In a 2001 World Net Daily column [http://worldnetdaily.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=23730], Jerry Falwell furnished an update on his fledgling Tim LaHaye School of Prophecy at Liberty University: "a comprehensive school that delves into the mysteries of the Bible as they relate to world events leading to Christ's imminent return." I find this announcement staggering in light of Falwell's tireless efforts to turn our depraved, decadent nation back to God and to revive a truly Christian culture.
Let me first gratefully acknowledge that Jerry is one of the most courageous, outspoken Christians of our time. On almost all of the great, controversial issues confronting our modern culture he is clearly on the Biblical side: abortion, homosexuality, Communism, pornography, state education, free market, missile defense, and so on. In the 70s, he help start Moral Majority, a group dedicated to taking America back from the political liberalism and secularism that had captured it by the late 60s. His perspective on major TV talk shows (both network and cable) is almost unfailingly right down the line with the Bible. He presses diligently for a recovery of Biblical truth and morality in our society; he is the Christian that the liberals most love to hate.
The Defeatism of Dispensationalism
The thing that has puzzled me about Jerry's unflagging efforts to restore Biblical decency in our culture is his eschatology, highlighted most recently in the imminent [!] Tim LaHaye School of Prophecy. Theologians will tell you that "eschatology" is one's view of the future how it all will turn out in the end. Jerry holds to the popular idea of dispensationalism. This is, not surprisingly, the eschatology under girding Tim LaHaye's popular Left Behind fictional series (fictional both in genre and in theology!). It holds that the moral conditions of the world and the church are destined to get increasingly worse. When they get almost unbearably bad, the Lord Jesus will return in the clouds to "rapture" the living saints up to heaven. Then, the world will face a seven-year "tribulation period," during which a shadowy political figure known as the Antichrist will take over the world; persecute Jews and (new) Christians; and set up a final, cataclysmic encounter with Jesus Christ, Who will return to earth (the third time) to liquidate the Antichrist and his cohorts and set up a thousand-year earthly reign in Jerusalem. This is the basic scheme of Jerry's and Tim's popular eschatology, which will be taught at the new school of prophecy.
The Promise of Postmillennialism
Jerry's Liberty University and the Chalcedon Foundation are on an eschatological collision course. Let me explain. We both agree that Christ will return one day visibly to earth ("The Second Coming"). We disagree radically on what will precede that great event. While Liberty and Lahaye are dispensational, we at Chalcedon are postmillennial. We believe that Christ is already reigning from the heavens (Ac. 2:29-36). He extends His kingdom in the earth by His Spirit, using redeemed humans, Christians (Ac. 2:14-21). The Bible teaches that Christ will return after all human enemies are placed under His feet (1 Cor. 15:24-27). Jesus indicates that it will be a good, long time between His First Coming and His Second Coming (Mk. 13:32-37; Lk. 12:37-48). Between these two Comings, the kingdom of God will grow slowly, almost imperceptibly (Mt. 13:31-33). But it will one day overwhelm the earth. Then will be fulfilled the great Old Testament prophecy that, "[T]he earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea" (Hab. 2:14). There will be an extensive Christian culture on earth not only after Christ's Second Coming, but also before.
Now, it is easy to see how this view comports with the idea of a Christian culture that both Jerry and I are working for. The problem is that Jerry doesn't hold it. In other words, his eschatology conflicts with his idea of Christians' social responsibility. After all, if we are dead certain that the world is destined to get more depraved just before Jesus returns, and if we are equally convinced that He is coming very soon, why get involved trying to oppose the nanny-state, homosexuality, pornography, abortion, and other social sins rotting our culture? In fact, if we oppose them, aren't we just getting in the way of God's work, since we know that work will be ultimately unsuccessful? Maybe Liberty University and the Chalcedon Foundation are delaying the precious Second Advent of Christ by trying to hold back the tide of evil destined to flood the world just before Christ returns!
No, this is silly. It is right to work to turn our nation around for the Lord, and it is wrong to believe that these efforts are all for nothing. The end is not in sight, but a Christian society could be.
I do not ask Jerry to relax his vital work for Christian culture. I ask him to bring his eschatology into line with his cultural mission. Not to do this is to maintain a mind-bending schizophrenia that leads to all sorts of ironies and contradictions.
After all, if Jesus is coming at any moment, why start a Tim LaHaye School of Prophecy? Why all the planning and effort? If the school's stated objective is, in Jerry's words, to teach "the mysteries of the Bible as they relate to world events leading to Christ's imminent return," how can we honestly believe it is "imminent"? Jerry's school is scheduled to start in a couple of years. But isn't it likely we Christians will all be "raptured" by that time, and won't the Antichrist have closed and boarded up the Tim LaHaye School of Prophecy?
Moreover, why worry about abolishing abortion, exposing statism, and decreasing homosexuality if the rapture is "imminent"? If we work for a godly culture, we need to be assured that our efforts will not be in vain (1 Cor. 15:58). We need a divine guarantee that "God hath put [past tense!] all things under Christ's feet" (Eph. 1:22). We then go forward with the assurance that before Christ returns, all of His human enemies will be subjugated to Him. This is the confidence that propels us to work to bring America (and the world) back to God.
Unfortunately, Jerry Falwell's sense of Christian cultural obligation conflicts sharply with his eschatology. As long as he teaches his students that "the end is near"; that as we near the end, the world will become progressively more evil; and that all our efforts to clean up our culture will eventually come to nothing, he will never fully convince them that they need to throw themselves into the task to which he has tirelessly committed himself turning our nation back to God.
Jerry needs to abandon his eschatological schizophrenia and embrace Biblical postmillennialism. It is this eschatology which fuels the vision of a Christian America and a Christian world.
- P. Andrew Sandlin
P. Andrew Sandlin is a Christian minister, theologian, and author. He is the founder and president of the Center for Cultural Leadership in Coulterville, California. He was formerly president of the National Reform Association and executive vice president of the Chalcedon Foundation. He is a minister in the Fellowship of Mere Christianity.. He was formerly a pastor at Church of the Word in Painesville, Ohio (1984-1995) and Cornerstone Bible Church in Scotts Valley, California (2004-2014).