Apr 21, 2011

Confessions of a Fatalist

Jack KinsellaBy Jack Kinsella
The Omega Letter

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Every morning, my 89 year-old mother-in-law reads three newspapers with her coffee; The Buffalo News, USA Today and the Toronto Globe and Mail. She says it keeps her sharp.

Keeps me sharp, too. Otherwise I might have missed a full page story in USA Today’s “The Forum” entitled, “What if The End Isn’t Near?” But Granny spotted it and made sure that I saw it, too.

The print version led off with this ponderous subtitle:

“Too many evangelical Christians welcome the Biblical Rapture with an unsettling eagerness. This fatalistic view serves neither fellow humans nor the planet. A new breed of believers is thankfully taking another path toward Jesus.”
The column was written by Tom Krattenmaker, whom USA Today identifies as “a writer based in Portland Oregon who specializes in religion in public life.”

And if you had any questions about where Tom Krattenmaker stands on religion in public life, they should have already been answered by the end of the third paragraph.

If you believe Bible prophecy, you are a fatalist. Your worldview is a disservice to the rest of the planet.

But fortunately, there are good Christians out there, like 33 year-old Tyler Wigg-Stevenson, whom Tom Krattenmaker hails as a 'new breed':
“Less encouraging is the shape of the initial resistance Wigg-Stevenson often encounters as he travels around the country urging Christians to join the nuclear abolition cause — a mind-set that coaxes many believers to accept, even welcome, the imminent end of the world. As signaled by the runaway success of the Left Behind books, end-time expectations hold undeniable sway in evangelical America, which makes long-term investments in a better future seem utterly beside the point.

Thankfully, Wigg-Stevenson and many new-breed evangelicals like him are refusing the kind of end-times bait that lets believers off the hook — off the hook of inspired social action that can make their faith a powerful blessing to their society and their time.”
So, how do you feel about yourself, now, you selfish, fatalistic loser? But don’t worry. There’s still hope.

(Not for you, loser, but maybe for the new-breed of ‘good Christians’ whose new and enlightened worldview serves both mankind and the planet.)

You can side with screwball crazies like my friend Todd Strandberg at Rapture Ready, whom Krattenmaker notes 'opposes environmental protection on fatalistic ground's:
"The Bible predicts that during the tribulation hour, the world will come to near complete ruin," Strandberg writes. "I am strongly against Christians embracing the environmental movement."
No wonder Krattenmaker has such a low opinion of evangelicals. They hate the planet.
“For liberal religionists or non-believers, this kind of stance is one of the least appealing aspect of evangelicals' popular image. It's as if one group is rowing the boat in the direction of species betterment (or, at least, survival), while another group sits idly as the vessel drifts closer to the precipice of the waterfall, convinced that the divine hand will pluck them and their religiously correct fellows from disaster.”
We should all join up with the good, tolerant Christians like Tyler Wigg-Stevenson. The USA Today piece goes on to explain why:
“When it comes to apocalyptic visions, Wigg-Stevenson has had his share. But as he began grappling with the nuclear weapons a decade ago as a newly minted college grad and a not-yet-Christian, his were visions of searing white atomic flashes burning up the surface of the planet and millions of people.

His soon-to-follow Christian conversion didn't free him from the nuclear nightmare but bound him to its prevention.

Understanding that liberal and secular arguments have formed the main rhetorical front in the campaign against nukes — and that these can leave many Christians cold — Wigg-Stevenson has developed a Scripture-based case that lays it all out on an evangelical's terms.”
Krattenmaker notes that, “Wigg-Stevenson takes pains not to criticize those who read Revelation as a blueprint for rapture and apocalypse in our time” - which makes it pretty clear that Krattenmakerdoesn’t really know much about what he’s talking about.

The Revelation isn’t a blueprint for the Rapture. It has nothing to do with the Rapture. And ‘apocalypse’ is a Greek word that means Revelation.
Committed young Christian action-takers such as Wigg-Stevenson . . . represent a hopeful new current in evangelical America. What a refreshing counterpoint to those who eye an imminent cosmic endgame, one replete with mass death and destruction, and seem to say, "Bring it on!"

If end-times acceptance is losing credibility among the new generation of Jesus followers — and many signs say it is — this is good news for us all.

Taking Wigg-Stevenson's two-futures paradigm a step further, Christians might see a choice concerning their approach to the future as well. They can bet on a supernatural rescue for themselves and their kind and wait for the cataclysm. Or they can dedicate themselves to compassionate action to alleviate suffering and injustice, to creating a better world.
Krattenmaker concludes his column with what he no doubt thought both a penetrating and searing question:
“Which would their savior have them do?”
Of all the challenges that somebody who knows nothing about Jesus could throw at a Christian, the “What would Jesus do?” is the dumbest. But I'll rise to the bait and take a stab at the answer.
“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct thy paths,” (Proverbs 3:5-6)
Now that we’ve answered Krattenmaker’s searing and penetrating question of what our Savior would have us to do, let’s move along to the point at hand.

I never tire of that question, “What would Jesus do?” because by definition, if you have to ask, you wouldn’t recognize the answer if you heard it.

But I digress. . . .

What I want to highlight first here is that this column is in USA Today – not Christianity Today or Charisma or some other publication with a focus on Christian religiosity.

Secondarily, look at the challenge contained in the column’s title. Hear it in your mind . . . “What if the end ISN’T near?” – what does the question suggest to you?

It suggests that there is a high degree of probability approaching the point of certainty . . . BUT, what if it’s not? What if its not what?

Within the wording of the question is the unspoken assumption that it probably is.

Frankly, I welcome the question and the whole debate as proof we're coming down to the wire. Ten years ago, the question from a secular newspaper like USA Today would have been asking the question, “What if it is?

Twenty years ago, the question would have never occurred to them.

There was a sense of desperation one could detect between the lines of Krattenmaker's tome. When the secular world starts looking to Christians for evidence that the Lord isn't about to return, we have crossed some invisible line.

It used to be a joke. Christians were parodied as long-haired nutbars wearing sandwich-board signs proclaiming "Repent! The end is near!"

Now the secular world is desperate to find some Christians that will tell them they still have plenty of time. So too, are many Christian churches.
"For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears and they shall turn away their ears from the truth and be turned unto fables." (2nd Timothy 4:3-4)
The standard advice for students of Bible prophecy is to live like the Lord will return tomorrow but to plan like He won't return in your lifetime. It is the only logical way to live, since nobody can know the day or the hour when the Lord actually will return.

But for young Christians like Wigg-Stevenson, whom I believe is perfectly sincere, the prophecies of the end leave them without much to live for, hence his "Two Futures" point of view.

I don't blame Krattenmaker for his desperation. I don't blame Wigg-Stevenson for rejecting the signs of the times. It IS fatalistic, from the perspective of this world.

Whether it is you going to heaven or heaven coming to you, it means the end of life as you know it on this earth.

As is often observed, everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die. That is certainly the way I feel about it. I want to go to heaven. I expect to go to heaven. In fact, I am as sure of heaven as I am that I am writing these words.

I don't have a soul. I am a soul. I am not a body, I have a body. But despite that, I'm the first to admit I don't want to die, either.

That's what playing out here with Wigg-Stevenson and the Two Futures Project. But with Krattenmaker, it is something a bit more remarkable. In Krattenmaker one can sense his fear; the whole piece puts me in mind of someone whistling past the graveyard.

He doesn't want to believe it and he's building a case for himself so that he doesn't have to believe it, but the fact that it is a topic worthy of a full page story at USA Today says it is a lot more real than he wants it to be.

I deliberately don't take an advocacy position on the events of this generation. It is not my calling to oppose, but rather, it is to observe and report. Thank God that others are called to exhort and advocate and work for a better future.

Wigg-Stevenson is not a bad Christian because he doubts the timing of the Rapture or the last days. If everybody believed, as I do - which that we are in the waning hours of human government and that the Lord is about to return - we'd be in a real mess.

But as an observer, my calling is to observe and share those observations from the perspective of Bible prophecy. For the past twenty years or better, it has been my job to overcome the scoffers of whom the Apostle Peter wrote in the last days.
"Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, and saying, Where is the promise of His coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation." (2nd Peter 3:3-4)
That prophecy is pretty general, and while it certainly resonates with this generation, it could have applied to any generation in history. Every generation since that of the Apostles looked for the return of the Lord as the Blessed Hope of the Church.

But there is one generation for whom this equation gets turned on its head. My mother-in-law's generation fit the scoffers, so did her parents, and so forth going back as far as there have been Christians wearing sandwich boards proclaiming, "Repent, the end is near!"

Now look at the focus of this USA Today column again - in its overall context.

We have the secular guy nervously speculating that maybe the end isn't near after all, pointing to the new generation of Christians for whom "end-times acceptance is losing credibility."

And the whole thing is about how the new generation of Christians are coming to their senses finally and rejecting the fatalism of end-times' prophecy.

THIS is unique. The scoffers used to be the mainstream and the prophecy nuts used to be 'the fringe'. The USA Today column reflects how that equation has shifted.

What if the end ISN'T near? (Hint: If it wasn't, we wouldn't be talking about it in the newspaper!!)
"Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh." (Matthew 24:44)

Related Links
What if the end isn't near? - USA Today
Who Are The Scoffers? - GraceThruFaith.com (Jack Kinsella)
Questions about the End Times - GotQuestions.org
What is the Bible’s perspective on environmental issues? - Answers in Genesis
The Shameful Social Gospel - The Berean Call (T.A. McMahon)