June 24, 2006

The Apocalyptic Worldview: Part 1

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 8:28 pm

The L.A. Times had an article last week about the apocalyptic themes running throughout the major monotheistic religions. It turns out that apocalyptic beliefs show up in Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

[M]ega-church pastors recently met in Inglewood to polish strategies for using global communications and aircraft to transport missionaries to fulfill the Great Commission: to make every person on Earth aware of Jesus’ message. Doing so, they believe, will bring about the end, perhaps within two decades.

In Iran, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has a far different vision. As mayor of Tehran in 2004, he spent millions on improvements to make the city more welcoming for the return of a Muslim messiah known as the Mahdi, according to a recent report by the American Foreign Policy Center, a nonpartisan think tank.

To the majority of Shiites, the Mahdi was the last of the prophet Muhammad’s true heirs, his 12 righteous descendants chosen by God to lead the faithful.

Ahmadinejad hopes to welcome the Mahdi to Tehran within two years.

Conversely, some Jewish groups in Jerusalem hope to clear the path for their own messiah by rebuilding a temple on a site now occupied by one of Islam’s holiest shrines.

Artisans have re-created priestly robes of white linen, gem-studded breastplates, silver trumpets and solid-gold menorahs to be used in the Holy Temple — along with two 6½-ton marble cornerstones for the building’s foundation.

Of course this isn’t new, especially for us Christians. The early Christian church was expecting the imminent return of Jesus, and since then this apocalyptic worldview has periodically taken hold among various Christian groups. But why? Why, at some times and places, are Christians content to let God’s plan work itself out in history, while at other times and places Christians center their faith around an expectation of Christ’s imminent return and the end of the age? And of all times, why in the conservative Christian U.S. today?

Apocalyptic worldviews seem to take hold among the oppressed. The early Christian church was clearly an oppressed people, especially under the Emperors Domitian and Nero. Christians were rounded up, tortured, and executed. This nascent religious movement seemed on the verge of being snuffed out, and their hope for Christ’s return in their lifetimes may have been all that kept them faithful. It’s no coincidence that eschatological themes appeared in slave spirituals in the U.S. south so often. I’ve heard it said, although I can’t provide a source, that Dietrich Bonhoeffer felt the only book of the Bible that made sense to him while he was in a Nazi prison was the book of Revelation. Clearly, the promise of Christ’s return to earth gives the persecuted hope to carry on.

But how could any citizens of the wealthiest, most free country on earth in the history of mankind consider themselves oppressed?

Oppression is in the eye of the beholder, and those of us in the metropolitan “blue” counties need to see things through the eyes of conservative Christians in rural America. A generation ago, teachers could lead children in prayer and ignore the teaching of evolution. The civic square was unabashedly Christian and popular culture was reliably inoffensive. Gays (and in some places, blacks) could be safely ignored or dismissed as ungodly.

We Christian progressives need to acknowledge a simple truth: rural, conservative Christians in America have suffered a loss over the past 50 years. For many, this loss is felt as a genuine sense of being oppressed by those with political and cultural power over their lives. A belief in the rapture is an understandable response to what is felt as a loss of a way of life that couldn’t possibly be recaptured without divine intervention.

That doesn’t mean it’s right. But before I dig any deeper into the apocalyptic worldview, it’s important to recognize the profound sense of loss in many Christian communities, and how it shapes their theology. It’s so easy to demonize “the other”, as much for us progressives as conservatives, and I hope to avoid this temptation by looking at the world through their eyes first.

More in my next post.


  1. Yepper. Christians who think that they have a good handle on what God wants in our society (as if any of us could actually figure that out) are shocked and mortified that “those Godless Liberals” have made such inroads. Why, back in the God-fearing 1950s our great nation had Godliness locked up tight! We didn’t allow such attrocities as interracial marriage, or openly homosexual couples, or black/hispanic/Asian voting. Nosireebob! We had a firm grasp of what it meant to be a Christian nation, by George!


    Such is the fate of any people whose dependance on their interpretation of God’s will exceeds their understanding of Jesus’ compassion. Not being able to understand the nature of our need for God’s grace for our own sins we project Righteous Wrath on to those whom we deem to be bigger sinners. Just exactly how pathetic are we, anyway?

    You know, I’m the first guy to admit we have a pretty sick society here. This is still no excuse for judging others before yanking out our own eye planks, eh? Trying to turn America into a theocracy will be just about as successful as it was in Afghanistan. Great model to follow.

    Comment by Marty Schrader — June 25, 2006 @ 7:04 am

  2. I am not a “Conservative” Christian, but I was raised up in church and I am one of those “End Times” Christians. I believe that Jesus will return. He said He would and I believe Him. I am not oppressed nor do I feel oppressed by anyone. I know what the Bible says will come and anyone with eyes can see we are on that road. I know what God expects from us … He was pretty smart in providing us with His Word so we would know. I also know that God works in His time and there is nothing we can do to make Jesus come one day sooner than God has planned.

    Having said all that … I am interested to see where you are going to go with this, Bob. Quite interested, indeed.

    Comment by Angel — June 25, 2006 @ 10:31 am

  3. I would be an “End Times” Christian, but growing up around so much “End Times” stuff soured me to it. It’s only been fairly recently that I’ve even begun to think about the issue in the first place. I’ve noticed that a lot of people used the End Times as a manipulation tool to try to push their agenda and to try to keep people from caring about certain issues.

    I do believe that Jesus will come back someday, but I have no idea whatsoever on the specifics, and I don’t think about it much. I probably should think about it more, but I’m way too biased to come up with a clear answer.

    Comment by Alex — June 26, 2006 @ 7:33 am

  4. Marty – you’re preaching to the choir here.

    Comment by Bob — June 26, 2006 @ 9:36 am

  5. Christians do not believe in an “apocalyptic worldview” because they’re oppressed.
    They believe it because it’s in the Word of God.

    Comment by Anna — June 26, 2006 @ 7:26 pm

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