In earlier posts, I mentioned Tom Krattenmaker’s article “What if the end isn’t near?”  (USA Today in August 2010).  It is largely a criticism of the pretrib view of the rapture and the alleged motivation such a view is toward inaction on the part of the Christian in the world to engage social problems, etc.  In my first post, I listed some concerns which I began to flesh out briefly in other posts.  I have provided them below.  In this post, I want to finalize my initial analysis.

 1.  How many pre-trib Christians hold different views of nuclear weapons and environmentalism from the author’s because of factors other than biblical views of the end times;
2.  The generous use of overstatement throughout the article;
3.  Unwarranted assumptions and limited options that are sometimes given (why are there only two futures?  why not 3 or 4? are we really dealing with all the possibilities?);
4.  The false charge of fatalism in light of the true nature of the doctrine of imminency;
5.  The use of fringe views or minority views instead of scholarly and thoughtful presentations of the pre-trib perspective;
6.  As a corollary to # 5, the futurism of the pre-trib view which does not allow for predictions of the future in a true pre-trib perspective.  In other words, the article seems to be unaware that it is being critical of historicist misrepresentations of the pre-trib perspective rather than the pre-trib perspective itself.
7.  As a corollary to # 1, the idea that the article (may) assume that current political environmentalism is what the Bible teaches about care for the created order.

To begin, I want to make some remarks about unwarranted assumptions and limited options that are given in Krattenmaker’s article.  This is demonstrated at the very outset of the article.  Citing Tyler Wigg-Stevenson (favorably), Krattenmaker says “he sees two futures.  In one, the world has rid itself of nuclear weapons.  In the other, the world has been destroyed by them.”  These two options appear to be the thrust of the title of Wigg-Stevenson’s organization the Two Futures Project.  It is quite appropriate for someone to voice his view of the dangers of nuclear weapons.  I have absolutely no problem with that.  All wars are to be avoided if at all possible, not just nuclear ones.  However, is the opinion that these are the only two options (world-wide destruction or no nukes exist) a wise one to possess on such a critical issue? Is there no middle position that is possible?  Why craft the issue in these stark terms?  One must live in reality not in a dream world.  It is not at all a sure conclusion that the world will destroy itself with nuclear weapons if they are allowed to exist.  It is certainly a theoretical possibility.  However, it is not an inevitable one.  One cannot assume the world-wide catastrophic end when the next nuke is used (although some pretribs do hold this view).   Of course, this view could be seen as playing it safe to prevent the catastrophe.  Unfortunately, in a fallen world this may not be appropriate.  If evangelicals rose up to be against nuclear weapons and helped lead America to unilaterally destroy all their nuclear weapons, it is not at all assured that the same would be true of other parts of the world.  A wise use of nuclear weapons as deterrents has been quite effective for decades in preventing catastrophe and/or servitude.

Krattenmaker shows this all or nothing approach (the two futures approach) at the end of the article: “[Christians] 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.”  Here he is broader in the “two ends” approach.  The problem from his viewpoint is that evangelicals who believe in the pre-trib rapture simply want to sit on their hands and let the world blow itself up because they know that God will jerk them out of the world before that happens.  However, this is theologically deficient because the pre-trib rapturist knows the Bible never says that the world will be destroyed until after the millennium (and many believe that is a recreation not annihilation).  In addition, it puts forward a false dichotomy.  Is it not possible to work for a better world and alleviate suffering and injustice while also believing that the next act of God’s prophetic timetable is the rapture of the church?  In asking, as Krattenmaker does, “Which would their savior have them do?”

 The reason I believe it is possible is that belief in the pre-trib rapture is not inherently fatalistic.  Some pretribs have become fatalistic and they should be fairly criticized for it.  However, the position itself is not fatalistic in the sense of rejecting any improvement at all within the present order.  Some have turned imminency into immediacy.  Immediacy means soon.  It is certainly possible that the rapture will be soon.  However, imminency means that it can happen at any moment.  This includes tomorrow.  It also includes within it the possibility that it is 3000 years from now.  Within this proper view of imminency there is plenty of room for the Christian who believes in the pretrib rapture also to believe in helping the poor and needy and to alleviate suffering in the world.

Such thinking also relates to a discussion of futurism versus historicism.  The pretrib position or dispensationalism is biblically futurist.  All of the events given in the Bible such as the coming tribulation and kingdom are future in this understanding.  Technically, the pretrib position cannot map current events to biblical passages.  Virtually all future events in the Bible can happen after the rapture of the Church.  When a pretrib rapturist starts to map biblical prophecy to current events, he is acting like a historicist who believes he is living within the time of fulfillment.  However, the best we can say is that we could be living in the setup for the end time days.  We will know when we get there.  It is quite all right to live in hope that we are near the end.  The fact that Israel is back in the land among other things gives such hope since Israel must be in the land for the end time events to occur.  However, as Joel Rosenberg once said at a banquet I attended, “God can kick the can [of history] down the road fifty years.”  Understanding this from a fully biblical view helps us to realize that there is no reason to avoid social engagement as it is biblically appropriate.  Pretribs who live and talk as historicists actually fuel the criticisms of Krattenmaker and others.

Finally, in an earlier post, I had noted that my views on nuclear weapons (which I mention above) and environmentalism stem from factors other than my view of end time days.  I voiced my simple disagreement with Al Gore as an example.  I want to extend that particular discussion by noting that current environmental concerns for planet earth do not necessarily match what the Bible teaches about care for the created order.  It is hardly necessary to remind the reader of the doomsday scenarios of the environmentalists with rather bizarre predictions.  We were told our raping of the planet in the 1960s would lead to us running out of petroleum in the 1990s.  They were wrong.   I was taught in college in the 1970s the catastrophe of global cooling.  They were wrong then.  It is easy to believe they are wrong now.  The wild array of prophecies uttered in the name of environmentalism is just as extreme as anything a Christian has said about the end of the world.  The Bible gives a more balanced treatment of creation care than the glimpse of things often coming out of the environmental movement.

All in all, Krattenmaker’s article was a hard one for a pretrib to read.  It came across as extreme and going to the edges to make its criticisms.  However, it is important for pretribs to see how others view their position and reading such an article is helpful in that light.  Pretribs need to do a better job responding to such charges.  I sense a book brewing.