As Long as We Approach the Bible This Way, We’re in Trouble

I will confess: I have been away from this kind of thinking for quite awhile now, so whenever I hear a clear example of it, I am almost shocked at how silly it sounds to me at this point in my journey.

I saw a post recently by Pastor/Evangelist Greg Laurie with this title:

Where is the United States in the End-Times Scenario?

For those of you who don’t know, I was once immersed in the world of fundamentalist Bible teaching that grew out of the Scofield Reference Bible and the dispensationalist approaches taken by schools like Dallas Theological Seminary. But even back when I was in that world, topics like this annoyed me because I didn’t find anything in the Bible that seemed to resonate with such a question.

Even back then I think I might have responded to such a query with an answer like this: “Because the Bible is not about America and its prophecies are not detailed “news reports” of the events of our day cloaked in ancient language.”

But before we get to what I have to say, let’s see how Greg Laurie handled this issue.

First of all, he starts by assuming that modern nations are part of the prophetic teaching of Scripture:

It is interesting to note that a number of nations are mentioned in the Bible that will be active in the last days. Libya is mentioned by name. Persia, which became modern Iran and Iraq, is mentioned. Ethiopia is specifically mentioned. Quite possibly China and Russia are mentioned. And certainly Israel is mentioned. But the one nation that is strangely absent is the United States of America.

Second, he assumes the absence of the U.S. from prophecy means bad news for the nation. Laurie suggests that the U.S. might be destroyed in a nuclear war. This enables him to bring up the enemy du jour, the terrorists and rogue states that might get hold of a weapon and use it against us. He also suggests an internal collapse, giving him the opportunity to express concern about the “soul” of our country and go to preaching against the common contemporary moral concerns of the religious right:

As our country becomes more and more secular, systematically eliminating God and the Bible from our education system, courts, and the arts we will begin to reap the inevitable results of sin. We will begin to rot from the inside.

Historian Will Durant pointed out that a great nation is not destroyed from the outside until it has first fallen apart on the inside. Certainly you can see the moral decay in America today. The Bible says, “Godliness makes a nation great, but sin is a disgrace to any people” (Proverbs 14:34 NLT). If we forget God and abandon the Bible, which is his Word, then we will reap the inevitable results of sin. I think to some degree, we already have as we have seen the breakdown of the family, rampant crime and so many other problems that have come from disobeying God.

What once was freedom of religion seems to have now become freedom from religion. We have succeeded in getting God out of our schools, out of our sporting events, out of our public places and out of our workplaces.

Christmas – which was once, at least to some degree, a celebration of the birth of Jesus – now has simply turned into Happy Holidays and Seasons Greetings and for some, even winter solstice. Good Friday and Easter, which are times to remember the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus, have now turned into spring break.

And why would one ask specifically about the U.S. anyway? That betrays a great deal of national hubris on the part of the questioner and the preacher who thought it a worthy inquiry. Sure we’re the world’s biggest superpower at the moment. And perhaps that’s it. Everyone’s being told that we’re living in the “last days,” and the U.S. is so prominent in the world today — why then aren’t we mentioned?

There are so many wrong assumptions bound up in the question alone.

Laurie’s third possibility strains credulity even further than some of his other points. He says perhaps the U.S. will have a massive revival that will result in a significant percentage of the population getting saved. Consequently, when the Rapture occurs, the infrastructure of U.S. will be so weakened because of the absence of those Christians that it will simply collapse.

Finally, Greg Laurie concludes his message by calling his listeners to pray that the U.S. will “turn back to God.” This gives him the opportunity to repeat the standard historical assertions of the Christian Right — that the U.S. is a Christian nation, founded upon biblical principles, whose founders “called upon God” in the early days of the country. The subject of prophecy disappears completely from the message at this point. In true form, the evangelist calls us to return to the old ways that presumably brought God’s blessing upon us in the past, and forsake the wayward paths we’ve since taken.

* * *

As long as we approach the Bible this way, we’re in trouble. Unfortunately, this kind of prophetic teaching is still all too popular in fundamentalist and conservative evangelical churches and organizations. It turns the Bible into a giant puzzle book of detailed divine plans for the future. In combination with a moralistic approach that sees the Scriptures as “God’s instruction book for life,” it creates Christians and institutions that separate from the world in all the wrong ways and set their minds on teachings that are esoteric and and in some cases, simply silly.

Such cartoonish eschatology mirrors the craziness of much YEC creationist teaching. The end is like the beginning. And you will note that evangelists use both to promote the agenda of the religious right.

To think that the Bible was written to talk about modern nations and specific historical events in our day or in the future is a big stretch. Most of the prophecies in the First Testament find their fulfillment in the return from exile and the coming of Messiah. Most of the prophecies in the New Testament look forward to the fall of the Jerusalem and the subsequent extension of the Gospel to the ends of the earth. There is a final eschatology, but its details are difficult to envision or describe with specificity. Many of us are loathe to go too far beyond our creedal commitments when speaking of the future:

He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.
…We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

One would hope that contemporary scholars and theologians like N.T. Wright, Scot McKnight, Andrew Perriman, and others will have a wider hearing in the church and we can leave these remnants of dispensational theology and its heirs behind.

Left behind. One can only hope.

* * *

Note: For more on my journey from dispensationalism, see the post, “Time to Leave Behind the Rapture.”

For a saner and more biblically grounded message, check out “The Road to New Creation,” a sermon by N.T. Wright.

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8 thoughts on “As Long as We Approach the Bible This Way, We’re in Trouble

  1. Good post. It’s interesting reading similar speculations throughout history.
    It seemed obvious to many people that Mussolini and Italy had to be IT.
    Or Hitler.

    And during WW1 it must have been hard for many people not to see that as the end of the world.

    But then if you keep going back, it can always seem like the end. Imagine if there was a Krakatoa type event now.

  2. Most of the prophecies in the Bible relate to historical events at the prophet’s time. There is nothing futuristic about them.

    Even the messianic prophecies were only interpreted as messianic after the coming of Jesus.

  3. I find the US ministries’ focus on the centrality of the US banal in some ways. It’s as if the rest of the nations do not exist and America is the main focus of God’s attention. That America is an important nation in modern times is indisputable, but these things shift.

    The main focus of Scripture is, and always was, the Middle East, and particularly Israel, especially once they entered the Promised Land, and the influence on world events of the spread of the gospel from there.

    America is never mentioned, except in context with the Gentiles, or other nations besides Israel.

    But US ministries are big, influential and financially able to promote their messages, which are often US centred. My wife once bought me a book on prayer, which, when I opened it, was entirely the focus of three or four well known intercessory ministries on the affect of prayer on the US. It was so narrow and self-conscious that It still sits on our bookshelf unread.

    But to say that there is no end-time theology is somewhat naive. You don’t need to disregard the US to lose the importance of prophecy to Scripture. Bones’ false assertion that all prophecy refers to immediate historical events and do not foretell or forth-tell is baseless. The author of the article in the post seems to be saying the same thing.

    Bones’ statement, ‘even the messianic prophecies were only interpreted as messianic after the coming of Jesus’, is self-contradictory.

    In other words, even by this statement, when Jesus came he demonstrated the accuracy of prophecy, or, the prophecies were, in him, fulfilled. There are others, uttered by Jesus, which have clearly yet to be fulfilled.

  4. In other words, even by this statement, when Jesus came he demonstrated the accuracy of prophecy, or, the prophecies were, in him, fulfilled. There are others, uttered by Jesus, which have clearly yet to be fulfilled.

    No, the gospel writers clearly used verses taken out of context to show a link between Jesus the Messiah and the Old Testament. Matthew’s use of Isa 7:14 was based at best on a mistranslation and there’s no way Hosea 11:1 was ever considered Messianic.

    Then of course you have James’s strange use of Amos 9:12 in Acts 15.

  5. So you are calling Jesus a liar…

    Luke 24
    12 But Peter arose and ran to the tomb; and stooping down, he saw the linen cloths lying by themselves; and he departed, marveling to himself at what had happened.
    13 Now behold, two of them were traveling that same day to a village called Emmaus, which was seven miles from Jerusalem.
    14 And they talked together of all these things which had happened.
    15 So it was, while they conversed and reasoned, that Jesus Himself drew near and went with them.
    16 But their eyes were restrained, so that they did not know Him.
    17 And He said to them, “What kind of conversation is this that you have with one another as you walk and are sad?”
    18 Then the one whose name was Cleopas answered and said to Him, “Are You the only stranger in Jerusalem, and have You not known the things which happened there in these days?”
    19 And He said to them, “What things?” So they said to Him, “The things concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a Prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people,
    20 “and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to be condemned to death, and crucified Him.
    21 “But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. Indeed, besides all this, today is the third day since these things happened.
    22 “Yes, and certain women of our company, who arrived at the tomb early, astonished us.
    23 “When they did not find His body, they came saying that they had also seen a vision of angels who said He was alive.
    24 “And certain of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but Him they did not see.”
    25 Then He said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!
    26 “Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?”
    27 And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.
    28 Then they drew near to the village where they were going, and He indicated that He would have gone farther.
    29 But they constrained Him, saying, “Abide with us, for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent.” And He went in to stay with them.
    30 Now it came to pass, as He sat at the table with them, that He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.
    31 Then their eyes were opened and they knew Him; and He vanished from their sight.
    32 And they said to one another, “Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?”
    33 So they rose up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together,
    34 saying, “The Lord is risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!”
    35 And they told about the things that had happened on the road, and how He was known to them in the breaking of bread.
    36 Now as they said these things, Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them, and said to them, “Peace to you.”
    37 But they were terrified and frightened, and supposed they had seen a spirit.
    38 And He said to them, “Why are you troubled? And why do doubts arise in your hearts?
    39 “Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.”

  6. “No, the gospel writers clearly used verses taken out of context to show a link between Jesus the Messiah and the Old Testament. ”

    I think I’ll spend my time on a Christian blog from now on.
    This is ridiculous. Over to you St. Steve.

  7. Well, Q, this is what Jesus said when He entered the upper room where His disciples were gathered after He was crucified:

    He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures. Then He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And you are witnesses of these things.
    Luke 24:45-48

    Now you have to either deny Scripture and deny Christ altogether to then say that the disciples fabricated the evidence of prophecy, or believe that Jesus actually confirmed the prophecies about Him.

    But any true Christian who holds that the canon is an accurate representation of God’s dealings with men would have to say that Jesus is confirming that there wee prophecies relating to His first and second comings in the Old Testament.

    This passage clearly reveals that He personally discussed this fact with His disciples after His resurrection, so that they had the beginnings of what would become the New Testament pointed out to them, and how they could search the Scripture for the revelation of the Messiah, and that He was the Messiah, and that He it the criteria for having fulfilled the prophecies which pointed towards Him and that time.

    There are other prophecies which, similarly, have yet to be fulfilled, both in the Old Testament and the New.

    Jesus Himself refutes Bones’ assertion.

    Personally, I need no more evidence but that given by he Messiah Himself as recorded by those who were either with Him or with those who were with Him.

    Sadly for them, because Bones, wazza and Greg eliminate many, if not most, of the Books of the Bible, including this one, it is almost impossible to discuss this issue with them, so yes, if you want a discussion on a Christian site you would do better to search for another, because this is looking very much like, at best, a site run by agnostics.

  8. The reason why the Universal Church of Rome took the Scriptures and bound them in a book was so they could bind the people in a box, plain and simple, and instituting Canon Law to shoot down any dissenters. God being in or being a Book is Kabbalah, and not Christ If the Word is in your heart, then the Bible will come alive when the Word makes it come alive. otherwise it as useful as a cup with no drink in it. If you cannot hear the Word without the Book, then you are bound in darkness thinking you are in the light. Been there, done that, still have to scars to prove it, but they are healing.

    Try putting your Bibles down, get real quiet, and ask Jesus to drive out all the leavening of the Old with the New. You search the scriptures thinking to find Truth, to find Jesus, but he is not there, He is in your heart.

    Bring all your works to God to see if by him they are worked, for it is the Father within, He does the works. But most will not, and instead of having your very own inexhaustible, eternal, internal oil well as it were, must go to those who sell oil or try to figure it out for themselves.

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