Last time we met up, I showed you why I think Rapture predictions might be falling out of fashion among fundagelicals. In the course of researching that post, I ran across a list that was downright hilarious. In it, a relic from decades ago, Hal Lindsey, offers a listicle of reasons for churches to “teach Bible prophecy.” It made for an interesting example of a few different ideas we’ve been exploring lately. Today, we’ll run through his list–and see what it shows us about Christianity.
Everyone, Meet Hal Lindsey.
Most people know about Hal Lindsey. He’s been around forever and ever. He shot to prominence with his 1970 book, The Late Great Planet Earth. In it, Lindsey set forth his vision of how the world would end.
Really, it’s all standard-issue fundagelical Endtimes fantasizing. He shoehorns a lot of stuff from the Bible into world events, reinterpreting the lot of it as “prophecy” that totally confirmed that Jesus was returning any day now. He even predicted dates for the Rapture and Armageddon (roughly, the 1980s). As we see in a lot of these fantasies, the date of the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 figures prominently into his ideas.
Despite its tedious nature, sensationalizing, and blatantly false predictions, the book became a bestseller very quickly because it was one of the first of its nature to hit the mass market. Other jealous Christians, like the similarly-opportunistic Texe Marrs, took exception to the fact that it was ghostwritten by a potentially gay, atheist, or “New Ager” person, ZOMG.
Hell, even my mom owned a copy of his book. I read it as a kid. Even then, his predictions sounded ludicrous. But somehow, the book got made into a critically-panned movie in 1979.
Probably a good cure for insomnia.
Undeterred, Hal Lindsey went on to try to create more hysteria with more false prophecies.
Another False Prophet.
In an impressive show of dark–if oblivious–irony, Lindsey’s dumb movie adaptation of his dumb book opens with a scene of the ancient Jews stoning to death a false prophet. Lindsey implies (through narrator Orson Welles, obviously there for a paycheck) that he himself is certainly no false prophet.
But he’s wrong–about a lot of things in that monologue. And it’s a good thing for Lindsey that he’s wrong.
Though the Bible has some very stern (if somewhat contradictory) words for false prophets, Christians never feel compelled to follow any instructions in the Bible that are difficult. Indeed, they’re so accustomed by now to false prophecies that they don’t even give side-eye to anybody who offers up predictions that don’t work out. Outrage levels must be roaring high before a false prophet falls out of favor.
Hal Lindsey thrives in that excessively-permissive, overly-forgiving atmosphere. He’s made a solid living for decades offering up false prophecy after false prophecy. He lives serene in the knowledge that nobody will ever hold his feet to the fire over anything he gets wrong.
Really, the mere fact that he can still be out there slinging the same old tired lines and have a market and an audience for this tripe speaks to Christians’ lack of discernment and their love for anyone willing to pander to their grotesque fantasies.
They just have no idea how to tell a salesperson from a huckster.
Why We Don’t Take a Huckster’s Word for Anything.
Some salespeople have a great deal of integrity and self-respect. They seek only to sell products that their targeted customer actually needs and wants. If they realize that a given customer would not benefit from a certain product, they steer that customer in a different direction. Even if that process might cost them a sale, they would far rather gain that customer’s trust and respect than make a quick buck and thereby earn distrust and alienation. They accept that not every person will be a good match for their product.
Hucksters are a different breed entirely.
Hucksters live for the quick buck and the hard sell. They think every person they encounter desperately needs their product. Using any tactic they can, including intimidation, insults, and shaming, they push their product onto others. They do not accept that anybody could ever have a valid reason for rejecting their product. No low is too low for them if it means closing a sale.
When a salesperson with integrity tells us about their product, we might well listen. That’s why a business’ choice of spokesperson can be so important to their brand. But when a huckster speaks, we view that person–and the product itself–with scorn.
Hal Lindsey falls firmly into the huckster category.
He’s failed so many times as a “prophet” that nothing he says can be taken seriously. When he tells us about his product–which is the media containing the prophecies he creates–we can discount everything he says about it.
The Prophecy Huckster Says Prophecy Is Super-Important, Y’All.
The list we’re looking at today is one he wrote just a week ago. He calls it “Five Reasons Churches Should Teach Bible Prophecy.” It opens thusly:
My name has been associated with the teaching of Bible prophecy for a long time.
He doesn’t mention that his name is primarily associated with false Bible prophecies, nor does he mention his many failures–like his insistence that the Satanic Panic was real, his flogging of 1988 as the end of the world, his prediction about the year 2000 (and 2007), and so far his failure to make 2018 happen. (See also: this interesting paper.) He continues:
But I also understand the need for balance in the pulpit. The Bible addresses a whole range of issues that are pertinent to our lives. All those things need to be taught.
Well, ain’t that mighty white of him. My goodness, how gracious of him to concede that man cannot live by his product alone.
When I say churches should teach Bible prophecy, I am not saying that every pastor has to specialize in it. But I am saying it needs to be included in his teaching. Here are some reasons why.
Ah, now we’ll have his sales pitch.
The “Balance” that Prophecy Provides.
His first reason:
Prophecy teaching provides balance. We say we want balanced teaching. Somewhere between one-fourth and one-third of the Bible deals with prophecy. How can we be balanced if we leave out such a large and integral portion of scripture?
First of all, I’ve never heard any Christian say anything like this. Nor have I ever heard anyone authoritative say that pastors and preachers should talk about the Bible’s facets equally according to how much of the Bible relates to this or that area. Lindsey implies here that if the Bible is 1/4 to 1/3 prophecy, then pastors and preachers should be talking about prophecy a lot more than they currently are–in his opinion.1
As to the 1/4 to 1/3 figure itself, remember that fundagelicals think that most of the Old Testament consists of prophecies relating to Jesus Christ. Part of their confusion stems from the way that the anonymous writers of the New Testament shoehorned whatever they possibly could into their mythmaking around their imagined Messiah.
Thus, quite a few prophecies they think explicitly foretell Jesus and his ministry and/or death and resurrection don’t relate at all to it. The New Testament writers either mistranslated something, or vastly repurposed unrelated verses and took them completely out of context.
(That’s a big part of why Jews reject Jesus as the Messiah. The prophecies they know concern the Messiah, he flunked. The shoehorned verses that Christians think confirm Jesus’ identity as the Messiah, they know aren’t really about the Messiah in the first place.)
That doesn’t mean that the Old Testament doesn’t contain much prophecy. It does. It’s just that the Jews’ view of prophecy does not match the childish theological understanding of Christians like Hal Lindsey.
The “Stamp of Authenticity.”
Hal Lindsey’s second reason:
Prophecy is God’s stamp of authenticity. Truth is God’s signature. The fulfillment of prophecy is His chosen way of authenticating His word. We see it in Deuteronomy 18:22 where the legitimacy of a prophet is proven by whether or not his prophecies come true.
A pity that none of Lindsey’s own prophecies have ever come true. Anything he’s ever said that was specific enough to nail down as evidence of his accuracy hasn’t happened.
Of course, Old Testament prophets didn’t just try to predict the future. As those links above about Judaism illustrate, prophets also told the ancient Jews where they were going wrong–and they spoke about past events as well. Hal Lindsey thinks that all they did–and thus all he cares about–was predicting the future. What’s absolutely hilarious here is that Lindsey himself provides a Bible quote immediately following this howler of an assertion that illustrates that truth.
In Isaiah 41:21-23 God shows the foolishness of idol worship by challenging idols to foretell the future. The New Living Translation says, “‘Present the case for your idols,’ says the Lord. ‘Let them show what they can do,’ says the King of Israel. ‘Let them try to tell us what happened long ago so that we may consider the evidence. Or let them tell us what the future holds, so we can know what’s going to happen. Yes, tell us what will occur in the days ahead. Then we will know you are gods.'”
But Hal Lindsey concludes that this pair of verses demonstrates that a prophet’s work only concerns “what will occur in the days ahead.”
It Sure “Aids Evangelism!”Hal Lindsey’s third reason assures his willing sheep that purchases of his product will help them make sales.
Prophecy aids evangelism. We’re all intrigued by the future. In that way, prophecy draws the curious. But it’s not like a carnival sideshow. Once they begin to seriously consider prophecy, they quickly see the truth and relevance of God’s word to all areas of life. When people see ancient prophecies fulfilled in the world around them, it provides overwhelming evidence that they can and should trust God with their lives. With present-day fulfillment of end times prophecy, what seemed like an old book written by ancient primitives comes to life as God’s word for us today!
Let’s just look at these assertions, shall we?
Yes, “Biblical prophecy” is very much a carnival sideshow. That’s exactly how Hal Lindsey describes his business model. The sideshow attracts the curious, who stick around to pay admission to see more. These ticket-holders goggle and marvel at the bizarre offerings on display. And hopefully they hang around to purchase souvenirs.
Further, prophecy–and by this term I mean the debased simplification that Hal Lindsey makes of it, not what Jews think–may well draw in the unwary and vulnerable. The way he handles prophecy makes it look a lot like a conspiracy theory. As we discussed recently, we know that certain people get really drawn into those illusions.
But most people will see this constant stream of false prophecies and know them for what they are: the work of conjobs, grifters, scammers, and charlatans, all seeking to make a quick and easy buck off of extremely gullible and undiscerning sheep.
A Motivation for “Right Living.”
Hal Lindsey’s fourth reason might puzzle most people, but fundagelicals will only nod along enthusiastically.
Prophecy motivates us toward right living. 2 Timothy 4:8 speaks of “all who have loved His appearing.” I have no statistics on this, but I have a lot of experience working with Christians through the years. From that experience I can tell you that those “who have loved His appearing,” tend to live their lives with an eternal perspective. That perspective causes them to invest their time, money, and attention in things that matter — things of eternal value.
Do they, though?
Do they really?
Let’s take a very close look at fundagelicals, shall we? They are the Christians who most get into these conspiracy theories masquerading as predictions for the future. As a group, are they indeed marked by love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control?
Most of fundagelicals’ sales techniques consist of trying to strong-arm people into accepting their sales pitches despite the inability of these same salespeople to make Christianity work in their own lives. They cry aloud, over and over, “Don’t look at what I do! Don’t take into account the actions of men! Only listen to our sales pitch! It’s true–even if we Christians don’t live in a way that suggests we believe it ourselves!”
If anybody does express feeling repelled by this hypocrisy, the hucksters shilling this failed product don’t consider that motivation enough to clean up their act. They just get more and more angry at the rejection and insist more and more loudly that people must consider their “message” completely separately from the behavior of Christians themselves.
But their hypocrisy is the message.
It speaks volumes, too.
Son of the Bride of the Attack of the Mini-Jesuses!
And his last reason leaves no room for alternate interpretations of how Hal Lindsey sees himself:
Jesus taught prophecy. The New Testament teaches us that Jesus is to be our example. (John 13:14-15, Mark 10:43-45, 2 Corinthians 8:8-9, Philippians 2:5) And Jesus taught prophecy. He used Old Testament prophecy to authenticate Himself as the Messiah.
I talked about this idea ages ago in “The Attack of the Mini-Jesuses.” Fundagelicals love to imagine that they are each just like a little mini-me of Jesus. They especially love to judge others just like Jesus did, to cold read their potential recruits just like Jesus did, to command people just like Jesus did all the time, to create ridiculous little stories they think are parables just like the ones Jesus told, and to get into arguments with their enemies and win just like Jesus did, with zingers and exalted wisdom.
But those stories about Jesus in the Gospels are made-up. Even if they were true, Jesus was, in Christians’ own estimation, a god. Last time I checked, his followers weren’t gods themselves. They just dearly want to be regarded as such.
He used prophecy to explain that His coming would be in two parts. He foretold events of the end times.
While Jesus did promise his followers that they’d do even bigger miracles than he did during his short ministry, Christians have yet to credibly demonstrate that a single miracle of any size has ever happened. And those verses don’t even come close to giving Christians the right to judge others or try to control their lives.
He is our example. He taught prophecy. We should, too.
Problem: Jesus didn’t “teach” prophecy. He seriously thought the world was totally ending–and soon. So he wasn’t interested in leaving long-term instructions at all. That said, his ghostwriters have him giving prophecies—all of which failed to come to pass. Oops.
The Profits are Real, At Least.
Hal Lindsey ends his list at “We should, too.” He takes it as read that his followers will immediately click on his store link at the top of the page and fill their baskets with his books and videos.
And oh, what an incredible mess that shop site is. I’ve always thought Christian hucksters’ goods were overpriced dreck, but it’s like Hal Lindsey saw my opinion, asked it to hold his Bible, and broke out the shovels and backhoe.
You know this listicle of his we just got finished fisking? It was part of his series called “The Hal Lindsey Report.” You can download these columns or get them on DVD for USD$20 each. A “study guide” for his first failed predictions book, The Late Great Planet Earth, will set you back $10.99. Want a “booklet” he wrote called Prophecy of the Last Days? $10.99. What about a 40-CD set explaining the Gospel of John? Oh, that one’s $115.00.
Clearly, false prophecy pays very well.
Pandering to the Masses.
It amazes me that Christians not only can’t see this guy coming and going, but continue to afford him a fully-funded lifestyle at their complete expense. Their continued support of this obvious opportunist is only one sign of their overall failure as a group, but it’s a powerful one.
- Jesus is totally coming back soon. We backed the right horse! Hooray Team Jesus!
- We’re right, and our critics are wrong.
- We’ll get to laugh and jeer at our critics while they roast in Hell for our amusement.
- Christians like us know something nobody else knows.
- We are better people than our critics, and favored by a real live god.
- We are powerful and have the perfect right to order others around.
- Poor widdle us, all persecuted jus’ for bein’ Christian and sharin’ the GOS-bull! Why won’t they listen to us?
- Obnoxious sales attempts work, and we must do more of them than ever. What a burden!
- What we say and believe matters so much more than what we actually do.2
We’ll know that Christians are finally getting serious about regaining their credibility and ending their decline when they start firmly repudiating and rejecting all these false prophets littering their landscape.
NEXT UP: Nope, they’re not ready yet. The SBC shows its true colors once again. I’ll show you how–next time. See you soon!
1 If that were true, Christians would never have gotten involved in their ultra-tedious culture wars. All their moral crusading against gay people is based on a smattering handful of misunderstood Bible verses. And they have to seriously warp and misunderstand a handful of other verses to get anywhere close to the idea of their god having any special affection for fetuses. (Back to the post!)
2 Hal Lindsey is now on at least his fourth marriage. I don’t happen to have a problem with divorce, but as a funagelical, he should. But he feels free to lecture others about the “sin” he himself commits. He was also thick as thieves with one of the biggest Satanic Panic conjobs, serial liar “Lauren Stratford” (really Laurel Rose Wilson). She enlisted the sympathy and support of popular Christian author Johanna Michaelsen, whose sister was Hal Lindsey’s (third, I think?) wife at the time. Lindsey gave her airtime on his TV show and wrote endorsements for her (fictitious) books. Weirdly, “Jesus” didn’t tell him she was lying about ALL of it. (Back to the post!)
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