What is Happening in the Middle East is NOT a Sign of the End Times [Jon Huckins]

I’m away from the blog this week, and I’ve asked my friends to fill in. Here’s a post from Jon Huckins. Jon is part of Nieu Communities, one of the most innovative Christian organizations around, and the co-author of Thin Places: Six Postures for Creating and Practicing Missional Community.

Jan, Ruby, and Jon Huckins

Through my work in co-founding The Global Immersion Project, I have spent significant amount of time over the years cultivating relationships among both Israelis and Palestinians as we partner together in cultivating a narrative of reconciliation. As is often the case when we approach a people or place with the hopes of being/bringing the needed change, I have been the one most changed by my friends and colleagues who reside in the Middle East. Behind so many of the subconscious stereotypes and prejudices I had acquired earlier in my life I began to experience the richness of friendship and brotherhood among people I had previously “known” only through the latest sound bite.

Something I have learned in the classroom of real life relationships with Jews, Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land is that our theology in the West has direct implications for the everyday lives of those in the Middle East. Often ignoring the remarkable movements of peacemaking, reconciliation and collaboration that are sprouting like mustard seeds of hope across the Holy Land, we often choose only to make note of the violence, discord and disintegration of the region.

Why is that and what theology might we be allowing to consciously (or often subconsciously) own our perspective on the events in the Holy Land?

One Christian leader recently shared on Twitter: “Watching events in #Israel . All those hellbent on destroying Israel playing directly into Biblical prophecy. #almostcomical

There are few perspectives that have done more harm for the cause of Christ over centuries of Church history than the one expressed above. We could get into why this has significant theological holes that lead to a fatalistic mentality by discussing the role of Apocalyptic literature found in the second half of Daniel, Mark 13 and much of Revelation, but that is for another time and place.

Here is the question we must ask: As followers of Jesus, how does speculating about the eschaton (Final Things or “End Times”) help us live into our vocation as active participants in the restorative Mission of God? We are to be a people who are marked by our love of God and neighbor. Choosing to view violence apathetically (or worse, with excitement of what it may mean for the future!) is anti-Jesus and anti the mission he invited to extend on his behalf.

If we look at the Middle East primarily through the lens of “prophecy fulfillment” then we are unable to primarily look at its inhabitants as humans loved by Jesus. We reduce Image Bearers into pawns within a divine drama. Within Church history you will see “this is the end times!” being proclaimed dozens of times. These pronouncements are nothing new; at one point Napoleon Bonaparte was thought to be the anti-Christ. In the end, this theology fosters a loss of humanity both for those we condemn and for who we are as humans designed to love and be loved.

What if instead of adhering to this fatalistic eschatology we choose to live into a realized eschatology? In other words, what if we understand the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus as eschatological events? In the Christ-event the end becomes now. In Jesus’ inauguration as King of the Kingdom, he sits enthroned as one who seeks to bring about restoration and reunion between God and the cosmos not through violent overthrow, but through suffering and self-sacrifice. When Jesus announces the in-breaking of the Kingdom in Mark 1, the end collides with today.

No, this doesn’t mean that everything is going to be bright and rosy, but it does mean that our future is one of hope that was already fully realized in Jesus. Our job isn’t to project how our world with decay before finally being restored, but to participate in the restoration God continues to bring about even (if not especially!) in the places we least expect.

Jon Huckins is on staff with NieuCommunities, a collective of missional-monastic communities. He also co-founded The Global Immersion Project which cultivates peacemakers through immersion in global conflict. Jon has a Master’s degree from Fuller Seminary and writes for numerous publications including, theOOZE, Burnside Writer’s Collective, RELEVANT, Sojourners & Red Letter Christians. He has written two books: Thin Places: Six Postures for Creating and Practicing Missional Community (House Studio) and Teaching Through the Art of Storytelling (Zondervan). He lives in San Diego with his wife Jan, daughter Ruby. Jon blogs here: http://jonhuckins.net/. You can also follow Jon on Twitter and Facebook.

  • http://winter60.blogspot.com Lausten North

    Sounds like you’re doing interesting work. You may have missed the mark on the audience here. There aren’t too many reader’s of Tony’s blog that are thinking about the end times. My guess is, a lot readers of this had the thought, “Okay, we get that, so besides not talking about the apocalypse, do you have any ideas for how to bring peace to the Middle East?”

  • http://gravatar.com/jonhuckins jonhuckins

    Thanks, Lausten. Reforming and advocating for a theology that humanizes the inhabitants of the Middle East is an extremely tangible way to participate in bringing peace to the Middle East, specifically Israel/Palestine. Not talking about the apocalypse is not near enough to begin to turn the tide of American theology that we are (whether we like it or not) implicitly associated with. We have to live into and advocate for a renewed theology in this area as it has direct implications for the everyday lives of those in the Holy Land. Our theology fuels our politics and our politics (on this issue especially) represent our theology. I can’t tell you how many times I have had Israeli’s and Palestinians tell me that the #1 reason for conflict in their land is due to the role of American Evangelicals in the social and political process. It is for these reasons that the role of a progressive audience like this (Tony’s readers) is so remarkably important in turning the tide on this issue. For many more tangibles on how to participate in the process of reconciliation and peace building is the Middle East, you may take a look at this: http://www.relevantmagazine.com/current/global/how-should-christians-respond-middle-east-crisis

    • http://www.facebook.com/douglas.w.price Douglas Price

      I was with you until I read the follow-up comment. It’s one thing to advocate for a more balanced eschatological view, which I whole-heartedly agree needs balance, but it’s another thing to scapegoat American Evangelicals for conflict in the Middle East (whether the sentiment is coming directly from certain Israelis and Palestinians or not or is actually being filtered through your own theological and political lens is difficult to discern). American Evangelicals have a lot of flaws and most assuredly have done more harm than good with pop theology. But it’s preposterous and just as dehumanizing to suggest that they are the single biggest reason that this centuries-long conflict has yet to be resolved in a significant way.

      • http://gravatar.com/jonhuckins jonhuckins

        Douglas, I hear your concern and, with you, understand the source of this ongoing conflict is far more nuanced that we will discuss here. You might notice that I did not claim that American Evangelicalism is the #1 reason for the conflict, but am sharing with you the perspective of a significant population of Israeli’s and Palestinians (which is a valid and living perspective). Whether the #1 reason or not, shouldn’t it concern us that this is the view of American Evangelicalism from our brothers and sisters (Jews, Muslims and Christians) in the Holy Land? Shouldn’t the Jesus’ community be a sign of reconciliation rather than disintegration and violence? We must stop making excuses (even if some of the critiques aren’t justified) and begin living into our vocation as peacemakers submitted to the rule and reign of Jesus. We must do better.


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