I have no doubts about Hal Lindsay’s faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, nor do I doubt that God uses his lecturing to bring people to Christ. I talked with one Campus Crusade girl who told me how she had been changed by such a talk on prophecy. Nor does he take any doctrinal position which would cause me to break off fellowship with him as a brother in Christ. Nevertheless, I have strong misgivings about the basic attitude toward the future which his book The Late Great Planet Earth contains and fosters. Besides that, I disagree with many of his single points of interpretations which falsely construe the New Testament texts.
I. The Basic Attitude Toward the Future
Lindsay and thousands with him have a desire “to pinpoint the time” (p. 51). For them “it is of paramount importance to identify the time…” (p. 60). Their desire is to fit current and future events together “into a precise pattern of predicted events” (p. 80, my italics). This, I believe, is an unhealthy attitude in our churches. Why?
1. The more detailed one attempts to map out the future, the more inferences one must make which are not explicit in the Scripture. Therefore, the tendency of the imagination to fill the gaps increases and the probability of erroneous calculation grows.
2. The stress on the present course of events attracts a great deal of attention from fascinated Christians, for, as Lindsay says, “People have been obsessed [from the beginning of time] with the desire to know what is going to happen in the future” (p. 11). The description of a particular sequence of current events as a manifestation of God’s faithfulness to his predictions creates an emotional and intellectual connection between the Christian’s faith and the events around him. The result, too often, is that the ups and downs of his life of faith are caused by the fluctuations of world affairs and his ability or inability to fit these into a complex eschatological pattern.
Since speculation increases as one constructs his “precise pattern” of world events, therefore, the more one sets his hopes on this particular pattern taking place, the more fragile and liable to frustration this hope will be. (That people do in fact tend to set their hopes on their calculations of future events is evident from how “spiritually turned on” some people get when they can fit a new current event into their scheme. The Six-Day War was a “spiritual high” for many a calculator.)
God will surely remain faithful, but we may well miscalculate. Lindsay thinks prophecy is becoming clearer as the end approaches, but Paul still says we know only in part and I think this is also true of the future course of events.
3. When a person thinks he knows exactly what role a nation is going to play in God’s battle plan, which must all take place within the next 15 years (cf. p. 54), then he tends to think less responsibly as a citizen who is to pray for all rulers (1 Timothy 2:2) and seek peace with all men (Romans 12:18). He loses interest in such things as trade agreements, arms talks, currency stability, world food problems, etc.
In short, the effort to combat injustice and suffering in the world seems nonsense since we know what the fate of most nations will be anyway and that it all must happen very soon. This is, in part, the result of closing a chapter with the empty and misleading admonition: “We should be living like persons who don’t expect to be around much longer” (p. 145).
It is sadly ironic that the predictions of the prophets thus have the effect of nullifying the great commands of the prophets: to “do justice and love kindness and walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8); “to hate evil, love good and establish justice in the gate” (Amos 5:15); “to hold fast to love and justice and wait continually for your God” (Hosea 12:6); “to cease to do evil, to learn to do good, seek justice, correct oppression, defend the fatherless, plead for the widow” (Isaiah 1:16-17).
I know Lindsay’s book has this effect because I met a hippie-type fellow and his wife passing through Munich on their way from Kansas City to Israel as missionaries who told me how they had been captivated by this kind of calculation of the future, but later were so convicted about their attitude toward the powers of the world that they had to confess their sin and ask for repentance.
4. This is the most important: among those who calculate about the time and sequence of the coming events and who try to give detailed descriptions of how it will be, there is, I think, a fundamentally wrong focus, a dislocation of our “blessed hope.” Throughout the New Testament the all-important focus of our hope is personal fellowship with God and our Lord Jesus Christ (Revelation 21:3; 1 Peter 5:9; 1 Thessalonians 4:17; Philippians 1:23; John 14:3).
The hope of the Christian springs from an intense love of his God and Savior (1 Peter 1:9) so that he says with the psalmist, “Whom have I in heaven but thee? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides thee. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:25-26).
But for the calculator of the end times this all-important personal focus of our hope gets blurred in a mass of secondary (often speculative) details. What is the effect of Lindsay’s forecasts on the hope of the believer? What becomes important when one gets caught up in the mapping out of the future? This: “The big question is, Will you be here during this seven-year countdown?” (p. 137). That is not “the big question” in the New Testament. The big question in 1 Peter , for example, is, Will we be willing to share the sufferings of Christ in order that we may rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed (4:13, cf. 14-18)?
The one who maps out the end times tends to focus his hope on things (the escaping of bad things and the receiving of good things), not on the all-important “with the Lord.” This dislocation of hope is not always intended; it is something that can happen almost unconsciously in a group or in a church which becomes infatuated with thinking about how it will all take place.
When our future perspective becomes chronological instead of theological, then faith is endangered. For faith is nurtured not by fitting tomorrow’s headlines into a probable scheme, but by being rooted in the faithfulness of God manifest in the death and resurrection of our Lord and by hoping in him alone (1 Peter 1:21), whatever may come. “In thy presence there is fullness of joy, at thy right hand there are pleasures forever more (Psalm 16:11).” That is our blessed hope.
II. Single Points of Interpretation
I must resist the temptation to go into every detailed exegetical problem I see in Lindsay’s approach. To yield to such a temptation would involve me in a similar preoccupation with calculation. There is too much to be learned from God’s Word for faith for me to let it become a source book for the construction of battle maps (pp. 155 and 159) and time tables. Therefore, I will only mention briefly four points of disagreement.
1. The anticipation of a pre-tribulation rapture (ch. 11) is, I believe, not only an erroneous inference from the New Testament (an inference because nowhere is the coming of our Lord explicitly divided into two events), but also could be the cause of a great apostasy. Lindsay says (p. 144) with mild sarcasm that he will have to say to some of his post-tribulationist friends on that day, “I told you so friend!”
I wonder if he has considered how many people’s confidence in the mercy of God will be shattered when times of great tribulation come upon them from which they thought God would deliver them? Then Christ may say to Hal Lindsay, “Why didn’t you tell them so, friend?” As Peter Beyerhaus wrote in the April 13, 1973 issue of Christianity Today, “The widespread teaching of a rapture that dodges this serious reality must be refuted as a dangerous distortion of New Testament eschatology” (p. 56). The reasons for this view are laid out clearly in Dr. Ladd’s The Blessed Hope (Eerdmans, 1966).
While it is not decisive for what one believes, it is good to know that “we can find no trace of pretribulationism in the early church; and no modern pretribulationist has successfully proved that this particular doctrine was held by any of the church fathers or students of the Word before the nineteenth century,” (Ladd, p. 31). It was not asserted until the beginning of the nineteenth century, when through an “utterance” it was thought to come from the Spirit in a Plymouth Brethren meeting (cf. S. P. Tregelles, The Hope of Christ’s Second Coming, 1864). It has found amazing acceptance in America and England largely because of the Scofield Reference Bible.
2. Lindsay’s treatment of Matthew 24 in general (cf. p. 53) is improper, for, instead of letting the text speak for itself out of its own situation, he imposes on it a structure which he has deciphered elsewhere. For example, he arbitrarily refers the fig tree to the nation of Israel (Matthew 24:32ff) and postulates that on May 14, 1948 the fig tree put forth its first leaves.
Then, of course, it follows from these two assumptions that “this generation” (Matthew 24:34) refers to the generation from 1948 on. This is not exegesis; it is speculation and it makes nonsense out of Jesus’ words for those who were listening to them there on the Mount of Olives.
There are other and better ways to understand Jesus’ words here, but Lindsay never mentions them and gives his ideas as gospel truth.
3. On page 173 he violates his own hermeneutical principle stated on page 50 by changing the clear “natural” meaning of “clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:62; Revelation 1:7; cf. Matthew 24:30; Mark 13:26; Luke 21:27) into “myriads of believers.” He omits the text reference here (as he does at other trouble spots) so it’s hard to check him out.
This is not a major issue; it just shows where a speculative orientation to the future leads and how even Lindsay will abandon his hermeneutical guidelines in order to add another detail to the vivid drama of the end times.
4. His last paragraph (p. 188) represents inexcusable ignorance by a man with a seminary education. “Maranatha” (1 Corinthians 16:21—again he doesn’t give a reference) does not mean “the Lord is coming soon.” It is a Greek transliteration of the Aramaic for “Lord, come!” It is probably the Aramaic behind the prayer in Revelation 22:20, “Come, Lord Jesus.”
It is a comparatively small thing when one calculates a “precise pattern of predicted events,” for to do this and even to believe it, one need not even be redeemed. “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name…?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me you evildoers!’” The one who enters the kingdom will be “the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21-23).