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Hammering the Word SOON

Jesus is coming soonI already mentioned that I’m in the final stages of publishing a new book Eschatology: A Participatory Study Guide by Edward W. H. Vick. One of the things that Dr. Vick emphasizes is the abuse of the word “soon” in Christian teaching and preaching. There is a problem with definitions if you repeatedly claim that something is soon and then it doesn’t happen. On the one hand, if you define “soon” so that it has meaning, you have the problem of the prediction failing. On the other, if you keep “soon” vague enough to protect yourself from the failure charge, you generally make it meaningless, “nonsense” in the technical sense, as in lacking any meaningful sense. Dr. Vick even wrote a book on precisely that topic, The Adventists’ Dilemma.

I must confess that I suggested reducing the time spent discussing the way the word “soon” has been used in the church. It’s interesting, but just how central is it to most Christians’ thinking? Well, I don’t know about most Christians, but abuse of the word “soon” or any of its related topics, such as “knowing the times” and so forth, is rampant. We’ve just gotten over the prediction of the second coming in 2011, and now we have another one (HT: Dispatches).

Dr. F. Kenton Beshore, of World Bible Society, doesn’t claim a specific date, but provides a range of years over which the rapture and then the second coming should be expected. (I use the title “Dr.” out of courtesy, though the bio on the World Bible Society website does not specify where any of them were earned, usually a bad sign. In addition, a couple of the degrees are normally honorary.) His claim is that the rapture should occur between now and 2021 and then the second coming seven years after that. Those who are acquainted with popular literature on Revelation will doubtless note that Beshore is pre-trib based on these numbers.

The reasoning behind this position, such as it is, is similar to Hal Lindsey’s belief that Jesus will return before the end of the generation that saw Israel reestablished as a nation in the promised land.

It would be hard for me to comment in detail, except to note that the entire rapture, seven-year tribulation, and second coming scheme is produced through a hodge-podge of proof-texting. It’s not even as convincing as your average proof-text usage. The relationship between the various passages involved is more than doubtful. I believe it is popular, and seems plausible to many, for the same reason that action movies are popular. They’re exciting and satisfying, with plenty of action and suspense followed by a comforting resolution. The major argument in favor of a pre-tribulation rapture is similar. It’s comforting to think that before all the bad things happen, God’s people (in which group readers confidently place themselves) are removed from the scene.

Reality, however, even the reality of life with God, is not as satisfying to our selfish desires as an action movie. God’s people have been left to live through times of trouble many times. They are never alone, thank God, but they are often in difficulty.

One can get great comfort from a prediction of the end. It gives one such a sense of control, and such a fine feeling of safety. Bad things will happen to others, but not to the believer. Uncertainty is for others. The believer knows.

But over and over such “knowing” has proven to be false. There’s no more reason to believe this result than any of the preceding ones.

The word “soon” (or various ways of saying something similar) is being abused again.

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