Those raised in evangelicalism were taught to believe that the world will only get worse until the Lord returns. Culture degrades, morality disintegrates, and the world falls apart to the point that only Jesus can rescue us from certain self-destruction.
Listen to almost any traditional evangelical voice and you’ll hear this language peppered in. Things are getting worse, of course they are getting worse, things have to get worse for Jesus to come back. (This implies that they kind of WANT things to get worse so Jesus can come back.)
This isn’t a historical eschatology of premillennialism and the general belief that Jesus would return to establish his Kingdom. Currently, much of this vantage point seems to be seated in a dispensational premillennialism which took root in the early 1900s, but was originally penned by John Darby in the 1830s.
How did this become popular?
The atrocities of World War I radically shifted people’s worldview. While the industrial revolution seemingly made life better and better, the Civil War brought an end to modern slavery, and modern medicine went about ending disease had elevated people’s general perception that the world was getting better. Those same technologies were used to kill hundreds of thousands of people in Europe– which dramatically flip-flopped the worldview the other way.
People began to look at science, invention, and modernization with a new lens. We enjoyed the benefits while always giving a suspicious eye to how evil men and women may use this against us. (This is alive and well today, isn’t it? Read Christian advice on any technology and you’ll see them dance this line of benefit versus danger.)
Evangelicalism became popular in that environment. People generally had a negative view of the world’s future and dispensationalism provided an explanation for it. It was the right message at the right time and lead to the rapid growth of the evangelical movement and the continued degradation of the mainline denominations we continue to see today. (Most of the mainline denominations rejected dispensational)
Much of how we view the world today as American Christians is heavily influenced by a a relatively new eschatological view (non-historical) and one which relatively few Americans understand or hold dear. (dispensationalism)
What does this have to do with me?
As a student at Moody Bible Institute I was taught dispensationalism and pre-tribulational, pre-millennial eschatology as bona fide fact. (I always felt it was a little weird to be taught the future as fact. I guess I was alone in that!) We were all required to take classes which indoctrinated us in the tenants. We all passed tests. And to graduate we all had to sign that we believed in a pre-tribulational rapture. Yes, every graduate of Moody has signed this… forever!
In a school that was so well-rounded in almost every other area this was the one thing they held onto as a distinctive! (And some silly rules about dancing, because we know dancing leads to amillennialism.) Moody isn’t alone. This is a core belief for traditional evangelicals.
What does this have to do with you?
I’m not saying dispensationalism is bad. And I’m not saying there’s no way there is a pre-tribulational rapture. (Though I do find the hermeneutics and evidence which lead to this conclusion as thin) Technically speaking, I’ve always affirmed premillennialism while holding views of a rapture at arms length… I’m not betting the farm on that one.
This is important to you because it impacts the tone with which so many traditional evangelicals approach issues of the day. There is an implied negativity. You’ll hear phrases like, “This is really a shame. Of course we expect it to continue getting worse until the Lord returns.” It’s a tone and a stance that they don’t intend to do anything to make it better– because that’s the way it has to be for Jesus to come back!
The shift to something else…
Most evangelicals seem to be softening on this hardline view. Even as you read this you probably felt like there was a shadow of truth there but it isn’t really how things work in your life or ministry. That’s because we’re seeing things change in evangelicalism. The rise of the neo-reformers (Piper, Driscoll, Keller) has introduced a Reformed theological perspective, which flirts with the notion of things getting worse while affirms that Jesus makes things better in society when his people are at work in society.
It doesn’t feel like people have landed, yet. But it it is clear that the traditional evangelical view of eschatology is having less and less impact on the ministry churches are doing on a day-to-day basis. In my view, this is great!
Here are a few facts that might shock you:
- Fewer teenagers are having sex or getting pregnant than they were 20 years ago. (Despite a full-court press for the sexualization of everything in the media)
- Petty crime is significantly lower than it was 30 years ago.
- Violent crime is also significantly lower. (Despite the celebration of violence in the media and violent video games)
- Neighborhoods are safer, schools are safer, on and on.
And just like the scary things of World War I brought about the rise of one theological perspective… The end of the Cold War and drops in these big, scary things are impacting how Christian view their place in the world.
Where is this going? I’d love your thoughts.