Tuesday, July 27, 2010

End Times Christianity

Conservative Christians are wont to not think much about the last days. They assume that the rapture will pull them out before the really bad judgment of God starts rolling. Now I am not writing at this point to challenge the idea of a pre-trib rapture; I have done that before. I am now writing about what Christians need to be prepared for as concerns what will confront the body of true believers as these end times progress.

It is my conviction that within the body of Scripture, Christians are given prophecy and preparation for these last days, whenever they may be. Questions of timing, ie. pre/mid/post-trib, fall secondary in line to main point of Biblical prophecy: the preparation of the hearts of God's people for what is to come. Christ asked whether he would find faith on the earth. May the light of Scripture inform and encourage us, as Christians, to be faithful in dark times.

The people of God must be prepared for any number of outcomes. Scripture speaks of the working of the mystery of inquity and mystery Babylon, among other mysteries. We do well to remember that what is to come is a mystery. Daniel himself was sorely troubled at what God revealed to him, and was ordered to shut up the words of the book, for the time was afar off. In Revelation, the Apostle Peter was intructed not to record the utterings of the seven thunders. We must approach the end times with humility and hearts open and trusting to God. If prophecy seems vague and incomplete it serves only to encourage us to continual faith in Him.

And yet we are told that blessed is he who reads the Revelation given to Peter. We are, at the same time, encouraged to understanding and wisdom in regard to that which is to come. But do not be alarmed, as were the Thessalonians, if things do not progress according to your understanding of the end. Hindsight will be perfect, but now we must trust Him. For those of you who believe in a pre-trib rapture, be prepared for the possibility you are wrong. Because if you are in fact incorrect about that assumption, you will refuse to recognize the events of the tribulation period for what they are. We must all stand ready to be faithful to the Lord and His word no matter how events play out.

I would like to begin, then, by noting an article "The Coming Evangelical Collapse" written in 2009 by the late Michael Spencer (aka "Internet Monk"). From the introduction:

"We are on the verge – within 10 years – of a major collapse of evangelical Christianity. This breakdown will follow the deterioration of the mainline Protestant world and it will fundamentally alter the religious and cultural environment in the West.
"Within two generations, evangelicalism will be a house deserted of half its occupants. (Between 25 and 35 percent of Americans today are Evangelicals.) In the "Protestant" 20th century, Evangelicals flourished. But they will soon be living in a very secular and religiously antagonistic 21st century.
"This collapse will herald the arrival of an anti-Christian chapter of the post-Christian West. Intolerance of Christianity will rise to levels many of us have not believed possible in our lifetimes, and public policy will become hostile toward evangelical Christianity, seeing it as the opponent of the common good.
"Millions of Evangelicals will quit. Thousands of ministries will end. Christian media will be reduced, if not eliminated. Many Christian schools will go into rapid decline. I'm convinced the grace and mission of God will reach to the ends of the earth. But the end of evangelicalism as we know it is close."

Let this message sink in. "Intolerance of Christianity will rise to levels many of us have not believed possible in our lifetimes, and public policy will become hostile toward evangelical Christianity, seeing it as the opponent of the common good."

What we are witnessing in our day is the ascendance of atheism. Now many Christians have been of the opinion that Christianity will be infiltrated and replaced by New Age teachings, and this is happening to some degree. However, the main replacement for the gospel of Jesus Christ is not the message of a new Aquarian age, but the increasing tide of atheism and agnosticism in our world today.

On the surface, atheism and agnosticism are boring and ineffective as social movements, on their own. But we must further recognize the undercurrent that is driving atheism and agnosticism in our world today: empirical science.

And this is where the warning from the Apostle Paul to Timothy comes in:
"O Timothy! Guard what was committed to your trust, avoiding the profane and idle babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge" - I Tim 6:20 NKJV

This "false knowledge" is likely referring to the leading philosophies of that day (such as Stoicism and Epicureanism, see Acts 17) which would go on to mix with Christianity to form various Gnostic sects. The KJV translates the Greek word for "knowledge" as "science," which is rather evocative for this discussion. Nonetheless, the uniformitarianism that underlies today's science can be shown to be a direct consequence and descendant of the resurgence of classic Epicureanism that began under Pierre Gassendi. This formed much of the basis for Renaissance humanism and the Enlightenment.

Yet this Renaissance/Enlightenment Epicureanism could not displace God entirely until the coming of Darwin, and so took on the form of Deism in the meantime. Great American thinkers like Jefferson and Franklin were Deists and fully committed to Enlightenment principles.

Classical Epicureanism had always held a belief that the world came to be by natural processes. But this tenet of Epicurean belief was an accomodation to overall Epicurean thought rather than a studied observance. In other words, the Epicurean did not believe in a God who interfered with this world, therefore it only made sense that God did not make this world. It was an inference.

Thoughout the centuries, Epicurean "evolution" was not truly able to be defended through scientific, rational thought. For the most part, the idea was dismissed out of hand as incredulous, especially by early Christian apologists. It simply wasn't taken seriously.

Darwin provided a scientific, rational basis for evolution. Darwin's concept of evolution provided the last piece needed to eliminate God from rational thought. Now this is not to say that eliminating God was the reason Darwin promoted his work. But it made possible a system of rational thought that did not NEED to include God.

Based on these historical observations, I believe that the concept of evolution can be classed with "contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge." It stands in direct contradiction to the teachings of Scripture and Christian theology, even if you leave out Genesis chapter one. Paul used the concept of creation and of a historical Adam ("one man") to preach Christ to the philosophers in Athens.

Further support for an atheistic end times world comes from both secular and Scriptural sources. In an interview with ABC News on June 7th, 2010, physicist Stephen Hawking said:
"There is a fundamental difference between religion, which is based on authority, [and] science, which is based on observation and reason. Science will win because it works."

Hawking correctly sets up the antithesis between religion and empirical science: one is based in authority, the other in reason and observation. "Antithesis"--this is the exact Greek word used in I Tim 6:20 for "contradictions." As we come closer to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, we must only expect this "antithesis" between the Biblical God and the godless world-view to become more and more acute, especially and most importantly where empirical science and Scripture collide.

While young earth creationists have rhetorically abused the idea that evolution is godless, they are essentially correct. We set up a dichotomy between evolution and Christianity because Scripture does so, and it does so far beyond the pages of Genesis. I've spent time trying to reconcile evolution with Scripture. At the BioLogos Forum's website (a group committed to Scripturally defending evolution), I have spent time reading articles and commenting. You can't Scripturally defend evolution without denying a historical Adam. You can't deny a historical Adam without damaging Paul's theology and defense of the gospel. Furthermore, the BioLogos Forum team has, as of this writing, not even begun to explore what the acceptance of evolution means for the historicity of Noah's flood.

Scriptural proof of an end times resurgence of atheism is found in Daniel 11 and 2 Thessalonians 2:
"He shall regard neither the God of his fathers nor the desire of women, nor regard any god; for he shall exalt himself above them all." - Dan 11:37 NKJV
"Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God." - 2 Ths 2:3-4 NKJV

The man of sin and lawlessness, the end times antichrist, will be an atheist. Dan 11:38 indicates that he will honor "a god of fortresses," and the KJV rendering here is "a god of forces," which I believe better conveys the idea in view: the antichrist rules through a show of force, military and otherwise. Any spirituality the antichrist chooses to manifest will be outside of any concept of a transcendant God. The antichrist will likely make a show of reverence to whatever world wide spirituality is prevalant at the time.

Furthermore, the Greek word "apostasia" in 2 Ths 2:3 ("falling away"), is translated as "rebellion" in most new versions. Again, I feel this more accurately conveys the intended meaning. The "apostasia" being referred to here is not merely apostate Christianity but the whole world system that has entered an era of being able to reason God out of existance. This era is now! We must also remember that Christian apostasy does not stand on its own; when a Christian apostasizes, he joins the world in their brazen rebellion against God.

We all must be prepared for this. Over the last generation, American evangelicalism has attempted to tame the wild horse of American culture, trying to be relevant at nearly all costs. In doing so, American evangelicalism is in the position of a cowboy riding atop a train that is barrelling into a tight tunnel--about to get permanently knocked off the ride! There will be no stopping the descent into atheism and a New Age spirituality that is little more than a mashup of Oprah and Buddha. There is coming a point, and it has already come for the most part, where the gospel message must be held as an "antithesis" to the philosophy of this world.

For my fundamentalist friends out there, don't think this message does not equally apply to you. Being separate doesn't equal being able to withstand the attacks and wiles of an increasingly intolerant society. In Spencer's article above, he envisions that "aggressively evangelistic fundamentalist churches will begin to disappear." I have been a part of these churches before. These large fundamentalist churches that revolve around tireless cycles of programs and outreaches will crumble, not having a sufficient attention and articulation of Christian doctrine and Biblical teaching. Oh, they hold themselves to a high standard, and thump their Bibles, and proudly wear the badge "Bible believers," while at the same time spurning exegetical teaching and preaching. It is a recipe for disaster in world that no longer responds to church promotions like they used to.

We must be prepared to be radically different, even in the face of science, "falsely so called." The fundamentalists think they have been ridiculed for the last generation, but that will pale in comparison to what is coming. The wheat and chaff will be separated. You'll likely see as many feel-good evangelicals get serious as you'll see buttoned-down fundamentalists abandon the faith. We all have the same heart of flesh. Pray for strength and conviction in the days to come. And think it not strange when the fiery trial comes to try you, for all who will live Godly in Christ Jesus will suffer. If they hated Him, they will hate you. Be prepared to bear the cross for His name's sake.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

A Short Note on Bible Versions

Perhaps I will delve into this a little deeper at a later time. I would like to mainly point out that we seem to be coming to a consensus on a post-KJV English Bible text. Why do I say that?
Consider the Bible translation landscape of the 1970s. You had the KJV, NASB, and RSV as a few major translations in use at the time. While the "virgin"/"young woman" dust up had some dampening effect on the spread of the RSV, it remained influential. It was more updated than the KJV or ASV, more readable than the NASB, and more literal than the Living, Good News, etc.
In the 1980s we saw the introduction of the full NKJV and NIV, both versions which had their own flavor and style. The RSV was one English rendition/style of many.
In the late 1980s the RSV was updated in the NRSV. Many decried its inclusive language but it merely prophesied, if you will, of things to come. The world was not ready for the NRSV. It is my opinion that the NRSV reads like a cross between the RSV and the NASB.
In the 2000s we saw the introduction of the TNIV. Again coming under fire for inclusive language, the TNIV, in my personal opinion, reads much like the NRSV.
Just prior to that saw the introduction of the ESV--the evangelicals answer to the NRSV. It has been said that the NRSV has as much liberal bias as the ESV has conservative bias. I tend to think this is true. The ESV was a conservative revision of the RSV, less like the NRSV than the TNIV but still in the same family, IMO.
The outcry over the TNIV has ultimately prompted the producers of the NIV to revise the NIV for release in 2011. Rumor has it that the NIV will be 95% TNIV. In other words, the TNIV "done right." We shall see.
From the venerable RSV we now have two massively influential translations, the NRSV and the ESV. Now the NIV 2011 will (in essence) be casting in it's lot with this lineage. Can the NIV 2011 bridge the gap between the NRSV and the ESV? Will the RSV-esque style of all the translations I've noted take root as the new "voice" of the English Bible?
One can hope. With the publication of the NIV 2011, we may find that the only alternatives to this RSV dynasty of Bibles centers around Majority Text concerns (NKJV) and those committed to dynamic translation (chiefly NLT). Ultimately, I optimistically see a simplification of the Bible version landscape occurring over the next 10-15 years.
I am not seeing a lot of talk about this. People have failed to see how influential both the RSV and NRSV have been in regard to Bible translation. Both have provoked responses and reactions that have defined the landscape of English Bibles. The RSV helped fan the KJVO controversy and set the stage for the NIV and NKJV, while the NRSV provoked the both the TNIV and the ESV.