Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Ethnocentric End-Times Teaching

It seems many predictions about the end of the world are merely based on one's own circumstances, often forgetting that far worse things have happened to others in previous generations. For example:

There were 60,000 to 1,100,100 mass civilian casualties during the siege of Jerusalem in AD70 - but when Hezbollah fired 4.8- inch Katyusha rockets into Israel two years ago killing 121, end-times preachers thought we were seeing the fulfillment of prophecy before our very eyes.

Six million European Jews were killed during the Holocaust - but when President Ahmadinejad of Iran threatened Israel 18 months ago even though nothing has happened yet, end-times preachers were calling it the last days.

75 million people (30-60% of Europe's population) died of the plague in the 1340s - but when the bird flu infected fewer than 200 laboratory-tested people four years ago, it was portrayed as the end of the world.

Two to four million died in the China floods of 1931 - but when eleven people died in flooding in America's mid-west this year, one end-times preacher said ours surely must be the final generation.

An estimated 200,000-400,000 have died and 2,500,000 misplaced in the current Darfur conflict - but when a city was temporarily evacuated and 50 people died in Texas two months ago, well it's got to be the apocalypse.

There have been at least six world empires since New Testament days which each controlled at least 25% of the world's population - but if you mention the 'North American Union conspiracy theory', all of a sudden you're talking about the end of human civilization, even though the USA comprises only 6.4% of the world's population.

One American end-times preacher even warned that the Great Tribulation is near, due to outrage in California over petrol prices peaking at 51c/litre. Nevermind that 110 countries in the world were already paying double or triple that, or didn't even own a car to put fuel in in the first place.

South Korea now has the largest churches in history; China's Church has an estimated 100million members; revival and church-growth in Africa is at unprecedented levels - but if someone starts teaching wrong doctrine in one American denomination, all of a sudden it's regarded as the worldwide "great falling away" that Paul warned about.

Untold millions have died in natural disasters throughout the centuries - but if it happens in OUR country and in OUR genaration, then we tend to think it must be WORSE THAN EVER and that it MUST BE the end of the world. We try to attach so much eschatological significance to current events, as if ours is certainly the last generation.

That's what I mean by ethnocentric eschatology. Funny isn't it! It's funny how ethnocentric some of us can become. For example, American baseball is called the 'World Series'; a Californian bodybuilding competition is called 'Mr Universe'.

Perhaps a lot of this type of thinking about End-Times originates in America, although it's not limited to America. I've been wondering why American culture spawns so many end-times theories. I thought of two possible reasons:

Other cultures never had the freedoms Americans still enjoy; so when something bad happens, the people in those countries don't immediately suspect a new conspiracy nor attach eschatological significance to what's happening - to them it's just more of the same of what they've already always seen. The American psyche, on the other hand, gets a real jolt if they perceive that even one of their rights might become slightly threatened, as if it could mean the end of their world.

Another reason could be that conspiracy theories and end-times books can make good money in America. Authors probably can't wait to publish the next sensational theory. Such books are highly marketable to Americans so long as you can sell the idea to the American reader that one of his rights could be threatened by what's happening.

But it isn't limited to America. Other examples of historical events which people have mistakenly thought were a sign of the last generation include: the idea during the Middle Ages that the Pope was the 'Antichrist'; the idea during the First World War that the Ottoman Empire was the 'Beast'; the idea during the Second World War that Nazism was the 'man of sin'; the idea that the rebirth of Israel in 1948 meant that was the last generation; during the Cold War that communism was the 'northern army'; then there were doomsday fears during the oil crisis of the 1970s; and the apocalypse was forecast to occur as a result of the Jupiter Effect (planetary alignment) in 1980; there were dire warnings of the Mark of the Beast when the plastic-card and barcoding were introduced in the 1970s and '80s; next was the idea that Iraq was the modern 'Babylon', during the first Gulf War in the 1990s; then Y2K, which came to nothing, despite all the money spent promoting it on Christian TV; there was the current War on Terror, which didn't exactly become the 'mother of all wars'; recent earthquakes, tsunami, hurricanes, and the current US sub-prime lenders crisis are other examples.

Each event seems terrible if it happens in your country in your generation. But time moved on and we now know those historical events were not a sign of the last generation before Jesus returns.

Jesus gave us the signs of His coming. But I'm not sure whether He really tried to give us the signs of the last generation, because no-one knows the day nor the hour. The signs of His coming have been with us throughout every century since the early Church. The 'last days' began on the day of Pentecost!

A more mistake-proof approach to understanding Biblical prophecy might be to simply LET THE TEXT SPEAK FOR ITSELF, instead of trying to use 'newspaper exegesis' to understand what He meant. Endeavor to find out, first of all, what the text would have meant to its original readers. Remember that the words Jesus spoke in Matthew 24 were spoken nearly 2,000 years ago while overlooking the City of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives in answer to a specific question about the destruction of the Temple. Jesus' statements need to be understood in that context, before being viewed through the grid of 21st century current affairs. Let Scripture interpret Scripture.

21st century ethnocentric interpretations will fizzle, like every other prediction about the Lord's coming. But when we let the text speak for itself, here's the conclusions we'll come to: that Jesus is coming soon (soon, compared with eternity); that no-one knows when (so we won't even bother trying to predict when); and that we must be ready at every hour (by living obediently).

Those three points are the enduring message of the Gospel which are relevant to all nations of all generations.

Jesus is coming soon; no-one knows when; be ready.

Nothing more, nothing less, nothing else.

Stick to that, and your predictions won't fizzle into nothing.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

great post. I would love to follow you on twitter.