WHAT KIND OF VISION OF THE FUTURE SHOULD A NON-FUTURIST HAVE?
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” begins the Dickens’ classic, The Tale of Two Cities. For many End-Times preachers, these are the worst of times. This idea is reinforced repeatedly by many Christians who feel that the world is indeed getting worse and worse. When I have lectured on Ethics or Eschatology both here and abroad, I have been challenged by students who despair that Christians can not hope to have a godly influence on society since the Bible apparently says that the last days will be dark and full of rampant evil. I have generally responded to these claims by asking if there was another time in history in which they would rather have lived? When students think about it, they usually conclude that there is no better time to be alive than now. But this presents a dilemma for those Christians who have bought into the idea that these are the “worst of times”, because the evidence suggests that these are the best of times.
I’m a Preterist. I’m not a Futurist. This means that I consider the Bible needs to read and understood as it was intended. I consider this to be taking the Bible “literally”. This kind of literalism distinguishs between a metaphor, an allegory, poetic parallelism, narrative, and didactic prescriptions. I therefore regard Christ’s statements about His coming and the Kingdom of God being “near” and “at hand” as being intended to convey the idea that His coming and the Kingdom of God on earth was about to commence within the life-time of Christ’s original audience. I also regard Christ’s emphatic statement about the timing of these events described in Matthew 24 (the “Olivet Discourse”) literally when He said in verse 34 that they would all be fulfilled within the life-time of His audience. I regard Matthew 24 as a parallel of Revelation 1-19. I explain the reasons for this in two of my eBooks, The Most Embarrassing Verse In The Bible and The Most Embarrassing Book In The Bible.
Doom’n’gloom “End Times” preachers pronounce that Armageddon, the Great Tribulation, the Anti-Christ are all just around the corner and that in order for these things to be fulfilled the world must inevitably become more sinful and wicked. These preachers point to the apparent growing crime-rate, burgeoning prisons, and world turmoil to support their case. Others who take a different point of view regard the alleged growing crime-rate as evidence that the ‘rule of law’ (a Christian concept) is becoming more accepted; so-called burgeoning prisons as evidence that we are becoming a more humane society (another Christian concept, consider that the word Penitentiary comes from the word: penitence); and world turmoil as nothing new. Perhaps, as Charles Dickens wrote, these are the worst of times and the best of times.
THE BEST OF TIMES…
Missiologists tell us that there are more Christians alive today than the combined total of all Christians who have ever lived. In China, conservative reports indicated that as many as 20,000 people a week are converted to Christianity. In Brazil the apparent rate of conversion to Christianity outstrips the birth-rate by about 8:1. Even in Australia while traditional churches have experienced a huge slump in attendances this has easily been picked up by the Pentecostal and Contemporary church movements. In fact, there are now more people in church on Sunday in Australia than there are at all the weekend AFL games combined. Some churches, like Hillsong, in Sydney, have grown to over 25,000 members. Other churches around Australia have similarly noted extraordinary growth over the past few years from conversions to Christianity.
Added to this is the social difference that the Christian Gospel is having on societies. No longer content to think Christianity is restricted to the four walls of a church on a Sunday, many Christians are now deeply involved in the arts, media, politics, the academy, and business. Pastor Ashely Evans from Paradise Community Church in Adelaide often talks of the need for Christians to have ongoing ‘influence’ in these arenas and has taken pro-active steps to facilitate this. Guy Sebastian, the first Australian Idol winner is from his church. Pastor Evans’ “Influencers” Conference now attracts thousands from around Australia to hear this message of positive engagement with society. Many pastors are now questioning the 19th century ‘rapture theology’ and wondering what place it has in a more Biblically literate church which regards the Kingdom reign of Christ as fundamentally spiritual and promoted by the engagement of the church with the world as its salt and light.
They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.
These days are the best days to be alive!
WHAT THE FUTURE SHOULD HOLD…
End Times teachers captivate their audiences by claiming to have great authoritative insight from the Bible about the future. They make emphatic claims about how national destinies will soon unfold based supposedly on “the clear teaching of the Bible”. But rarely, if ever, have their predictions come true. Sadly though, what this has done in the minds of millions of Christians is conditioned them to regard the Bible as a kind of crystal ball. When I show Christians that history argues for the contents of Matthew 24 and Revelation 1-19 to be regarded as fulfilled, they usually ask, “Well what’s left to be fulfilled then?”
I argue that the contents of Matthew 25 and Revelation 20-22 are yet to be fulfilled. But you wont find anti-christs, great tribulations, armageddons or the four-horsemen in these passages. What you do find however, is the Kingdom of Christ being outworked in the earth in the hearts of men and women.
What the future should hold is-
Christians being filled with the Spirit of God to be witnesses in all the world.
Christians using their God-given talents to honour Christ, make Him known, and promote His Cause.
The glory of God increasingly being recognised as His grace redeems lives and the culture in which they engage.
The church increasingly loving its communities, especially its outcasts (“I was in prison…“)
The discipling of nations in the ways, will and Word of God.
The growth of the church in previously closed territories.
A demonstration of the power of the Gospel to gloriously transform lives.
The return of Christ to judge the living and the dead (“then He shall come in His glory”)
The complete banishment of sin, suffering and death.
The eternal bliss of those unconditionally elected by God to receive eternal life.
Rather than looking to escape this evil, dark and depraved world, let’s engage with it. Let’s regard life as a gift from God to be enjoyed celebrated and shared. Let’s pray that His Kingdom reign will be experienced in the hearts of people all over the world. Let’s ensure that He is ruling in our hearts now.
Andrew Corbett, 31st October 2006