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.
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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.
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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.