Monday, 19 April 2010

"The nutbags...had it right the whole time"

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".


MikeK said...


As you know, I am old enough to remember "The Late Great Planet Earth" and was captivated by it when I received the book as a gift around 1970.

Later in the 1970's I went to summer school at EBC Capel to find out that dispensational premillenialism was not the only end times 'ism there is!

Nevertheless it is well written for the man in the street and more than one of my work colleagues found it to be compelling reading.

As you know, I am not a dispensational premill person now.

Noting your examination of Acts speeches, you may remember that one of my "discoveries" when doing my masters dissertation was that an implication of 1 Thessalonians is that Paul had taught them end times stuff at nurture.

This is so regardless of the need to bring them reassurance of what would happen to those of their number who had died and the exhortations of chapter 5, even though they were already not in the dark (v4 and 5) about all this.

I suggest that it is also implicit from this letter that this emphasis was included the Paul's evangelistic preaching to them.

Moreover, it is of very practical significance that the young Thessalonian congregation was standing up despite persecution BECAUSE Paul or Timothy had so taught end times to them.

God Bless


James said...

Thanks Mike. Always appreciate your comments. I do remember those Master's "discoveries"! Some real insights about the gospel. Paul's letters give us a great window into what sort of churches his preaching produced.Good to hear from you.

Helen said...

Hi James

Thought about 'do we really want to bring our friends to church and then talk about the end of the world?'

We'd need to ensure our motivation for wanting to do this was right or we'd end up being like the 'nutbags with cardboard signs'!

If it's said in the right spirit people appreciate the truth. And yes I agree if we don't as Christians keep Christ's return in our vision and preach it then we will lose the cutting edge and just become nice people.

I did read Hal Lindsay's book years ago but couldn't resist a bargain and ordered it to read again!


James said...

Hi Helen. Thanks for your comments.
Point taken about how we communicate the truth of Christ's return. Sometimes the "end-times talk" can veer of into all sorts of speculation and leave people with a mixture of fear and confusion. Perhaps the place to begin is by us just talking a bit more about it as part of our faith rather than turning it into a kind of specialised subject.

Hope you enjoy your Hal Lindsey bargain! James