I think I’ve figured some things out.
I think I’ve regained my faith.
I still claim Agnostic Christian, because ultimately, we can’t prove or disprove God’s existence. But the more I look into this (what I’m about to explain) the more I believe. And that’s a good thing, right…?
A word of caution: I’m pretty sure this isn’t orthodox Christianity, but it makes more sense to me than ANY version of orthodoxy that I’ve ever encountered.
Here’s the setup: This past weekend, the dude who pastored the Brownsville “revival” preached at our church. (Yes, I’m skeptical because of the whole Hank Hanegraaff prophecy, but that’s another story.) Prior to preaching, he mentioned some end times sermon CDs he was selling. In addition, this coming month, our pastor will be preaching about the “five unfulfilled prophecies of the end times”. All of a sudden, I realized that I know very little about the end times except what I have been told. I’ve never studied it on my own.
In my thought process, I recalled Bart Ehrman’s latest book, which I recently read. In it, he mentions how the first century church believed that all of the prophecies that we normally consider “end time” prophecies were fulfilled in 70 AD. Nearly everything else Dr. Ehrman says has made sense to me, so I decided to investigate a little further.
A quick google search brought me to “preterism”. In case you don’t know (I sure didn’t), preterism is the belief that all of the end time prophecies in the Bible have already been fulfilled. They were fulfilled in 70 AD with the fall of Jerusalem under Titus. I started searching the web for details, and came across some really good websites that had me convinced they might actually have a case, with just a cursory read. I mentioned this to my brother, who soon after, pointed me to the Raptureless.com web site. Jonathan Welton has done an amazing job of presenting the facts, scripture, and arguments for a pretty watertight case for the fulfillment of old testament prophesy in the events of 70 AD. If you aren’t convinced, take a read for yourself. He offers his book free if you read it online. You can finish it in a couple of hours, and it will probably rock your belief system.
I’m pretty convinced of the first part of the book (70 AD and all that), but I don’t think he has done a good job of presenting the evidence of another coming of Jesus. He does present a case, but It’s not as watertight as the former. For me, the verdict is still out on this. (more research, I guess.)
Essentially, the idea is this: the “tribulation” has already happened. There is no “AntiChrist” person- it’s a spirit of false teaching. The “end of days” that Jesus describes is the end of the old covenant, which ushered in the new covenant of grace, and the Kingdom Age. I won’t get into all of the details here, but if you want to fully understand it, read Welton’s book. You’ll thank yourself.
One of the questions my dad asked when I mentioned all of this to him was about the new heaven and earth. He felt cheated, he said, if THIS (what we are living in now) was the new heaven and earth mentioned in the new testament. More research led me to this page that explains the preterist view of the new heaven and earth. To sum it up, “heaven and earth” is a hebraic term for the covenant between God and man. In other words, when “heaven and earth” passed away in 70 AD, it was the old covenant between God and man, the law of Moses, and not the actual heavens and this planet we live on. Both works I’ve mentioned up to this point do a much better job of explaining this concept than I can, so I won’t try to rehash it here.
One thing I started thinking about, however, was the science vs. creationism debate that I mentioned in a previous post. Both of the works I previously linked to say that the reference to “heaven and earth” in Genesis 1 does not reference the covenant between God and Man. But… why couldn’t it? Mind you, this is entirely speculation on my part, but it seems to me to make sense. In fact, it makes a lot more sense than nearly any other explanation I have heard. If the heaven and earth in Genesis was the beginning of covenant between God and man (in the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth) then the Bible would line up with the undeniable scientific evidence we have that the earth is much older than the Bible seems to claim. If heaven and earth is used consistently throughout scripture, then we have a seamless story of God trying to bring civilization to mankind, starting with the people eventually called Israel, and finally christians and the entire world. It would also explain the other people who were on the earth that God marked Cain for after he killed Abel. So essentially, my version goes like this: Big Bang, dinosaurs, meteor, mankind evolves, God “creates heaven and earth” by bringing them an early form of morality and civilization. That doesn’t necessarily work (Cain and Abel), so he regroups, and gives the Noahide Laws, which don’t necessarily work either. Then he finds Moses and gives him “the” law- which worked for the savage people that it was given to. These early power hungry, “I don’t care about you or anything except my own survival” savages did the best they could to live up to the law God gave them. That was the best they could do. Eventually, the religious elites perverted the law and made it all about “the law” instead of the civilization and morality it was intended to be about. But God promised a more perfect way through Isaiah and Daniel. Then he eventually gave that more perfect way through Jesus. And what was that more perfect way? Jesus’ teachings can be summed up as: Love God with all you heart, and love your neighbor as yourself. If you look closely at the gospels, you can see this is what he taught the people- to the religious leadership, however, he told a different story of their soon coming judgement (which came in 70 AD) because of their lack of love. This idea of “love your neighbor as yourself” is reiterated throughout the new testament writings. Consider the “Fruit of the Spirit” in Galatians: love (your neighbor), joy (because you do right by everyone else), peace (with yourself, for the same reason), long-suffering (with others’ issues), goodness (to others), gentleness (with others), faith (in others, and in God), meekness (or not taking advantage of others, even though you could) all deal with loving others. I think of the words of Paul when he told the Ephesians to “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Or in more practical terms, fit into decent civilization and get along with each other. THAT’s what I believe God’s work with humanity is: he is trying to civilize us. He started with the early savage people, people who needed LAW. But as we have advanced, we have become less and less dependent on the force of law, and now we should try to get along because it’s just how people should treat other people. That’s what His grace is all about: treating others the way we want them to treat us: GETTING ALONG! I believe that’s the whole point of the Mosaic law, the law of grace, and the entire history of God’s interaction with Man. He just wants us to get along and treat each other right. We were savages, now we are more civilized. He had to give a more modern version of “getting along” as we got better at getting along, since the previous version was designed for a less getting along bunch of people.
In Welton’s Raptureless book, he makes this point by explaining how bad the world used to be. We have advanced a lot in the past few thousand years. We, in general, seem to get along with each other a lot better than we used to. We don’t kill people because the steal our sheep anymore. We don’t rape and pillage any more. Sure, there are still pockets of society that do less civilized stuff than we do, but overall, I’d say this is a pretty peaceful place to live. People tend to worry a lot, but when is the last time something truly bad happened to you because someone was “bad”? It doesn’t happen all that much. Overall, it seems violent crime is going down, and is probably much lower today than in the past centuries. Even the wars we wage result in a lot fewer casualties then in the past.
I think part of the problem is that we just don’t see it. This NPR story, makes that exact point. Stuff, civilization, society, and people are a lot better off now than ever in the past. We just don’t recognize it.
I think that we are starting to be where God wanted us all along: civilized. Think about it; he said, “I have come that you might have life, and that more abundantly.” We would probably all agree that life is a lot better now than in the past. Even those that aren’t christians act like decent christian people, for the most part. I have a few atheist friends who are, in many respects, more moral and righteous than a lot of christians, especially when it comes to judging others. Christians are some of the most judgmental people I know… Of course atheists can be judgmental of christians, too, but when you think about the scripture, “judge not lest you be judged”, it seems pretty fitting!
Moving on… Here’s the one big thing that’s bugged me for a while: Jesus’ last prayer was for the Father to “make them (us, christians, whatever) one, as we are one.” It bothered me that even though this was his last prayer, as soon as he went away, we started being “not one”. People started getting this revelation, or that revelation and making their own version of the church. It is estimated that there are 20,000 to 40,000 christian denominations in the world. How is that being “one”? That bothered me. It still does a little. But then I realized that most, if not all of these people still say the “Lord’s prayer”, which is essentially, “God, make your will happen here.” And what is his will? Like I said earlier, it’s for us to get along. So even though we are split as far as our christianity goes, we are getting along. I kind of like to think that all of us asking God to help us get along, by saying the Lord’s prayer, hasn’t gone unnoticed to God. I think it’s been pretty effective. It would be nice if all of these disparate belief systems could agree on doctrinal points, but is that really necessary? Think about it; we are never going to agree. One thing I think we all agree on, though, is that Jesus is the messiah. Don’t we all agree that he is the way, the truth, and the light? Don’t we all believe on him that we might have everlasting life?
Welton makes the point in his Raptureless book that Jesus prophesied that “the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed”. In other words, it (christianity) started out small, then grew into the largest religion in the world (for a while). The kingdom is also like leaven. In over words, a little yeast is put into the dough, but after a while, it effects the entire loaf. It permeates every space in the bread. Hasn’t christianity done that? I think Jesus’ prophesies have been fulfilled. Even those who claim not to be christians have been affected by “the kingdom of God”. Even though they don’t live their lives specifically for the purpose of pleasing God, they do live in a way where they get along with others. And even the religion of Islam is a perversion of Christianity, or a refinement, from their point of view. They are attempting to be righteous in the eyes of God, just as most christians are, and it is because of the teachings of Christ that Islam even exists.
So that’s our modern world. That’s the reality of how all of this has turned out. If you’re a christian, you have to believe that God is in control. Do you really think he would let it get to this point if that’s not really where he wanted it? We pray the Lord’s prayer, but we don’t believe it’s working… I kind of think it has been working, and we are exactly where God wants us. I think we have a ways to go, but overall, we are getting along. We are suspicious of each other, but that might be a good thing for overall peace and tranquility.
So that’s it: that’s my “great” revelation. We are in the kingdom age. The peace of God is slowly “leavening the whole lump”. God’s will is being done. We just don’t see it and realize it.
And, this whole preterism thing has brought me another comfort, which, on top of what I’ve just explained, has been restoring my faith in God. In the “futurist” camp (that is still waiting on the antichrist and tribulation, et al), there is no “proof” of the Bible’s credibility. It’s just a book about God and Jesus and some stuff that might or might not happen in the future. In the preterist camp, however, we have old testament prophesies that were fulfilled in the new testament, providing the proof that the Bible is accurate. So discounting arguments over the dates that different books were written, and whether there were revisionists in the early church, we have a seamless story of God bringing civilization to a bunch of savage animals called humans. It starts in the wilderness several thousand years ago and works right up through the modern day. God makes promises in the beginning, and fulfills those promises, proving his credibility. And we have the complete work. That’s the good news; we can believe the Bible. Whether we can “prove” God’s existence is another thing altogether. But I think that the complete work of the Bible, when viewed from this point of view is the best proof that we have, and are going to have. And that’s comforting to me. So although I am agnostic, I am still a christian. And even though I may or may not agree with your version of christianity, you have as much right to believe it as I do my version. Does that make either one of us more christian than the other…? I tend to think not.