Suffering through ‘The Late Great Planet Earth’: Part I
In preparation for leading a Bible study at my church on Revelation – which is a source of concern anyway just because of the incendiary nature of conversations centered on the book – I’m attempting to look at all sides. Attempting, I say, because I can’t pretend to give a fair reading of certain materials. At a young age, I was influenced by the premillenial dispensationalist crowd. I read the Left Behind books and all jazz. Only later did I realize what a house of cards that whole system was and is – but not before wasting a good deal of time, energy, and money on trying to know things beyond my station in life.
At any rate, I’m reading The Late Great Planet Earth by Hal Lindsey just to say that I did; from the get-go, I have not thought I’d get anything from it – a prediction (nay, a prophecy!) that was right, unless you count the headache of actually going through it page by page.
But this book is so utterly terrible, so lacking in anything close to good Scriptural interpretation, so mind-bogglingly unsophisticated in its understanding of prophecy and history, that I need to vent. And unfortunately for all of you, that means writing about it. My reading copy is a 1992 Harper reprint that I found somewhere for $2; I thought one day I’d want to have it, if nothing else just to reference it. Now, as research, I think it is important for me to read it so that I can say I have given this system a shot. So here’s part I – my beef with the Introduction of the book:
Introduction and Preliminary Issues
“This is a book about prophecy – Bible prophecy. If you have no interest in the future, this isn’t for you. If you have no curiosity about a subject that some consider controversial, then you might as well stop now.” (p. vii, the opening lines of the book)
Several things come to mind, not least of which is the desire to throw my computer monitor through the window of my office. But that can wait.
First things first. Right off the bat, we can see that we are dealing with a very narrow definition of “prophecy.” He uses that specific phrase – “Bible prophecy” – to indicate his perspective. Mickey Efird has pointed out that this is also just another name for the whole Darbyist system.
But Lindsey here is telling us that prophecy is, in its totality, a future-oriented activity. “If you have no interest in the future, this isn’t for you.” But what was prophecy about for those that wrote it? For those that read it in the past? In our own recent history, the prophetic tradition has been seen to be effective and powerful, not merely in “predicting” or looking at the future, but also (and primarily) for empowering God’s work in the world right now.
Granted, it is an annoying cliché for seminarians to speak of their prophetic desire to “speak truth to power” – in truth, they are often just adolescents/young adults who want to rebel against the system like everyone else their age – but the power of the prophetic worldview remains. Much power to fight injustice comes from the Bible’s great prophets. Even the Special Forces have drawn inspiration from Isaiah’s comment to God: “Here I am, send me.” (Isaiah 6:8)
Secondly, there is no questioning at all of motivations behind this desire to know the future. Here again on the first page, Lindsey notes,
As a traveling speaker for Campus Crusade for Christ [sigh] I had the opportunity to give messages on prophecy to thousands of people. These messages have consistently proven to be popular with every age group. (p. vii)
But popular and edifying are not the same things. They are often the opposite. It is troubling that Lindsey never stops to ask why people are hungry to know the future, or if this is even a desire that should be encouraged. It is our Lord Jesus, after all, that taught us to pray, “give us our daily bread.” (Matthew 6:11) The same Lord said, “Do not worry about tomorrow, for each day has enough troubles of its own.” (Matthew 6:34) And lest we forget, he also said – for me, this is the real clincher – “No one knows the day or the hour…not even the Son, but only the Father.” (Mark 13:32)
He goes on to say,
This is not a complex theological treatise, but a direct account of the most thrilling, optimistic view of what the future could hold for any individual. (p. vii)
Will he is absolutely correct that nothing he writes is theologically complex. We’re not even in the same neighborhood as theologically complex. What I find preposterous is the notion that anything he writes is “thrilling” or “optimistic.” He’s talking about massive wars, death and disease on a grand scale, and we are supposed to be thrilled? I find that disturbing.
Lastly, a note on the final paragraph of the introduction:
In this book I am attempting to step aside and let the prophets speak. (viii)
An excellent sentiment. Too bad it is total and complete poppycock. When it comes to any Scripture, and especially those dealing with eschatology (study of the end times), we can never simply “step aside” and let them speak. As a preacher, I am not a tabula rasa when it comes to the Bible. Neither is Lindsey as an author. We always come to Scripture with a hermeneutic of some kind, an interpretive lens through which read. This is even, and perhaps especially true, for those who are the most radical sola Scriptura-minded. Even if you go to 1st Independent Fundamental Bible Church, someone has taught you how to read and interpret Scripture, whether formally or informally.
When it comes to Lindsey, he should be honest enough to put his cards on the table. He should be honest enough to say he didn’t invent this mode of Bible “prophecy.” A book like this doesn’t come from reading the Bible in a vacuum. His lineage includes folks like John Nelson Darby and Cyrus Scofield. His descendants include Tim Lahaye and the current crop of dispensationalists.
To conclude, I should confess to having no interest in the details of the many kinds of premillenials. If you are looking for me to examine nuances in this field, you’re going to be disappointed. People spend years and decades researching the nuances among different schemes of Bible prophecy. I think this is a tragic, scandalous waste. Jesus himself spent a great deal more of his own ministry doing things like eating with sinners, healing he sick, and teaching about the Kingdom than trying to help people figure out when he was coming back for them.
Oh well. More to come.
All this was from reading a two-page introduction. I apologize in advance…
…and now its time to toss this monitor out the window.