Many young evangelicals in the millennial generation are shifting from their parents’ theological emphasis on biblical prophecy to a focus on issues of social justice in this world, such as combating homelessness, economic inequality, racism and violence, the website Religion & Politics reports.
Michael Onifer, director of the Bethlehem Project and author of the book ”God, Israel, and You: The Scandalous Story of a Faithful God,” said the trend has positive implications.
“I’m very excited to see a generation that’s looking to effect change in real-time as opposed to invest time and energy in the speculation of future events; and I think the church will be better by investing more time in engaging the world than we will in trying to understand end time prophecy,” Onifer told WND.
Onifer clarified that he believes Christians should prepare for the afterlife, but he thinks they can’t prepare without helping to make the world a better place in the process.
“If we’re going to say sanctification is synonymous with preparing for the afterlife, then no one can really do that in a biblical sense without benefiting their immediate temporal surroundings,” he said.
“So I would say to focus on the afterlife without benefiting your temporal, immediate existence is not biblical. I would say that would be some type of religious invention, but that’s not biblical Christianity.”
Onifer, who works in Israel and the West Bank regularly to develop Jewish-Christian relations, said he believes the social-justice focus is a reflection of God’s heart. But he also acknowledged the possibility of the emphasis becoming “misguided and perverted.”
For one thing, he said, Christians must understand justice from a biblical perspective.
“If we’re going to engage in justice, it needs to be a biblical justice, not a modern, humanist sense of justice,” Onifer warned. “It has to be a biblical understanding and implementation of justice, so that’s got to be the context for social justice in the Christian world.”
Shifting view of Israel
Onifer’s other concern is that young evangelicals may not fully understand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Surveys have shown American millennials overall are less likely to support Israel and more likely to support the Palestinians than previous generations. Likewise, millennial evangelicals tend to look at the conflict in a more nuanced way than previous generations.
Religion & Politics observed that young evangelicals’ “concern for all parties in the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict represents a dramatic departure from the worldview that characterized the previous generation of evangelicals, who saw unstinting American support for Israel as essential to fulfilling biblical prophecies about the Apocalypse and Jesus’ subsequent return to earth.”
This approach could be a good thing, but it is also fraught with perils, in Onifer’s view.
“There’s a lot of misinformation,” he cautioned. “There are competing narratives, and so I’m glad Christians are considering the Palestinians in a way that they haven’t before, but I’m concerned about the lack of historical context and the lack of information.”
Onifer hopes young evangelicals, regarding the Israeli-Arab conflict, will recognize the Jews are God’s chosen people, with a unique purpose they must fulfill.
“Within God’s redemptive plan, the Jewish people have a unique presence in that plan that is not interchangeable with Gentile believers,” Onifer insisted. “It would be the same as for me to think because my wife and I are equal as redeemed children of God, that I’m going to start bearing children. I can’t take that purpose that God gave her. And so the Jewish people have a purpose that is distinctly theirs.”
End-times, justice not at odds
Joel Richardson, an internationally recognized expert on biblical prophecy and the Middle East, said it is wrong to assume focusing on the end times and striving for justice in the world are at odds.
“The fact of the matter is that in everything we as believers say or do, we are to bear witness concerning the nature, the character, the spirit of the coming kingdom,” Richardson told WND. “We are to demonstrate it here and now, as we eagerly await its reality.
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“Thus, we fight for justice now, as we proclaim the coming kingdom of justice. We help to care for the needy now, because in the age to come, the needy who are in Christ will all be fully cared for. We fight to deliver those trapped in human trafficking now, not because we truly believe that we can eradicate human trafficking fully now, but as a sign pointing to the day when all the captives who are in Christ will be set free.”
Richardson, whose latest book is ”Mystery Babylon: Unlocking the Bible’s Greatest Prophetic Mystery,” said it is essential for the older generation of Christians to understand justice is central to God’s heart and His purposes.
But he said it’s equally important for the younger generation to understand Jesus will restore the Davidic kingdom of Israel when He returns.
“The fact of the matter is that at the very heart of the biblical end-time narrative is the return of Jesus to execute justice on the Day of the Lord,” Richardson said. “According to Isaiah the prophet, the kingdom that Jesus will establish here on the earth has foundations of ‘justice and righteousness’ (Isaiah 9:7). Everyone can rejoice at the good news that this represents.
“It is not acceptable, however, to emphasize the portion of this prophecy that speaks of justice without acknowledging that this kingdom will not be established until Jesus restores the Davidic throne and kingdom in Jerusalem. After all, what does the full verse state? ‘There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore. (Isaiah 9:7)”
Therefore, Richardson warned young evangelicals not to forget about Israel’s special place in the coming kingdom of God.
“As Gentiles, we are grafted into this coming kingdom, but the belief that we Gentiles have replaced or displaced Israel, robbing them of the future grace that the Lord has promised to corporate Israel has produced some of the most horrific failures of the Church in all of Church history,” he said.
“If only the younger generation understood that the ideas which they believe to be far superior to the beliefs of their fathers were precisely the ideas that caused the vast majority of the church to either endorse or sit idly by as 6 million of their Jewish neighbors were massacred.”
Quarter of Bible is prophecy
Carl Gallups, a nationally known Baptist pastor and radio host, shares the concern of Onifer and Richardson that a purely social justice-based approach to Christianity could be dangerous if it is not carried out in the proper context.
Gallups noted “a good one-quarter” of God’s Word deals with prophecy, and a large amount of that prophetic material deals with the end times.
Therefore, according to the pastor, end-times prophecy must be an important part of a Christian’s life.
“The balance, I believe, is this: We must live each day as faithful ambassadors of God’s Kingdom,” Gallups told WND.
“That heavenly assignment involves not only proclaiming the Gospel message of salvation through Jesus Christ but also the understanding that we are to be the salt and light to the rest of the world along our journey. And, being the salt and light means we must be ever-mindful of the needs of the lost and any others who have desperate day-to-day needs.”
Gallups, author of ”When The Lion Roars: Understanding the Implications of Ancient Prophecies For Our Time,” pointed out Jesus Himself modeled the proper balance of life and ministry while He was on Earth.
Jesus preached salvation and pointed to the prophetic developments of His day, but at the same time he ministered to the needs of the poor, the sick and those afflicted with demons.
“So, Christian living is not just about service,” Gallups said. “Nor is it solely about discerning the prophetic times in which we are living. Neither is Christian living only about impacting our culture with the truth about ‘right and wrong,’ or taking sides with Israel, or expressing sympathy with the Palestinian people.
“And, believe it or not, it is not only about preaching the message of salvation – although this certainly needs to be our central focus – for it is the only focus that results in the eternal destiny of humanity.
“But, in reality, Christian living is about all of these things – in biblical balance – and brought forth to the world in which we live and administered in love and with purity of heart. This is the kind of Christian living that Yahweh honors; this is the kind of Christian living that truly impacts the world for the Kingdom’s sake.”
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