Sunday, August 9, 2009

Left Behind Friday on Sunday

I've written before about my guilty pleasure taken in reading the sites of that American good old time rapture ready left behind religion. But it's with an even greater pleasure and no guilt at all that I read the Slacktivist site and especially Fred Clark's Left Behind Fridays series, in which Clark has heroically taken on the task of reading and critiquing the execrable series of novels bringing Left Behind theology to a mass market. Time zone differences mean that most of the time it's a Left Behind Saturday in this corner of the world. But every once in a while it'll be a bit later. This weekend it's a Left Behind Sunday. But it's been worth the wait. There have been times when I think the sheer weight of extremely poor theology and abominable misreadings of biblical texts have crushed even Fred, sapped his spirit.

But this week he's back in full form with TF: Bruce's Sermon, part 4. Superb analysis and critique combined with a few of those LOL moments, often almost ROFL. Here's a sample to whet your appetite:

Yes, he's been preaching for more than an hour already, but who cares about lunch, I just want to hear about what it means that John's vision makes no mention of a bow-string.

Bruce is still preaching. "We'll talk next week and following about the next three horsemen of the Apocalypse," he says, forgetting that he's already said this. "The rider of the white horse is the Antichrist, who comes as a deceiver promising peace and uniting the world," he continues, forgetting that he's already said this more than twice:

"The Old Testament book of Daniel -- chapter 9, verses 24 through 27 -- says he will sign a treaty with Israel."
Really? Let's look, shall we? Here is Daniel 9:24-27:
Seventy 'sevens' are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy. "Know and understand this: From the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven 'sevens,' and 62 'sevens.' It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble. After the 62 'sevens,' the Anointed One will be cut off and will have nothing. The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed. He will confirm a covenant with many for one 'seven.' In the middle of the 'seven' he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on a wing of the temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him.

Clear as mud, that, but that's Daniel for you.

The first six chapters of Daniel are fairly straightforward stories of Israel in exile. The final six chapters are a hallucinogenic stew of visions, numerology and wrath. That description of the second half of Daniel might also work as a description of much of Revelation, so it's not altogether unreasonable for Bruce to decide that there's some connection between the two apocalyptic nightmares, but why here? Why jump to this passage in Daniel from that passage in Revelation? What's the justification or logic or excuse?

This skipping back and forth between Revelation and Daniel is standard practice for "Bible prophecy scholars." They are, after all, reading from Scofield Reference Bibles, in which all of this cross-referencing is right there in the footnotes. Yet while this may be par for the course with prophecy preachers, it still seems to me that there are at least four reasons why Bruce's abrupt segues here from Revelation 6:2 to Daniel 9:24-27 and then back to Revelation 6, verse 3, strike me as deeply weird.

Weirder, even, than the bizarre content of the passages themselves.

First of all, there's nothing in that passage in Revelation about the horsemen that suggests any need or justification for inserting gaps into the chronology of John's strange vision.

And here's another:

You really, really don't ever want to learn enough about the esoterica of PMDism to appreciate the details of this disagreement, but it's fun to realize that Tim LaHaye isn't just using his fictional depiction of End Times events to "prove" that all non-PMDists are doomed to wrath, he also thinks this fictional depiction stands as proof that the wrong kind of PMDists are also fools and doomed to wrath. LaHaye has an ax to grind with prophecy scholars who disagree with him on the length of this allegedly prophesied peace treaty, or about when the Two Witnesses will first appear in Jerusalem, and so occasionally he turns away, briefly, from celebrating his fictional triumph over people like you and me to celebrating his fictional triumph over these dissenting PMDists.

And a last bit:

So everything we've heard so far is leading up to Bruce's big conclusion in which he explains that war is peace and peace is war. The text for his sermon warns of Conquest, War, Famine and Death***, but Bruce wants to warn his congregation that what they really have to fear is peace.

*** And also, of course, poor Hades, coming up behind on foot. Thanks to the comments from last week's LBFriday, I can no longer think of Hades in this context without getting a whole series of mental images that make me giggle. I'm fairly sure that's not the effect that John of Patmos was shooting for.

And I'll let you find the LOL moments for yourselves while I go and indulge my guilty pleasure.

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