As with many religions, elements of Christianity look forward to an apocalypse and their subsequent ascension to heaven. In a surprising article at USA Today titled “What if the end isn’t near?” Tom Krattenmaker writes, “As signaled by the runaway success of the Left Behind books, end-time expectations hold undeniable sway in evangelical America.” Furthermore, “According to this reading of the bible’s Book of Revelation, what awaits those on the wrong side of the ecclesiastical line is not so wondrous: seven years of unimaginable suffering, war and destruction that ends with the Second Coming of Jesus.”
However lacking in compassion and exclusionary to the point of cliquishness this outlook may be, it evinces some disturbing symptoms. Krattenmaker again.
Work for a better future? What future?
In this view, staving off wholesale destruction is viewed as a distraction from evangelism or, worse, as . . . getting in God’s way. . . . which makes long-term investments in a better future seem utterly beside the point. . . . For liberal religionists or non-believers, this kind of stance is one of the least appealing aspects of evangelicals’ popular image.
“Least appealing”? Try: passive, fatalist, evidence of a death wish. Or as Krattenmaker writes:
It’s as if one group is rowing the boat in the direction of species betterment (or, at least, survival), while another group sits idly as the vessel drifts closer to the precipice of the waterfall, convinced that the divine hand will pluck them and their religiously correct fellows from disaster.
While these types of Christians may be unmoved by the judgments of the social scientists about their motives, they still need to explain the absence of Christ’s teachings in their equation. Reverend Tyler Wigg-Stevenson (who I cite regularly) is the founder and director of the Two Futures Project, created to enlist Evangelicals in a mission that, at first glance, seems counterintuitive for them — ridding the world of nuclear weapons. (The other future is one in which nations continue to be armed with nukes.)
Born again himself, Rev. Wigg-Stevenson tells Krattenmaker, “It’s been my mission to carve out space for evangelicals to engage this issue on their own terms.” Furthermore . . .
Wigg-Stevenson takes pains not to criticize those who read Revelation as a blueprint for rapture and apocalypse in our time. “There are people with integrity who think this way,” he says. “But it leads to an unbiblical focus on the mechanics of the end times.”
My interpretation of his use of the word “mechanics” is that he’s encouraging Christians to cease focusing on their heavenly reward and pay more attention to what they need to do to earn it beyond just professing their faith. As for Krattenmaker, his conclusion is less than satisfactory.
Taking Wigg-Stevenson’s two-futures paradigm a step further, Christians might see a choice concerning their approach to the future as well. They can bet on a supernatural rescue for themselves and their kind and wait for the cataclysm. Or they can dedicate themselves to compassionate action to alleviate suffering and injustice, to creating a better world.
Talk about your leaps of faith, how likely is that conservative Christians, many of whom believe that helping the needy only enables them, will change their stripes that dramatically? Nevertheless, they need to confront Krattenmaker’s question about the two paths he describes in that paragraph: “Which would their savior have them do?”
Meanwhile, fleshing out Rev. Wigg-Stevenson’s argument about nuclear weapons, we’ll turn to a guest column he wrote for the Washington Post’s On Faith section in April. He warned that Christians must guard against “fearing mortal enemies more than God’s judgment.”
A commenter, one Arancia12, responded:
I do not believe in survival at any cost . . . Death is not the worst thing that can happen to a Christian. Not living as a Christian is the worst thing that can happen to a Christian.
Or as Tony Campolo, Professor Emeritus, Eastern University, wrote in a testimonial on the Two Futures Project website . . .
Fear of what other nations could do to us with their weapons is no justification for developing nuclear weapons ourselves. As Christians, perfect love should cast out that fear and allow us to take the risks that go with disarmament.