Eschatology in Popular Evangelicalism
A good litmus test for whether one has a good understanding of the biblical narrative and its relevance for exegesis is to ask one about their eschatology. If their eschatology is loopy, there is a good chance that they lack in their understanding of the significance of the wider biblical narrative.
I say this because I watched GODTV for a while today. On the channel I recently saw a sermon by Rick Warren and, I am not at all ashamed to confess (sorry Jim!), I was impressed. Today was a different matter. The guy who runs the channel told his (massive) audience about his discoveries in a new book by a certain Grant Jeffrey. Based on a few verses in Ezekiel, stirred together with another from Leviticus, a potent cocktail was developed to justify 1948 as the so-called third return from exile.
This was coupled with calls from a co-presenter to visit Israel, who made exclamations to the effect that he could not understand why Christians do not visit Israel and Jerusalem in particular. This was interrupted with further enthusiastic comment that God is present in a special way in Israel, and that just as God 'made a nation in a day' (referring to 1948), so God is going to suddenly fulfil all of his promises in your life 'during this season'! I was starting to get a little bit angry.
Apart from the obvious arbitrariness in the way Scripture was treated in these arguments, it was shocking that no knowledge of the significance of Maccabees was demonstrated. What is more, this kind of handling of Old Testament prophecy fails on at least two more points:
- it does not recognize the context of the language and the Prophetic literature. Talk concerning the return from exile in Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and in some of the Minor Prophets, is associated with such themes as the new covenant, the giving of the Spirit, the giving of a 'new heart', etc. These issues find the beginning of fulfilment in and through the ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. That is why Luke frames much of his 'ancient biography' by bringing Anna and Simeon into the narrative as Jesus is first bought the temple. They are waiting for the consolation of Israel and the redemption of Jerusalem (compare the LXX of Is 40:1!). That is part of the point behind Matthews genealogy with which he frames his whole Gospel (See also 2 Cor 3).
- The prophetic literature envisages the restoration of the tribes of Judah and Israel, i.e. all the 12 tribes. 1948 is not a literal fulfilment of this. The 10 northern tribes had long since been assimilated into Assyria, and so Jesus symbolically reconstitutes the 12 tribes of Israel by choosing 12 disciples.
And with this I do not mean to assert a replationist Israelology. That implies discontinuity where there is continuity and ignores, among other things, the image of ‘in grafting’ which Paul uses in Romans 11. I think it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Paul, when he speaks of all Israel being saved in Romans 11, envisaged a salvation waiting for ethnic Israel. In other words, God is not done with Israel. But these points aside, Christian Zionism needs to be challenged and those who do not like what we say need to responsed to the arguments without irresponsibly throwing the label 'anti-Semitic' around.