A necessary, but usually misused, word

A necessary, but usually misused, word June 5, 2024

• The flamboyantly anti-gay bigot and conspiracy theorist Scott Lively lost the last of his marbles years ago and is no longer really capable of coherent speech, but he’s still writing for World Net Daily, where that’s not a requirement. Lively’s latest post is about an “end time scenario” in which he presents “the biblical math as I see it.”

That “biblical math,” Lively says, suggests only two possible candidates for “The Antichrist.” One is, of course, Barack Obama, because eight years ago a Black man was president and Lively still hasn’t gotten over it. But the other candidate, Lively reluctantly says, is Donald Trump — in part because (I’m struggling to make sense of Lively’s nonsense) Lively attributes miraculous signs and wonders to the convicted felon.

As a part-time “Bible prophecy scholar,” Lively reflexively scans every public figure against his personal variant of The Antichrist Checklist. He couldn’t help but notice that his hero checks a lot of boxes on that list. “I don’t want that to be true about Trump, even in the slightest,” he says. But he realizes it is.

And I think some tiny, still-functioning sliver of Lively’s brain or his conscience also realizes that his own otherwise inexplicable devotion to this transparently fraudulent, clumsily bronzered jerk is, itself, precisely the form of unquestioning, uncritical devotion that his “end times” folklore says the deceived masses will display as they embrace “The Antichrist.”

• The problem with all such theories about “what the Bible says” about “The Antichrist” is that the Bible doesn’t say anything about “The Antichrist.” That word is only used in the plural or with an indefinite article — “antichrists” or “an antichrist.”

That got stirred together with other stuff from other passages about “the man of lawlessness” — another sometimes title used for “The Man,” as in “Stick it to The Man.” And then all of that got scrambled together with the beastly rulers condemned in the Revelation, which they treat as a prediction of the distant future, not as anything having to do with the first-century Roman context in which it was written and originally read.

All of that is wrong. It’s confused and confusing, misleading, distorting and, at a basic level, simply illiterate. But it’s not entirely wrong. The biblical passages about The Man also parallel and pertain to those passages about the “beasts” and every other passage about corrupt rulers or The Powers That Be. Caesar was The Man. So was Pharaoh, and Nebuchadnezzar, and Antiochus Epiphanes. But The Man is not only them, or only any one of them. The Man is every corrupt judge or predatory ruler or cruel landlord or callous bureaucrat. The Man will always be with you.

And while it is always wrong and foolish to regard “prophecy” as prediction or prognostication, and thus to disregard its meaning in its original context, it’s not wrong to also seek to apply the words of the prophets to one’s own time and place. The truth of a prophetic word is perpetually present-tense. John of Patmos was not writing to us, or to people anything like most of us (he said, writing in 21st-century English on a computer), but his words can still provide insight for us provided we keep that in mind when reading them.

All of that confusion or potential confusion explains the cautious, delicate language David Dark employs here in his “Antichrist Clarification Hotline.”

That’s a follow-up to his Baptist News interview in which he employed that term — deliberately and precisely — to describe the $60 “God Bless the USA Bible” being sold by the convicted felon former president. The word “antichrist” seemed both useful and necessary in that context, but it’s also a tricky word to employ meaningfully due to its usurpation by people like Scott Lively and Tim LaHaye.

So here is David explaining why he chose to use that word and what he takes it to mean and not to mean:

Yes, antichrist. I do not say that Public Servant 45 is the antichrist. But I do affix the word to an effort. The effort is one tentacle, if you like, of a multi-headed manifesting here there and yon. I speak of GodblessTheUSA.com. If you’re like a lot of people following news in these United States, you’ve probably forgotten about it already. But I hope you haven’t forgotten about antichrist. It names a thing. It matters how we name a thing.

Yes, the second letter to the church community of Thessaloniki refers to “a man of lawlessness.” But I still don’t think of antichrist as a person. Do I think my governor and both my United States Senators and my representative in my House of Representatives have succumbed to a spirit of antichrist when they tweet calls to prayer and Bible verses and hop on their official government social media accounts to target brave jurors in New York City? I do. I really do.

This doesn’t mean they aren’t responsible or legally liable for their behavior. It just means a spirit — I’m comfortable calling it a spirit — is in play. I’m good with calling it an energy too.

The elaborate clarifications here are necessary because he’s trying to use the language of Walter Wink and doesn’t want anyone to mistake that for the language of Lance Wallnau, which uses a lot of the same words but in very different ways.

“Given the weaponization of the word ‘antichrist,’ I don’t recommend its deployment in most contexts,” he continues, “but I think it can be deployed meaningfully in some.” And he goes on to commend Mark Wingfield for deploying it well in another Baptist News piece where Wingfield writes:

The crazy messianic memes going around social media are staggering. Christian nationalist and election denier Eric Metaxas deserves a special award for his post comparing Trump’s conviction to Jesus’ crucifixion.

Meanwhile, the rest of us are left like prophets crying in the wilderness, trying to help allegedly Christian leaders see that they are following a false messiah, an antichrist.

Donald Trump is the antithesis of the teaching of Jesus Christ. He is, in his words and deeds and philosophy, anti-Christ.

You’d think a bunch of people who have studied the Bible so much could figure that out.

You’d think.

• Pastor Joel Webbon leads the Covenant Bible Church in Georgetown, Texas. You’re welcome to join him for worship there — provided you fully affirm the “1689 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith” and also that vaccines are a nefarious plot and that Jonas Salk is history’s greatest monster.

Webbon also runs a handful of godandamerica political “nonprofits” and podcasts through which he’s making a name for himself as an enthusiastic advocate of [white-]Christian nationalism. Kyle Mantyla summarizes Webbon’s Calvin + Hobbes ideology:

Webbon is an ardent Christian nationalist who believes that the American people are too degenerate, stupid, and cowardly to abide by the Constitution and therefore must be governed by a Christian dictator who “just rules with an iron fist” and forces everyone to, at the very least, “pretend to be Christian.” Under this Christian leader, Webbon says, the Constitution will be amended to include the Apostles’ Creed, abortion, pornography, no-fault divorce, in vitro fertilization, and birth control will all be outlawed, and women will be banned from voting.

On Monday’s podcast … Webbon and his guest, fellow Christian nationalist Adam Robles, discussed the need for the United States to be ruled by an “American Caesar” or “Protestant Franco.”

An “American Caesar” or “Protestant Franco.” This is someone who has clearly never read — or understood — any of those Bible passages about the beasts or Pharaoh or the “man of lawlessness” or The Man in any of his many forms. A lot of right-wing pastors are praying for the rise of “The Antichrist” because they think that’ll make Jesus come back with a machine gun to mow down all of their enemies and own the libs, but Joel Webbon isn’t like that. He’s praying for the rise of “The Antichrist” because he thinks that would be nifty.

Webbon apparently isn’t smart enough to understand that it’s not possible to have a generically “Protestant” Franco. A sectarian “American Caesar” must be specifically, particularly sectarian. Poor Webbon is so caught up in his fantasy that he hasn’t realized that this new Caesar is just as likely to use his dictatorial powers to enforce the 1644 London Confession putting 1689-ers like himself in legal and mortal jeopardy.

* (SCENE: A persecuted church in Smyrna, in Asia Minor, ca. 90 AD)

FIRST ELDER: Did you read this epistle from John of Patmos? It’s amaz–

SECOND ELDER: Yeah, don’t worry about it. That’s not for us.

FIRST ELDER: It’s addressed to us. Got our name on it right here.

SECOND ELDER: That’s a metaphor.


SECOND ELDER: Look, obviously this couldn’t have anything to do with us. We’re not even white. That letter is about white Christians thousands of years from now on some other continent we’ve never even heard of. Obviously. How much of a solipsistic egomaniac do you have to be to just assume that this text is just about you, you, you?

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