Thursday, June 2, 2011

Reasons why preachers don't preach on Eschatology

Why is it that so few preachers today talk much about the Second Coming? In my opinion - and this is just my opinion - there are two main reasons.

1. Prophetic Speculation.
Well, I haven't taken a survey, but it is my feeling that the number one reason for this is that which Harold Camping represents - people who made predictions.

Now, of course these folk came from different regions, from the cultic fringe of the Watchtower Society's 1975 prediction to the more vague suggestions from the like of Hal Lindsay, who said "well, Israel returned to the Land in 1949, a Biblical generation is 40 years, and so we can expect the rapture before 1989." This of course led to excitement as 1989 approached, followed by disappointment. The result, however, was highly unfortunate - it meant that a lot of sane preachers were dissuaded from preaching on the subject of the Second Coming. Probably because I was converted in 1998, and had never been exposed to the sort of prophetic speculation that existed in the 1980s, I do preach on the Second Advent of Christ, and I have often heard people comment that "we don't often hear about that." Things were different before - but not very healthy.

Prophetic speculation is the enemy of preaching the Second Advent of Christ, and Harold Camping is going to have dealt another blow to Biblical preaching, as a new generation of preachers worry that if they talk about Christ coming again they will be associated with Camping.

2. Silly Controversy

Contrary to popular belief, some ministers dislike controversy, and there is nothing like eschatology to get Christians arguing. Now, I like a rational debate as well as the next chap - the trouble is there's a lot of foolish rhetoric flying around on all sides. To give an example, one chap has said in effect that "Harold camping is just a consistent amillennialist." I'm afraid that sort of language disgusts me. It's like saying that Dispensationalists believe that people were saved by their own obedience to the law in the Old Testament, or that R.C. Stam is a consistent Dispensationalist. It's just silly. Then there are those Dispensationalists who accuse amillennialists of holding "The Roman Catholic view" - and their counterparts who say that Dispensationalism is based on the work of a Jesuit priest. Neither actually move the debate on at all, they are cheap points-scoring tactics designed to appeal to the prejudices of one's own supporters. I'm afraid I have to say this sort of thing makes me very angry. This is an in-house debate, and can only be dealt with with care and sober minds. A disagreement about the timing of the Second Advent is not in itself a heresy. Jonathan Edwards was Postmillennial, C.H. Spurgeon was pre-millennial at the time of his death (having changed his views), and Calvin was probably amillennial. To make one's millennial view definitional of the Gospel is so wrong that people doing this has led people like myself to turn from the whole business is total disgust

But keep on preaching this: Jesus is coming back. In person. In the flesh, to judge both the living and the dead.

Prescription for Anxiety

This has rather surprised me. This is last Sunday morning's sermon. Preaching in the course through John's Gospel I came to the text "Let not your heart be troubled, believe in God, believe also in me." So the question presented itself, how to present it? Well, it seemed that the best direction to take the message was to major on the fact that Jesus was reassuring anxious disciples. The title, I confess, is influenced by a book (which I have not read) by Leslie D. Weatherhead, who pastored the City Temple in London during World War 2. Weatherhead was a theological liberal who was into psychology (he wrote at least five books relating to psychology). But this sermon has nothing to do with Weatherhead!

What happened next was that, in about four days it has become the fourth most popular sermon on Bethel's SermonAudio page, with over 210 downloads. Why? I must confess that the only reason I can think of is that the sermon deals with a topic - anxiety - that a lot of people take some interest in. Or as one might say in a cynical mood, post a sermon with a psychological-sounding title, and people will listen.

Now, I'm a preacher first and foremost. I'm not a psychologist, I haven't studied the subject, and unlike Leslie Weatherhead I don't have a degree relating to it. . I don't intend to practice it, and if you need psychological help, find a good Christian psychiatrist. And don't expect to find me preaching a series on "Psychology in the service of the Soul." That was a Weatherhead series!