I'm not a film buff, so it should come as no surprise that I never saw 2012 in the cinema and only managed to watch the dvd version with my teenage son on Friday evening.
It's a good yarn in the disaster movie tradition. It does go on; it morphed from a kind of The Late Great Planet Earth meets 24 to Indiana Jones meets Evan Almighty. (For our younger readers The Late Great Planet Earth was a 1970's end-times biblical blockbuster. Although one might question some of its conclusions, it was absolutely compulsive reading - even for a teenager. You can purchase a used copy at Amazon for 36p! I hadn't realised until writing up this post that it was turned into a film starring Orson Welles.).
Mayan prophecies, conspiracy theorists, good guys and bad guys and the triumph of the human spirit - you can find it all in 2012.
It really has very little to do with what the Bible teaches about the last days. And the church comes over as quite anemic and helpless. The only people who seems to have any clue about what's happening are the scientists, an eccentric talk show host, a little known author and - wait for it - according to Carl Anheuser, the bad guy in the White House "the nutbags with cardboard signs" who " had it right the whole time."
It was the nutbags with cardboard signs line that got me. It raised a few questions. Like "Who defines reality?" and "How willing are we to talk about the reality of the future with our lost friends?"
The quote recalled a discussion I had had earlier in the day. It concerned whether we should preach about the end of the world and the themes associated with it at guest services. Do we really want to bring our friends to church and then talk about the end of the world?! (Would love your thoughts on that one.)
About two years ago, I decided to read through Acts to try and learn how to preach the gospel like the apostles - Peter and Paul in particular. I had a few surprises. One was the focus that there seemed to be on the world to come and how history was heading towards the day when God would judge the world. See Acts 2.40, 3.21-23, 17.31, 24.25, for example.
What struck me about this emphasis was not that the apostles were preaching a happy heaven v. a hot hell. It was different to that. I think that they set out to present the gospel not only as a means of personal salvation, but as a means of personal salvation that required you to completely change your outlook on the whole of human history and the destiny of the world. And in this story of God, humanity and the world, Christ was bang in the centre.
If we can't find some way of communicating the full story of the gospel, two things are likely to happen:
Firstly, the gospel might - just might - be received and understood as a kind of self-help message, a formula for a happier life;
Secondly, we will allow secular people, Islam and Christian cults / sects (e.g. JWs, Mormons) to shape how people think about the future of the world. And believe me, no-one from these sectors of the religious market is shy about how they see the future;
Finally, there is a real danger that the church will lose its cutting edge as it tries to conform itself to this world rather than being conformed to the values of the world to come: "Everyone who has this hope in him, purifies himself" says the apostle John, speaking of the return of the Lord (1 John 3.3).
I'm not really suggesting that we take to the streets with cardboard signs. I am advocating that we do present the whole of the gospel story, which includes the return of Christ and the final establishment of his kingdom. God forbid that anyone ever ask "Why didn't you tell us?" And we can only reply "I was afraid you might think I was a nutbag".