Must the World Get Worse? The Decline of Violence and the End Times

“For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will.” —Matthew 24:21

If the fervent expectations of my pre-adolescent Adventist mind had been correct, I would be hiding in a swamp right now. Perhaps fleeing to the mountains would have been more biblical, but lower Michigan doesn’t have any. However, swamps abound. And there was a vast, soppy, mosquito-infested lowland behind my cousins’ house, in which we all agreed that we would conceal ourselves when the “great tribulation” began, and global Adventist genocide seemed imminent. After all, if we could barely tolerate the mosquitoes in that murky morass, certainly no hooded Jesuits with AK-47s would look for us there.

It seems humorous in retrospect, but it was serious business then. I’m also a little nostalgic about it, for it was great fun. I’ve heard fellow Adventists talk about the trauma they felt as children when the coming tribulation was preached vividly, but I never experienced such apprehension. Rather, I took delight in contemplating the notion that the world was growing more violent daily. I would hear a news report about a shooting in Lansing, and I would imagine myself running from armored cars, sneaking around with contraband Bibles, and hiding in my cousins’ impenetrable marsh.

More fundamentally, violence was good news, because it meant that Jesus was coming soon. After all, the Bible predicted that before the return of Jesus, violence would increase, and we would hear of “wars and rumors of wars” (Matthew 24:6). Thus, the mayhem of the world was — for me — something to be strangely celebrated.

Steven Pinker and “The Pacification Process”

If I had read Steven Pinker’s book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined as a child fifteen years ago, my faith in Seventh-day Adventism would surely have been shaken. In this expansive account, Pinker describes how, contrary to popular belief, the world is not growing more violent. It is just the opposite, he says. Over the last five centuries, and particularly in the last half century, violence had receded to the borders of Western society, such that “today we may be living in the most peaceable era in our species’ existence.”[1] Recently, Pinker has reiterated his basic claim about the decline of violence in another lengthy piece.[2]

According to Pinker, the perception that we are becoming more violent is not due to hard facts, but simply due to our human characteristic of exaggerating current and recent troubles, and our nostalgia: “It is easy to forget how dangerous life used to be, how deeply brutality was once woven into the fabric of our daily existence.”[3] The good old days may have been good, but not for criminals or anyone who got on the bad side of the king. Pinker repeatedly draws on gruesome historical accounts of shameless pain-escalation that make waterboarding seem like hydrotherapy: incinerations, torture chambers, “iron maidens,” and a process for impaling a victim on a spike like a worm on a fishhook — through the body, rear to front.

But if gory history fails to convince, statistics could. Condensing clouds of data into a densely-packed 800 page tome, Pinker argues that in spite of two world wars and the proliferation of nuclear weapons, the 20th century was almost certainly not the bloodiest century the world has ever seen (although he admits that his assessment could never be proved conclusively).[4] Genocides, murder rates, and death tolls from violence of all kinds have gone down dramatically. The twentieth century’s supreme manifestation of gore — World War II — is often cited as evidence of this era’s preeminent nastiness. But, when adjusted for population increase, Pinker argues that numerous wars from previous centuries dwarf WWII in bloodshed.

Of course, Pinker’s approach is not without flaws. Critics have pointed to inadequacies in his research.[5] We all know statistics are not always as sound as they seem. Further, calculating the actual death toll of wars and genocides, especially in bygone centuries, is a daunting task, not one that can simply be checked off by a google search. Nevertheless, although scholars have been critical of many of Pinker’s claims, few have disputed the general decline in violence in the Western world specifically over the past 50 years. In the United States alone, according to the Pew Research Center’s assessment of FBI data, the violent crime rate fell by 49% between 1993 and 2017.[6] There is no guarantee these changes will be permanent, but we cannot avoid recognizing them.

Other scholars, such as Francis Fukuyama in his famous The End of History and the Last Man, have also pointed out the large scale trajectory of the Western world toward a generic calm.[7] In objective terms, for now at least, the Western world is truly much less violent than it used to be.

Even if we are cautious about this claim, however, the important question for Adventists is: What if Pinker is right, and the world is getting better — what does that say about our understanding of prophecy?

Adventism and a Peaceful World

If the Bible teaches that violence will increase in the last days, shouldn’t we assert that Pinker’s pacified world will soon return to pre-modern brutality, perhaps aided by the beastly influence of the papacy (Pope Francis’ friendly demeanor notwithstanding)? Do we have to bite the bullet and affirm that Pinker’s hopeful assessment for the future is just plain wrong, and that it only describes a temporary trend?

I don’t think so. I think that when we celebrate a brutal vision of the end times, we forget a crucial feature of biblical “disaster prophecies”: their conditional nature.

Jonah, of course, is our key model here. Jonah prophesied the destruction of Nineveh, hoping he would be given the chance to see it burn. His prophecy appeared absolute, at least as tersely recorded: “Yet forty days, and Nineveh will be overthrown” (Jonah 3:4). There was no description of an “unless you repent” offered to the people of Nineveh. As far as Jonah was concerned, he was proclaiming an unchangeable course of future events. And his faith was staked on it.

Which is why, as we all know, he felt rather morose after the people in the city repented and God decided not to send disaster (Jonah 4:1). Before coming to Nineveh, Jonah had suspected that the people might turn from their wicked ways. But he still hoped that his prophecy of destruction would not be conditional — “unless you repent…” — and that God would wipe out the city’s residents, whom he strongly disliked.

The message of Jonah is that God does not predict disaster simply to give us the enjoyment of telling everyone the horrors of the future before they happen, or to provide us the right for a cynical “I told you so” after the fact. God predicts disaster in order to save people from it.

This means that we need to abandon the deterministic notion of a cosmic plot which fore-ordains certain acts of brutality in the end times. God’s outreach to human individuals and institutions always respects human free decision, and always offers the possibility of repentance.

The purpose of disaster prophecies is not to make us huddle down and weather the storm, but to actively work like the people of Nineveh to reform our society and create peace and justice. If we believe that the end times will feature “wars and rumors of wars,” this should be our calling to do everything we can to curb the jingoism, nationalism, and ethnic hatred that lead to conflict of all kinds. And if violence seems to be decreasing, this attitude will make us rejoice.

Conclusion: A Prophetic Search for Peace

Step into any Adventist church today, and you are likely to hear preachers proclaim, erroneously and yet persuasively, that the world continues to wax more violent. These exhortations make us feel special, as if we are the remnant who will soon face the wrath of a reprobate society. I resonate deeply with this feeling. However, it is the opposite of a genuine biblical prophetic outlook. The calling of biblical prophecy is to prevent violence, not applaud it.

Adventism should become a faith grounded in hope for the repentance of every violent power, marked by a quest to see “justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream” (Amos 5:24). We ought to love the world as God so loved it (John 3:16). Prophecy — understood as God’s conditional warning to oppressive powers — should be our summons to optimism. We must never forget that no one — neither the papacy nor any of the world’s powers — is beyond the reach of God’s grace.

A faith sustained by conspiratorial links about Roman Catholicism posted on Facebook is a weak faith, starved for Christ-like love to the world, parasitic on paranoia. Still, the apocalyptic vision of Adventism, in which God’s people are raised up as witnesses who overcome “by the blood of the lamb” (Revelation 12:11) is essential for our fallen world, even as it becomes more peaceful. Violence always lurks, and we cannot forget it. Neither can we naively hope for a gradual development of a utopian civilization. But we can rejoice in the progress we have made against violence, even as we await the blessed hope of the return of our Savior, who alone can “wipe every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 21:4).

Notes & References:

[1] Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (New York: Viking, 2011), xxi.

[2] Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress (New York: Viking, 2018).

[3] Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature, 1.

[4] Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature, 193.

[5] For an overview of sundry criticisms from a variety of disciplines see Tom Bartlett, “Why Do People Love to Hate Steven Pinker,” Chronicle of Higher Education (March 11, 2019), https://www.chronicle.com/interactives/hating-pinker

[6] https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/01/03/5-facts-about-crime-in-the-u-s/

[7] Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man (New York: Avon Books, 1992).

Andrew Blosser received his B.A. and M.A. in theology from Andrews University. He regularly speaks at churches and conferences around the United States. He is currently writing a dissertation on the Sabbath and politics for his Ph.D. at Loyola University Chicago.

Photo by Jordy Meow on Unsplash

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/9795

Andrew, best wishes in your PhD pursuits.

"I think that when we celebrate a brutal vision of the end times, we forget a crucial feature of biblical “disaster prophecies”: their conditional nature."
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I agree with you that there indeed are various types of prophetic warnings and assurances given by the prophets/nabi. There indeed are intervening historical contingencies even where the prophecy seems to be non-conditional as a divine oath. Jonah simply preached disaster in order as it turned out, they repented and avoided it. (Bold was not my choice…) can’t remove.
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“This means that we need to abandon the deterministic notion of a cosmic plot which fore-ordains certain acts of brutality in the end times. God’s outreach to human individuals and institutions always respects human free decision, and always offers the possibility of repentance…The purpose of disaster prophecies is not to make us huddle down and weather the storm, but to actively work like the people of Nineveh to reform our society and create peace and justice. …If we believe that the end times will feature “wars and rumors of wars,” this should be our calling to do everything we can to curb the jingoism, nationalism, and ethnic hatred that lead to conflict of all kinds. And if violence seems to be decreasing, this attitude will make us rejoice. Adventism should become a faith grounded in hope for the repentance of every violent power, marked by a quest to see “justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream” (Amos 5:24). We ought to love the world as God so loved it (John 3:16). Prophecy — understood as God’s conditional warning to oppressive powers — should be our summons to optimism. We must never forget that no one — neither the papacy nor any of the world’s powers — is beyond the reach of God’s grace.”
Then…Neither can we naively hope for a gradual development of a utopian civilization. "


My question Andrew is why not a Utopian solution? Is it a “cosmic plot” and a deterministic God OR an understanding of the reality of the human condition? Is mankind perfectible or is it found in the past present and future as “dead in trespasses and sins?”
*When mankind has “liberated” us from all types of “**violent power, jingoism, nationalism, and ethnic hatred that lead to conflict of all kinds.” What shall be said of mankind if has indeed liberated us from all these things what shall it mean and profit before God if “mankind” has not redeemed it’s own soul in the blood of the lamb?*Were these not the aspiration once of Christian Century and the “League of Nations?”
"
For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. 8 But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.9 “Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name. 10 At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another. 11 Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. 12 Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved. 14 This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.
Here is the irrevocable solution God gives. "“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light f
or fear that his deeds will be exposed. 21 But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.” Jn.3:16-21.

This is the message of peace. " Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" Judgment averted for true believers. Judgment remains for those bringing their own “fruits of peace and liberation.”. This is the way modern Nineveh/ The Times of the Gentiles find hope. Is it possible that the “emphasis on humanity ridding” has preempted any message of the forgiver and the One who turns away wrath? Understood?
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“But we can rejoice in the progress we have made against violence, even as we await the blessed hope of the return of our Savior, who alone can “wipe every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 21:4).”
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Yes
Pat

PS. I was having difficulty with my bold emphasis and removal. Please excuse.

You (Pat) and I have had our differences in other blogs and topics in this journal. So it was with a keen sense of interest and anticipation that I studied your response to this fine by Brother Blosser. I learned several good things from your response You bring up the prophet Jonah in your response

Then God said to Jonah, “Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?” Jonah’s perspective was completely backward and entirely self-centered. He was passionately concerned about a short-lived shade plant to protect himself from discomfort, but had no compassion for the entire population of Nineveh, including 120 thousand small children (those who cannot discern between their right and left hands).

At this point I thought a lot about the children in cages who (regardless who put them there) are innocent as well.

The stubborn, prejudiced prophet had been operating in his own self-interest, but the Lord wanted him to put the eternally significant message of salvation above his own myopic concerns and trivial comforts. How could he be concerned about a weed when hundreds of thousands of souls faced judgment and he had the opportunity to see them saved?

Though the book is relatively short, it nonetheless unfolds three profound and unforgettable truths about the character of God.

First, the story of Jonah emphasizes the fact that God is the sovereign Creator. Throughout the entire narrative, we are continually reminded that the Lord is controlling all of Jonah’s circumstances. It is God who sends the wind, incites the storm, calms the seas, prepares the fish, grows the plant, sends the worm, and then whips up the wind once again. The pagan sailors recognize the Lord’s power over creation and worship Him as a result. The pagan king of Nineveh likewise recognizes God’s sovereign hand. Surprisingly, the only person who resists God is Jonah—the prophet of Israel who acknowledged the Lord’s sovereignty with his lips.

Second, the Jonah account reminds us that God is the supreme Judge. That, in fact, was the message the prophet was to deliver to the Assyrians. After forty days, their city would become the object of divine wrath. But God’s judgment never came upon the people of Nineveh.

Jonah’s story reiterates the fact that God is the Savior and that His loving kindness is not limited by our prejudicial preconceptions. The prophet Jonah considered the Assyrians beyond the reach of God’s mercy. Some consider the Hispanic immigrant refugees the same way. After all, they were poor, many lacked education and had no social standing. But the Lord showed Jonah that His saving grace extends to all who repent and believe in Him. In this way, the book of Jonah encapsulates the message of salvation for all When sinners recognize the Lord as Sovereign Creator and Judge of the Universe, and cry out to Him for mercy, He graciously saves them from divine wrath, giving them eternal life instead.

Those three truths point to the heart of the gospel. Sinners are creatures who have broken God’s law. They await His wrath, yet He offers them forgiveness and salvation through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus Himself used the prophet Jonah, and the three days he spent in the belly of the fish, as an illustration of His own death and resurrection. Although we are not Old Testament prophets like Jonah was, we have been given a mission similar to his.

The book of Jonah ends abruptly, with those final words from the Lord forming its sudden conclusion. But the lesson for Jonah was unmistakably clear, and that same lesson is vitally important for all believers to learn. Like Jonah, we might be tempted to allow our own fears, prejudices, or selfish interests to inhibit our gospel witness. But when we prioritize the gospel message over our own personal agendas, we bring glory to God as we advance His kingdom purposes throughout the world.

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Thanks Sam. So, Jonah to make it even more “distastful” gave a message that caused Ninevah repentance, likely around 780’s and then God used the,Assyrians to take Israel, Northern kingdom into captivity in 722. Israel did not heed the call to repentance…Ninevah did.
Likewise, the Jews as a nation rejected Christ and were rejected ( Mt. 12:41) but the Gentiles accepted him and constitute the NT church that includes all nationalities that accept Christ, Jew & gentile alike…
So, what is your point to me? Is Jn.3:16-21 not valid? What is the gospel message? Is it only there is a Sovereign creator merciful God? Did He not make provision in His only begotten Son for forgiveness of sin?
I am not sure of your direction. Care to be specific and I will try and answer?
Pat
PS. Please also relate to separation of church and state in the “age of the gentiles”, presently, and the rights of civil powers. Thanks

The gospel is the good news that the everlasting and ever-increasing joy of the never-boring, ever-satisfying Christ is ours freely and eternally by faith in the sin-forgiving death and hope-giving resurrection of Jesus Christ. But what makes the gospel “good news” is that it connects a person with the “unsearchable riches of Christ.”
There is nothing in itself that makes “forgiveness of sins” good news. Whether being forgiven is good news depends on what it leads to. You could walk out of a courtroom innocent of a crime and get killed on the street. Forgiveness may or may not lead to joy. Even escaping hell is not in itself the good news we long for - not if we find heaven to be massively boring. This is the heart of the gospel for me. Sinners are creatures who have broken God’s law. They await His wrath, yet He offers them forgiveness and salvation through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ.
May God give us “strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” Ephesians 3:18-19

I want to tell you that your responses are deep and helpful. Even when we disagree you hang in there. Your wit and humor are seasonings on the entre that I am learning to understand. My Puerto Rican/Caribbean experiences are part of my lens and background.

Thank you Sam,thank you for your kind words. We have at least 5 non-adventist couples friends that are from the Caribbean and Puerto Rico.Lovely people.
I must be honest. Whenever someone says , “merely Justification” or nothing that makes “forgiveness of sins” good news, alarm bells go off…and I say, Really.:slight_smile:
When convicted of one’s sinfulness by the HS and the Love of Father/Christ that was a propitiation for our sins and our salvation, that indeed is a Love that passes all understanding!

"And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. 29 For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; 30 and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.
31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? 33 Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; 34 who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 Just as it is written,
“For Your sake we are being put to death all day long;
We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Rom.8:26-39.
PS. Also one of Des’ favorite texts. :slight_smile:

Regards,
Pat

PS. I will continue to attempt to answer specific questions Sam. However, I don’t accept the narrative that civil national open borders are the equivalent of “breaking down partitions” or call it national jingoism if one doesnt is required for one to rest in the Love of Christ.
Regards

Whatever one’s ‘take’ on Andrew Blosser’s interesting article, it should
make us think about an issue that is complex.
For instance,

  1. Often there is a ‘calm before the storm’.
  2. Can those nearest, turn on us? Think Rwanda, etc, etc.
  3. Climate change ‘prophets’ warn of impending, unmitigated disasters
    and subsequent violence to seize increasingly scarce resources -
    habitable land, food, useable clean water - on an overpopulated
    planet.
    The above should not be ruled out as inputs in a scriptural/theological
    end-time scenario.
    These are times that certainly call for trust and faith, and Micah 6:8
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Human history has had some horrific hunanitarian crises
— the Black Death ( bubonic plague )
which wiped out a third of Europe’s population,
——the Spanish flu ( 1918 ) which killed fifty million.

Will Ebola be the next pandemic ?

Hitler’s Holocaust leaves searing images,
while Hiroshima’s instant destruction of tens of thousands in seconds is horrifying.

All these heinous humanitarian “hells on earth “
could have been forestalled in a heartbeat,
if God had fast forwarded the Second Coming centuries ago.

After all, Christ did proclaim that the atonement was completed two millennia ago.

That God chose not to prevent atrocities when he was able to do so, while still forecasting a future “time of trouble such as never was “ ,
( who can envision an atrocity worse than the Holocaust ? )
regrettably portrays a pernicious picture of a sadist who delights in seeing his created beings suffer.

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Please Pray for the people of HK This could get nasty.
China is not honoring the promise of continuing “the 50 yr.common law” promise
They want to extradite HK citizens to China for certain court cases that would damage their basic rights. There could be frivolous charges. They claim the present protest is terrorism for example. This is an obvious problem
This is the basis for the protest.

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For a moment, I wanted to argue with you, but your reasoning is sound. I realized that I cringe each time when an Adventist says, “War must happen otherwise the Bible would not be God’s word”, or, “If you try to find a cure for AIDS, you are going against prophecy…”

I think that in our attempt to understand God we make honest mistakes, and God does not hold it against us. I think God is displeased when we stop learning, and declare that we know it all and the rest of them don’t know. Let us continue learning. Sometimes, we will find out that what we used to think, say 1-2=it can’t, is actually an elementary version. Like Paul we can say, "When I was a child, I spoke like a child, reasoned like a child,

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The title of this article invites introspection. My attitude is edging in the direction of forgetting all those questions and speculations about end time events and sequences. I’d say let’s just focus on building the kingdom of heaven on this planet right now and quit worrying about a future kingdom and how/when it might arrive. We’ve engaged in pure speculation on those things for more than 170 years. I think our fellowship would be way ahead if we quit that. We’ve constantly proven we can’t tell time, and there’s no reason to think it will get any better. But others might really be interested in what the kingdom of heaven would look like right now. Demonstrating the kingdom might be more effective than preaching prophecy.

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Ed,
11 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.
15 These, then, are the things you should teach. Encourage and rebuke with all authority. Do not let anyone despise you.
3:1 Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, 2 to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.3 At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. 4 But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.
Titus 2:11- Titus 3:7
Ed,
How does your focus of building the kingdom on this planet apply? It negates the blessed hope? Does the reality it won’t come to completion here apply? Does it matter? Of course away with the speculations and fixing of dates by newspaper articles.

In my view, building the kingdom of God on earth has nothing to do with negating the “blessed hope.” The kingdom on earth provides hints to a hurting world of what the actual realization of the “blessed hope” will be like. If we are “selling” the “blessed hope,” we should be doing more than expounding prophecy and/or theology. We should be demonstrating the kingdom life. A demonstration is better than a sermon.

Jesus said a lot about the kingdom. He said the kingdom was at hand. He said it was among them then. He kept telling people what the kingdom was like, what it’s principles are. “The kingdom is like…”
I don’t think he was only talking about some distant event at least 2,000 years away. He was talking about that very moment. And this very moment. So, how do we best demonstrate the kingdom in real terms? If we did this right, the “blessed hope” would take care of itself.

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So what is wrong with a " kingdom community" that includes the texts provided?

Pat, I think you raise a good question–one that I contemplate often: “Why not a utopian solution?”

By rejecting a utopian approach to history in the article, I was cautioning against an interpretation of Steven Pinker’s work that would suggest historical inevitability to the decline of violence. In other words, we cannot suppose that our world must become more peaceful. (In many ways, this would be analogous to the postmillenial view of America popularized by Finney and other nineteenth century American theologians, in which America gradually evolves into the kingdom of God on Earth.)

However, we cannot forcefully deny the possibility of Utopia or any long-term structural improvements. If we do so, we risk lapsing into social quietism, refusing to attempt to change our world because it will never get better. This was, unfortunately, the view of early Adventists like Loughborough and Uriah Smith (the latter directly avoided social promoting social justice and the abolitionist cause through voting and political engagement because he believed the decline of society was prophetically inevitable).

My approach at the moment is to say: “A better world is always possible.” The alternative is possible, too.

At the end of your response you also make a few comments alluding to the idea of human-based social change without the grace of God. I agree with you here: No project of social reform that relies on purely human power will succeed. But I also believe that God works in and through human beings, some of whom do not even know that they are working with the strength of God. Secular atheist leaders can be “anonymous Christians” (Karl Rahner’s phrase). According to the Ignatian maxim, we must “find God in all things,” including any attempt to promote peace and justice in the secular sphere. This means that Adventists should not hesitate to join hands with other groups who believe a better world is possible.

I agree that focusing on demonstrating the kingdom of God in real life would be better than simply preaching about it. And that is, in fact, what Jesus did–his healings and acts of open fellowship and welcoming outcasts were the practical enactment of the kingdom of God. The preaching was always secondary.

There is significance for preaching, however. Like the prophets in ancient Israel, we have to point out where social inequality, injustice toward immigrants, militarism, racism, and other social evils will inevitably lead. To preach about the kingdom of God is to say, in effect, “There is an alternative to this way of being!”

But of course, that type of preaching will be useless unless we demonstrate the kingdom of God in a practical way. This is why I am a proponent of a “Sabbath of justice” in the Seventh-day Adventist church: During one Sabbath, all Adventist churches should cease preaching and involve themselves in practical work helping immigrants, homeless persons, the disabled, or other marginalized communities. Just one of these collective Sabbaths will do more to promote the Adventist message in our world than hundreds of evangelistic campaigns.

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Why not a “Christian” message?

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Hi Andy,
Thanks for your reply. Reformed theologians call efforts to transform society the “cultural mandate.” In it one works with secular society contemporaneously with one’s Christian beliefs to transform society for the better…“Common Grace” if you would.
Rahner, as you know was a RCC theologian known best for his religious inclusivism beliefs which was a major part of Vatican II and reaching out to other religions and faiths.
Basically non Christians can do good deeds without any knowledge of Christ and thus be “anonymous Christians” tho they may never speak of him. This is actually an attempt to incorporate other faiths under the Christian Umbrella and the RCC and it’s Grace is extended towards them and their salvation…all the while without their request, desire or knowledge.
Hey, if any secular things actually leads to genuine peace and well being of society, great. But, lets back off a bit and look. Isn’t that paradigm simply a method of “salvation by works?” Albeit to Rahner the work of Grace extended/applied to other religions/people by the graces held within RCC.
My point. If we leave out the work of Christ in our salvation by His death on the cross for our sins and don’t present that good news to others as very important all along then “once the whole world has theoretically been rid of wars, liberation issues etc.” do we not yet have sinners in need of the knowledge of the saving work of Christ that repentance and JBF "alone provides? Or, indeed has the view of some simply become social success to their view of saving Humanity. Christ get’s lost in the ridding and shuffling. No need for the jailers cry, "What must I do to be saved?
The Sabbath does not save. Judaism’s failure proves that as well as the knowledge of a creator God. Neither does Sunday Resurrection day. They are blessings both carrying messages of God’s love and grace towards our salvation and happiness…some not fully realized until His appearing. Christian’s Blessed hope!
Regards,
Pat

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It’s almost like we need to hide Christ so as not to offend others and our sensibilities just like the SDA church often hid the sponsor of the prophetic evangelistic meeting. The latter is perhaps understandable the former unpardonable.