prophecy

Regarding Israel and the End Times, what is Dispensationalism? What is the rapture?

Regarding Israel and the End Times, what is Dispensationalism? What is the rapture?

THE QUESTION:

Regarding Israel and Bible prophecies about the End Times, what are the meanings of such terms as Dispensationalism, the rapture, premillennialism, the great tribulation,  pre-tribulationism and Armageddon?

THE GUY’S ANSWER:

A March 31 New York Times article on how religion may influence U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s approach toward Israel had this headline: “The Rapture and the Real World: Pompeo Mixes Beliefs and Policy.”

One key point was that the then-Congressman told a religious audience in 2015 that humanity faces “a never-ending struggle” until “the rapture.” Yes, think “Left Behind” books and movies.

The move of the United States embassy to Jerusalem, and U.S. recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over Syria’s Golan Heights, were thought to boost both President Donald Trump’s evangelical support and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s April 9 election prospects. Analyzing those decisions, the Times explained that “white evangelicals,” Pompeo included, believe “God promised the land to the Jews, and that the gathering of Jews in Israel is foretold in the prophecy of the rapture — the ascent of Christians into the kingdom of God.”

The Times wording was truthy but confusing, and the standard rapture belief is not taught by evangelicalism as a whole — but only one segment. Also, the “white evangelical” reference is strange, since this doctrine can be found in quite a few different kinds of evangelical sanctuaries.

So let’s unpack some elements of these complex matters.

Secretary Pompeo is a member of the Michigan-based Evangelical Presbyterian Church, a small body (89,190 members, 207 congregations) that forsook the more liberal Presbyterian Church (USA) in 1981. It upholds the Westminster Confession and catechisms proclaimed by British clergy and politicians assembled by Parliament in the mid-17th Century. Churches that follow such Reformation-era credos affirm Jesus’s Second Coming and the Last Judgment, but not the modern rapture belief formulated two centuries later.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Salt Lake Tribune explores how Mormon leaders claim to hear directly from God

Salt Lake Tribune explores how Mormon leaders claim to hear directly from God

A few weeks ago, I was cleaning up my back yard in the Seattle suburb where I live when two Mormon missionaries walked up. Of course they wanted to talk.

I didn’t agree with their theology, nor did I want start a discussion of the Mother God and other doctrinal clashes between Trinitarian Christianity and their faith.

How could I, I wondered, engage them as human beings? It was getting on in the evening and they were clearly tired.

An idea occurred to me. I mentioned how the Pentecostal and charismatic movement is the world’s fastest-growing kind of Christianity and how it shares something in common with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Prophecy, I explained, is a current reality with both groups. The missionaries clearly perked up and we had a good talk.

Now, what would this look like in the news?

It was unusual to see Tuesday’s story in the Salt Lake Tribune about how the prophetic gift actually works. Veteran religion reporter Peggy Stack began the piece this way:

By his own account, Russell M. Nelson speaks often to God, or, rather, God speaks often to him.

Nelson, the 94-year-old president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said recently that he was awakened at 2 a.m. with a distinct impression that he should go to the Dominican Republic.

Within days, the Church News reported, the energetic nonagenarian was on a plane to that Caribbean nation.

This is an “era of unprecedented revelation,” Nelson told the missionaries gathered to hear him there Sept. 1.

Indeed, in his first nearly nine months as the Utah-based faith’s top “prophet, seer and revelator," Nelson has used the term “revelation” again and again to describe his motivation for initiatives and changes.

Few of his predecessors were so open –- or blatant –- about claiming that God personally revealed truths to them as Nelson has been ever since he took over headship of the church in January.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

A prophet acting out a parable: Why did Jesus choose to curse a fig tree?

A prophet acting out a parable: Why did Jesus choose to curse a fig tree?

RACHAEL’S QUESTION:

What is the significance of Jesus cursing the fig tree?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

Our discussion will focus on the Gospel of Mark (11:12-14 and 20-26) rather than the briefer parallel version in Matthew (21:18-22), which most experts think was written down later. Mark records the following:

Jesus was traveling with his disciples to Jerusalem, where he was to “cleanse” the temple by driving out devious money-changers and sellers of birds for sacrifice. He was hungry and spotted a fig tree. Seen from the distance, it showed leaves, but close up there was no fruit. Jesus declared that no-one would ever again eat fruit from this tree. Returning from the temple the next day the disciples saw that the tree had withered down to its roots. (Matthew puts the “cursing” after the “cleansing” and says the tree withered immediately.)

Scholarly British Bishop N.T. Wright says this narrative “looks most peculiar,” and it’s “one of the most difficult in the Gospels” in the view of D.E. Nineham at the University of London. That’s because, as Hugh Anderson of the University of Edinburgh observed, the cursing of the fig tree was Jesus’ only reported miracle of “destruction” rather than restoration, so at first glance it seems “out of character” if not “irrational.”

Interpreters see significance in Mark’s literary “sandwich” with the temple assault enclosed within two halves of the fig tree account. It’s important to realize that the fig tree is a symbol for the Israelite nation in many Old Testament passages, an apt poetic device due to this fruit’s importance for the regional diet.

Jesus was not angry over his hunger, and certainly not angry at a tree.

Rather, scholars tell us, he was filling the role of a Jewish prophet like many before him.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Apocalypse (almost) Now: Gullible media fall for clickbait from 'Christian Numerologist'

Apocalypse (almost) Now: Gullible media fall for clickbait from 'Christian Numerologist'

Yes, gentle reader, I guess I'm almost as guilty as the media outlets hyping this coming Saturday -- Sept. 23 -- as the date for the end of the world. After all, I'm hoping you will click on this blog post and read it. Share it with your friends via social media, too. #ClicksWanted

But I'm going to be as straight about this weekend's "apocalypse" as I can. The other media, including a story picked up by the Drudge Report? Not so much.

Here's what Drudge found fascinating. It's a story from the local CBS-TV affiliate in Philadelphia headlined, "Christian Numerologist Says World Will End On Sept. 23."

Key words? That would be "Christian numerologist." Focus on that adjective. Let's go:

If you had plans for the weekend, a Christian numerologist says you won’t get to them because the world is about to end.
David Meade, a self-proclaimed “researcher,” is predicting that a series of apocalyptic events will begin on Sept. 23 and, “a major part of the world will not be the same.”
According to Meade, the mysterious rogue planet Nibiru, also known as Planet X, is on a collision course with Earth, which will bring world-ending tsunamis and earthquakes. The numerologist claims the dates of recent events like the Great American Solar Eclipse and Hurricane Harvey’s flooding of Texas were all marked in the Bible. Meade now says his “Planet X theory” lines up with more bible codes and ancient markers on the Egyptian pyramids.

Sigh. Where to begin? I've been consciously hanging around things Christian since Richard Nixon's first term as president of the United States -- in other words, a long time. I've also had an interest in journalism for that long, if not a bit longer.

But to see a supposedly respectable media outlet -- which a CBS-TV affiliate station surely must be -- fall for this flapdoodle is a little heartbreaking.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

It's the end of the world as they report it: New York Times listens to echo-chamber voices

It's the end of the world as they report it: New York Times listens to echo-chamber voices

Good morning, journalism class. Today's topic is the question of the voice in writing, specifically news writing.

No, we're not talking about active voice versus passive voice, Rather, let's look at the voices -- the "subject matter experts" as the phrasing goes -- selected by a reporter and a media outlet to speak to a given item.

For this question, we can thank The New York Times and their recent feature titled, "Apocalyptic Thoughts Amid Nature’s Chaos? You Could Be Forgiven." While the subject itself is interesting, it was the voices heard in the story -- as well as those not heard -- that caught my attention.

Here we go:

Vicious hurricanes all in a row, one having swamped Houston and another about to buzz through Florida after ripping up the Caribbean.
Wildfires bursting out all over the West after a season of scorching hot temperatures and years of dryness.
And late Thursday night, off the coast of Mexico, a monster of an earthquake.
You could be forgiven for thinking apocalyptic thoughts, like the science fiction writer John Scalzi who, surveying the charred and flooded and shaken landscape, declared that this “sure as hell feels like the End Times are getting in a few dress rehearsals right about now.”

We go on to a survey -- written and published before now-Tropical Storm Irma made its first U.S. landfall as Hurricane Irma -- the thoughts of several experts about the relationship, if any, between environmental disasters and the End of All Things.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Spiritual visions: Behind the scenes of Donald Trump's 'inner circle of evangelical advisors'

Spiritual visions: Behind the scenes of Donald Trump's 'inner circle of evangelical advisors'

I've tended to brush aside Donald Trump's alleged spiritual awakening as political pandering (think "Two Corinthians" controversy).

As a husband and father, I couldn't bring myself to vote for a candidate who bragged about his ability to grab women by the ... well, you know what he said. 

But — now that Trump has been elected as the nation's 45th president — here's a serious question to ponder: Is there any chance that the foul-mouthed, womanizing billionaire really is a "baby Christian" who has embarked on a journey of faith?

That question came to mind as I read Time magazine religion writer Elizabeth Dias' excellent, behind-the-scenes account of Trump's pastoral team on Election Night:

In the dark hours of early Wednesday morning, moments after Donald Trump gave his victory speech to a cheering ballroom in New York, the president-elect paused backstage with Pentecostal pastor Paula White.
With vice-president-elect Mike Pence and their families nearby, White prayed over them, asking God to guide them in wisdom and to protect them in the days ahead. Just days earlier, White was traveling with Trump on his plane when he brought up how Harry Truman surprised everyone by winning against Thomas Dewey in 1948.
Now, Trump prepares to enter the White House after an upset of his own. For White, “God’s hand and purpose in this” is hard to miss—thousands of Christians, she says, joined her in three days of prayer and fasting in anticipation of the outcome. “I haven’t personally seen it since 9/11 when the body has really come together,” she says.

This is just the latest insightful reporting by Dias on the pastors at the center of Trump's campaign.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Check this out: This New York Times analysis takes ISIS at its prophetic word

Check this out: This New York Times analysis takes ISIS at its prophetic word

If you go to YouTube and do a search for the terms "ISIS" and "prophecy," what you will get is several pages of material that has next to nothing about what the leaders of the Islamic State believe is their role in the future of Islam and the world.

Instead, what you will find is links to videos that examine ISIS in light of prophecies about the end times that some Christians see in the Bible. If you are looking for a likely candidate to ignite the apocalypse, ISIS is at the top of almost all of the lists.

But what about debates INSIDE ISLAM about what has or has not been revealed about the future and the end of all things?

That was the subject of a recent analysis piece at The New York Times that dedicated a refreshing amount of attention to a controversial issue in Islamic thought and tradition. The headline: "U.S. Seeks to Avoid Ground War Welcomed by Islamic State."

The starting point in this equation: ISIS elites want the United States to get involved in a ground war in the Middle East.

Why? That's the complicated question.

... When the United States first invaded Iraq, one of the most enthusiastic proponents of the move was the man who founded the terrorist cell that would one day become the Islamic State, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. He excitedly called the Americans’ 2003 intervention “the Blessed Invasion.”
His reaction -- ignored by some, and dismissed as rhetoric by others -- points to one of the core beliefs motivating the terrorist group now holding large stretches of Iraq and Syria: The group bases its ideology on prophetic texts stating that Islam will be victorious after an apocalyptic battle to be set off once Western armies come to the region.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Does the Old Testament actually speak about Jesus?

Does the Old Testament actually speak about Jesus?

ROBERT ASKS:

Can we read Christ into the Old Testament?

THE RELIGION GUY ANSWERS:

According to Jewish tradition, no, and understandably so. According to Christian tradition, yes, since the New Testament interprets various passages in the Hebrew Bible (= Old Testament)  as prophecies that foreshadow the future life and message of Jesus. Christians commonly view other Old Testament texts this same way, following Jesus’ own example: “Beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27).

A classic expression of such linkage is Handel’s beloved oratorio “Messiah,” whose songs hailing Jesus Christ use not only the New Testament but a couple dozen Old Testament texts taken from Isaiah, Job, Lamentations, Malachi, Psalms, and Zechariah.

Many modern-day liberal scholars from Christian backgrounds side with Judaism and doubt that Old Testament writers could have been referring to Jesus. Now, surprisingly, an esoteric dispute on this theme at Pennsylvania’s Westminster Theological Seminary is dividing certain conservative Protestants.

Please respect our Commenting Policy