The Myth of “Pantribulationism”


'The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse' by Albrecht DurerMatt Self of The Gad(d)about has stepped into the Blogosphere with both feet and made a mighty big impression. I think only the (now) ubiquitous Phil Johnson has entered more blogrolls more swiftly than Matt. I read The Gad(d)about every day via Bloglines, and not only do I like Matt’s take on a lot of issues (real level-headed charismatic ones, too!), but he’s probably the only Christian blogger I know that the two of us could get into the merits of Evans hydraulic heads while the rest of the world thought we were talking about cars.

Now he wants to talk about the antichrist and eschatology. (Ooh, scary!)

{Word to Matt: You have to have been blogging for at least two years before you can post opinions on eschatology. It’s the Christian equivalent of the restriction on rabbinical students teaching The Song of Solomon.} 😉

Now I’m all for a good thrashing of Hal Lindsey or that Van Impish guy or whoever he is. And I like the fact that Matt nails the truth down that the spirit of antichrist in people who hate God is as much or more important than actually identifying he/she/it. But your eschatology really doesn’t matter all that much as long as you’re an ardent Christian? Hmm….

I used to think that one’s eschatological leanings made little difference, but after almost thirty years observing the Church, I don’t believe I could’ve been more mistaken. In actuality, people’s eschatology influences almost every single aspect of their lives, especially the way they walk out their interpretation of the Christian faith.

Dispensationalists, for instance, are always thinking about Israel in the light of eschatology. The rise of dispensationalism in the 20th century is one of the reasons that Israel exists as a state today. U.S. foreign policy revolves around dispensational eschatology in many regards. This is no small thing. Dispies have probably donated more money to Jewish causes looking to rebuild the Temple than anyone. And somewhere in Israel, right now as I type, some Lindsey-ite rancher is trying to genetically engineer a red heifer perfectly acceptable to the Lord.

The hardcore pre-tribbers of the Left Behind variety have their own issues. Much of their Christian praxis takes on a disposable mentality because “it’s all gonna burn.” They’re the ones who roll their eyes when some “eco-whackjob” starts talking about wise use of natural resources or preserving the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. If they could find a way to BBQ every known species of woodpecker over the world’s total supplies of coal and oil, they’d do it. At least to this writer, there’s a healthy model of living for today and there’s being psychotic about the whole thing.

Preterists are the stoners of the eschatological wars in that their view is, “Hey man, like it all happened in 70 AD, so we’re like free.” They live by one rule: “Whatever!” To get a preterist to get serious about building a Church that can withstand some persecution is like trying to get Woody Harrelson to stop toking and start planning for the day his movie career dries up. (Oops, too late!) All I can say is, “Wise virgins, foolish virgins.”

Now I just got done talking about postmillennialists and their “Onward, Christian Soldiers!” battle cry in my series on the business world. The “every day, in every way, we’re getting better and better” routine means you might as well flush your head down the john because there’s no way you’re going to get a postmill-er to acknowledge any kind of societal collapse theories. In some ways, the Latter Day Rain aficionados are in that same boat, thinking that worldwide revival is coming…coming…coming despite that fact that the entire West has pretty much traded in their Jesus card for the one that reads “Apostasy.” I don’t know about you, but I think the thinking behind “Jesus, now that you’ve returned, here’s the perfected Christian world we created for you!” takes a WEE bit of tweaking in light of Luke 18:8. (I’ll let you look that one up.)

As for the amillennialists, well, since they take everything figuratively, they just don’t believe anything, now do they?

My whole point here is not to make fun of the different eschatologies, but to point out that what you believe about Christ’s return, the end of the world, and the New Heaven and New Earth does make a difference in how you live out your faith.

I was twenty-six-years old when the infamous book 88 Reasons the Rapture Will Occur in ’88 was #1 with a bullet in Christian bookstores, so I actually remember the fallout from it fairly well. People who believed that numerological piece of detritus did all sorts of wacky things. Most of the senior class of Cedarville Bible College not far from me went out and got married rather than die virgins. People by the score around the country euthanized their pets rather than see Fluffy fall into the hands of the animal-sacrificing Satan-worshipers that would run rampant across the country once all the Christians had been raptured. I was working full-time at a Christian camp and that book was all the young summer staff people could talk about. And they changed their behavior—for good or ill—simply because of that book. I was in the midst of a serious relationship at the time and despite the fact that I thought the whole book was utter ungodly hogwash it still crossed my virginal mind once or twice that perhaps I’d never get to…well, you know. Group-think has power, let me tell you.

In the end, no one is a “pantribulationist.” (Note: it’s an old Mike Warnke joke—”I’m a ‘pantribulationist’ because it’s all going to ‘pan’ out in the end.”) Everything you and I believe about the End daily influences how we live (or don’t live) for the Lord and His Kingdom. Our views on evangelism and discipleship, our thoughts on preparing the Church for tribulation, the manner in which we raise our children, and our general view on daily living—all are influenced by our eschatology. If we “sensible people” were all truly pantribulationists then the Christian bookstores wouldn’t have any eschatological books in the Top 20 every time a world crisis erupts. But you and I know that’s not how it is in reality.

People’s eschatology governs their lives far more than we realize. The old aphorism is that there are no atheists in foxholes. Well, there’s no pantribulationists, either.

{Image: Woodcut, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse by Albrecht Dürer, 1498}

10 thoughts on “The Myth of “Pantribulationism”

  1. Jennifer

    What’s eschatology? What’s a dispensationalist? A preterist? A postmillennialist? An amillennialist? I have no idea what you are talking about. Not to be rude, but what does any of it have to do with sharing Jesus? Jesus himself doesn’t even know when he’s coming back, so isn’t it rather arrogant to presume that we can figure it out?

  2. Jennifer,

    Eschatology is the branch of biblical study that looks into the way it all ends. The rapture, second coming, books of Revelation and Daniel—all figure into this study.

    Those other words are all streams of thought on how it all ends. Like I said in my post, how we believe about this does influence how we live.

    If you want to know more, a little book from a few years ago that I always recommend is The Meaning of the Millennium. In lieu of that book, there is a short online description that covers all this here.

    Hope this helps and doesn’t make you nuts!

  3. Gaddabout

    I loved your post, Dan. I’m trying to figure out the bottom line, though. Help me here …

    Are you saying, “At least people with strong eschatalogical views dig in and do the work”? Or are you saying, “People with strong eschatalogical views spend a lot of time spinning their wheels”?

    I do have a strong opinion about eschatology. It’s based on the Ladd variant of Kingdom Theology. I believe there is the “now and not yet.” I believe we are here today to advance the Kingdom of God by proclaiming the Gospel (the now/Age of Mercy) because Jesus will be coming to gather the saints and God will judge us all (the not yet/Age of Judgement).

    The only problem I have with systematic eschatology is when it becomes the grid with which people interpret the rest of the Bible. If I’m reading you correctly, we are in agreement. I believe the ONLY grid by which we are to read the Bible is with the fundamental understanding that the Bible is all about revelation of Jesus — God in the flesh, ressurected savior, conqueror of sin, the only hope for fallen man.

  4. Jennifer

    Well said, gaddabout. As my pastor likes to say, “I’m on the welcoming committee, not the planning committee.” With all due respect to Dan, I think it is possible to scare people away from Jesus when we get hung up on these issues, especially when we use language the average person doesn’t understand.

  5. Robbymac

    After watching Christians divide and mock each other over their views on eschatology, I decided that — even if the pre-tribs are really sincere — if God is a postie, He’s not going to change His mind no matter how many charts and scare-the-heaven-into-you books/movies the pre-tribs produce. Same in reverse for the posties.

    I’m basically with Gaddabout on the whole Eldon-inspired “already and not yet” Kingdom, but when people push me to declare a position, I usually answer:

    “What do I believe about the Second Coming of Jesus? Why, I’m in favour of it, naturally!”

  6. Gaddabout

    I totally forgot to mention, Dan, I love Evans heads. However, I only use the G2 two-ply coated. I want my toms to be expressive, not muffled. I can see going with a Hydraulic BD head. If you like the Hydrolics, check out the Aquarians. Good stuff.

    Just wanted to bring it back home with some important stuff. =)

  7. rev-ed

    I think Dan’s point here is that our eschatology influences our thought process. The Israel support is a by-product of the rise of dispensationalism, for sure. And no matter which view we hold, subconsciously we are tempted to see everything through that filter.

    Eschatology is important, but making dogmatic statements about it seems awfully presumputous to me. The only thing which would scare off seekers or new Christians is when we claim to KNOW how prophecy is interpreted and attack those who disagree.

    A lady asked me this week if I’d read the “Left Behind” books. I told her I don’t have time to read much fiction. She quickly claimed, “Oh it’s not fiction. This is all real.”

    I just shook my head and turned away.

  8. Jennifer, Gaddabout, et al.,

    Some more thoughts:

    I am fully in the “now and not yet” camp. I have no problem reconciling that paradox.

    My eschatology is always a bit in flux, but I lean amillennial and believe the Church goes through most (if not all) of the tribulation. The End is the end. One trumpet, not two. That’s where I am right now. And I’ll probably be delinked from a number of sites that claim me in their blogroll for admitting this. C’est la vie.

    Now, as to the major premise of my piece, I am saddened to hear that I was not clear. If anything I write for clarity. I think the tongue-in-cheek nature of the post may have confused people.

    All I want to say is that it is impossible to be neutral on eschatology. Whatever your eschatological view is, it will play out very obviously in your life. Your Christian walk, your political bent, your attitude toward children, the car you drive—your view on everything has some expression of your eschatology in it. The person who claims to be a “pantribulationist” is really not telling the truth. And even if they were, that view has its own ramifications when walked out daily.

    That’s what I was hoping to get out, but it looks like I fumbled the ball.

  9. Gaddabout

    You also have to consider the density of my brain. You were probably writing clearly to the majority of people who don’t have reading comprehension issues such as myself.

    I get what you’re saying — every Christian has an eschatology and it’s important to them, even if they say they don’t or downplay it. Eschatology is central to the Gospel. How we each view things affects how we act as Christians. Got it. Dig it. Totally agree.

    To repeat the words of Jack Moraine, my former pastor: “I have faith that God will work it out so nobody’s prophecy chart is right. Because I just can’t believe God would allow us to live in an eternity with one guy bragging, ‘I told you so. I told you so.'”

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