Christian Living

The gradual transformation of evangelical eschatology

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:

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.

Church Leadership

Jesus is the worst sales pitch ever

I'm sure this is a real page turner...

Have  you ever sat in on a timeshare presentation? You’re on vacation, spending $100 every time you get out of the car with your family, and a very nice front desk person tells you… “Mr. McLane, if you’d be willing to sit down and talk with us about our vacation packages, we’ll give you $100 in cash and free tickets to a show. It’ll only be about an hour.

It seems like it will be worth it until you actually do it. For an hour they berate you with every sales tactic in the book. They show you the property. They say, “Imagine coming here for two weeks every year, wouldn’t that be great?” Or “You can trade your weeks for points and go anywhere in the world! And it’ll already be paid for.” Or my favorite, “Mr. McLane, you work hard. Doesn’t your family deserve a vacation like this every year?

It’s moment of insincerity, remembering your kids names, relating stories of other pastors who have joined, on and on. The more they talk the more you want to punch them in the face. It’s hard to say $100 for an hour of your time isn’t worth it. But it’s not worth it.

No offense to those who have bought timeshares. But you go into the presentation either knowing you want to buy one or you don’t.

In which case, since I’m already wanting to buy in the pitch is useless. And for the person who already knows they don’t want to buy the salesperson is just going through the motions and so are you… you just want to be nice enough to get the $100. (And those who get talked into it are more preyed upon than sold on it, right?)

It’s all just a game, isn’t it? I know I’m not going to cave and buy a $30,000 timeshare because I don’t want one. And before I arrived at the presentation my wife and I already told ourselves that no matter what, we’re going to be polite, but we’re just taking our $100 and going to the beach later.

We are not buying a timeshare in Ft. Lauderdale.

Selling Jesus

Photo by David Prasad via Flickr (Creative Commons)

This is, at it’s core, the problem with the “If you build it, they will come” strategy so popular in Christianity.

The sales manager (aka the pastor) polishes up his sales pitch and tells his sales team (congregation) that if they can bring the prospects, (non-church goers) he will close the deal. (I mean, get them to give their lives to Jesus.)

When pastors tell their congregation to do this, there is always a sly little smile, as if to say… “They’ll never know that what we’re about to do is tell them about Jesus.”  Yeah– as if visitors are surprised that your marriage seminar is really a Gospel presentation? Doubt it.

The problem is that the psychology doesn’t work.

Put yourself in the car of a non-church goer about to visit your church with you. You are either interested or you aren’t before you even get there, right? If you aren’t interested in church you are thinking, “No matter what, just be polite, drink the coffee, and peace out ASAP. I’m doing this for my friend.

No amount of manipulation or sales pitch methods will get that person to change their mind. Why? They are locked in as uninterested. And one could argue that those who get talked into it are more preyed upon than sold on it, right?

The problem is that the theology doesn’t work.

Jesus isn’t a deal.

  • Regeneration of the soul happens only when the Holy Spirit calls a person to Himself, right? (Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter X) A sales pitch can be used by the Holy Spirit. But, as I heard over and over again in Haiti, an earthquake can be just as effective a call.
  • A life with Jesus is messier than a tight 35 minutes with 5 points, isn’t it? While a presentation of the Gospel is excellent at piecing things together in someone’s mind, coming to faith in Christ is more an unwinding of life’s ball of yarn than winding it up into a ball.
  • Jesus promises that a life lived in relationship with Him will be more difficult than a life without Him in your life. (Romans 12:1; John 15:18) That is a pretty tough thing to “sell” from a platform. Come and be like Jesus, who died on a cross penniless and almost no friends!
  • In a world that lives for today, an assurance of heaven, pearly gates, and a mansion tomorrow is a program they don’t want. That doesn’t make salvation any less important. You just can’t stand in front of people and say, “If you were to die tonight… would it be heaven or would it be hell?” Culturally, that’s just not what people are thinking about!
Christian Living

Lead us to the river bank

Photo by Patrick Medved via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Can you imagine what was running through Moses’ head as he stood there on the bank of the Nile waiting for Pharoah to arrive? (Exodus 7)

  • I’m doing what God told me to do. (Kept on Repeat.)
  • Uh, why didn’t I write that down? Did God say today or was it next week?
  • Why didn’t God turn like a master blaster grenade launcher into a snake? Why this stupid stick? I feel like an idiot with a stick.
  • This is the dumbest thing I’ve ever done. Aaron, is this the dumbest thing I’ve ever done? Don’t answer that.
  • God didn’t say what Pharaoh and his posse might do to me. Aaron, did God say He’s got our back if they shoot arrows at us?
  • What if this doesn’t work and I’m just a moron yelling at Pharaoh on the side of the river? A burning bush told me so, yeah that will stand up in court.
  • I look like an idiot. What am I doing here?

Standing there. On the banks of the Nile. Pharaoh shows up and Moses only has plan A. If this doesn’t work he’s a dead man.

Faith Like Moses

Has there ever been a time in your life where you’ve stood on the river banks yelling and demanding something so big and so important that you were willing to stake everything for it?

These are questions I’m asking myself as I start this week…

When does my theology get in the way of my faith? Are there things I believe God can’t do? Are there problems I’ve been told are unsolveable? Am I afraid to seek the miraculous? Am I afraid what might happen if I am dumb enough to obey God’s command, wake up in the morning, take my brother and my staff and just wait on the banks of the river and say the exact words He gave me to say?

The Bible is full of stories of men and women dumb enough to believe in the impossible. Today we look at them as heroes. But they defied logic, they felt dumb, and their friends/family probably told them they were dumb. (Until they pulled it off.)

They pushed aside Plan B, C, and D and just obeyed the Lord’s commands. They stood on river banks yelling at Pharaoh. They lit soaking rocks on fire. They gave birth to children in their nineties. They looked at blind men and told them to see. They got out of the boat and walked on water.

My prayer for the week: God, lead us to your river bank. Make us a people stupid enough to obey you. Bring miracles which explode our theology. Allow us to put your commands above our plans. We are desperate for you to be God and for us to be Your people.  Amen.