In New Zealand we’ve recently had a rather severe earthquake; 7.8 on the Richter scale, centred in Kaikoura. Thankfully, there were very few casualties, though the damage to infrastructure was significant.
In the wake of the quake, social media filled up with all kinds of comments, many of which were in response to some very unfortunate remarks from a prominent Kiwi televangelist. For a great engagement with some of the biblical issues at play there, I recommend this post by Frank Ritchie.
However, judging by social media, the quake has also seemed to exercise the end times enthusiasts. My experience in Christian ministry over the last 7 years has taught me that there are a lot of these folks out there in our churches. Usually their enthusiasm is fueled by pop-theology done by teachers with not much credibility beyond an internet following.
Why do these teachers and this subject get so much air time in the evangelical Church?
To be fair, some of it, I think, is a genuine sense of fear and intrigue. After all, the bible does say things like, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.” (Matthew 24:7-8).
We look at the world we live in, and we see those things happening, and we wonder. However, we seem to forget that these things have been going on for most of human history. Not to mention, in that same chapter, Jesus tells his followers, “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Matthew 24:36).
So, if not even Jesus knows the hour of his return, but only the Father, why do some Christians spend so much time trying to figure it out?
Here’s my theory… it gives them a sense of growing in their faith, without the effort required for real growth to happen.
Growth in our faith, for the most part, happens slowly. Yes, there are moments when we take bigger strides, and God can work that way. But, mostly we grow through what Eugene Peterson calls, “a long obedience in the same direction.” Through prayer, and time spent in Scripture, and stepping out in obedience. That’s how we grow in our faith.
I think that where codes-and-calendars end times theology is dangerous, is that it can give a sense of false growth. We read a theory online, or hear it from some bible teacher, and we come to think that we have mastered an area of our faith. A bit like leveling up in a computer game, or Popeye after he’s eaten some spinach. At worst, we begin to believe that we’ve taken a step that other Christians have not; that we’ve entered an elite class of Christianity.
Of course we’d never state it like that, but I’m convinced that this subconsciously underlines much of this kind of thinking. I’m also convinced that this is why this kind of end times theology is popular in our churches. It offers the endorphin hit of easy growth. But the growth isn’t real.
So, what’s the solution?
That too is found in Matthew 24. “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.”
This is the charge to every Christian. To do our best to be ready, to keep walking in the same direction, towards Christ, whether he comes back tomorrow or in a thousand years.