As Jesus followers in post-modern America, we have a big task on our hands. The great reformation happening currently within American Christianity has created a long ‘to-do’ list for those of us who wish to carry this movement forward to a more beautiful expression than has been in generations past. There are gaps to fill, narratives to help change, and leadership that’s needed.
There will also be a host of barriers to what we’re trying to accomplish. While I believe we ought give the majority of our energy to constructing a better expression of Christianity, we must also not neglect the need to deconstruct the elements that are obstacles to our goals and which drive people away from Jesus instead of closer to him.
Perhaps one of the greatest barriers to this Jesus movement is the “end times” movement. The modern, unbiblical end-times movement has been wreaking havoc on the Jesus movement for more than a century. When we look back to historical evangelicalism in America, it all began with a beautiful movement that for a time, proclaimed a holistic gospel of personal conversion plus social usefulness (Finney’s term). This evangelical movement did all sorts of great stuff to contribute to the long-term common good of society, the most beautiful of which was the abolition movement to abolish slavery.
But, as we’ve discussed before, that all went away when the end times movement was invented and took hold in America. This movement has caused Christians of various flavors to abandon our calling as Jesus followers and instead opt to follow salacious end-times preachers who preached a far more interesting (and easy) message: hunker down, ’cause the end is coming.
Prepping for the end, is always easier than building the future. This is precisely why we’re likely going to be fighting this battle for a while– it will always have followers, not because it’s good theology, but because it’s easier theology. Preparing for the end will always be more attractive to some folks because it is infinitely easier than investing your life into reforming and building something new.
In order to take this reformation to the next level, we’re going to need to find creative ways to get people to stop taking these end times preachers seriously– because we need everyone working towards the future, instead of bracing for an impact that never comes.
We need to be busy both pointing out why they’re wrong, but also busy replacing this bad theology with good theology. While I get at least one reader e-mail a week that says “maybe you shouldn’t critique what other Christians teach” (before some of them fire off a post about me on their own blogs), I think this is a necessary part of the process– we’re simply not going to be able to completely construct a new narrative for American Christianity if we don’t also explore where we have, and were we still do, go wrong.
Such is the case with end times preachers…
Just today I saw the following clip from John Hagee that reminded me that we must not grow lax in pushing back against the narrative that folks like Hagee continue to push, because it is destructive to our quest to build an optimistic Christianity that invites engagement/investment instead of isolationism, pessimism, and destruction.
In the below video, Hagee goes to the standard playbook of looking at any current event that includes war, and interprets it as being a sign that the end is near:
The question becomes, what do we do? How do we push back against this kind of stuff in the right way?
Here are three ways you can disarm someone who’s making claims about a certain event triggering the “end times”:
1. Point out that their message stays the same– the only thing that changes is the current event.
Any time there is a “rumor of war” or a horrible natural disaster, the end times folks start clamoring that the end is near. Usually they’ll also throw in that someone is going to try to attack Israel really soon. It doesn’t matter what the event is, their message stays the same: the end is near and almost anything in the news can be used as “proof”.
The problem with that? The end never comes. How many times must they falsely predict the end will come before we stop listening to them entirely? Some of these folks have created entire careers out of making false predictions using current events.
Ironically, in Deut chapter 18, the Law of Moses taught that if a “prophet” gave a prediction that did not come to pass, they should be put to death because it was a sign they falsely claimed to speak for God. Just remind the person who is making such claims that had they lived in Bible times, there’s a good chance they’d be dodging a lot of rocks.
2. We need to point out that their message is fear based, and fear based messages are not of God.
The New Testament teaches us that God’s perfect love will “cast out all fear”. However, the end times preachers rely on fear to keep their income flowing. If you watch folks like Hagee more than a few times, you’ll quickly see that the message is all fear based: the Muslims are taking over, there’s going to be a lot of war, and the end is coming… it’s all fear based. This, my friends, isn’t of God. Any time a message plays to fears, we know it has no association with the God who is love.
3. We need to point out that they’re just making crap up.
When you listen to these folks, such as in the video above, you’ll hear them say things like “scripture teaches”, but what will follow will be a country, or event, that doesn’t exist in the Bible. For example, when we hear someone say that the Bible teaches Russia will attack ______, we know it’s total BS, because they are super imposing modern identities on a very ancient, apocalyptic document.
In the video, Hagee claims we can know that “Gog” is Russia, because Gog comes from the north.
Really? Is Russia the only place that’s north of wherever the author was sitting when he wrote the book? Seriously– I’m not kidding– they’re really just making stuff up and we need to keep pointing that out.
Here’s what they’re doing: they’re taking apocalyptic literature which is highly symbolic and metaphoric by nature, and just filling in their own blanks and justifying those blanks by saying “scripture teaches”. Especially when working in Daniel or Revelation– we’re dealing with symbolism such as a 7 headed beast coming up out of the ocean. Anytime someone says they know exactly what that means, they’re guilty of simply making crap up. The truth is, we’re hard pressed to know what any of it means, so your guess is as good as mine– and I’ve got six years of seminary under my belt.
Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll ever be completely free from end-times preachers, but I do think we can work towards making them less relevant. If we continue to press forward with a Christian narrative that is hopeful, engaging, and transformative I believe the narrative we’re pointing to will grow, while there’s will continue to drift into the shadows.
At least, I hope that’s the case. I know where I want to make my investment– into an optimistic Christianity that radically transforms culture for the good of everyone instead of a Christianity that is busy prepping for the end of the world.
Together, I believe we can point to something far more beautiful and relevant than the end-times madness the old guard was obsessed with.