Friday, April 29, 2005

The Pandemonium Perpetrated by the Premillennialist Paradigm

* This is an article I wrote for my website in 2002. While more political in nature, I think it addresses issues that Calvinists should take seriously--namely, a return to a more Reformed, Christ-centered view of eschatology.

Any time there is a flurry of activity in the Middle East, you can count on evangelical Christians to put on a good show. They run around proclaiming an "End of the World Is Near" gospel in hopes of scaring people into the Kingdom of God.

I refer to such Christians as "they" because I happen to be one of those Christians who believe that God is no longer dealing with national Israel and that His chosen people are those who comprise the church--essentially, all who believe in Christ. This may seem like a radical concept to those who look upon writers of doomsday fiction as prophetic geniuses, but that's what happens when people are drawn away from that boring, dust-covered, leaherbound Bible on the coffee table by novels with flashy covers and catchy titles.

When it comes to end times "prophecy," premillennialists seem to have a monopoly on the market. Hal Lindsey burst upon the scene in the 1970's with The Late Great Planet Earth. It became an international best-seller. In like fashion, the Left Behind series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins has proven to be one of the most lucrative enterprises in the history of Christendom. Sure, these books are by no means examples of literary greatness, but the authors more than make up for that with pure, unadulterated prophetic sensationalism.

The success of apocalyptic authors like Lindsey, LaHaye and Jenkins stems from their ability to exploit the prevailing eschatological school of thought among evangelical Christians, that being dispensational premillennialism. (Thank you, John Nelson Darby!) When it comes to the end times, most premillennialists believe that all Christians will be "raptured," that is, taken up out of the world by Jesus Christ at his almost second coming. Those left behind will have to face the Great Tribulation, a seven-year period of unparalleled chaos which will also herald the rule of the Anti-Christ. At the end of the Tribulation, Christ will return--his actual second coming--to set up his earthly kingdom and reign on the throne of David for a thousand years. After that millennial time of peace, God will do away with evil once and for all at the Great White Throne Judgment. (How there can be a thousand years of peace with evil present I cannot say. I suppose it's one of those things that just works it self out in the premillennialist model.)

With all the hype surrounding the end times, it is certainly understandable that theological misconceptions will filter down into our political ideology. This is not a new phenomenon. In fact, ever since the arrival of dispensational premillennialism on this continent in the 19th century, our national political position has shifted to accomodate this line of thinking thanks to the efforts of evangelical Christians.

Evangelical Christian influence has been around since the founding of this nation, and the beliefs of evangelicals have spilled over into politics. Ordinarily there would be nothing wrong with this, but flawed theology has since given way to a flawed foreign policy, and U.S. interests have become inextricably tied to the interests of modern Israel.

Strong political support for a Jewish nation began in the early 1900s. During World War I, Arthur James Balfour penned the Balfour Declaration which set the stage for British support of a Jewish homeland:
    His Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.
Since dispensational premillennialism had already established itself as a part of the evangelical mainstream, it was only a matter of time before U.S. politicians who had been born and raised in that evangelical tradition began to let their theology affect their political ideology. In 1919, President Woodrow Wilson signaled his approval of the Balfour Declaration when he said, "The allied nations with the fullest concurrence of our government and people are agreed that in Palestine shall be laid the foundations of a Jewish Commonwealth."

American politicians have continued to voice their strong support for Israel, though little has been mentioned as to why Israel is such an important ally. But that really isn't the issue I want to explore. What seems to be driving the U.S.-Israel relationship, as far as evangelical Christians are concerned, is the popular belief that the nation of Israel still plays an important role in prophecy, and those not wanting to be caught facing the business end of God's wrathful sword come Judgment Day are pushing for more U.S. involvement in the Middle East. About the only reasons we hear are that we have a "moral obligation" to stand behind Israel or that it's simply "the right thing to do."

Dispensational premillennialists typically quote the Book of Psalms when speaking of our "obligation" to support Israel. "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: 'May they prosper who love you'" (Ps. 122:6). This passage has been accepted by many Christians as a universal command by which all believers are bound to pray for the physical city of Jerusalem, lest they fall out of favor with God. Of course, that isn't the case.

While it may be good and practical to pray for the peace of modern Jerusalem, we should really be praying for peace all across the world—the peace that can only come about through the Good News of Jesus Christ. So, in a spiritual sense, Psalm 122 does apply to Christians today. We should pray for the peace of the spiritual Jerusalem, the church (Heb. 12:22), for the well-being of our brothers and sisters in Christ and the furtherance of the Gospel.

Many Christians, however, are too wrapped up in their flawed eschatology to realize that their first responsibility is to the church, the body of Christ, and not to a nation of unbelievers. As a result, eyes glance up in anticipation at the eastern sky every time Israel is mentioned in the media, and the practice of interpreting Scripture through newspaper headlines becomes commonplace.

It is interesting to see the ensuing pandemonium among evangelical Christians brought about by rumors of war in the Middle East. Believers ignore sound biblical instruction and start buying up extra copies of Left Behind to use as witnessing tools for reaching their non-believing friends. Christian columnists all across America crank out editorial pieces on the Jews' divine claim to the Holy Land and the importance of remaining steadfast in our nation's support of Israel. Jack Van Impe goes on television with an air of righteous vindication and says, "See? My latest reinterpretation of my previous reinterpretation of Revelation was correct! The time of Christ's coming in the clouds is fast approaching!"

Who can blame these Christians for becoming so enraptured (no pun intended) with the idea of being whisked away in the blink of an eye while the world is left to fester for seven years in its own evil juices? It is comforting for people to believe that they will escape tribulation when the end comes.

But ask anyone who holds to the premillennialist view what Christ had in mind when he proclaimed, "Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place" (Matt. 24:34). Ask them what the apostle Paul meant when he said, "For they are not all Israel who are of Israel, nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham" (Rom. 9:6b-7a). Ask them why God felt it was necessary to establish a New Covenant (Heb. 8) if the Old Covenant is yet to be fulfilled. Chances are the answers you receive will be less than satisfactory.

The truth is that the covenant God had with Israel finds its fulfillment in Christ. "And if you are Christ's," Paul reminds us, "then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise" (Gal. 3:29). Advocating an "End of the World Is Near" gospel that appeals to gullible Christians and poll-driven politicians cannot be edifying for the body of Christ. If anything, it detracts from the work the Son of God already accomplished through his death and resurrection.

I certainly do not hold myself up as a theologian or biblical scholar, but it doesn't take one to see that the premillennialist paradigm is rather precarious. When a fundamental part of our foreign policy is based on a shaky biblical exegesis and championed by the very people who should know better, it gives one reason to question the immediate future of our nation.

At least we can rest in the fact that God is ultimately in control. His true chosen people, those who confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, will not be forsaken, and the glory of the Almighty will shine forth for all the world to see.

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