Ed Stetzer: Why did you write this book?
Billy Hallowell: I have always been fascinated by end-times theology. I was raised in non-denominational churches, so—like many evangelicals—I'm more than familiar with the concept of premillennialism and a pre-tribulation rapture, but this book afforded me an opportunity to dive deep inside of the minds of some of the most well-known eschatological experts, pastors and theologians to ask key questions about what they believe the Bible says about the end times. It turns out the debate is quite complicated, and that's putting it mildly.
My central goal in providing an overview of the seemingly never-ending debate over the Antichrist, Millennium kingdom, tribulation and other end-times components is to help Christians assess each theory to try and decide what they truly believe about the end times. "The Armageddon Code" allows them to fact-check what they believe and what their ideological opponents argue by looking to the scriptures at the center of it all.
ES: Anything that surprised you as you wrote it?
BH: Though I shouldn't have been surprised, I was stunned to see that so many people who have both good intentions and deep respect for the biblical scriptures walk away with such divergent ideas about what the Old and New Testaments prophesy about the end times.
Sure, I knew there was a debate, but working on "The Armageddon Code" gave me a unique lens, allowing me to see just how passionate each expert was about his stance, despite coming away with starkly different conclusions in many cases.
The questions we commissioned through Lifeway Research showed that, among pastors, debate is alive and well. Before this book there really wasn't much public polling information about pastors' and ministers' eschatological views, so that was a central goal of mine in penning this book. To see 36 percent of pastors opting for a pre-tribulation rapture and 25 percent saying that the rapture shouldn't be taken literally was notable. There isn't a consensus.
I was also fascinated to see nearly half (49 percent) of pastors expecting a future Antichrist figure, with no other proportions coming close to that in terms of size. Clearly, preachers are just as divided as everyone on the ever-contentious subject, which shows that there's a level of mystery in the Bible when it comes to the end of days.
ES: I’ve wondered if there has been a decline of the pre-trib view since the Hal Lindsey era. I know this research is a snapshot view, and not a trend, but what is your observation?
BH: This is an intriguing question and my sense is that there has, indeed, been a decrease in the prevalence of the pre-tribulation rapture view. Then again, it's quite difficult to assess exactly what might be happening there, considering that there are sparse numbers and a variety of worldviews (mid-trib, pre-wrath, post-trib, among others). It does seem that there's a broader discussion these days, with considerations that stretch beyond the pre-trib paradigm.
Perhaps some pop culture representations of the end times have impacted views on the rapture. There's also the notion that current events are fueling greater interest in the end times and, thus, a deeper quest for facts about what the Bible really says about eschatology.
ES: The Bible has a lot of prophecy, but a lot of Christians seem embarrassed to talk about it due to some of the bad examples out there. How do you think we should talk about prophecy well?
BH: I think that part of the problem with prophecy is the authoritativeness and definitiveness with which some speak when addressing it. Here's what I mean by that: there's nothing wrong with proposing potential events and happenings based on the biblical scriptures, but it is the rigidness with which some adhere to those proposals that can become problematic. This is especially true when it comes to date-setting, with evangelists who set a specific date for the rapture or return of Christ making a mockery of believers and of biblical truth when their claims predictably do not come to pass.
Talking about prophecy well means reading and contemplating, while understanding that there's a good chance that some eschatological details are mysterious or, at the least, complex and will not be fully discernible until they come to pass. It's fine to have and hold specific views, but it's important to realize that there is a level of fluidity when it comes to the end times. One other consideration, of course, would be making sure that any view one espouses can be fully backed by scripture.