Is Donald Trump the Antichrist?

Donald J. Trump, Taking Over The Big Apple

Check out Sarah Jones’s playful piece at New York Magazine in the wake of Trump’s recent “chosen one” comments.

So could Trump be the Antichrist? Look, anything is possible. I will tell you what my father once told me. Satan walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. (For the record, I don’t recommend saying this to a child, especially not after she tells you that she had a dream about a witch who eats people.) The point is that Satan is devious, and his works can be found anywhere. Trump could indeed be his agent, and that would make him an antichrist, if not the Antichrist.

The distinction is relevant. As Hannah Gais pointed out in the Outline last year, the term initially identified “those who refused to confess Christ’s presence on Earth or his divinity.” But the eschatology popular with many conservative Evangelicals holds that there is one Antichrist, who will bring about Armageddon. Biblical literalists of a certain stripe have long speculated that a president would make an ideal Antichrist, though this interpretation is not universal. The Left Behind series, which terrorized Christian youth groups in the late 1990s and early 2000s, gives us an Antichrist from Romania, who exists thanks to genetic experimentation by a Satanic cult.

Read the rest here. I don’t know if Trump is the Antichrist, but one could certainly make the case that he is anti-Christ.

The Author’s Corner with Donald Akenson

51i8JUNVXDL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_Donald Akenson is Douglas Professor of Canadian and Colonial History at Queen’s University. This interview is based on his new book Exporting the Rapture: John Nelson Darby and the Victorian Conquest of North-American Evangelicalism (Oxford University Press, 2018).

JF: What led you to write Exporting the Rapture?

DA: This is the second volume in my three-volume set on where and how radical apocalyptic millennialism was built into its central position in American conservative evangelicalism. The first volume, Discovering the End of Time was published in 2016 by McGill-Queens University Press.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Exporting the Rapture?

DA: The big argument is that the ideological core of American evangelicalism was formed overseas and in the period 1860ff began to be energetically imported into North America. Surprisingly, the germinal ground was southern Ireland in the 1820s and thereafter. The entry point was the Great Lakes Basin and the subsequent process was equally a matter of Canadian and US assimilation of imported concepts. That is simple to state, but the process was anything but linear.

JF: Why do we need to read Exporting the Rapture?

DA: Mostly to help us escape the mortmain of American Exceptionalism, which, despite the heroic efforts of some fine historians, too frequently comes forth as American Parochialism.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

DA: I am an historian of Ireland, and of the Second British Empire and of the diasporas that had their origin in the British Isles. For a long time now, I have been arguing that in diaspora studies religion not only counts, it counts a great deal—despite its being marginalized by most historians of physical migration and by their counterparts in the field of cultural studies.

JF: What is your next project?

DA: To complete the third volume of the study and to bring the story up to the first decade of the twentieth century, when the new apocalyptic evangelicalism won.

JF: Thanks, Donald!

The “Rapture Bet”

rapture

Check out Fred Clark’s piece titled “A death bet is morally repugnant.  So is a ‘Rapture’ bet.”

A taste:

Donald Trump is making a death bet on climate change. The president is 70 years old and he just doesn’t care about what the world will be like three decades from now. By 2050 he, personally, will be gone, so why should he care about anyone or anything in a future that he will not, personally, live to see?

The idea of a death bet is as vile as it is simple. Live large and indulge yourself, free of all responsibility, paying for it all with debt that won’t come due until after you, personally, are dead. This screws over your heirs, and your creditors, and everyone else who is not you. But, hey, what do you care? You’ll be dead…

But it’s not just Donald Trump making the death bet of climate-change denial. He has the support on this of millions of white evangelical Christians. They don’t care about climate change because they believe the world is about to end anyway. They’re not making a death bet so much as, in their minds, a “Rapture” bet: Can you imagine, Rayford? Jesus coming back to get us before we die!

This isn’t quite as brazenly immoral and selfish as Trump’s death bet. He doesn’t care about what the world will be like in 50 years because he doesn’t care about anything he does not personally experience. These Rapture-Christians don’t care about what the world will be like in 50 years because they don’t believe the world will still be here then. They’re sure it won’t. They’re sure the Rapture is imminent — that it will occur any day, any moment, maybe even before you finish reading this…

Ask them about climate change and they’ll assure you there’s no need to worry about famine and flood in 2050, because they’re “certain” that Jesus is coming back before then. Ask them about their teenage child’s plans to major in art history or theater arts and they’ll give you a very different outlook.

Or just consider the way, say, Rapture-preacher John Hagee is grooming his son to take over his family ministry to ensure that it continues for another generation. Or, more cynically, look at the way these Rapture-preachers and Rapture-believers invest for their own retirements. They’re hedging their Rapture bet when it comes to their own future, but not when it comes to a future they imagine will only affect the lives of other people they don’t personally know.

Read the entire post at Clark’s blog Slacktivist.

Historically, things are a bit complicated.  Of course there is a longstanding history of rapture thinking in modern American evangelicalism.  This is part of the reason why some early 20th-century fundamentalists did not like the Social Gospel.  Why work for social reform when Jesus would be coming back soon? But to be fair to the historical record, many fundamentalists also combined rapture-longing with social action.

A belief in the end times was also the reason why some premillennialists did not initially support U.S. involvement in World War I.  Why fight a war to “make the world safe for democracy” when Jesus would be coming back soon?

And we could go on.  Not all rapture Christians broke with the social demands of Christian faith that their 19th-century Second Great Awakening ancestors championed, but some did.

There is also some question about whether the general failure of evangelicals to support environmental causes today is directly related to their views of the “end times.”  In 2012, political scientists David Barker and David Bearce argued in an article titled “End-Times Theology, the Shadow of the Future, and Public Resistance to Addressing Global Climate Change” that “believers in Christian end-times theology are less likely to support policies designed to curb global warming than are other Americans.”  Religion scholar Robin Globus Veldman challenged their findings in a piece at Religion Dispatches.

This all reminds me of when PBS host Bill Moyers accused James Watt, the Secretary of the Interior in the early years of the Reagan administration, of arguing that there was no need for Congress to pass legislation protecting the environment because Jesus Christ would soon be returning. Moyer quoted Watt as saying “After the last tree is felled, Christ will come back.” In 2005, Watt wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post claiming that he never said these things.  He wrote: “I know no Christian who believes or preaches such error.” Moyer apologized, but Watt wanted to make sure, over twenty years after he left office, that Americans understood that evangelical belief was not incompatible with environmental reform.

Today, in a piece on this issue by Washington Postreligion writer Sarah Pulliam Bailey, does not mention the “rapture” argument.

In the end, I am sure there are evangelicals out there who believe that the environment is unimportant because the rapture is coming soon.  Clark is right when he says that these rapture Christians are inconsistent. They plan for the future when it comes to their own retirements and inheritances, but they do not plan for the future when it comes to the fate of the planet.

I will end with a tweet from conservative pundit Erick Erickson.  Not sure if it fits into the “rapture Christian” category, but it is certainly revealing.

I Wish We’d All Been Ready: John Turner on "A Thief in the Night"

Over at The Anxious Bench, John Turner of George Mason University writes about showing the 1972 evangelical apocalyptic classic “A Thief in the Night” to his class on religion and film.  

Watch the entire movie below.  If you don’t have time, the first five minutes should give you a sense of what it is all about:



I have seen “A Thief in the Night” and its sequels several times over the years.  As a young evangelical these movies scared me to death.  The guy with the lamb chops who is secretly working UNITE is frightening.  

As a divinity school student, I organized a “Thief in the Night” marathon in which we watched all three movies in the series.  This viewing party could best be characterized as a mix of entertainment and theological reflection, but we also made fun of the 1970s evangelical subculture. 

We have mentioned this film several times here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  You can find those posts here and here and here.

And here is a taste of Turner’s post:

My church — a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) congregation that straddled the worlds of evangelical and mainline Protestantism — did not screen the film when I was a teenager. We were encouraged to make a personal decision to follow Jesus Christ, but not because the world was about to end or because we might be left behind to suffer the assaults of Satan after the rapture. So while thousands or millions of American evangelical young people watched A Thief in the Night in the 1970s and 1980s (the film’s producer claims that in all, three hundred million people have seen the movie), I watched it for the first time this week.

Here are a few thoughts:

– Laugh and groan all you want. It’s no small accomplishment to make a $60,000 film and have millions of people see it. A Thief in the Night is certainly one of the very few most significant evangelical movies ever made. As Randall Balmer observes, “It is only a slight exaggeration to say that A Thief in the Night affected the evangelical film industry the way that sound or color affected Hollywood.”

– People make films for all sorts of reasons. The primary purpose of A Thief in the Night was evangelism, to persuade nominal Christians to make a heart-felt prayer asking Jesus to come into their hearts. What the film intended to do it apparently has done rather well. “I have found,” writes Heather Hendershot in her Shaking the World for Jesus, “that A Thief in the Night is the only evangelical film that viewers cite directly and repeatedly as provoking a conversion experience.” Many successful altar calls followed screenings of the film.

And let’s not forget the movie score, “I Wish We’d All Been Ready,” written and performed by Christian rock legend Larry Norman:


Slacktivist on Why Rapture Prophets Can’t Celebrate 50th Anniversaries

What happens if you preside over a ministry devoted to the idea that the so-called “rapture” of the Christian church will occur at any moment, but your ministry is fifty years old or older?  Wouldn’t it be a bad public relations move to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of such a ministry?  Fred Clark explores this idea in light of the fiftieth anniversary of an organization called The King is Coming Ministries founded by a preacher named Howard Estep.  Here is a taste of his post at Slacktivist:

The King Is Coming” ministries carries on Estep’s work, preaching that the Rapture is imminent and could occur at any moment, if not sooner. It’s now run by Ed Hindson, dean of the “Institute of Biblical Studies” at Liberty University. Hindson took over for Estep because, as the Gospel of Matthew says, “Two men will be grinding out a prophecy newsletter together; one will be taken and one will be left.”
The King Is Coming has a long, storied history as an organization. But celebrating that history is a bit awkward, given the content of the group’s message. They can’t do something like, for example, World Vision’s proud account of its 60+ years of work, with a timeline charting the growth and accomplishments of the organization throughout its long history.
What would such a timeline look like for a Rapture-prophecy “ministry” like TKIC?
1963: Predicted the Rapture would happen very soon. We were wrong.
1964: Predicted the Rapture would happen very soon. We were wrong.
1965: Predicted the Rapture would happen very soon. We were wrong.
1966: Predicted the Rapture would happen very soon. We were wrong.
1967: Predicted the Rapture would happen very soon. We were wrong.
1968: Predicted the Rapture would happen very soon. We were wrong.
1969: Predicted the Rapture would happen very soon. We were wrong.
1970: Predicted the Rapture would happen very soon. We were wrong.
1971: Predicted the Rapture would happen very soon. We were wrong.
1972: Predicted the Rapture would happen very soon. We were wrong. …
1973: Predicted the Rapture would happen very soon. We were wrong.
1974: Predicted the Rapture would happen very soon. We were wrong. …
That’s probably not a winning fund-raising strategy. It’s probably wiser just to fudge the group’s long history of premature extrapolation and to do their best to appear as though they haven’t been at this for as many decades as they have….
Clark also mentions the evangelical eschatological thriller A Thief in the Night and the very popular tract 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988.