I have been away from the blog for a few days working on a lengthy story about Rev. Samuel Rodriguez based in part on an article he has in the new issue of Christianity Today. Samuel is one of eleven Christian leaders asked to “describe how that fateful day [9/11] transformed their lives and ministries”. Another of the eleven writers is Anne Graham Lotz. Not simply because she is the daughter of Billy Graham, her article is worth careful consideration. It is important to keep in mind that Lotz's words were written, considered reflections on the single most important event in the collective life of America over the last decade, not quick responses to an interview question (no Franklin Graham excuses allowed). I would add that her comments reflect what I see as a troubling trend among evangelical leaders to speak with certainty about the end times. I am not referring to Harold Camping-style specific date guessing, which even the likes of Tim Lahaye condemn, but something nearly as disturbing, namely a line of thinking that speaks with certainty about recent events pointing to our being very close to the end. Here is how Lotz puts it:
September 11 was an alarm that penetrated my daily responsibilities and my busy ministry schedule, warning me…of what (ellipsis and italics in original)…the alarm did not fade away. Instead I have heard it reverberating throughout the past 10 years: from Hurricane Katrina to the record-breaking floods, forest fires, tornadoes, droughts, and snow storms; to the collapse of our financial institutions; to the economic recession; to the inability to win the war in Afghanistan. The alarm keeps resounding because so many people have not heeded, or even heard, the warning. And what is the warning? Simply this: It is five minutes to midnight on the clock of human history. Judgment is at the door. Jesus is coming! It’s time to wake up and get right with God! Are you listening? (emphasis in original)
Anne, I am listening. And what I am hearing from you and countless other evangelicals who cannot be safely confined to the margins of our community is as disturbing to me as the “inability to win the war in Afghanistan” that you view as a herald of the end times. What I hear raises three questions for me:
1) How is speaking with certainty about our particular location on the clock of history, and using that certainty to justify telling people to “get right with God”, different from speaking with certainty about the particular day we are at on the clock of history and using that certainty to justify telling people to “get right with God” (a la Harold Camping)? Aren’t they both contradicting the clear teaching of Jesus that he “did not know the day or hour of his coming” (Matthew 24:36)?
2) The likely response to the first question from Lotz or others will be that Jesus did tell his disciples to “read the signs of the times” (Matthew 16:3), which invites another question for Anne: What careful research did you do that led you to the conclusion that the list of events that you gave are more worthy of being considered harbingers of Jesus’ coming than, say, the time of the Black Plague of the 1300s “killing an estimated 25 million people” in Europe and coinciding with the 100 Years War in Europe? Don't you think that other Christians, not to mention people outside of the Christian faith, deserve more explanation for a startling assertion about the end-times than a list of events the seriousness of which have been in countless decades throughout human history?
3) Flippant announcements in four paragraph essays that the world is “five minutes to midnight” have become so common in the evangelical mainstream that it is very unlikely that Anne’s words will generate much discussion. Which leads to my final question: How much discussion would Anne’s comments have caused if she had said the following?
9/11 caused me take a hard look at global issues and awakened me to a more significant calamity that is upon us: global warming. The record-breaking floods, forest fires, hurricanes, shrinking ozone layer, depleted rain forests and melting icebergs have gotten my attention, but more alarming is the fact that “the global concentration of CO2 in our atmosphere today far exceeds the natural range over the last 650,000 years." I wonder if this is an environmental effect of rampant materialism and consumerism in the Christian West?
Is there any question but that a statement like that from the daughter of the father of modern evangelicalism in the magazine that is the living testament to said movement would have caused more comment and condemnation than Anne’s shallow interpretation of how America’s weather patterns, economic troubles and military quagmires point to the imminent return of Christ?
4) Are Anne’s comments evidence of the continued radicalization of the evangelical center and the implacable presence of the “scandal of the evangelical mind”?