Today we see the final humiliation of Harold Camping, as his prediction of the end of the world today fails to come true – at least it will have failed if you are still reading this tomorrow! Camping may be unlike most evangelicals in offering a precise date for the end of the world. But he is in line with many of them in preaching that the end if nigh, that Jesus will come to rescue his people and destroy an evil world.
Tony Campolo, who has little in common with Camping except for the first four letters of his surname, is one of a growing number of evangelicals, now including Peter Wagner, who take a very different position. Campolo has posted an important article about this at Red Letter Christians: Hope for Despairing Christians In A World That is Getting Worse and Worse. He starts:
For many Evangelical Christians, the normative attitude is to view world history with despair. Most have been led to believe that forces of darkness are increasingly raising havoc in the world as we move toward the end of history. Many have grown up believing that evil will become more and more pronounced in the last days, and the demonic forces of darkness more and more evident in the affairs of our lives.
He then gives good biblical arguments against this picture, and shows that it is not true to what is happening in the world as a whole today. He concludes with a very different scenario:
Jesus is coming back and, as it says in the first chapter of Philippians, the good work that He began in us, He will complete on the day of His coming. The future is bright because we have the promise of Jesus that His Kingdom will grow until the end, and at the end all that is evil and perverse will be destroyed. His Kingdom will come on earth as it is in Heaven. … Praise God for what the Church and its missionaries have accomplished in His name and through His power.
It is good to see some Christian leaders clearly standing against the unbiblical teaching, dating back only to the 19th century, that the world is going to get worse and worse, and that believers will be snatched away from it before the return of Jesus.
But is this what some Christians, and political commentators, have condemned as “dominionism”? Clearly it is not the “dominionism” of the religious right, as expounded by R.J. Rushdoony and allegedly promoted by presidential hopefuls Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry. After all, Campolo is a leading figure on the so-called religious left. But, as Allan R. Bevere has argued, following James Hunter, in his book The Politics of Witness,
the religious right and the religious left are nothing more than mirror images of each other … both groups are centered on a faulty hermeneutic (method of biblical interpretation). (p. 37, emphasis as in the original)
I agree with Bevere that these groups share a hermeneutic, but, as I explained in my review of the book, I am far from convinced that it is as fundamentally faulty as he claims. This alleged fault is linked to what Scot McKnight has rightly pointed out today, that there is a danger among the religious left of confusing social justice with the work of the kingdom of God. I could equally argue that among the religious right there is a danger of confusing promotion of family values in society with the work of the kingdom of God. But Christians are surely called, as Jeremiah appealed to the exiles in Babylon (Jeremiah 29:7), to seek the peace and prosperity of the place where they are living, in exile from their real home in the kingdom of God. This is what provides a proper theological basis for political action by Christians on the left and on the right.
Moreover, the work that we Christians are doing in the kingdom of this world will not be in vain. Ultimately, when Jesus returns, we will be able to cry out in triumph with the words from Revelation which Campolo quotes (in a different version):
The kingdom of the world has become
the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah,
and he will reign for ever and ever.
Revelation 11:15 (NIV)
And this implies that our work for the good of this world will become transformed into work for the kingdom of God. Indeed the good work that Jesus began in and through us he will complete on the day of his coming.