escapism is a predominant theme in our culture in general today. Video games, TV, stereo “Walkmans,” rock ‘n’ roll, sports, alcohol and drugs all attest to that. In many ways, preoccupation with the Second Coming has become simply one more means of avoiding reality.

    But God always thrusts us into reality and responsibility by faith. He wants to stretch us, to bring us to maturity. His Church is His bride, but she is not ready for the wedding. She is not complete. It’s a classic question of who’s waiting for whom? We’re sitting around waiting for the Bridegroom to show up while He’s waiting for us to grow up.

    — John Fischer, Real Christians Don’t Dance, Chapter 34 “Up on the Roof”


  39. make your own descion. Listen to what lester summeral was tols on you tube. 1987 clip sent back to America. Hilton Sutton was called to Washington 3 seprate occasions. a 1st colenal 2nd a general 3rd a 2 and 3 star general. They ask how He taught what was going on. He gave them scripture. They admitted they knew but found it hard to believe he could know each time he gave them verse and chapter. He has a fre message on the web. called where is the U.S. in end times prophecy. He was a 50 + year student specializing in the book of revelation.


  40. That sets up yet another angle with ulterior motives. In the words of John Fischer in Real Christians Don’t Dance (Chapter 34, “Up on the Roof”):

    Even some people making missionary appeals have the audacity to motivate Christians to go to the mission field because Christ is not going to return until the Gospel has been preached to every nation. There are groups right now calculating which nations are left and are hard at work getting people to those nations who haven’t heard so Christ can hurry back. The American Christian Church is pumping large sums of money into the nation of Israel under the presumption that it will fulfill prophecy and speed Christ’s return.

    This attitude translates to: “Okay, you guys, we want you to sit down and pay attention to the Gospel. We don’t really care what you do with it (nor do we care about your physical condition, which, by the way, looks pretty bad right now); we just need to fulfill our obligation to preach the Gospel to every nation so that Christ can come and get us out of here. Did everybody hear? Good . . . Now, how many does that leave us, Joe? Hurry, the helicopter is waiting to take us back to the roof.”

    My writing partner has told me of at least one Bible translation/missionary organization with literally this rationale, which has always struck me as Missionary under False Pretenses.

    Full chapter at


  41. A half hour before the game I predicted in jest on Facebook that the last score of the Super Bowl woud be a Baltimore punt on their own goal line that goes out of the end zone for a 49ers safety. May I make my end of the world prediction here? Bwahahaha. 😀


  42. Mike: I’ve heard dispensationalists give your explanation numerous times. They use the imperial Roman tradition of going out to meet the king outside the city. They correctly tie this to his coming when we meet him in the clouds. But the part of their explanation that they always give – that they LEAVE OUT as part of their application – is that the king is then ushered back into the city. If they applied the second part of this consistently, they would conclude that we will usher Christ back to earth.

    I heard a pastor say once that Paul intentionally left out the part about ushering the king back into the city, because he didn’t need to – it wouldn’t happen. So we will forever be up in heaven with him. But the first century readers would understand that we would usher him back in, and that’s the reason Paul left it out. Pointing this out results in them skipping to another pary of the theological system to ‘splain it, Lucy. 😉


  43. P.S. Nuclear war jitters were endemic to the mid to late Cold War period (check out Cold War dystopian fiction sometime); Hal Lindsay just gave them Christianese justification and a Christian coat of paint.

    I remember hearing a “Nuclear War Scare” version of Kum-Ba-Yah on a Christianese station during the Eighties. Spoken interlude on the horrors of Global Thermonuclear War in the form of a prayer; don’t remember if it was a Rapture Ready tie-in or a Scare ‘Em into the Altar Call. (Which itself is another angle on the subject of this thread.)


  44. A few years ago on the Lost Genre Guild mailing list, I read a link to an unpublished Christian flashfic on the subject with a twist:

    The Rapture goes down; all the Righteous(TM) get beamed up to Fluffy Cloud Heaven — then Christ immediately returns to set foot on the earth, renewing the Cosmos with those mortals who actually cared about it, without interference from the Rapture Ready types.


  45. It seems odd that Jesus said that the gospel would be preached in the whole world, then the end will come. But there are still hundreds or thousands of unreached people groups and even more with not a single bible verse translated into their language.


  46. It’s popular in Evangelicals to hear it said that a Pastor should begin his day with a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other. I propose that perhaps a history book would make a better Biblical supplement.


  47. I had thought that people had gotten all this craziness out of their systems by now… Apparently not. It’s not a party at a Fundamentalist’s house until someone breaks out the charts, graphs, and maps showing how it’s going to all play out. The sad thing is we were all supposed to be raptured years ago according to many of their calculations…. I guess we all missed the cut.


  48. +1

    Not only a secularization, but also pre-packaged and simplified and requiring very little in the way of sacrifice or engagement.


  49. Exactly.

    They fall off one side of the horse. Get back on and fall off the other side of the horse.

    The center..which is Christ…provides the proper balance.


  50. I agree there is correlation but not necessarily causality. I think instead what happened is that people were predisposed to be non- or anti-environmental anyway, and the end times scenario is just a way to give it all a spiritual gloss and justification. In the end, it’s self-serving and simplistic in my view. What’s much harder is to sift through the data and care for God’s creation in meaningful ways.


  51. And its been going on longer than there has been an Israel. Supposedly, Louis Brandeis was only one of the Zionist financial supporters of the Niagara Bible Conferences, which was one of the earliest mass movements disseminating the dispensational theology in the American Protestant milieu.

    One of the points in the Niagara Statement was the inevitability of the return of the Jews to Palestine. This was in the 1890s. No conspiracy necessary, though. Just a simple congruence of interests. Point this out to dispensationalists, though, and they go into full froth mode about ‘Hitler theology’.

    ‘S’OK Accusing the Orthodox of replacement theology is like accusing Michael Jordan of being 6’ 6″. Guilty as charged. We did replace them.

    Rapture for the Christians is theologically roughly equivalent to Palestine for the Jews.


  52. Pieces like this are why I read Internet Monk. You guys have been so incredibly helpful in showing the way and encouraging my way out of positions like this that are simply unbiblical and weird. Thank you.


  53. I don’t necessarily agree that this is pure literary framing of the event. In my view it is likely the disciples saw something at the ascension. Whether one would characterize it as a “vision” or whatever, I don’t know.

    As for the resurrection, it always strikes me that it falls into a unique category because those who witnessed to it insist upon the verifiable physicality of the risen Jesus and their interactions with him.


  54. There are various sorts of end timers, but they all have the same shtick. You can find it with language peevers decrying how the kids nowadays are speaking gibberish, and this will be the end of the English language. The thing is, you can find the same things from a century and a half ago. Often the peeves are exactly the same. In other cases, the peeves are over usages which are completely unremarkable nowadays. Often these obsolete and current peeves are combined in the same peever.

    One might optimistically hope that this would give pause to modern peevers. Sometimes it does. But I have also had peevers patiently explain to me how that guy from a century and a half ago was mixing dead on observations with utter nonsense, and how fortunate we are to have said modern peever here to tell us which is which. *sigh*


  55. The funny thing about the Christian Zionists not carrying about the Jews as a people or Israel as a nation but just pieces on a board is that the rightwing Jews they deal with don’t really care about the Christian Zionists or their prophecies either. It’s all a rather tawdry exercise in pragmatism and the use of other people and their ideologies.


  56. From the Perriman link:

    Luke 24:4-7 captures something of the first part of that story: the Son of Man suffers at the hands of apostate Israel and the pagan oppressor and is raised in vindication. Acts 1:10-11 predicts through the enacted symbolism of Jesus’ departure to be with the Father the eventual vindication not of Jesus only but also of the suffering community of the saints, who will come to share with him in the kingdom. The symbolism of the going and coming in, on, or with the clouds of heaven is bound up with this apocalyptic narrative regarding the intense and protracted conflict between the early church and pagan imperialism (ie. Rome).

    No one was wrong about the parousia: on the contrary, it was crucial for the survival of the early church that the evangelists and Paul and, of course, Jesus himself were right that the massive hostile power of Greek-Roman paganism would be overcome through the faithfulness of those who took the risk of following Jesus down a narrow path leading to life. Jesus ‘came’ to deliver his ‘brethren’ from persecution (in just the same non-literal but historically true way that YHWH would ‘come’ to judge or rescue his people in the Old Testament) and brought them with him on the clouds of heaven to share in the vindication of the Son of Man (cf. 1 Thess. 4:16-17).

    This does not mean that there is not final judgment or renewal of all things – it is simply that the particular language of coming on clouds or of parousia has reference to something much more pressing and immediate in the purview of the early church.

    So was the resurrection mainly symbolism? And is the raising of, and change in, our bodies also going to be symbolism? I don’t think Norman Geisler would like this. :p


  57. I do thing there is a relevant correlation here, but I’m not sure it is causal. I see it more as people who have imbibed a secular and unchristian worldview using theology to justify self. As this is a danger to all, I am quick to discern, but slow to judge. God preserve us all from this trap.


  58. Since “no man knows the day or the hour,” the only thing we can be sure of is when someone picks a day or an hour, that hour isn’t gonna be it.

    The only thing certain is uncertainty.


  59. Okay, thanks. Does Perriman deal with Acts 1:9-11 re: how Jesus will literally return and from where he will return, which seems to be what the NT writers were expecting to happen in this manner in their lifetimes?

    Acts 1:9 And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (ESV)


  60. Scooter’s Mom: read the post I wrote on the rapture that is linked at the end of today’s post. There you will find a description of what I think is the best interpretation of that passage.


  61. “News Reports of the events of our day cloaked in ancient language” WAS Hal Lindsay’s take on Revelation. Specifically, that God showed John a movie of The End (occurring between 1970 & 1980) and John wrote it down as best he understood the video. This resulted in all the plagues of Revelation being John’s attempt to describe Global Thermonuclear War, the demon locusts being John’s attempt to describe helicopter gunships armed with chemical weapons and flown by long-haired bearded hippies, and the resulting “Christians For Nuclear War” attitude.


  62. “Christian Progressivism” has a Social Gospel without personal salvation.

    The Fundagelical backlash to it has a Gospel of Personal Salvation and ONLY Personal Salvation.

    Both are out-of-balance, just in opposite directions. And at eternal enmity with each other, like the half-white and half-black alien in that “Old Testament” Star Trek episode.


  63. Sounds like another variant on The Bible Code.

    Reminder: “Gnostic” means “He Who KNOWS Things”, i.e. “Things” not understandable by the sheeple. But the Gnostic KNOWS what’s REALLY Going On.

    And “Occult” means “hidden” or “secret”. So “Occult Gnosis” means “Hidden Knowledge”, again, incomprehensible to all but the Inner Ring of Specially Illuminated. And Pin-the-Tail-on-The-Antichrist/End Time Prophecy Timetable/This Is It is yet another Occult Gnosis.


  64. One of the things that broke Hal Lindsay’s hold on my brain was discovering 40-50-year-old End Time Prophecy books. Whose proofs (same proof-text zip codes and all) of This Is It were forgotten 50-year-old newspaper interpretations. Same tone, same shtick, same proof texts, same zip codes, same predictions except the dates not-set were 40-50 years ago.

    At which point, why should today’s batch of End Time Prophecy Fulfillments be any different?

    “WE MIGHT NOT HAVE A 1978! OR EVEN A 1977!”
    It is now 2013.


  65. this focus on the ‘end of the world’ and the ‘destruction of the world’ coming SOON . . . is it also one of the reasons why the Christian conservative far-right has bought into the idea that it’s ‘okay’ to deplete the Earth of its resources through aggressive capitalism? I think of the contempt for ‘tree-huggers’ and for those who want to preserve natural resources, and I wonder if it is because some very ‘end-times’ minded people see no need to protect the environment for the sake of future generations . . .

    how strange it is that the conservative far-right falls into line with vulture capitalism on so many fronts . . .


  66. So are you & Chaplain Mike saying that “the dead shall rise first” and “we’ll meet together in the clouds” are not talking about a rapture? Sorry to sound so dumb but it is hard to think past the info that has been ingrained in my mind for so long.

    I am grateful for Internet Monk. It has been so helpful to me while I try to find my own way out of IFB land.


  67. What? Playing the Anti-Semitic Card?

    The Dispys have opened themselves up to being manipulated by third parties. Strung along by rumors of “fulfillments” of End Time Prophecy. (And they are VERY gullible along those lines.) And Israel has been in a perpetual national-survival situation since 1948. You tell me they won’t try angle after angle to gain outside support for national survival.

    The real kicker is, these “Christian Zionists” don’t care about Israel as a nation or a people, only as End Time Prophecy fulfillment. The Israelis, the Arabs, you, me, all of us — we’re only expendable pieces to move around on the End Time Prophecy gameboard.

    My regular writing partner (the burned-out country preacher) credits John Nelson Darby and Hal Lindsay with destroying Protestant Christianity in America.


  68. My take is that the only place we need to look for the Antichrist is in the mirror, to be sure he isn’t there.


  69. But what does NOT seem to me to be metaphorical is the stated or implied belief by many of the NT writers that they and their readers expected or were expected to believe in Jesus’ return within their own and/or the original readers’ lifetimes. Which suggests that unless one is a Preterist, then the inspired authors were apparently wrong about this. Which raises questions about both their inspiration as well as how much of what they said was culturally- or personally-conditioned.



  70. Am I alone in seeing this way of thinking and Biblical interpretation, the whole Fundamentalist enterprise, as a deeply secularized version of Christianity? It has vanishingly little aroma of the coming world about it. It makes a great to-do about the dealings and policies of governments and businesses, and appears to have little impact on that epidemic of prayerlessness which is the true mark that Antichrist is indeed spreading his leathery wings across the oikomene.

    Fundamentalists are so quick to accuse mainliners of being “baptized secularism”, and for the longest time I really, really, really thought that the location of the catholic mind [phronema] among Protestants was to be found among ‘conservatives’, even to the point of agitating for Orthodox ecumenical effort to be concentrated on Evangelicals. Now I am beginning to wonder if that energy wasn’t ill-spent.

    It just seems too worldly to me.


  71. You may not be asking the right questions, or maybe you’re not asking them the right way. First, I wouldn’t assume that the return of Christ is necessarily predicated on any kind of “rapture” as described by fundamental evangelicalism. In other words, just because I reject the rapture, doesn’t mean that I reject the return of Christ; they are not one and the same.

    Second, traditional American fundamental evangelicalism (wow, that’s a lot of adjectives) seems to have trained its membership to ask questions like, “What is the return of Christ,” or “When is the return of Christ,” or “How will we know when it is coming,” instead of, “Why is this return happening,” or “How is this recreation process demonstrated in the Biblical narrative?” The former set of questions encourage folk to engage in some nasty guessing-games, and those games never lead anyone to the right answer.


  72. “Because the Bible is not about America and its prophecies are not detailed “news reports” of the events of our day cloaked in ancient language.”

    Best answer yet!


  73. “Which always makes me wonder if ‘The Israeli Intelligence community’ might be manipulating them for their own ends.”

    I don’t doubt that for a second. I know people who have “contacts” in our own government and it is obvious to see that they have been manipulated by those contacts. I’m sure we can all think of examples from the news of some piece of information being purposely leaked in order to produce a certain effect on the news cycle. Governments will use every chess piece at their disposal and we are usually willing accomplices because we feel special that we are being let on the “inside.” It reminds me of CS Lewis’ That Hideous Strength.


  74. When you take judgement for sin and the wrath of God out of the Bible you get “Christian progressivism” and “The Lutheran” magazine where the name “Jesus” hardly shows up. The whole thing turns into a fix- it (the world) project.

    And when you take the Bible literally you get another sort of fix- it project, only it is the Christian and government who needs to get back to a “godly” way of being.

    There is a middle ground where we realize that this world and ourselves are not progressing…but are being brought to an end. And that we need a Savior…constantly.

    (not that we not do what we can do to make this place a better world, or ourselves better people. But we are realists about the outcome and the only Hope, in the end)


  75. I think I got one of those when I was 8 years old in 1946 from a Wheaties boxtop. But it was from the radio serial “Jack Armstrong, All Amercan Boy!” Or maybe “Dick Tracy” or “Hop Harrigan” (ace of the airways).


  76. On another note, it has always concerned me that so many Christians have bought into a pre-Trib notion that the LORD will remove them before He unleashes what has been promised in Revelation. Americans in particular think that (because the Bible doesn’t identify the US?) they will most certainly escape this described suffering.

    Is there any real evidence to support these general assumptions about “Americans” or “Christians” in general?


  77. On another note, it has always concerned me that so many Christians have bought into a pre-Trib notion that the LORD will remove them before He unleashes what has been promised in Revelation. Americans in particular think that (because the Bible doesn’t identify the US?) they will most certainly escape this described suffering.

    Which is doubly dangerous an attitude — that you’ll be Raptured away before anything bad can personally happen to you.

    I remember the “Christians for Nuclear War” interpretation in the wake of Hal Lindsay; that was a major part of it. Eagle can attest how glib the pre-Raptured can become on the subject.

    Remember that Larry Norman sang “I Wish We’d All Been Ready” as a tragic lament, NOT a crow of triumph.


  78. They unthinkingly accept all the Dispy paranoia as if it’s orthodox, and woe to you if you dare tell them there’s nothing to it: Supposedly you’re trying out for the False Prophet’s job.

    Like Grand Unified Conspiracy Theory dynamic — any evidence against The Conspiracy is PROOF of The Conspiracy (as in disinformation planted by The Conspiracy). Anyone who doubts The Conspiracy IS part of The Conspiracy. The Dwarfs are for The Dwarfs, and Won’t Be Taken In.


  79. Remind him that every Christian who KNEW that Christ would return in his lifetime has so far been wrong. The track record does not support him.

    Again, no future.
    And when you have no future, the Future has a way of happening anyway — without you.
    And you will be Left Behind, just not in the way you think.


  80. I once found a book in a bookstore, several hundred pages long, that made the longest and most intricate argument imaginable, that Prince Charles was the Antichrist.

    Look hard enough, and you’ll probably find a book several hundred pages long making long and intricate Proofs from Scripture that Spongebob Squarepants or Twilight Sparkle is The Antichrist.


  81. Because they’re living the first chapters of Left Behind IRL and find it all Very Exciting. Just like Objectivists living the first hundred pages of Atlas Shrugged IRL (and the two fictions mistaken for fact have a lot more in common than you think).

    Back in the Seventies, I got my head messed up by the Gospel According to Hal Lindsay.

    Eagle has recounted his experience and observations regarding 9/11.

    Internet Monk recounted it in his essay “Hell House: an Evangelicalism Eager to Leave”.

    The only future Dispys are allowed is the one from Late Great Planet Earth and Left Behind. They have signed the Future over to The Antichrist and just wait to be beamed up (any minute now… any minute now… any minute now…) When The World Ends Tomorrow and It’s All Gonna Burn, don’t expect any long-range planning or daring great things.


  82. Which always makes me wonder if “The Israeli Intelligence community” might be manipulating them for their own ends. All Mossad needs to do is leak their Christian Zionist(TM) contacts hints about rebuilding the Temple or breeding red heifers (or anything that fits with Hal Lindsay) and they’ve got 1000% support for Israel.

    “It’s Prophesied, It’s Prophesied…”


  83. In my lifetime one possible Antichrist after another have been presented. Everytime the USA is faced with a new crisis, another Antichrist appears. And the demons we face, or scapegoats, have also changed along with current events. It has been the New Deal, Commumism, homosexuals (along with their Agenda), and Muslims. Mormonism seems to have been left out. Capitalism gets a pass.


  84. All orthodox Christians believe in Christ’s return and a new creation. As N.T. Wright puts it, “When we talk about Jesus’ ‘coming’, the reality to which we point is his personal presence within God’s new creation.” We are not to think he will be flying around the sky like some superhero. It is difficult to envision or describe what will happen, but the promise is that Jesus will be with us, personally, forever. Most of the language used is metaphorical to describe realities of which we cannot conceive.


  85. Sorry Trish. I can’t conceive of finding interest in any argument “connecting the dots” and identifying the U.S. in Scripture. The Bible is for us but it is not about us.


  86. I have a question. (Having grown up in fundyland)the bible talks of Christ’s return. The episcopal church I attend will mention it. So if there is no rapture mentioned in the bible, what is the return of Christ?


  87. I think you might find The End of America by John Price interesting reading. He explores OT prophecy and connects the dots identifying the US as “the Daughter of Babylon.” Worth the .99 on Kindle! On another note, it has always concerned me that so many Christians have bought into a pre-Trib notion that the LORD will remove them before He unleashes what has been promised in Revelation. Americans in particular think that (because the Bible doesn’t identify the US?) they will most certainly escape this described suffering. We forget that around the world believers are persecuted and die because of their faith. They are living in and through a time of tribulation. I agree with John Price, America is addressed in Scripture and we should not be deluded into thinking that we will escape the travails to come. However, I do firmly believe that believers will not be subject to the wrath of God – Jesus experienced that for us!


  88. I’ve been out for years as a late-Trib (7th Trump) Rapturist at my AoG. And I am not shy about the occasional Preterist & even soft Reconstructionist noise. When I really want to have fun, I get toss around some Anglo-Israelism.

    They put up with me pretty well.


  89. I quoted the “old creed”. The Western Church uses “from thence he shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead;”


  90. I have always found it interesting how some will use the newspaper to interpret Holy Scripture. I haven’t heard Hal Lindsey recently but I not really trying to find out what Hal has to say.

    The Nicene Creed gives us the best way to understand the End of Age “From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.”.


  91. “…the desire to make great tracts of the Old Testament relevant to person living in these uncertain times.”

    Mule, that may be their desire, but in practice I found that it actually makes the Bible more inaccessible to the lay person.

    You have to do so many gymnastics and put together texts from so many places throughout obscure passages in the prophets to make your case that I found it extremely frustrating even as a Bible college student and pastor. Then, of course, you also have to be completely up to speed on what is happening in Russia, Iraq and Iran, with the nations in Europe who are likely to become the ten-nation confederacy of the last days, and with events in Israel that the average listener to these teachings just sits there nodding his or her head without a clue.

    I once found a book in a bookstore, several hundred pages long, that made the longest and most intricate argument imaginable, that Prince Charles was the Antichrist. That’s not making the Bible relevant, that’s obscurantist madness.


  92. I find it endlessly aggravating that my denomination (the Assemblies of God) isn’t Dispensationalist by any stretch of the imagination—and yet when it comes to End Times interpretations, most of us, by default, go right along with the Dispensationalist interpretation. As do a lot of charismatics and non-denominational church. Say what you will about the Dispys; they’ve been hugely successful at spreading their interpretation, and as a result a lot of people think it’s the only way to interpret the End.

    Consequently, a few years ago, I horrified my church when I told them the pre-Trib rapture isn’t biblical. They looked at me as if I told them I didn’t believe in the Trinity. Some of ’em haven’t spoken to me since. I’ve definitely lost a few blog readers after stating similar things online. They unthinkingly accept all the Dispy paranoia as if it’s orthodox, and woe to you if you dare tell them there’s nothing to it: Supposedly you’re trying out for the False Prophet’s job.


  93. I asked an evangelical friend what if Christ didn’t return for another 2000 years. His response was a dumbfounded “that just isn’t possible”. Oh well…


  94. CM, thanks for a great post and reminder. I need to re-read the N.T. Wright link a few more times and absorb it more fully into my life.
    Nicely done (as usual)!


  95. Despite my instinctive recoil from Dispensationalism and the flat literalism it employs with the Scriptures, I do applaud one thing – the desire to make great tracts of the Old Testament relevant to person living in these uncertain times. Otherwise, the flat literalism to which this tribe gives its hermeneutical allegiance would render most of the Bible useless and inaccessible.

    As if the Orthodox don’t have the same pathology at work in our midst. We have those who interpret II Thessalonians in terms of the Russian Emperor, and who exhibit a disturbing anti-Semitism which is the mirror image of John Hagee’s Israelolatry.

    How about we let the Bible exhibit its meaning by letting it transform our hearts? Wouldn’t that be refreshing?


  96. Don’t forget Gog & Magog, obviously the USSR. And the Inevitable Global Thermonuclear War immediately following the Rapture. “GOD’S JUDGMENT FOR AMERICA’S SINS SITS READY AND WAITING IN THE NUCLEAR MISSILE SILOS OF THE SOVIET UNION!!!!!”

    The Second Russian Revolution block-obsoleted more than just SF future histories and technothriller backgrounds.


  97. It is also a blast when guys like Hagee or Missler talk about their “contacts high in the Israeli intelligence community.” O well, that proves every fool thing they say…


  98. It is just amazing that these guys are never held accountable. I guess that is because it takes 20 or 30 years for it to be obvious that they were full of beans. Tim Lahaye wrote back in the 70’s that white collar crime would end entirely with the advent of the computer. And since we would be using cash, robberies would also come to an end. Where is the laugh track?



  99. I should clarify. My comment is not meant to imply that Option 1 is interpretively sound. He is just not contradicting himself in that one.


  100. ‘Options’ 2 and 3 are quite the logical leap. If internal moral strength, commitment to foundational Christian virtues, or structural integrity (before or after the rapture) are the necessary qualifications for ‘making it into the prophecies’ then one would hardly expect to find modern day Libya and Iraq mentioned. Unless, of course our Muslim brothers and sisters have gotten it right after all. Someone tell Greg he’s in the wrong religion according to his interpretations the prophecies!


  101. ‘the Kingdom of God is at hand’ seems to get lost in the thinking of people who focus on ‘end-times’, I think


  102. I didn’t mention it in the post, but Laurie’s message certainly does betray a U.S.-centric hubris doesn’t it? Another characteristic of U.S. fundamentalism/conservative evangelicalism.


  103. my one-and-a-half cents before retiring…

    Where is the United States? Why are we not in the last-days scenario?

    Where is the Czech Republic? Where is Argentina? Where is South Korea? Where is (pick another random nation) in the last-days scenario?

    Um, maybe because those nations as they are now didn’t exist at the time Revelations was written. There seems something idolatrous about expecting one’s nation in biblical prophecy.

    rampant crime… I wonder if Pastor Laurie knows that violent crime has decreased over the past 20 years…

    I wonder how Pastor Laurie thinks the history of slavery in our country affects the Edenic biblical qualities at its foundation. (I’d be surprised if he hasn’t mentioned it somewhere – I’m just too lazy to do the searching…)

    oh, a WND mention. Ok, nevermind, (tuned out)…


  104. Christ-centered Christianity will never be as popular as the right-wing politics and in-group tribalism that justifies American empire, selfish consumerism, and hubris regarding our technological prowess. NT Wright can fill a university’s lecture hall, but he will never fill a football stadium.


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