[Kurt's Note: This is a slightly revised version of blog post I wrote a few years back. I thought of it after hearing that a new Left Behind movie (featuring Nicolas Cage and Chad Michael Murray) will be coming to theaters in 2014. These are some basic reflections (which, if I had started from scratch, might have come out a bit differently on some minor points - we all grow!) on the so-called end times. I point readers to some helpful resources for retraining our theological imagination.]
When the good folks at IHOP-KC produced this commercial for this board game, I was personally disappointed. I like much about this ministry, especially their emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit… but sadly, here is a reason why I keep my distance from the mainstream Pentecostal movement (even though I consider myself a bit of a charismatic). This board game, Omega, is another example of an escapist and unbiblical reading of Revelation, Mark 13 (and parallels), 1 Thessalonians 4, and other relevant texts. Just when I started to think that the end times doom-and-gloom was coming to an end in our churches, this game is a reminder that the flawed theology of Left Behind and The Late Great Planet Earth is alive and well. And although IHOP and others would align more with Historical Pre-millennialism (and a Post-Trib rapture) [I failed to make this distinction in the original version of this post], all “futurist” eschatologies that believe in a coming Tribulation – particularly one that will last 7 years under the rise of the Anti-christ – create a problematic picture of the world’s end. Tribulation doesn’t have to come before Jesus returns: Jesus will simply return!
For some of you, it may surprise you that a Christian (like myself) would question the common approach to the so-called End Times texts. I want to assure you that it is not because I think that God couldn’t do things that way, but rather that this system is not what Scripture actually teaches. Out of a burden to read God’s Word with integrity, I reject the following: a rapture of the church when Christians will be taken to a non-physical bliss for eternity and when pagans will be left behind, a future 7 year tribulation, a future Antichrist, and the future destruction of the planet leading to a new spiritual existence in heavenly bliss. That system of theology does not handle the 1st century biblical context or the literary style in which God inspired the texts with enough precision. All of these passages, when placed in a proper interpretive grid, are about issues the early church faced such as persecution; not about our future. One of the only passages about our future is found in the final two chapters of Revelation, when God will bring heaven to earth for eternity!
Why does this matter? Well, it can determine how we express faith in the present. Is Christianity about escaping this ‘evil’ world to go to a disembodies place of eternal bliss called heaven, or is it about God using us in the present and accomplishing one day in the future, the bringing of heaven to earth? Is the way of Jesus a message of coming doom and gloom for earth, or about the hope that Christ will bring his restorative and healing justice to purify the “groaning” creation?
If escapism is the answer, then there is really not a guiding framework for why we ought to care about “this-worldly” issues such as poverty, climate change, and disease; because this world will be destroyed eventually anyway. Not only so, the goal is escape so the only thing we need to do is get people to recite a sinner’s prayer and then we can call it good… they will die and go to heaven so if they suffer on earth, that’s only a millisecond compared to eternity. If the gospel we preach is about coming gloom and doom, then our message to culture does not include any kind of real hope for our world.
I for one believe in a holistic gospel, one that cares about the eternal salvation of every person while also longing that people who are the victims of injustice, are taken care of. I believe in the Good News when it actually is embodied as good news. I believe that the Christian message is also the most hopeful thing our culture could ever hear. The Bible teaches that when Christ comes back, it will be Good News! “‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away’” (Revelation 21.4). Surely we cannot erase judgment from the picture, but the hope is that those in Christ will be raised to eternal life and everything that is wrong with this world will be made right. This world renewed is going to be our home for eternity, and we have the opportunity to reflect that future in our present. The coming new creation begins today!
The problem with the Omega board game, is that it distorts the hopeful message of the return of Jesus into being WWIII and the destruction of the space-time universe. To this I say – it’s time we returned to the Bible for our answers rather than a theological system that was the product of a revivalist culture in the mid 1800’s. It’s time to escape the trappings of the doom-and-gloom Gospel for the good news of Christ’s eventual return.
If you would like some resources on what might be more consistent with the Scriptures in their context, check out the following:
- My series: Earthquakes – Signs of the Times? Based on this academic paper
- My post: Corrective Strategies and Themes for Understanding Revelation
- Apocalypse and Allegiance: worship, politics, and devotion in the book of revelation
- Reading Revelation Responsibly: uncivil worship and witness – following the Lamb into the new creation (and Scot McKnight’s reviews)
- Revelation for Everyone, N.T. Wright
- Revelation: believers church bible commentary
- Guided Tour of the Apocalypse (by friend, J-M Smith)
- Surprised by Hope, N.T. Wright
 This isn’t to say that if someone has a dispensationalist view of eschatology that they automatically neglect such areas (some dispensationalists/futurists are much more just in their lifestyle than I am, that’s for sure!). Rather, I think that this system of thought doesn’t provide a solid theological framework for such justice/ecological based missional actions. In other words, dispensationalism, in its uncritical and worst forms can be used as a theological trump card to dismiss important areas of Christian mission [sadly I've seen it done].