Was Hitler the Antichrist? (Some still think so.) Or was it Gorbachev? (He had a mark on his forehead.) Not too many evangelicals think of the pope as a good candidate, though he topped the list among Protestants for several centuries. Then there's Bill Gates.
I told one evangelical leader that CT was marking the fiftieth anniversary of the modern State of Israel. He was excited. I then explained we were exploring how dispensationalist eschatology shaped America's pro-Israel stand (see "How Evangelicals Became Israel's Best Friend," p. 38). He winced. He was embarrassed by the prophecy charts, Rapture movies, and Antichrist spotting of his youth. He didn't relish being reminded how this end-times obsession has characterized popular Christianity.
If you hang out among evangelical leaders or at our colleges and seminaries (including even today's Dallas Theological Seminary), you seldom hear end-times senarios discussed or see Daniel's prophecies charted. A few years ago, you might even have imagined that Scofield's notes had been, uh, marginalized. But then there was a Gulf War and suddenly Christian bestsellers told how Saddam Hussein and Iraq (ancient Babylon) had been foretold in the Bible. And the latest Christian publishing sensation is a seven-volume post-Rapture, dispensational soap opera.
I understand why my friend winced. There are dangers to end-times obsessions: a disinclination to work toward long-term solutions, a propensity to focus on prophetic fulfillment at the expense of ethical concerns (something Israel's prophets were never accused of), and a perverse satisfaction in cultural decay. However, these problems don't compare with what should be celebrated.
I remember when I first read Revelation's portrayal of the saints' heavenly worship. I realized then that I was part of that crowd. My pulse quickened. Did John see me? Was I in the Bible?
I was, and I am. The most important contribution of dispensationalists' eschatology is their emphasis that we worship an active God who intervenes in history, judges nations, and works out his purposes on earth. Our God is the Lord of history, and everything else.
Many of my dispensational friends will not be surprised if God surprises them at how Jesus returns. Prophecy literature is famous, after all, for changing with the circumstances. But what shines through the details of their scenarios is a bold confidence that God is actively preparing his church for Christ's return. And this is a ministry to us all.
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