Why Christian Futurism (aka ‘Left Behind’ theology) isn’t necessarily Escapism

When discussing the future from a Christian worldview, especially when commenting on Bible prophecy, there are some critics of Christian futurism who belittle it as mere Escapism.

For example, Micah Redding, founder and President of the Christian Transhumanist Association, said the following during his presentation, “What is Christian Transhumanism?”, during the first annual Christian Transhumanist Conference:

“In many parts of Christianity I think people have embraced a sort of escapism: an escapism that says, ‘We’re not really doing anything here. We’re just here to
kind of bide our time for the next important thing to happen, which doesn’t have anything to really do with us, right? It’s not a challenge to us because we’re not on any real thing. We’re just trying to punch our tickets and make sure we’re on the rocket ship out of here when it comes along, right?'”

To explain what I mean, you need to know that Christian futurism is basically the view one reads when they read one of the Left Behind novels.

It is the idea that the Church will be raptured (taken away by Christ) just before or shortly into a 7-year Great Tribulation where the world is ruled by an Antichrist and the Judgment of God is poured out on the Earth, and in which Armageddon is only ended by the Second Coming of Christ. Admittedly, it is a dark, dystopian vision of the future, if one only concentrates on the portions that deal with the Antichrist and the Tribulation.

It is anything but dystopian if you consider the events that are to come after. In fact, it was the utopian vision that follows that caused the Apostle John while receiving the prophecy of Revelation to declare, “Even so, come Lord Jesus!”

The promise of the Millennial Reign of Christ (a thousand year era of peace where Christ Himself rules the Earth) and the following creation of the new heavens and earth also come with a promise of an end of suffering, death, carnivore, and decay, and aging. And that is just a short list of the wonders that God has prepared for us at His Second Coming.

The accusation of Escapism is somewhat of a strawman representation of Christian futurism. That is not to say that there are not folks who are just waiting for the end. The Bible does call it our Blessed Hope for a reason and, especially amongst elderly Christians, there are those who look joyfully for His appearing. But accepting the idea of the Rapture and the following Tribulation does not necessarily mean that a Christian thinks that he can just wait around for God to take care of this sorry mess the world is created of itself. In fact, when Jesus speaks of the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven He warns in parables that the Christian is supposed to keep their lamps trimmed and burning, that they are to be ready at all times especially at a time that they think not that it won’t occur, and, through the Parable of the Talents (which holds a special place in my heart as the basis of the first sermon I ever preached), that we are to be productive and industrious until He comes.

Now, with those biblical admonitions in mind, one would be hard-pressed to call Christian futurism “escapist” or “escapism.” Only in the context of the straw man that folks who do not believe in a Rapture or a literal Tribulation or perhaps even a literal Antichrist have thatched together of Christian futurism does the idea of a Rapture seem like a pie- in-the-sky-in-the-by-and-by wish to escape the Tribulation. What they’re really criticizing is an attitude of complacency or fatalism concerning the world’s problems as inevitable signs of the End that God alone can fix. The Lord may return at any moment, but He may also tarry another thousand years. The concern is that this fatalism prevents one from working toward the fulfillment of Jesus’s Prayer: Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” But at no point in the Lord’s Prayer does it say that we will bring about this fulfillment of God’s will for the restoration or that we will bring about the kingdom of God buy purely human efforts. Much less apart from His prophesied timetable.

The Bible does promised a lot of great things for us once He returns and establishes His Millennial Reign upon this Earth. A lot of these things are the very things that Christian transhumanism hopes to see fulfilled in the very near future. Things like an end to pain, an end to death, an end to aging, and an end to suffering from diseases that can be cured and genetic maladies that can be fixed. There is even a few folks out there (including secular transhumanist David Pierce) who believe that we can end the suffering of animals by ending carnivory through genetic manipulation so that the wolf literally lies down with the lamb!

I am cynical enough about humanity to realize that this will never be a priority for mankind until the Millennial Reign. Why? Because Original Sin is perhaps the only scientifically demonstrable doctrine of Christian theology. Mankind is made in the image of God but we also possess a fallen nature that makes us capable of the worst and most selfish things imaginable. And I simply do not believe that fallen man is capable of such a selfless future through mere moralizing efforts. That sort of restoration requires an authentic transformation of the nature of at least the majority of mankind.

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