« An aspiration | Main | A History of God »

Last times

I enjoy the Slacktivist blog tremendously, as Fred Clark manages to look at the world and Christianity through a sympathetic but often bewildered perspective. One of his regular features is a page-by-page review of Left Behind, the first book of the 12-volume series. The comments frequently raise as many questions as the stories, and I was especially interested in a comment by "Reverend Ref" on the latest Left Behind installment:

The lectionary for this coming Sunday is concerned with the end times, desolating sacrilege and antichrist; you know, all that Bad Stuff in General that Fred mentioned in his post.

As I'm basically saying in my sermon, there is a major problem with looking at these apocalyptic readings and trying to determine just when those last days are supposed to occur. The problem is this: THESE ARE the last days, not some future date arrived at by mathematical gyrations more complicated than what is needed to hold the Copernican system together.

Referring back to Acts 2, it was at Pentecost that God poured out the Holy Spirit on the apostles and they spoke in other languages proclaiming the word of God. Peter, quoting Joel, says: In the last days it will be, declares God, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh ...

We are the heirs of that event. God's Spirit has been poured out upon us, and is being poured out upon us. The "last days" have been here for almost 2000 years.

Pentecost was a long long time ago, but that passage was key to early Quakers' understanding of what they were doing, even as their millenarianism faded. Its claim that "your sons and your daughters shall prophesy" is important for its including both genders. Claims like Scofield's that the Sermon on the Mount applies only to God's eventual kingdom rather than to the here and now seem to me to fall in the face of this, and Quakers' insistence on applying Christ's teachings rather more strongly than their fellows considered wise likely also derives from this perspective.

(Douglas Gwyn's Apocalypse of the Word argues along somewhat similar lines. I need to take a closer look at early Quaker writings to see how this notion played through their work, but it does feel to me like it resonates with William Penn's discussion of dispensations in his opening to George Fox's Journal.)