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The Decline of Apocalyptic Expectation, by A.W. Tozer
 

 The Decline of Apocalyptic Expectation *By A.W.Tozer*

A SHORT GENERATION AGO, or about the time of the first World War, there was
a feeling among gospel Christians that the end of the age was near, and many
were breathless with anticipation of a new world order about to emerge.

This new order was to be preceded by a silent return of Christ to earth, not
to remain, but to raise the righteous dead to immortality and to glorify the
living saints in the twinkling of an eye. These He would catch away to the
marriage supper of the Lamb, while the earth meanwhile plunged into its
baptism of fire and blood in the Great Tribulation. This would be relatively
brief, ending dramatically with the battle of Armageddon and the triumphant
return of Christ with His Bride to reign a thousand years.

Thus the hopes and dreams of Christians were directed toward an event to be
followed by a new order in which they would have a leading part. This
expectation for many was so real that it quite literally determined their
world outlook and way of life. One well-known and highly respected Christian
leader, when handed a sum of money to pay off the mortgage on the church
building, refused to use it for that purpose. Instead he used it to help
send missionaries to the heathen to hasten the Lord's return. This is
probably an extreme example, but it does reveal the acute apocalyptic
expectation that prevailed among Christians around the time of World War I
and immediately following.

Before we condemn this as extravagant we should back off a bit and try to
see the whole thing in perspective. We may be wiser now (though that is open
to serious question), but those Christians had something very wonderful
which we today lack. They had a unifying hope; we have none. Their
activities were concentrated; ours are scattered, overlapping and often
self-defeating. They fully expected to win; we are not even sure we know
what "win" means. Our Christian hope has been subjected to so much
examination, analysis and revision that we are embarrassed to admit that we
have such a hope at all.

And those expectant believers were not wholly wrong. They were only wrong
about the time. They saw Christ's triumph as being nearer than it was, and
for that reason their timing was off; but their hope itself was valid. Many
of us have had the experience of misjudging the distance of a mountain
toward which we were traveling. The huge bulk that loomed against the sky
seemed very near, and it was hard to persuade ourselves that it was not
receding as we approached. So the City of God appears so large to the minds
of the world-weary pilgrim that he is sometimes the innocent victim of an
optical illusion; and he may be more than a little disappointed when the
glory seems to move farther away as he approaches.

*But the mountain is there; the traveler need only press on to reach it. And
the Christian's hope is there too; his judgment is not always too sharp, but
he is not mistaken in the long view; he will see the glory in God's own
time.*

We evangelicals have become sophisticated, blasé. We have lost what someone
called the "millennial component" from our Christian faith. To escape what
we believe to be the slough of a mistaken hope we have detoured far out into
the wilderness of complete hopelessness.

Christians now chatter learnedly about things simple believers have always
taken for granted. They are on the defensive, trying to prove things that a
previous generation never doubted. We have allowed unbelievers to get us in
a corner and have given them the advantage by permitting them to choose the
time and place of encounter. We smart under the attack of the
quasi-Christian unbeliever, and the nervous, self-conscious defense we make
is called "the religious dialogue."

Under the scornful attack of the religious critic real Christians who ought
to know better are now "rethinking" their faith. Scarcely anything has
escaped the analysts. With a Freudian microscope they examine everything:
foreign missions, the Book of Genesis. the inspiration of the Scriptures,
morals, all tried and proven methods, polygamy, liquor, sex, prayer-all have
come in for inquisition by those who engage in the contemporary
dialogue.*Adoration has given way to celebration in the holy place, if
indeed any holy
place remains to this generation of confused Christians. *The causes of the
decline of apocalyptic expectation are many, *not the least being the
affluent society in which we live*. If the rich man with difficulty enters
the kingdom of God, then it would be logical to conclude that a society
having the highest percentage of well-to-do persons in it would have the
lowest percentage of Christians, all things else being equal. If the
"deceitfulness of riches" chokes the Word and makes it unfruitful, then this
would be the day of near-fruitless preaching, at least in the opulent West.
And if surfeiting and drunkenness and worldly cares tend to unfit the
Christian for the coming of Christ, then this generation of Christians
should be the least prepared for that event.

On the North American continent Christianity has become the religion of the
prosperous middle and upper classes almost entirely, the very rich or the
very poor rarely become practicing Christians. The touching picture of the
poorly dressed, hungry saint, clutching his Bible under his arm and with the
light of God shining in his face hobbling painfully toward the church, is
chiefly imaginary. One of the biggest problems of even the most ardent
Christian these days is to find a parking place for the shiny chariot that
transports him effortlessly to the house of God where he hopes to prepare
his soul for the world to come.

In the United States and Canada the middle class today possesses more
earthly goods and lives in greater luxury than emperors and maharajas did a
short century ago. And since the bulk of Christians comes from this class it
is not difficult to see why the apocalyptic hope has all but disappeared
from among us. It is hard to focus attention upon a better world to come
when a more comfortable one than this can hardly be imagined. The best we
can do is to look for heaven after we have revelled for a lifetime in the
luxuries of a fabulously generous earth. As long as science can make us so
cozy in this present world it is hard to work up much pleasurable
anticipation of a new world order.

But affluence is only one cause of the decline of the apocalyptic hope.
There are other and more important ones.

The whole problem is a big one, a theological one, a moral one. An
inadequate view of Christ may be the chief trouble. *Christ has been
explained, humanized, demoted. Many professed Christians no longer expect
Him to usher in a new order; they are not at all sure that He is able to do
so; or if He does, it will be with the help of art, education, science and
technology; that is, with the help of man*. This revised expectation amounts
to disillusionment for many. And of course no one can become too radiantly
happy over a King of kings who has been stripped of His crown or a Lord of
lords who has lost His sovereignty.

Another cause of the decline of expectation is hope deferred which,
according to the proverb, "maketh the heart sick." The modern civilized man
is impatient; he takes the short-range view of things. He is surrounded by
gadgets that get things done in a hurry. He was brought up on quick oats; he
likes his instant coffee; he wears drip-dry shirts and takes one-minute
Polaroid snapshots of his children. His wife shops for her spring hat before
the leaves are down in the fall. His new car, if he buys it after June 1, is
already an old model when he brings it home. He is almost always in a hurry
and can't bear to wait for anything.

This breathless way of living naturally makes for a mentality impatient of
delay, and when this man enters the kingdom of God he brings his short-range
psychology with him. He finds prophecy too slow for him. His first radiant
expectations soon lose their luster. He is likely to inquire, "Lord, wilt
thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?" and when there is no
immediate response he may conclude, "My lord delayeth his coming." The faith
of Christ offers no buttons to push for quick service. The new order must
wait the Lord's own time, and that is too much for the man in a hurry. He
just gives up and becomes interested in something else.

Another cause is eschatological confusion. The vitalizing hope of the
emergence of a new world wherein dwelleth righteousness became an early
casualty in the war of conflicting prophetic interpretations. *Teachers of
prophecy, who knew more than the prophets they claimed to teach, debated the
fine points of Scripture ad infinitum while a discouraged and disillusioned
Christian public shook their heads and wondered. *A leader of one
evangelical group told me that his denomination had recently been, in his
words, "split down the middle" over a certain small point of prophetic
teaching, one incidentally which had never been heard of among the children
of God until about one hundred years ago.

Certain popular views of prophecy have been discredited by events within the
lifetime of some of us; a new generation of Christians cannot be blamed if
their Messianic expectations are somewhat confused. When the teachers are
divided, what can the pupils do?

It should be noted that there is a vast difference between the doctrine of
Christ's coming and the hope of His coming. The first we may hold without
feeling a trace of the second. Indeed there are multitudes of Christians
today who hold the doctrine of the second coming. What I have talked about
here is that overwhelming sense of anticipation that lifts the life onto a
new plane and fills the heart with rapturous optimism. This is what we today
lack.

Frankly, I do not know whether or not it is possible to recapture the spirit
of anticipation that animated the Early Church and cheered the hearts of
gospel Christians only a few decades ago. Certainly scolding will not bring
it back, nor arguing over prophecy, nor condemning those who do not agree
with us. We may do all or any of these things without arousing the desired
spirit of joyous expectation. That unifying, healing, purifying hope is for
the childlike, the innocent-hearted, the unsophisticated.

*Possibly nothing short of a world catastrophe that will destroy every false
trust and turn our eyes once more upon the Man Christ Jesus will bring back
the glorious hope to a generation that has lost it.*


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