IHOP and the End of the World (part 2)

IHOP and the End of the World (part 2) January 28, 2014

In “Love and Death in the House of Prayer,” journalist Jeff Tietz provides a bit of background about the theology of the International House of Prayer in Kansas City, Missouri.

What strikes me in his description of that theology, below, is the way IHOP seems to have merged two competing strains of End Times mania. Their view seems to borrow from both premillennial and postmillennial mythologies:

At IHOP’s frequent, frenetic conferences, attendees learn that they are “in the early days of the generation in which Jesus returns,” as IHOP founder Mike Bickle puts it. “I believe that people alive on the Earth today will actually see the Lord with their own eyes,” he has preached. But Jesus has no clear return path. Demons, he says, have steadily taken possession of Christian hearts and infiltrated earthly institutions.

Dude, we could be, like, the best of all the generations that have ever been seen on the face of the Earth.

In 1983, Bickle says, God instructed him to “establish 24-hour prayer in the spirit of the tabernacle of David.” The tabernacle was the tent erected by King David to house the Ark of the Covenant after the conquest of Jerusalem; it became a dwelling place of God and a site of ecstatic worship. To resurrect this spirit of worship, Bickle would build IHOP’s first prayer room, a storefront hall next to the Higher Grounds cafe and Forerunner Bookstore in an IHOP-owned strip mall in South Kansas City. Bickle believes that unceasing, euphoric worship and song at IHOP and in prayer rooms across the globe, which should never close or be empty, will promote passionate intimacy with the Lord, revive the church and demolish demonic strongholds. And so IHOPers pray all day and night, through blizzards and blackouts, in hours-long sessions of mesmeric, musical worship, repeating the same phrases over and over, expecting to precipitate the Great Tribulation and the final battle between good and evil that precedes the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

This is IHOP’s most alluring tenet: God needs IHOPers to effect the Tribulation and bring Christ back to Earth. “The church causes the Great Tribulation,” Bickle has preached. Before founding IHOP, he argued that “God intends us to be like gods. God has conceived in his heart of a plan to make a race of men that would live like gods on Earth.” Bickle sometimes affects to know God as he would a peer. “I heard what I call the internal audible voice of the Lord,” he has said. He claims that he visited heaven one night at 2:16 a.m., and the Lord charged him with preparing for an End Times ministry and seated him in a golden chariot that lifted off into the empyrean. At IHOP, where prophetic experiences are endemic, the mortal and divine commingle liberally.

The vanguard of God’s End Times army, according to Bickle, will be made up of young people, or “forerunners,” seers specially attuned to the will of the Lord, “the best of all the generations that have ever been seen on the face of the Earth.” For seven years of Tribulation, they will battle the Antichrist. When Christ returns, he will slaughter by sword in a single day the unsaved, and his warriors will rule heaven and Earth forevermore.

IHOP is not the only charismatic movement in America to adopt this theology of aggressive prayer. A constellation of ministries shares its vision. Together, they make up what has been called the New Apostolic Reformation, a decades-old rebellion against traditional Christianity that counts millions of adherents worldwide; it has become such a force in evangelical America that Texas Gov. Rick Perry hosted an NAR prayer rally in Houston for his 2012 presidential campaign. As prayer rooms are established in ever more locations, according to NAR, the “seven mountains of culture” – government, business, family, educational systems, the media, arts and religion – will fall under its influence.

The New Apostolic Reformation’s theology is broadly postmillennial. Where premillennial theology of the sort preached by Tim LaHaye focuses on fleeing this world, the NAR is focused on conquering and ruling it. In the pessimistic outlook of premillennialists, Christians can only wait and watch as the world becomes more and more depraved until the Rapture carries them all away. But for the folks at IHOP and throughout the rest of the NAR, Christians have an agenda — conquering the “seven mountains.”

This is quite different from the soft post-millennialism of the Social Gospel movement in the early 20th century. It’s not about a gradual process of reform that might, over time, “Christianize the social order” through an ever-greater approximation of this-worldly justice. It’s war — a Manichaean battle between the children of light and the children of darkness, winner-take-all.

Such militant postmillennialism is sometimes called “dominionism” — from adherents’ expressed desire to seize “dominion” over every aspect of this world. But earlier forms of “dominionism” — like the Southern-Gothic Calvinist “Christian Reconstructionism” of the Rushdoony cult — completely rejected the Scofield mythology of the premillennial dispensationalists.

The dominionists of the NAR, though, seem too fond of that mythology to let it go. Thus they’ve grafted parts of it into their own postmillennial vision.

Which parts? The fun parts. The exciting parts.

They can’t get rid of the whole Great Tribulation battle against the Antichrist, because that just sounds so cool. Sure, the Tribulation is seven years of wrath, death and suffering, and it’s also a dispensationalist construct that’s otherwise incompatible with the End Times framework promoted by the NAR. But if there’s no Tribulation, then there’s no Tribulation Force and no chance to fantasize about being a brave and heroic champion of that elite God squad.

That’s what it’s all about, the ability to tell oneself — to pretend, to fantasy role-play — that one is part of an epic struggle during “the most critical time in the history of the world.”

Given that, it’s not surprising that the NAR and IHOP and the other various para-church para-denominational groups embracing this new End Times mythology are also embracing the far-right politics of the tea party. Both appeal to the same basic fantasy.

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