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Volume 8, Issue 1: Eschaton

Bad Prophecy Rising

Jack Van Deventer

Why in the world would I ever want to become a Christian?" says the skeptic. "Christians are constantly making fools of themselves. Take prophecy for example. How many times have Christians predicted the return of Christ because the Bible 'obviously' affirms the end of the world 'any moment now'? Why, last year 500 Seventh Day Adventists sat atop Ascension Hill in Ohio waiting for the 'glorious return' that never happened. And what about Harold Camping, the Christian who predicted Christ's return last fall on national radio? No thank you, I don't want any part of such nonsense."

Such charges are painful because they are true. Prophetic charlatans abound. God is mocked, the Bible is discredited, and Christians are ridiculed. And Christians deserve to be ridiculed for failing to comprehend God's Word on such matters. Rather than openly challenge such nonsense, we tolerate them because we underestimate the seriousness of false predictions. The insatiable gullibility of Christians to fall for the same old trick has booksellers laughing all the way to the bank.
Indeed, an annual gathering of the "Pre-Trib Rapture" group has met in Dallas to discuss ways to bolster the dubious credibility of this doctrine. Was this group sponsored by concerned theologians? No, it was sponsored by a dispensational book publisher. One can only imagine the commercial bonanza that might be had by exploiting prophetic hype, hysteria, and rapture fever as the year 2000 approaches. Booksellers have done well in the recent past. Consider Hal Lindsey's blockbuster The Late Great Planet Earth which sold 25 million copies. He followed up with more best-sellers including Satan is Alive and Well on Planet Earth and The 1980's, Countdown to Armageddon. Other authors jumped on the prophecy bandwagon. There was Harold Whisenant's 88 Reasons Why Christ Will Come Back in 1988, which sold between 6 and 7 million copies. In 1974 John F. Walvoord (then President of Dallas Theological Seminary) coauthored Armageddon , Oil and the Middle East Crisis, and declared "The world today is like a stage being set for a great drama. . . The prophetic play is about to begin."
As others have noted, these books have one thing in common: they have all been wrong. Has that stopped the charade? Unfortunately not. In the anticipation of conflict, the Gulf War was linked with Armageddon, Saddam Hussein was associated with the Antichrist, and some of the same books were repackaged and resold. Indeed, sixteen years later Walvoord's book dealing with "the end of Western civilization" was recycled with very minor revisions and now featured a cover with a picture of a modern U.S. fighter jet. The result? 1.5 million more copies sold.
Before Saddam Hussein, previous speculation as to the identity of the Antichrist has included Anwar Sadat, Mikhail (is that the "mark of the beast" on his forehead?) Gorbachev, Henry Kissinger, Ronald (6) Wilson (6) Reagan (6), a supercomputer in Belgium, and now, the current rage, optical scanners at grocery stores which read scan codes. It is clear that Christians cornered the market on doom, gloom, and pessimism long before the Democrats. As the end of this millennium approaches, such unscriptural speculation will continue to spread. Dispensationalists Dave Hunt, Charles Ryrie, and Hal Lindsey have already authored new books of impending destruction, despair, and Armageddon. Dozens of books have been or are being authored by others.
How long before someone writes a book declaring Bill Clinton to be the beast of Revelation? With a name like Gore, the Vice President will be linked to the beast's head wound. And I hope they won't speculate as to who the "great harlot who sits upon the beast" might be. Mind you, I am not making a prediction, this is merely an illustration of the prophetic lunacy that has characterized Christians.
You don't often find scholarly books on eschatology in Christian book stores anymore. The booksellers are pushing "the world's going to end any moment" literature and have convinced bookstores into thinking that anything else is a departure from orthodox Christianity. These "chicken little" books are the prophetic equivalent of Christian romance novels: sensational, suspenseful, and highly questionable in terms of edification. Given the silliness of pop eschatology, I can hardly blame nonchristians for ridiculing those who profess Christ.
Today's eschatological "scholarship" pales in comparison to the great theologians of the past who recognized that Christ's death on the cross was not the beginning of defeat, but the beginning of a decisive victory which God had sovereignly predestined before the beginning of history. The Church needs to get reacquainted with some of the great scholars who proclaimed the conquering Christ and the success of the gospel: men like J.A. Alexander, Loraine Boettner, David Brown, R.L. Dabney, Jonathan Edwards, Patrick Fairbairn, Matthew Henry, A.A. Hodge, Charles Hodge, J. Gresham Machen, John Murray, John Owen, W.G.T. Shedd, James H. Snowden, Augustus H. Strong, J.H. Thornwell, and B.B. Warfield.
I look forward to the day when Christian bookstores will abandon the prophetic tabloids and turn instead to books such as Iain Murray's The Puritan Hope, J. Marcellus Kik's An Eschatology of Victory , Ken Gentry's He Shall Have Dominion, or John Jefferson Davis' The Victory of Christ's Kingdom: An Introduction to Postmillennialism. Until that day, nonchristians will watch with amusement and disdain at more bad prophecy rising.

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