Wednesday, August 10, 2005

The Simpons and Eschatology

No television show tops The Simpsons when it comes to satire of contemporary events and fads. Few things are sacred and off-limits to the show’s biting sarcasm, including religious institutions and movements. While evangelicalism is a consistent present in the plot and characters populating Springfield, this past season dispensationalism made its d├ębut. Left Behind, the popular series of books purporting to represent the Biblical teaching concerning the end times by Tim LaHay and Jerry B. Jenkins formed the basis for a plot of the cartoon. In this episode, Homer calculates the time of the rapture; and seeks to warn the denizens of Springfield to prepare lest they be “left below.” His initial attempt to calculate the date and time of the rapture was incorrect, due to an arithmetic error, but after his previous incorrect prediction, his neighbors refuse to believe his corrected figure. Homer ends up being correct in his calculation, and is the only one raptured, but seeing the torments of his family on earth, he forces God to hold off the apocalypse and returns to life as normal- for a time.

The tragic humor of this episode lies in the fact that much of the material underlying the plot represents beliefs widely held within the evangelical church. Leaving aside the lack of Biblical support for the dispensational eschatology, the satirical representation of the system reveals several striking areas where this system is not only ridiculous, but unbiblical. First, Homer’s attempt to determine the date of the rapture is not just an aspect of Matt Groening’s humor, but an accurate portrayal of many popular tendencies within dispensationalism. The failed predictions of Hal Lindsay and Harold Camping concerning the timing of the rapture are two prominent examples of false teachers who gained a significant following within the dispensational camp. Ours is not the only age to ignore Jesus statement in Matthew 24:36 that “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Even though this generation is not unique in attempting to forecast the coming of Christ, the connection with the average, mainstream believer is striking. It seems in the past that this attempt was made by heretical groups, such as the Montanists, or teachers on the fringe of the church such as Joacaim of Flores and certain Anabaptists. Second, the focus of Homer’s message to the residents of Springfield focus on fleeing from the horrors of being “left below.” This seems to be a sad, but true portrayal of a primary focus in dispensational evangelism. Too much of the focus of their message is on being saved in light of the terrors of the Tribulation, and not the horrors of hell. The supposed events of the Tribulation are used as a tool to scare individuals into the kingdom- oh wait, the kingdom is a separate dispensation which is focused on Israel and not the church. In my reading of the Left Behind series, the characters realization of their sinfulness and their need of redemption found only in Christ is not the motivating factor for their conversion, but the events surrounding the rapture and the tribulation, and their failure to be saved in time to be raptured. Such a “gospel” mutes the true need and danger of men, not for deliverance from a three and a half year period of apocalyptic horror, but for deliverance from the eternal wrath of a just God.

Two concluding remarks suggest themselves. First, it is tragic that such a system is actually held by the majority of the evangelical church today. The amazing popularity of the Left Behind series is not a result of their being well written, but the perception of being Biblically accurate. The prevalence of dispensationalism is not a sign of theological rigor or Biblical integrity in the church, but serious ignorance. The fact that so many have been duped, and willingly adopt such a forced and unnatural reading of the Biblical testimony, and the comfortable association of this teaching with some of the most heretical and destructive developments (the health and wealth gospel and the Lordless salvation theory to identify two) within the pale of the visible church, raises deeper question about the spiritual state of the teachers and followers of this system. Second, the presentation of this teaching to the world as being representative of the Biblical testimony is shameful. The ridiculous impression created by dispensationalism is in stark contrast to the simplicity of the true Biblical presentation of the future. It is this that the dying world needs to hear; but the message is being muted by the idle speculations and blatant errors of Left Behold and the like. It is not only the moral failings that rightly bring the ridicule of the world upon the church, but also her doctrinal failings. The message of the cross is foolishness to the perishing, but we must not compound the necessary foolishness of the gospel with teaching that is actual foolishness.

3 comments:

Justin Dombrowski said...

Whoa--This is sick. Now the bots figured out how to leave adds on blogs. That's really scary.

(honestly, that wasn't me who left that comment)

Keith said...

I never realized being a Simpsons watching Amillennialist would cause some computer somewhere to see me as lonely and in need of companionship!

Keith said...

In light of the recent comments, I am unfortunantly going to have to restrict anonymous comments for a time. Sorry.