Last week at the “Elephant Room 2” Conference, the pastors were summing up their remarks and congratulating themselves for the open conversation celebrating their unity in essentials of doctrine and liberty in non-essentials. I was surprised when one of them felt compelled to break from the narrative of hope to insert his pessimism for the future based on his view of the end times.
This doesn’t make sense. On an individual level we are filled with confidence in the unstoppable power of God when we tell new believers, “I am sure of this, that He who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus,” (Phil. 1:6). However, when we consider the future of the church, our confident hope turns to doom and defeat. Where did this contradiction come from?
In part, pessimism is hard wired into certain views of the end times or eschatology. Some teaching on the book of Revelation requires inevitable defeat of the church in history. Many believe that even the defeat of Satan at the cross, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and the reign of Christ in the kingdom of God are no match for evil’s victory in history. They seem to ignore the fact that God has already, “…rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son He loves,” (Col. 1:13).
This negativity is inconsistent with the joy and peace that comes from the hope promised in Romans 15:13, “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe in Him so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” The pessimists say that this hope is only for another age, there isn’t much hope for this one.
Daniel’s declaration of the reign of Christ in this age: “He was given authority to rule, and glory, and a kingdom; so that those of every people, nation, and language should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and His kingdom is one that will not be destroyed.” (Dan. 7:14). This is a message of worldwide hope, peace, power, and victory not defeatism and pessimism.
The implication of the negative mindset that comes from certain millennial views was the subject of a paper by an US Army Major, Brian L. Stuckert, called, “Strategic Implications of American Millennialism.” Below are some quotes:
Major Stuckert believes that millennial views have implications on US security strategy.
Since the beginning of the Republic, various forms of millennial religious doctrines, of which dispensational pre-millennialism is the most recent, have shaped U.S. national security strategy. As the dominant form of millennialism in the U.S. evolves, it drives changes in U.S. security policy and subsequent commitment of the instruments of national power. Millennial ideas contribute to a common American understanding of international relations that guide our
thinking irrespective of individual religious or political affiliation. Millennialism has great explanatory value, significant policy implications, and creates potential vulnerabilities that adversaries may exploit.
He believes that certain millennial views create unnecessary pessimism and paranoia that distort reality and international strategy.
Pessimism and paranoia are two possible results of pre-millennial influence. This can lead to inaccurate assessments on the part of military leaders and planners. In the Capstone Concept for Joint Operations, the Joint Staff describes the near-term future as one characterized by “a pervasive sense of global insecurity.” There are actually many reasons to trend toward optimism. The U.S. military has no rival and our power is truly global in nature. U.S. military spending always exceeds that of the next several major nations combined. The U.S. military regularly enjoys a position of leadership on the international stage and effectively uses military power to intervene in the affairs of other states. Decision makers should guard against unwarranted pessimism.
The impact of American millennial religious ideas on U.S. Government policy will add to strategic hubris, compel increasingly reckless international action, and continue to over-commit the military in ways the Nation cannot afford.
This week Ed Stetzer posted an interview of Greg Strad from the Evangelical Free Church in America. Strad said that the EFCA is revising its statement of faith to regard its pre-millennial view of eschatology as “a denominational distinctive and conviction rather than a gospel essential.” If things continue, no longer will the EFCA expect a tight pre-millennial view of their members. This gives hope for progress!
Friends, let’s let the evil that we see in the world be a rallying point for extra service and opportunity to preach the Gospel, not as unstoppable defeat. Let’s put our hope and trust in our Savior and Redeemer to continue to “…reign until He puts all His enemies under His feet,” (1 Cor. 15:25).
Let’s also not think the sky is falling because of the decline of some nominal mainline denominations that have softened or rejected the gospel. To do so would ignore the spectacular growth of the church around the world during the last 100 years. Let’s not miss that Christianity, as a percentage of the world’s population, continues to grow. There are nearly 9 million Christians today who come from a Muslim background. In 1900, 5% of the Protestants lived in South America, Asia, and Africa; now 59% of the Protestants live on these continents. There is much more to celebrate. Let’s stop distorting the joy and power of the Gospel with teaching that leads to attitudes of defeat.
Postscript for those focusing on economic doom, below is from the Wall Street Journal this week:
In January 1912, the United States emerged from a two-year recession. Nineteen more followed—along with a century of phenomenal economic growth. Americans in real terms are 700% wealthier today.
In hindsight it seems obvious that emerging technologies circa 1912—electrification, telephony, the dawn of the automobile age, the invention of stainless steel and the radio amplifier—would foster such growth. Yet even knowledgeable contemporary observers failed to grasp their transformational power.
In January 2012, we sit again on the cusp of three grand technological transformations with the potential to rival that of the past century. All find their epicenters in America: big data, smart manufacturing and the wireless revolution.