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Tihomir Kukolja Headshot

The Danger of Dispensationalism in the Middle East

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As I was reading my Bible in a local Starbucks one week ago, an elderly man approached me with a question: "What do you think about the situation in Egypt?" In no time we were discussing if the recent events in Egypt had a prophetic, eschatological role. Soon he was talking about the rapture, the Antichrist, New World Order and the time of tribulation. He was convinced that the current events in Egypt were signs of the end. "Jesus is coming soon!" he concluded.

A few hours later I was running some errands and listening to an AM radio talk show as I drove around. The radio host was not lacking in defamatory comments about the U.S. government, and especially about the President. He wondered if the "incompetence" of the government to the developing crisis in Egypt was only a cover-up for a more sinister international conspiracy designed to hasten the arrival of the world government. "They are all leftists and communists," he said.

The church circles are not immune either to the growing international crisis. Some offer Bible study classes on the current events, while others are moving forward with a renewed prophetic evangelism. One invitation to a series of lectures says: "Prophetic Puzzle Revealed." The most vocal religious TV channels are featuring the latest prophetic commentaries on the developments in the countries so close to Israel.

As a believer, I do not want to be dismissive of the possible prophetic implications of the events in Middle East and its neighborhood. However, I do not follow the prophetic charts, timelines and calculations of the popular dispensational preachers and teachers, whose theology is feeding the imagination of millions of sincere believers.

Although the recent international developments might appear to support this popular belief system at the moment, the dispensationalism so widely embraced by many Christians in the U.S. today is built upon a faulty and potentially damaging theological structure. It is a religious fiction that misses to understand, in the words of St. Paul, the "mystery of Christ," namely that "Gentiles and Israel are members together of one body, and sharers together in the promises of Christ" (Eph. 3:3-12. NIV). It sees the Church of Christ as a separate entity from Israel in God's economy of salvation, and gives Israel, rather than the Church, the central and highly political role in the final days of human history.

Not surprisingly millions of believers across denominational lines, watching the spreading of revolts in the neighborhood of the Middle East, are interpreting every new development guided by the questions: What will happen to Israel? Are the current events playing into the hands of emerging Antichrist? Should America, as a leading Christian nation, be a guardian of the fulfillment of last-days prophecies at the international level, especially in regard to Israel? Should the Church be ready for the rapture any moment now? A positive outcome of the current crisis would not go well with the expectations of the dispensational teachers and followers.

One can only imagine a damage done to the cause of the Gospel when preached with the dispensational flavor in the countries of the Middle East, North Africa and Asia. Likewise, imagine the potential damage to the international affairs if the formation and implementation of the U.S. foreign policies were to be in the hands of the leaders, believers in the dispensational theology: not an impossible scenario at all. What a tragic prospect for misguided actions or no actions at all, depending on whether they fit in the premade box of questionable prophetic interpretations. Also, what a prospect for great disappointment and further twisting of the prophecies, should the expectations of dispensationalist not come true soon.

As for me, I was repeatedly shocked after seeing several video reports that graphically showed the scenes of unarmed people killed in Egypt, Bahrain and especially in Libya, with an unknown number of people being viciously murdered at the hands of the leftovers of the Gaddafi's regime.

I find troubling too the manipulative morality of the powerful, whose condemnations of the atrocities against the protesters across the region have repeatedly come too late. This is the time when the world leadership of the big and the rich, the USA included, are being put to the test, with a guiding question: What will prevail at the end -- our empathy and respect for the sanctity and dignity of human life and freedom, or our self-centered interests measured by the barrels of oil?

The promising sign in the uprisings and demonstrations in all the countries involved until now has been the absence of the fanatics with explosives strapped to their bodies. The unifying voice of all protests has been the one calling for reforms, freedom, democracy and more dignifying life -- something so easily dismissed by the dispensationalist analysts and right wing talk-show hosts, who by logic of their beliefs have to distrust anything closely related to Islam and its followers.

One is to hope that at the time when many in the U.S. are trying to find the proper line of action, our questionable systems of belief will not, in the coming days and weeks, play into the hands of the prospective hijackers of the dramatic events in the Middle East. For if the U.S. and the world community remain to be calculative in its response, the current events will have a potential of becoming a nightmare, not only for the region but for the rest of the world as well.

As for me, I intend to have my eyes open. I pray for discernment as I read my Bible. I am looking forward to the appearing of the Lord and the fruition of his Kingdom with no limits and boundaries set by human agendas. Meanwhile, I continue to empathize with the suffering, tortured, abused and killed people at the hands of criminal leaders, and I pray for the peace in the Middle East, North Africa and the world. I share the hope of those who are looking forward to seeing the Middle East and the countries in the region flourishing in democracy, civil society that is built on the rule of the law, respect for human rights and equality -- religious freedom included -- for all their citizens. But, should anything go wrong, I want to keep remembering that God is in control anyway, and that ultimately His purposes will prevail.

Around the Web

Arab and Middle East protests | World news | guardian.co.uk

Protest spreads in the Middle East - The Big Picture - Boston.com

2011 Libyan uprising - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

BBC News - Libya protests: UN Security Council condemns crackdown

Libya protests continue despite Qaddafi threats - CBS Evening News ...

Moammar Gaddafi clings to power in Libya, protests continue

Gadhafi Warns 'Everything Will Burn' if Libya's Protests Continue ...