THE THEOLOGICAL ENGINEER
My "Lifeboat" Eschatology
By Jeff Laird
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Have you ever wondered if passengers on the Titanic stood around arguing over exactly how and when the boat would sink? Rather than getting others into lifeboats and lifejackets, did they bicker over whether the front, or back, would go down first? Squabble over whether the ship would split in two, or remain intact? Debate at length over precisely how long the process would take? I hope not. It's sad to imagine lives lost because people who should have been focused on rescue were sparring over relatively meaningless details.
Hope is nice, but, human nature is what it is, and I see a spiritual version of that scenario play out when people argue over interpretations of apocalyptic timelines. As expected, the most recent Left Behind movie brought these discussions to the forefront yet again. Pre-trib vs. post-trib Rapture. Literal Rapture, vs non-literal Rapture vs no Rapture. Seven years' tribulation immediately after the Rapture, vs. some delay before Antichrist. Left Behind vs. whatever else. As has been the case for years, my first thought when those arguments come up has always been the same:
Fellow Blogos contributor Jim Allen recently used a Titanic analogy to describe reasons Christians sometimes fail to witness their faith to others. I chuckled at that, not at the subject matter, or his (excellent) handling of it, but because the words "lifeboat" and "Titanic" immediately bring end-times debates to my mind.
Using my application of the Titanic analogy, if you aren't wearing a lifejacket and sitting in a lifeboat, minute details about how and when the boat sinks are irrelevant. You need to get in a boat, and in a lifejacket...now! If you're in a boat, and wearing a lifejacket, then...those particular details are still irrelevant, because you're going to be fine, no matter how those details play out. With respect to the end times, the same thing is true:
Don't get me wrong, eschatology is as valid a field of study as any other. And, like anything else, not all possible interpretations can be true: somebody is right, and somebody's wrong. I'm not suggesting there is no correct timeline for the end times, or that we can't know it, or that it has no impact whatsoever on our spiritual perspective. Extreme views, in particular, can be a problem. But I don't think eschatology — especially regarding earthly end-times events — is ever worth starting an argument, breaking a relationship, or hamstringing our evangelism over, for three major reasons.
First, there is an urgent need for every person to be saved through Christ, and soon, regardless of how imminent His return may be. Rapture or not, everyone on earth is a heartbeat away from standing face-to-face with God, and we never know when that time is (James 4:14). Human beings have been meeting the Lord suddenly and unexpectedly for millennia. That can happen by Rapture, car crash, stroke, act of terrorism, heart attack, and so on and so forth. People can be whisked out of this mortal life at any moment, for a plethora of reasons, and they'd better be ready for it.
Second, Biblical prophecy is not as black-and-white as pop-culture Christianity sometimes makes it out to be. The failed prophecies of Jehovah's Witnesses and the origins of Seventh Day Adventism are two prominent examples of what happens when one tries to narrowly predict eschatological events. Date-setting of that kind is not only unwise, but unbiblical (Matthew 24:36, Mark 13:32). But arguments over lesser predictions can be just as corrosive. Well educated, Bible-believing scholars have varied opinions on how to construe Revelation, and history shows an ebb and flow of various interpretations. Other than the bizarre outliers, most of those are reasonably compatible with conservative Christian theology.
I led our church's men's Bible study while covering Revelation, which I admit was not a planned occurrence. I've often said that discussing eschatology makes me want to sew my eyelids inside out. But being forced to discuss it in detail was a good exercise, and I came away more convinced than ever that hope and humility are absolutely necessary in order to apply that book to our Christian lives. It's far better to put forward a position, with reasons, but recognize it might be wrong, than to stake one's spiritual reputation on something that's not only ambiguous, but seems deliberately so. As I so often say, the "main things" are the "plain things", and there's little about end-times prophecy one could reasonably say is "plain".
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Image Credit: Mads Henrik; "RS 155 "TBN" pa oppdrag en skikkelig stormnatt"; Creative Commons
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