Posted by: minnow | March 5, 2011

Is He or Isn’t He?

In the recent hoopla over Rob Bell’s new book, Love Wins: Heaven Hell and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, I came across this post and this post.  The first talks specifically about the reaction to Bell’s soon to be released book (fairly well described in the title) and the second are thoughts on what it meant for the author to “lose hell”.  I recommend both to anyone interested in a balanced and provocative look at some of the elements surrounding the Bell Hell controversy.  And while I am also going to sort of steal Mr. Holtz’ format I am not going to focus specifically on either of those issues.

Lately, a side issue has been nipping at my heels and in this post I turn my attention there–the theology of end times.  Periodically, throughout Christian history groups of people have believed they were living in “the end times”.  They have pointed at the current events of their day and quoted the Bible to prove their assertions.  In fact, even the disciples thought they would see Jesus’ return in their life times.  But just like Y2K, chosen dates and lifetimes pass and all the predictions are forgotten until the next end times philosophers are stirred up.  (NOTE: End times prognostications are not just fascinating to Christians.  The secular world has often been caught up with them as well).

The trouble with focusing too heavily on Christ’s imminent return is that it skews how we behave and how we think.

PROBLEM 1. End times obsession reinforces an attitude of fear.

End times is an easy issue to stir up to begin with in part because our religion (legalistic interpretation of scripture) teaches us to be afraid.  We should be afraid of sin and be afraid of hell because we are sinners.  We should be afraid of God but that’s a holy fear (though that might not be understood based on how some of us talk).  We should be afraid of the world and how it can influence us but at least say that we love it because the God we claim to follow actually does (though one might not understand that based on how some of us talk either).  We should be afraid of other people’s (heretics’) opinions and other denominations’ doctrines because they might contradict our own and ours are based on what the Bible really says even though we read the same Bible they read.

End times prognosticators use all that fear to manipulate behavior and keep the masses in line.  Because the end is imminent we don’t dare look outside the box.  What if we’re caught outside?  We don’t dare befriend a non-Christian.  What if their bad rubs off on our good?  We know God loves us but we don’t want to get zapped later if we haven’t confessed our sins.  All of which brings me to the next problem.

PROBLEM 2.  End times obsession steals our time and energy.

The Bible cautions us that not even Jesus knows the day or hour (Matthew 24:36).  And, even though end timers scoot around that passage by generalizing their predictions to “their life time” and adding that they are “not predicting the exact date” their end times focus, fed by fear, causes them to use time and energy in obsessive ways.  If we are too afraid (though we do not consciously look at it that way) to be out in the world maybe we just better spend our time in the prayer room where it’s safe and we can “do the most good”.  Forget that it is possible to pray outside the prayer room–we have consecrated a particular space and should spend as much time there as possible.  Prayer is after all more successful when the space has been consecrated by prayer.  Humm…

Problem 3. Focusing on the end stops us from looking at the future as full of possibilities.

Right alongside spending more time inside safe walls a traditional end times focus makes looking at the future of the world in a positive or hopeful light nearly impossible.  Rather than engaging our imaginations, time, and energy with creative problem solving the end times mentality chooses to hunker down for the total destruction of the world which is another good reason to stay inside, not that bomb shelters (except for the holy spirit prayer room kind I suppose) would have much effect against the total destruction of the world.

Problem 4. We nurture a war rather than peace mentality.

In a recent FB conversation I found myself explaining my personal end times theology like this: I believe Christ is not coming back as a warrior King, after plagues and pestilence have ravaged the earth.  (AKA traditional end times theology).  I believe He will return as the Prince of Peace, a symbolic groom to a symbolic bride when that bride has become His manifest body (which might also explain why Jesus did not know the day and hour). You see there are many ways to interrupt end times scripture because it is so full of imagery and symbolism.  I personally believe the end times wars, famine, etc. are the times we live in and have lived in since the time of  Christ.  The receivers of the visions and prophecies in the Bible did their best to explain planes and bombs they had no reference for but we have since decided to take their imagery (metaphors) literally.  Silly us.  But, such an interpretation does sometimes let us off the hook from actually having to engage with the big, scary world full of sin-filled people Jesus did literally expects us to love.  All of which leads me to my last point.

Problem 5. We begin to see non-believers as useless due to an us VS them mentality set up by the need for an enemy if we are going to have a war.

I am tremendously grieve when fellow Christians use arguments of “Biblical love” to camouflage self-righteous indignation, a spirit of judgment and condemnation, or personal insecurity.  I am learning (work seriously in progress) to be cautious when I make statements like I just made.  The risk is that I become guilty of the same mistake.  Yet saying nothing, at least for me, seems to also carry a risk.  Even though the Bible tells us to love our enemies it is very difficult for us to do so in practical ways when we have convinced ourselves to be afraid of them.  Perfect love casts out fear but in this case I suspect fear actually keeps perfect love at bay.

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Responses

  1. Quote: “End times prognosticators use all that fear to manipulate behavior and keep the masses in line.” This statement might, more than the rest of the post, reveal how you feel about end-time theology. It seems out of place and not in line with your otherwise ‘objective’ point of view.

    Other than that, you are quite a good writer Mrs. Boelman. I might think that in the same way that others focus too much on the imminent return of Christ, you could possibly focus too much on the other side of the scale?

  2. Hey Calvin–thanks for reading and for commenting.
    I should have been clearer in how I said what I said about end times prognosticators. I do NOT think they (or at least most) overtly intend to “keep the masses in line” but I do believe that is often the over all effect of fear based theology.
    So to your mind what is the “other side of the scale” that I focus on too heavily?


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