Escape Eschatology

By Jim Tune

Dispensationalists, especially modern dispensationalists, promote an eschatology that amounts to little more than “escapeatology.” Popular treatments of the Olivet Discourse (Mark 13; Mathew 24; Luke 21) and the book of Revelation present an eschatology that induces a mind-set of escapism. And many Christians are eating it up.

Consider the popularity of the Left Behind series of books and movies with their view of eschatology as merely a means of future escape from this world, with a corresponding flight from any present responsibility to this world. Escapeatology views Revelation’s portrayal of the new heaven and earth as a reality in the distant future only, without taking responsibility for how we live now, except that we should be prepared to answer the question of “Why should God let me into Heaven?”

apr27_JT_JN2Escapeatology is dangerous because it takes the church off mission. It treats the Bible as a riddle to be solved or a puzzle to be pieced together into a script; it takes various texts out of context and fantastically links them to current or expected events. It claims to be literal, but it is not, or only selectively so. It imposes dispensationalism—a foreign, 19th-century interpretive frame—onto an ancient biblical text. It finds aspects of the second coming that cannot be found in Scripture, such as two future comings of Jesus and a rapture in Revelation. Escapeatology lacks any serious ongoing ethic of life between the times—between the first and second coming. It is missing a robust compulsion to love one’s neighbor, work for peace and justice, or steward the planet with care.

It is difficult to read Revelation objectively because we all have been affected by modern dispensationalism. It sells books and fills cinemas. From Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth to Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye’s Left Behind franchise, we are awash with the stuff. When I read Revelation for what it actually says, it does not take me to escapist conclusions. Rather than inducing apathy about the present or future of the world, it moves me instead to embrace a vital sense of mission and to embody the values and practices of the kingdom of God now!

Let’s not serve the stereotype that accuses Christians of being so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly good. Jesus calls us to be engaged in the world we find ourselves in. The practical point of the second coming is not to stare at the sky in expectation (1 Thessalonians is written to counter this misguided hope) but to live in a certain way. A gospel that has escaping the planet and avoiding Hell as its only concern is a truncated gospel. It’s an idea that should be left behind.

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