Let the Word Speak!

Appendix A

Appendix A: Hal Lindsey’s Apocalypse Code
My Opinions on “False” Bible Studies

In reading through materials relating to the Book of Revelation, I found that a few books practice writing styles or methods of argument that bother me a lot! I’ve decided to call these “false” Bible studies in this appendix, because these styles discourage the reader from studying the Bible or considering God’s workings in history or in the reader’s life, and instead force a prefabricated set of opinions in such a way to discourage debate. In particular, I want to “pick on” Hal Lindsey’s bookApocalypse Code for the way it presents its message. Please understand, I agree with what Lindsey states as the central purpose of his book in the last two chapters, that of leading people to Christ and strengthening the faith of the believers. I also respect the opinions in the book on the interpretation of the images in Revelation, because I find his ideas helpful for challenging my own beliefs and the writings of others. However, I take exception with the book because I do not want anyone to be “manipulated” into a particular belief, and I strongly object to sections where Lindsey’s writing style appears to intimidate the reader into accepting his points without thoughtfully consideration.

Bear with me as I explain why I feel this way, first with how I believe the scripture says we should study it, and second with how I believe our best religious thinkers practice their craft. Then I will quote from Apocalypse Code to illustrate where I believe Lindsey weakens his message by practices that sell his readers short.

Biblical background for faith and discrimination

I believe that studying the Bible correctly involves a similar “dialectic” to others we’ve discussed in this Bible study — we must be cautious, wise, and discriminating and at the same time full of childlike faith. We must use our God-given intellect against those that would deceive us, but we must rely on God — not our intellect — to find the Truth.

Jesus said the same in Matthew 10:16, when he instructed the Twelve, “See, I am sending you out like sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” Paul said the same in 1 Thessalonians 5:20-22, “Do not despise the prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.”

I believe that in these passages, we are commanded to test what we read in the scriptures and what we hear from others in comparison to what God has done in our lives and revealed to us. I believe that we will each be held accountable for our own beliefs and for our process in coming up with those beliefs, because it is only in the individual struggle of “working out” our faith (see Philippians 2:12-13) that we gain the personal testimony that God calls us to share with others! Nonbelievers have no reason to believe the Bible, no reason to see as relevant anything from thousands of years ago, and no reason to accept anything that we can tell them about Christ, but they cannot deny what they themselves observe of the living Christ in our faith and our lives.

At the same time, we cannot pretend that our minds can begin to fathom the depth and breadth of God’s Being and Will. Every Bible study we do must be done in awe of how great God is, and how little we will ever understand, even when He reveals it all to us in Heaven. I am often reminded and comforted by Job chapters 38-42, that starts with God approaching an aching, searching Job by asking, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you and you shall declare to me. Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding…” Whenever we feel frustrated or confused, we can draw on this image of the loving God who reminds us that we cannot understand His ways, but that all He asks of us is faith in Him. Whenever we think we do know the answers, though, we need to be humbled by just how many answers we cannot know.

For this reason, I am angry with any teacher who would interfere with my duty of coming to my own faith based in the Word of God, any teacher that would present their personal interpretation as the “only” way that a passage can be known or the “truth” found. Understand that I have emotional “baggage” that drives me to respond this way — I have witnessed the Enemy in action in the Southern Baptist Convention as a few “fundamentalist” leaders of that denomination employed the restrictive, human-defined dogma of “the inerrancy of the scriptures” as a weapon to eliminate those that disagreed with their political agendas.

I believe that Bible study has a clear purpose to change us where we are today. I do not believe that the purpose of God’s word is for academic calisthenics. I believe that when God foretold the future to His prophets, it was for the purpose of immediately changing lives, not so we could decipher a road map for the future. Think on the story of Jonah, where when he was finally persuaded by God to go to prophesy of the destruction of Nineveh, his preaching caused the entire city to repent and be spared. Jonah felt betrayed by the failure of God to live up to his future-telling — he wanted to see Nineveh destroyed. God was more concerned with the true message of change for his creatures in that city.

Paul, in 2 Timothy, 3:14-17, reminds Timothy of the power and purpose of the Scripture, that it is “useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.” I see no place in Paul’s instruction to use the scriptures to predict the future! Instead, I see in Paul’s life the athlete pushing himself harder and harder to do the work at hand, content to wait for God to decide when Paul’s race was over.

Accepted practice in academic research

We have to be careful in how we apply secular practices to Biblical study — Paul writes in Colossians 2:8, “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ.” However, the warning of Colossians 2:8 also applies to the “human tradition” practices of propaganda and manipulation, so we should be wary that all we accept fits with the Love of God.

So, where should we draw the line between what is acceptable practice to borrow from worldly scholars and what is not?

The papers of scholars and scientists are not accepted until that work can be tested by their peers, so it is a mandatory practice to carefully and accurately document findings and conclusions. I believe that this practice is essential to the building up of believers’ faith; that a teacher must provide the methods for others to use to come up with their own validation of a lesson. It should never be the wisdom or eloquence of the teacher that holds the appeal for students, but the beauty of God’s message.

The work of scholars must accurately report the source of other material used, because all scholars and scientists build on the work of their predecessors. For a scholar to have any credibility, they must carefully quote facts and findings, in proper contexts, with detailed footnotes documenting the sources. Christian scholars should do the same! We cannot afford to defame God’s Word by appearing to link it to plagiarized material and misstated and manipulated facts.

There is a balance that we need to maintain in studying the roots of the Bible. Understanding the language in which the Bible was written has value when done properly. Knowing the Greek background of agape love allows 1 Corinthians 13 to make so much more sense than either the KJV’s word “charity” or the modern English word “love.” However, we should never put the Bible’s Greek language — or various English translations — as a barrier in front of those who seek to learn about God. In just the same way, understanding the cultural background of Biblical times is essential to understanding how to apply the Bible’s message to today. We cannot understand what it means in Isaiah 53:6 that ”all we like sheep have gone astray” from a typical lifestyle in modern Florida, but we dare not reject this message of us because it is antiquated. We carry this too far when we seek by our study to so tightly “lock” the message of God in the historical context that we discourage the application of the message to how we live today. Good work from theological scholars will maintains this balance.

There are limits to how far we can use worldly skills in understanding the Bible. The purpose of academic tradition is to glorify the doctoral candidate that releases to the academic world the wonders of his own thoughts. In Scriptures, we glorify Jesus alone.

In fact, we need to be skeptical of elaborate constructions made from the scriptures, because these take away from our faith in the profoundly simple message of God’s love. Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:27-29 reminds the church that “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God.”

Weaknesses in the book Apocalypse Code

Now I will apply these principles for Biblical study to Hal Lindsey’s book.

Presentation of facts

Most scholars carefully document the facts they use to present their case.

Hal Lindsey includes in the first chapter of Apocalypse Code to a review of the movies Dante’s Peak, Twister, Water World, Asteroid, and Outbreak as “evidence” that “the world” expects the Apocalypse to be soon. He opportunistically includes the quotes from Newsweek (”[new] bacteria are ‘clever little devils’”) and the World Health Organization (the world is heading for “super plagues of apocalyptic proportion”) to reinforce his point. On page 28, he says, “I believe it is rather obvious that things predicted in the first century A.D. or earlier are in clear view today” based on “the media attention given to the very phenomena the prophets predicted.” He presents no facts, no context, nothing but anecdotes, and then challenges the reader to prove that this isn’t “obvious.”

In a blatant use of “Madison Avenue” advertising style, on page 192, Lindsey asks “Have you noticed how much supernatural hocus-pocus is going on around us today?” At no point in that chapter or elsewhere does he provide any basis for that implied statement. Compare this question with the infamous “Have you stopped beating your wife?” question, and you see that how efficiently this statement has manipulated his readers.

On page 132, Lindsey digresses in his interpretation of the role of nuclear weapons in the account of John to discuss the U.S. military’s philosophy of deterrence by Mutually Assured Destruction. He protests that “our politicians have sold us out.” Why do his political views belong in a Bible study, and why does he believe we must accept his political opinions to follow his theological treatise?

Given what I said earlier about the importance of presenting facts in context, and with clear references to the sources for the facts, consider that the following paragraph from page 177, discussing the decline of the United States has absolutely none of either:

”In the last 30 years, there has been a 560 percent increase in violent crime. Illegitimate births have increased 419 percent. Divorce rates have tripled. The number of children living in single-parent homes has tripled. The teen suicide rate has increased 200 percent. Student Achievement Tests have plummeted 80 points.”

Lindsey gave us nothing to go on to validate these numbers. Some are very precise (”419%”) while others are very vague (”tripled”). I don’t know what a “violent crime” is interpreted to be. I’m surprised if the divorce rates over the last thirty years have not gone up faster than 300%. The kicker was the last line — what is the “Student Achievement Test” (as opposed to the “Scholastic Aptitude Test”?), what organization develops it, what was the average score that has declined by “80 points,” and could there be other explanations beside the demise of the United States that account for that decline? I am horrified at the possibility of an educated non-believer laughing off Christianity because of the abuse of statistics in this paragraph and the rest of the book.

Sticking to a viewpoint

The foundation of a scholarly study is the consistent application of facts to the issue at hand.

On page 33, Hal Lindsey correctly explains the Greek word behind the English word we translate as “Revelation,” and the significance that this Greek word has to the message of Jesus through John. On page 47, however, Lindsey never even begins to discuss either the Greek or the Hebrew words translated into English as “prophet.” Both ancient languages use words that mean “one who speaks for God,” while only in colloquial English does the word mean “future teller.” However, Lindsey builds a major “proof” for the literal interpretation of Revelation on a poorly translated English word!

On page 41, Hal Lindsey emphatically describes why the reference to locust must be a literal description of a military attack helicopter equipped with nerve gas. However, on page 72, he is content to figuratively interpret the bow on the rider of the white horse as representing Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles. His credibility is challenged when he so adamantly insists on having it both ways. The book of Revelation is a challenge for all of us in deciding what is figurative and what is literal, and the best way to approach this dilemma is with humility, trusting the readers to make up their own minds.

On page 194, Lindsey gives a masterful explanation of the true meaning behind the “666” mark of the beast. The number “6” represented fallen man, and the repetition of three “6”s both emphasizes the fallen nature and sets man up as imitating the triune God. However, at no other place in this book does Lindsey acknowledge what I consider to be blatant references to significant numerological references (like the 144,000 witnesses, 4 angels at the corners of the earth, 7 seals, 7 trumpets, etc.) Why just at this one spot?

Acceptance of peer review

Scholars — and most theologians — encourage the review and discussion of their work by others.

Hal Lindsey on page 264 denounces the many theologians that disagree with his interpretation of Revelation 20 as leading “people down the primrose path either to liberal theology or to some other form of heresy.” On page 126, Lindsey writes, “Do you know that some ‘scholars’ argue that the 144,000 evangelists aren’t necessarily Jews? It’s hard to believe…” Name calling does not encourage better understanding, nor does it fit with the presentation of God’s plan of salvation! This denouncement of others is even more incredible when Lindsey himself chooses on page 136 to say that although Revelation 8:1-6 references another angel, “I believe that it is none other than Christ Himself.” Why are other scholars heretics when they are not literal, but Lindsey can change as he wants?

On page 68, he writes, “I believe this is the only generation for which most of the prophecies of the Apocalypse apply.” While he can’t prove that statement until after the prophesies are fulfilled, he should at least acknowledge that all generations before have had significant leaders that felt just the same!

Caution for how to read — where is the truth?

We cannot allow ourselves to be misled by anyone who weaves a craftily written web of personal beliefs in the guise of scriptural interpretation. While I believe that Hal Lindsey is a Christian, teaching a Christian message, this book developed in this way could just as easily have been written by Marshall Applewhite to convince you that our calling is to a spaceship traveling behind a comet. The “In Search Of…” books and movies of the 1970s used exactly this kind of anecdotal evidence, twisted logic, and selective recounting of facts to distort the Bible into a record of early alien visits to the earth!

Keep challenging what you read and hear! Never let yourself be persuaded by propaganda techniques, or let yourself be pushed into believing what someone else wants you to believe — including what I am writing here. Know that God wants you to have faith in Him alone, and not in even the best human preachers, teachers, or writers.

Copyright © 2014 Jonathan Morris
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