Christian social irrelevancy manifests itself in several ways even while claiming to be fully biblical. There are those who believe the church is an earthly parenthesis—the “church age” to give its proper designation—and the world is destined for an inevitable eschatological showdown with the antichrist but only before the church is “raptured” out of the world. Look at most prophecy books that hit best-seller status. They are end-time potboilers that carry titles that are the epitome of earthly doom and cultural irrelevancy: The Late Great Planet Earth (1970), The Late Great United States (2009), Armageddon, Oil, and the Middle East Crisis (1974, 1991, 2007), Armageddon Ahead (2009), and the multi-volume Left Behind series that started publication 25 years ago.
LaHaye and Jenkins cite the influence of Russell Doughten, an Iowa-based filmmaker who directed the Thief in the Night series [described as the “original Left Behind”], a series of four low-budget but popular feature-length films in the 1970s and 80s about the Rapture and Second Coming, starting with 1972’s A Thief in the Night. (Wikipedia)
This prophecy genre has been going on for nearly a half-century with disastrous results.
Here is an example of some of the advertising copy for the Left Behind series that could apply to almost any prophecy book for the last 500 years:
Are you ready for the moment of truth?
- Political crisis
- Economic crisis
- Worldwide epidemics
- Environmental catastrophe
- Mass disappearances
- Military apocalypse
And that’s just the beginning … of the end of the world. It’s happening now. Tell others about it. Spread the word.
In a survey that Left Behind publisher Tyndale did, “More than 50 percent of respondents . . . said ‘I’m anxiously expecting his return.’” Jan Markell, president of Olive Tree Ministries, writing for a large worldview ministry, argued that “the church is not in the business of taking anything away from Satan but the souls of men.”1
Hal Lindsey said something similar: “I don’t like clichés, but I’ve heard it said, ‘God didn’t send me to clean the fishbowl, he sent me to fish.’ In a way, there’s a truth in that.”2 Of course, when you stop cleaning the fishbowl, it gets dirty and the fish go belly up.
While there are many worldview ministries that claim to teach a Christian worldview, many of them are schizophrenic. Brannon Howse who heads up Worldview Weekend brings in one group of speakers to warn of the dangers facing society and then he brings in another batch of speakers telling the same impressionable and eager young audience that the rapture is near. Here’s an example.
Brannon Howse writes: “Socialism is Here, and Tyranny is to Follow If We Allow It.” This is “Item # 1.” Here’s the title of “Item #2”: “Jesus is Returning in Our Time: The Key Sign” by Dr. David R. Reagan.
If Jesus is returning in our time, then there is no “if we allow it.” It’s inevitable, and we should embrace it because Jesus is going to rescue us from hell on earth. Schizophrenia! The Left loves schizophrenic Christians because it breeds broad-based spiritual passivity in the name of the Bible. “What a way to live,” Hal Lindsey wrote in 1970. “With optimism, with anticipation, with excitement. We should be living like persons who don’t expect to be around much longer.”3
No matter the cultural conditions, it means eschatological pessimism with a rapture kicker. If there are peace and prosperity, the antichrist must be alive somewhere in the world today4 setting the stage for the rapture of the church.
This was the theme of Dave Hunt’s 1983 book Peace Prosperity and the Coming Holocaust and his 1990 Global Peace and the Rise of Antichrist. On the other hand, if there are “wars and rumors of wars,” these are signs that we are living in the last days. If Christians take the gospel to the world and promote peace and oppose war, are they promoting the antichrist’s agenda? So no matter what Christian do, they are contributing to an end-time delusion. Under such circumstances, the only thing Christians should do is preach the gospel.
It was in 1926 that Oswald J. Smith wrote Is the Antichrist at Hand? The following copy appeared on the cover: “The fact that this book has run swiftly into a number of large editions bears convincing testimony to its intrinsic worth. There are here portrayed startling indications of the approaching end of the present age from the spheres of demonology, politics and religion. No one can read this book without being impressed with the importance of the momentous days in which we are living.” Remember, this was in 1926 and the prophesied antichrist was Benito Mussolini who was shot, killed, and hung upside down on a meat hook in 1945 by Communist partisans. There has been a parade of antichrist candidates before and after Smith all claiming that the Bible is certain on the issue. This has worked to keep Christians on the edge of prophetic certainty.
William Edgar, a professor of apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary, recounts the time in the 1960s he spent studying in L’Abri, Switzerland, under the tutelage of Francis A. Schaeffer (1912–1984):5
I can remember coming down the mountain from L’Abri and expecting the stock market to cave in, a priestly elite to take over American government, and enemies to poison the drinking water. I was almost disappointed when these things did not happen.6
Edgar speculated, with good reason, that it was Schaeffer’s eschatology that negatively affected the way he saw and interpreted world events. One of Schaeffer’s last books, A Christian Manifesto, did not call for cultural transformation but civil disobedience as a stopgap measure to postpone an inevitable societal decline. “The fact remains that Dr. Schaeffer’s manifesto offers no prescriptions for a Christian society…. The same comment applies to all of Dr. Schaeffer’s writings: he does not spell out the Christian alternative. He knows that you ‘can’t fight something with nothing,’ but as a premillennialist, he does not expect to win the fight prior to the visible, bodily return of Jesus Christ to earth to establish His millennial kingdom.”7 Tom Sine offers a startling example of the effect “prophetic inevitability” can have on some people:
“Do you realize if we start feeding hungry people things won’t get worse, and if things don’t get worse, Jesus won’t come?” interrupted a coed during a Futures Inter-term I recently conducted at a northwest Christian college. Her tone of voice and her serious expression revealed she was utterly sincere. And unfortunately I have discovered the coed’s question doesn’t reflect an isolated viewpoint. Rather, it betrays a widespread misunderstanding of biblical eschatology . . . that seems to permeate much contemporary Christian consciousness. I believe this misunderstanding of God’s intentions for the human future is seriously undermining the effectiveness of the people of God in carrying out his mission in a world of need…. The response of the (student) . . . reflects what I call the Great Escape View of the future. So much of the popular prophetic literature has focused our attention morbidly on the dire, the dreadful, and the destruction of all that is.8
Eschatological ideas have consequences, and many Christians are beginning to understand how those ideas have shaped the cultural landscape. A world always on the precipice of some great and inevitable apocalyptic event is not in need of redemption but only of escape. As one end-time speculator put it, “the world is a sinking Titanic ripe for judgment.”9
But maybe it’s not all bad if you’re left behind. You can profit from the coming Great Tribulation. A new book tells you How to Profit From the Coming Rapture: Getting Ahead When You’re Left Behind. It’s satire, but when you’re talking about the end times, it’s often more fiction than fact.
- Jan Markell, “Kingdom Now: We’re Not Returning to Eden” (March 7, 2007). [↩]
- Hal Lindsey, “The Great Cosmic Countdown,” Eternity (January 1977), 21. [↩]
- Hal Lindsey, The Late Great Planet Earth (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1970), 145. [↩]
- It was in 1970 that Lindsey stated that he believed the antichrist was alive somewhere in the world. Lindsey repeated this belief in a 1977 interview when he stated that it was his “personal opinion” that “he’s alive somewhere now. But he’s not going to become this awesome figure that we nickname the Anti-Christ until Satan possesses him, and I don’t believe that will occur until there is this ‘mortal wound’ from which he’s raised up.” (“The Late Great Cosmic Countdown: Hal Lindsey on the Future, Eternity [January 1977], 80). Dave Hunt voiced a similar opinion in 1990: “Somewhere at this very moment, on planet Earth, the antichrist is almost certainly alive—biding his time, awaiting his cue.” (Dave Hunt, Global Peace and the Rise of Antichrist [Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1990]). [↩]
- See Colin Duriez, Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2008), 42. [↩]
- William Edgar, “Francis Schaeffer and the Public Square” in J. Budziszewski, Evangelicals in the Public Square: Four Formative Voices on Political Thought and Action (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 174. [↩]
- Gary North and David Chilton, “Apologetics and Strategy,” in Tactics of Christian Resistance: A Symposium, ed. Gary North (Tyler Texas: Geneva Divinity School, 1983), 127–128. Emphasis in original. [↩]
- Tom Sine, The Mustard Seed Conspiracy: You Can Make a Difference in Tomorrow’s Troubled World (Waco, TX: Word, 1981), 69. [↩]
- Jan Markell, “Kingdom Now: We’re Not Returning to Eden” http://tinyurl.com/yr4c27. For a response, see Gary DeMar, “Is the World a Sinking Titanic?,” Biblical Worldview (May 2007), 4–6. [↩]