By Brian McLaren, May 10, 2011 1:08 PM
I grew up in a Christian tradition (a young one, actually, having started in the 1830’s) called Dispensationalism. Although we shied away from predicting specific dates, we sang and preached and even made scary movies about the coming “Rapture,” Great Tribulation, coming of the Antichrist, and eventually the Second Coming. We had complex charts of our “end-time scenario” in which we could fit (or cram) every single verse in the Bible. It was impressive.
For a while. As I grew older and started reading the Bible more holistically, I realized that this kind of prognostication was a house of cards. Not only that, it had disastrous consequences. After all, why care about global climate change if you believe God is about to burn it up to a cinder anyway? Why worry about peak oil if the world will end before the oil economy collapses? Why address systemic injustice – economic, racial, sexual, political, environmental – if you assume it’s God’s will for things to get worse and worse so it all can be swept away in final judgment?
Now I, like many others, have migrated to a very different understanding of the future. More and more of us are calling it a “participatory eschatology” or a “participatory view of the future.”
Instead of assuming that the future is predetermined, that the script is written, that the movie is already filmed in God’s mind and is only “showing” in the theatre of the now, we believe the future does not yet exist.
We believe that we are called to work together with God’s Spirit – with creativity, for justice and peace, nonviolently, and both passionately and patiently – to create the kind of future that fulfills what Desmond Tutu calls “the Dream of God.” Of course, we can’t presume to know what that world looks like: we can’t presume it’s communist or capitalist or works on some as-yet undreamed-of economic system.
But we work with this confidence: that when we show love, when we seek God’s justice for all, when we care for the vulnerable and forgotten, when we try to take the logs out of our own eyes before working on the splinters in the eyes of others, when we care for the birds of the air, flowers of the field, and fish of the sea, when we admit our wrongs rather than hide or deny them, when we give rather than hoard, when we seek reconciliation rather than revenge … we are nudging the world one small step forward in our journey towards that dream of blessing and peace.
Sadly, misguided predictions of the sort made by Harold Camping become distractions from that great calling. Although history suggests that people who are part of false predictions tend to double-down when their prophecies fail, perhaps on May 22, some of Camping’s disillusioned followers will be open to a new way of thinking.
Brian D. McLaren is an activist, speaker, and author (most recently of Naked Spirituality and A New Kind of Christianity). He was a pastor for 24 years and is a leader in the global conversation about emerging Christianity.