The scene is still quite clear in my memory. It was in the spring of 1998, and I was driving home from the fundamentalist Baptist church that I was then attending. Kingsway, as this recently founded church called itself, took a militant premillennial stand, and believed firmly in the pretribulation rapture. For years I had had doubts about this position, as many of the books I had studied took the view that the church would have to endure part of the tribulation first in order to be purified. But a recent guest speaker had defended the pretribulational position very effectively, and so I determined to "go along with the crowd."
During the ride home, I turned on the radio and began listening to a Christian station. A new song came on one that I had never heard before, and have not heard since. With a strident pretribulational message, the song climaxed with its chorus, "The class of 2000 is getting ready to leave!" Allowing myself to be "caught up" (raptured?) by the stirring music, I looked forward with eager anticipation to the soon-coming solution to all my problems.
About three years have gone by since that incident, and I can say, thank God, that I now know that the eager anticipation that many have with regard to the rapture has more to do with a fleshly desire to escape one's problems than with any true yearning to "be with the Lord." I have come to see that it is anything but a godly response when one hopes to be whisked away in order to avoid the tribulation that may fall upon others. It is an understandable response in an immature Christian, but it should cause those who think they are mature to question themselves deeply as to why they are content no, "enraptured" to think of billions being "left behind" to be tormented and killed.
But there is an even more important issue. The pretribulation rapture scenario, as well as the larger dispensational premillennialism upon which it is founded, is simply not true. It is based on poor, sloppy Biblical scholarship, and is usually accepted by people who have simply had it passed on to them as though it were the only interpretation of prophecy. Now, I shall not, in this brief article, attempt to present the case for godly Christian dominion on earth that has already been done by qualified scholars, and doubtless most readers of this magazine are familiar with this view of eschatology. What I intend to present are a few brief anecdotes which should encourage us that the tide is turning! With the passing of the "critical year" 2000, without either the tribulation or the rapture occurring, people are moving, albeit unconsciously, toward an eschatology of optimism, victory, and dominion.
Take, for example, the pastor of my church. On paper, he is committed to premillennialism, and has expressed his view that pretribulationalism is the most likely of the various rapture scenarios. He frequently alludes to the possibility of the "any-moment rapture." But, and this is a big "but", he also makes comments that indicate that he is moving in a new direction: the direction of victory and optimism.
Let me give just two examples. As we planned a Christian outreach for the festival held each December by the residents of our small village, our pastor urged us not to try to pressure people to be converted in "one fell swoop." He said that it was more important to plant seeds, to build bridges, and to make contacts with the non-Christians in the community. The purpose, he said, was to begin a process of slow growth which, in thirty years, would make our church the most respected one in our community. Now, that kind of long-range planning may seem inconsistent with the preaching of one who accepts pretribulationism, but that is just the point! Many people are being led gently by the Holy Spirit to gradually "leave behind" their eschatologies of defeat. They could, perhaps, not continue to lead if they were forced, suddenly, to change their end-time views all at once. And many of those whom they teach probably could not cope with such a drastic change, either. Half-consciously, though, people are being led into a future-orientation.
Perhaps an even more striking example is a sermon preached by my same pastor recently on 2 Timothy 3, long a favorite portion of end-times speculation. The problem for many is verse 9, which tells us that the schemes of evildoers during these "perilous times" will be foiled, "for their folly shall be manifest unto all men." Now, if anything totally fails to correlate with the usual end-times scenario, it is verse 9. One would think that it might read, "their folly shall be manifest unto few, and they shall take over the world!" Now, the pastor did not point out this contradiction, but he went on to preach a message that could truly be called "dominionist." He told us that we need not fear the evil around us, because the Spirit of Christ, living within us, has power over the devil and all those under his control. Thus, he went on, we can raise godly children in the midst of our corrupt society hardly a message that goes along with the view that "Satan is alive and well on planet earth," and that the Antichrist will soon set up his one-world government! Perhaps few in the congregation caught the significance just alluded to above, but seeds were planted perhaps unconsciously for the development of an optimistic eschatology of the victory of God's church.
Another interesting development was pointed out to me by the head of the women's ministry at my church. Her son-in-law is the pastor of a church that is moving, more consciously, toward a dominionist eschatology. This lady frequently visits her son-in-law's church, and she reported that the younger people there are being energized by the vision that is being held out to them now. Earlier, before the move toward eschatological optimism, many of them felt that there was no point in getting involved with the world after all, wasn't all of human history about to come to an end? Now, however, they are learning that their "labour is not in vain in the Lord" (1 Cor. 15:58), and they are coming out of their indrawn attitudes.
Another interesting and encouraging anecdote concerns a letter I sent to a pretribulational radio preacher (David Jeremiah), confronting him for his praise of those who used to "pack" prophecy conferences. I pointed out to him that all the predictions had failed to materialize, presented the case for a preterist interpretation of prophecy, and challenged him to read R. J. Rushdoony's Institutes of Biblical Law. The response was a generic, "sweetness and light" letter from his assistant. Dispensational premillenialists have no idea how to answer the dominionist challenge. They are unfamiliar with our arguments and cannot defend their collapsing house of cards.
There are many more examples that could be cited. The key point is that we have turned an important corner with the passing of the year 2000. This shift in eschatological views will continue, especially (one hopes) as Christians recognize that the election of George W. Bush to replace Bill Clinton is a sign that the devil is not about to take over this country or the world. More importantly, dispensationalist exegesis of Matthew 24 requires that the generation referred to in verse 34 be taken to mean the generation that saw Israel reorganized as a state in 1948. All those who were adults at that time are now past their "threescore and ten" years. As this generation grows smaller in numbers, so will the numbers of those who still hold to this flawed understanding of prophecy. No doubt they will change the rules again, and say that the crucial date is 1967, when Israel re-took Jerusalem, but all they will be able to do is buy a little time. By the middle of this century, dispensationalism will be just about totally dead but, long before then, its fatal illness will loosen its hold on millions of deceived Christians, who are even now being prepared for a shift in their outlooks.
Once this happens, we will find that an attitude of eschatological optimism produces an entirely different kind of Christian. For we are not simply talking about end-times theories, but about how one views God and His purposes. Does God bring people to salvation simply to enable them to avoid Hell, and to help a few others to do so ... or is redeemed man "summoned to create the society God requires" (Rushdoony, Institutes, Vol. 1, 4)? When millions of Christians complete this change in their worldview, they will devote their lives to building a Bible-based society, and establishing godly order in every area of human existence. They will then be bolstered by the certainty that "of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end" (Isa. 9:7), and they will in time make God's enemies his footstool (Ps. 110:1). There will be no possibility of ultimate defeat for this army whose victory is guaranteed by Almighty God.
- Richard Paul Edelman
Richard Paul Edelman graduated from Cornell University with a B. A. in American government. He lives in the southern tier of New York State where he used to work (among other things) as a welfare fraud investigator. He became infamous in the ultra-liberal city of Ithaca as a "Christian gadfly," as a result of letters to the editor of the local newspaper and other published articles. He lives with his wife, Sally, in Watkins Glen, NY, where they attend Lakeview Assembly of God Church. He can be reached at 117 North Monroe Street, Watkins Glen, N.Y. 14891, or at [email protected].