Slacktivist (Fred Clark) is a liberal Evangelical who has been studiously dissecting the Left Behind books, a few pages at a time every week for the last ten years, and in today’s passage from the third book, Nicolae, the Antichrist (Nicolae Carpathia) lays out an evil agenda that’s really not that evil (it includes, among other things, a ten-cent tax on every gallon of gasoline purchased). Fred speculates that the reason Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins had trouble depicting an Antichrist governing evilly is because they don’t know anything about governing. They don’t know anything about governing because governing belongs “to the world,” and the Bible repeatedly warns them (as I learn every Sunday!) not to be involved in the world.
. . . Government, by definition, must be worldly. It has to be concerned with the world — that’s its job. Filling in potholes, maintaining traffic safety — everything the government does or is supposed to do will be worldly, no matter how mundane. (That’s actually what “mundane” means — “belonging to the world.”) And therefore everything a government does or is supposed to do will be self-evidently wicked. . .
Thus here we’re presented with a scene in which the Antichrist — purportedly the worst tyrant in the history of the world — lays out his agenda for global oppression, yet much of it seems either boring or baffling. He proposes some modest taxes and some impossibly ill-defined ones. He wants to build a second Alaskan pipeline. He offers some extremely vague and contradictory ideas about the structure of his new one-world government (tyranny administered via “bloc grants,” apparently).
All of this is, to the authors, self-evidently evil because it’s all so very worldly. But to readers who are better acquainted with the actual world, the few bits of it that make any sense seem unremarkable and unthreatening. The gist of the passage seems to be that Nicolae Carpathia’s one-world government intends to govern.
This could make me sad, and it has. But as Fred has capably shown, time and again, it’s also just silly. You have two guys who are trying to portray what they view as a literal reading of Revelation, but their story ends up being laughably bad because they don’t know anything about the world or how it works because they read in the Bible not to be contaminated “by the world” and they thought that meant, “Avoid reality as much as possible.”
Along the same lines, everyone’s favorite scapegoat, Rob Bell, is being eviscerated again because in a promotional video for his new book, Love Wins: For Teens (which one blogger said could have been more appropriately titled, Fun God: Saying “Yes” to the World), he says, “[Christianity is] not about long lists of regulations and things you can’t do, it’s about saying a giant yes to the world.” Which, you know, I tend to agree, but apparently some people don’t. Alright, well, a lot of people. Here’s what one commenter said:
1 John 2:15 immediately popped into my mind.
“Do not love the world nor the things of this world. If anyone loves the world, love for the world [God?] is not in him. For everything that belongs to the world, the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride in one’s lifestyle is not from the father, but is from the world. The world and its lusts are passing away but he does the will of the Lord endures forever.”
No, Rob, I won’t change my religion because certain parts aren’t popular. I won’t say yes to the world, I’ll say yes to God. I worship the Great I Am, the Unchanging One Who Was, Who Is and Who Is To Come.
He adds, “At least Rob Bell is open about his heresy and desire to change God into his own image. Those who follow him are without excuse.”
You really have to applaud the human spirit. A man can live sixty or seventy years of his natural life repeating the same scripture to justify his lack of engagement with the world, without ever bothering to investigate what the verse actually means. As Fred pointed out in his post on Friday, the structure of James 1:27 seems to suggest that it’s actually those who avoid “widows and orphans in their distress” who are really stained by the world.
And, in the combox, MaryKaye alludes to one of C. S. Lewis’s lesser-known books, Studies on Words, in which he notes the immense mischief that has resulted from Christians mixing up the two meanings of the word world as found in our English translations of the Bible. One of those meanings is potentially positive (“God so loved the world”), and the other is very negative (“Love not the world”).
The negative sense, Lewis says, is about ambition and pride: caring about “the world” in this sense means caring more about what people think of you, how important you are, how rich and powerful you are, than you do about God. It seems to me that these teachings are not ones that wealthy, powerful, self-important people are going to easily remember or grasp. So they use the “world”-words confusion to redirect onto a completely un-Jesuslike emphasis on not touching the unclean, not associating with those of lower status—which is precisely “worldly” in the negative sense.
Thus, in trying to avoid this filthy world, they themselves become icons of worldliness.
Rayford actually seems pitiable to me. (I am in the faction that hates Buck more, for some reason.) Here’s a man who has a central role in the great spiritual drama of the ages–and yet his own spirituality is utterly empty and barren. There is no wonder, no joy, no awe, no holy fear; no experience of the peace that surpasses understanding. There is not even the purifying force of real contrition. It’s all dust, because it is, in the last analysis, worldly (negative)–and the underlying theology has managed to make Heaven worldly. Purges in the Millenial Kingdom? Differences in rank among the Elect? How worldly can you get? “I am more important than you” played out on the stage of Eternity with all the stars for witness. That is sad.
But—like the man said—fanaticism and ignorance are forever busy, and need feeding.
And that brings us back to my novel. Both of my novels, actually. Because I believe that the sense of wonder is sacred—curiosity, beauty, knowledge, the individual human mind. In one of our conversations tonight on Facebook, Jake said the fundamental divide in Western philosophy is between Plato and Aristotle—in those who are for this world, and those who are against it. And I believe with my whole heart that we are called to this world, not to be of it, but to be FOR it. God was for the world. God loved the world. He died to save sinners; to redeem all things in heaven and earth, and, slowly, with our participation, all things are being redeemed. I believe in the world because this is my home, and I believe in its institutions—its literature, its art, its laws, its religion, its history, its peoples. For me, they are sacred. “The whole earth is full of His glory”: but how easily we forget.
And so the fundamental divide in my fictional story—as in my memoir, ultimately—is between those who are for the world and those who are against it. Between civilized people who are trying to build the world up and preserve its institutions and traditions, and between the fanatics (Millennials) who are trying to tear it down.
But my heroes are going to start out on the wrong side of that conflict. And for three and a half books we will follow them and the forces of evil as they seek to destroy the earth.