NRA: Walking in the spirit

NRA: Walking in the spirit August 23, 2013

Nicolae: The Rise of Antichrist; pp. 175, 183-189

Buck didn’t know what he thought about this new level of what Bruce had referred to as “walking in the spirit.”

That comes a bit later in this scene, but it’s a good introduction to this little mini-adventure starring Buck Williams. Buck, you’ll recall, is in Jerusalem, trying to track down former Rabbi Tsion Ben-Judah, who is in hiding after Jewish assassins killed his family just like they killed Christ because he converted to Christianity and has begun preaching from the footnotes of the Scofield New Testament.

Buck’s first idea seemed like a good one — go talk to the Two Witnesses and see if they can help him. They’ve been appearing with Tsion on his evangelistic tour, speaking to the crowds at the huge stadium rallies that Tsion has somehow been permitted to organize throughout the Antichrist’s one-world dictatorship. (Billy Graham called his big evangelistic meetings in stadiums “crusades,” which always seemed unfortunate. In this case, though — considering the convert-to Christianity-or-die message of Tsion’s brand of messianic religion — “crusade” would seem perfectly apt.)

But Moishe and Eli — the impenetrable code names that prevent everyone from realizing they’re really Moses and Elijah — don’t turn out to be much help. They recite a bunch of Bible verses, apparently taken from the concordance entry for “Galilee.” That’s too vague to be useful information — roughly like saying, “I’ll tell you exactly where he is. He’s down the shore.”

And it proves even less useful since Buck doesn’t seem to understand that they’re giving him an essage-May about ion-Tsay. He tells them he’ll come back later and heads back to his hotel for a nap.

It’s there, at the hotel, that Buck begins his new level of “walking in the spirit.” Or, at least, of sleeping in the spirit, since the first thing that happens is he has a dream.

Buck had dreamed that he was Joseph, Mary’s husband. He had heard an angel of the Lord saying, “Arise, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word.”

Buck was confused. He had never been communicated to in a dream, by God or anyone else. He had always considered dreams just aberrations based on daily life.

I’m not sure just what word it was that Jerry Jenkins was reaching for when he settled, instead, on the word “aberrations,” there. I’m guessing it was a word that made more sense in this context than that word does.

Buck’s dream-within-a-dream is kind of trippy and Inception-like, but it’s not as dizzying as the endless recursion of literalism and inerrancy fueling the authors’ logic here. Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins regard themselves as literal readers of an inerrant, authoritative Bible. For them, the Bible read literally, and only the Bible read literally, is the Word of God. Thus even when their story requires God to speak — whether its sending Buck a warning in a dream or speaking through the Two Witnesses to tell him where Tsion is — the message from God almost always comes in the form of direct quotations from the Bible.

So in this story, when God wants to warn Buck to flee his hotel, God sends that message by having Buck relive the dream Joseph had in Matthew’s Gospel, warning him to flee Bethlehem. God speaks to Buck through the literal words of God’s inerrant word. But those very words, the words from the Bible that the authors quote there in Buck’s dream-of-a-dream, reveal that this is not how God communicates. The angel who appeared to Joseph in a dream did not present him with a cryptic message cobbled together from the words of scripture. Joseph received a specific warning in a dream. He wasn’t given a dream that he was someone else, having their dream and receiving their warning.

No wonder, then, that Buck is puzzled by what to make of this dream about a dream about a warning:

Was God trying to tell him that he would find Tsion Ben-Judah in Egypt, rather than wherever it seemed the witnesses were sending him? They always spoke so circumspectly. He would have to simply ask them.

The word Jenkins was reaching for there sounds a bit like “circumspectly,” but it’s actually a very different word. This sort of mistake would be easier to forgive if it were an, um, aberration.

The Two Witnesses’ circumlocutions are a product of the same self-destructing literalism that required Buck to have a dream of a dream about someone else’s warning.

The authors’ commitment to the authority of an inerrant Bible, read literally, compels them to have Moishe and Eli speak almost exclusively in direct quotations from that Bible. Any other approach would risk undermining the authority of the inerrant Word of God by introducing words from God — even here, in a work of fiction — that were not themselves taken directly from the Bible. But that means having Moses and Elijah behave differently here than either figure does in the Bible itself. If you read the Bible, literally or otherwise, you won’t find Moses and Elijah walking around speaking only in Bible verses. And you certainly won’t find them quoting large chunks of the New Testament.

So the authors’ ideology of the Bible requires them to respect the Bible by having biblical characters behave in ways that are incompatible with the way those characters behaved in the Bible. Trippy and Inception-like. Dreams within dreams within dreams.

This whole “walking in the spirit” business is tricky for LaHaye and Jenkins. And that makes this part of the story, in which Buck receives direct messages from God, particularly awkward.

Direct messages from God are a bit too much like Pentecostal/charismatic Christianity for LaHaye. The “dispensationalism” part of his premillennial dispensational theology teaches that the charismatic “spiritual gifts” of prophecy and tongues are not a part of the “dispensation” of this present age. And the Pentecostal/charismatic belief in continuing direct revelation from God, in his view, undermines the authority of the Bible — the “Word of God” — by suggesting it is insufficient and could be or needs to be supplemented with other “words” from God. So when an Assemblies of God pastor stands in the pulpit and tells his congregation that he has received a “prophetic word from the Lord,” LaHaye is more than just skeptical — he’s theologically opposed to the possibility.

But on the other hand, Pentecostal and charismatic churches are large and growing. Before the Left Behind series, the biggest blockbuster in Christian-brand fiction had been Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness series, which presented a very charismatic understanding of “spiritual warfare.” LaHaye and Jenkins were surely aware of the massive size of this potential audience for their books, and likely did not want to alienate so many potential readers and their money.

Here in America, though, even adamantly anti-charismatic fundamentalist preachers tend to be steeped in an evangelical spirituality that emphasizes God’s explicit guidance of our daily actions. So much so that we’ll recite Proverbs 3:5-6 prayerfully, trusting in the Lord with all our hearts and leaning not on our own understanding, in all our ways acknowledging him, and praying for him to direct our paths to a good parking space.

In practice, this divine guidance tends to involve gut feelings, emotions and hunches — something reflected later in this chapter, when Chloe calls Buck to warn him of a “premonition” she’s had that he should stay away from his hotel. It’s difficult to say how such a “premonition” really differs from the kind of direct revelation a Pentecostal Christian might describe as a “word of prophecy,” but I suppose that as long as it was just a vague gut feeling and not an explicit “word” received while praying in tongues, it can pass muster with LaHaye’s anti-charismatic dispensationalism.

I’m not part of the Pentecostal/charismatic stream of Christianity, but I wouldn’t say I’m anti-charismatic either. I am, however, very skeptical of premonitions and of “gut feelings” of divine guidance. As with all hunches, such impulses might be proper conclusions reached by subconscious, but rational, calculation of evidence we hadn’t noticed ourselves noticing. Or they might be illegitimate conclusions based on subconscious fears or prejudices.

Any time we have a premonition, or a gut feeling, or a hunch, or a “sense of God’s leading,” it’s our duty to unpack it to figure out which it is. Before figuring out where any hunch or intuition can lead us, we have to figure out what led us to having it in the first place.

Depending on your point of view, you could call that the discipline of spiritual discernment or you could call that a borderline-neurotic tendency for second-guessing. Both are probably accurate.

Anyway, following his dream of Joseph’s dream — but before hearing from Chloe about her premonition — Buck has a hunch that he should check out of his hotel:

Buck followed a strong urge to take his bag when he left the King David that night. In it was his small dictation machine, his sub-notebook computer (which would soon be replaced by the mother of all computers), his camera, that great cell phone, his toiletries, and two changes of clothing.

Thus just as Joseph took Mary and the baby Jesus and fled to Egypt, protecting the Christ-child from Herod’s slaughter of the innocents, so too does Buck flee his hotel, carrying with him “that great cell phone” — a treasure more precious than gold, frankincense or myrrh.

Seems appropriate to close with this, from James Taylor:

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  • ohiolibrarian

    Mawwige? (sp?)

  • What else would you expect from Buck Douchebag?

  • The Old Maid

    Ah, okay. Solving a problem that didn’t exist, then. :)
    I own a Scofield and the interpretation of Isaiah 53 is a key point in rapturist dispensationalism. They put the interpretation in footnotes/commentary. Even the Scofield doesn’t change the wording of the KJV (as far as I’ve seen).
    (The reason for the big-card thrown-down is because so many readers have remarked that whenever a character in the LB series isn’t a white man, the authors make a point of saying so — repeatedly — often by including an accent and an appetite for certain foods. If they did that for white Americans, and to the same degree, it surely would include references to their regional accent and a declared preference for assorted menu items from McDonald’s. And nothing else.)

  • Bill Hiers

    “Say man and wife! Man and wife!”

    (uncomprehending) “Man and wife…”

  • HM

    But Fred, Moses and Elijah *do* speak in Bible verses. Just open up the Bible and look–every single thing they say is a Bible verse!

  • Carstonio

    Ellanjay hijack the legacies of Moses and Elijah to extol a type of Christianity that regards Jews as traitors. So reminiscent of marriage equality opponents who claim that Martin Luther King would be on their side, when many of these folks originally derided King as pushing communism and racial division.

  • John Alexander Harman

    It’s also further proof that they don’t actually give a damn about getting people to convert before the Rapture — otherwise, they’d be portraying the Tribulation as a time of horrible suffering even for those who become RTCs after the Rapture, in order to impress upon their readers the importance of accepting Christ. The comfortable lives of the Tribbles only make sense in light of their peculiar “we’re saved and you’re not, neener neener” school of non-evangelism.