Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth, reintroduced a generation of Evangelicals to apocalyptic and eschatological themes that had been present in Evangelical movements from the beginning. That book made a mark on the culture largely because it took current events, ripped them right off the front pages of the newspapers and overlaid them on the older venerable narrative of Dispensational theology. Evangelicals, since we are marked in part by a desire to keep our traditions vibrant and relevant, often find helpful this act of reading with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. (This turn of phrase has been attributed to Karl Barth, but an actual citation is difficult to nail down.) But of course it can lead us astray, as when Conservative Evangelicals pretend to be able to read current events as definitely with or against God’s will. That is exactly what Lindsey did in his book, read the events of Nixon’s America directly into the biblical narrative. The future, it seems, is a kind of blank canvas up which we are eager to paint our hopes, desires and fears, and Evangelicals have embraced this task with uncommon zeal. Here in LE Blog, however, we’re going to do something a little different over the next few weeks and months. Here we’re going to try to look at the future with an honest and critical eye. Our goal is not so much prediction for the sake of prediction—we’re not wagering on sports after all—but rather self-criticism.
Where are we headed and what can we expect the future to hold for Liberal Evangelicals?
As a young man during the first Gulf War, I remember sitting on my bed talking to Jennifer George (my first major crush) on the telephone as we poured over Revelation together looking for clues that Saddam Hussein might be the antichrist. That was more than a bit silly. Here we will not be scouring Revelation for clues as to coming events. Instead, we will learn from the approach of social psychology and look to the future without recourse to naïve supernaturalism or special revelation. Our method will involve 1) using what we know about how people think and act in groups, 2) examining current social and technological trends and 3) hypothetically extrapolating from 1 and 2 in order to predict what the future might hold for us. Our goal is not so much to “get it right” but rather to use the exercise as an occasion for critical self-examination.
My proposal: Over the coming weeks and months we’ll examine four separate social trends to which LiberalEvangelicals will have to respond, hopefully with wisdom and grace. None of these trends are unambiguously “good or bad” though some may portend well for Liberal Evangelicals and others may not. The important point is that these trends are likely here to stay, and we will have to respond and adapt as best we can without any guarantees of success.