In the 1970s, evangelical Zionist Hal Lindsey wrote a series of bestselling books starting with The Late Great Planet Earth (1970) and culminating with The 1980s: Countdown to Armageddon (1980). Included in the series is The Terminal Generation, an allusion to the generation that will see the so-called Secret Rapture. In an interview about Countdown to Armageddon, he said, “Many people will be shocked by what will happen in the very near future. The decade of the 1980s could very well be the last decade of history as we know it" (emphasis added).
While Lindsey (and many other dispensationalists) has been proven to be a false prophet many times over, Dr. R. Albert Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has over the years prophetically warned us about dangerous trends in today’s evangelicalism.
Since I started this blog, I have received many comments, even some hate mail, about my criticism of the sad state of evangelicalism today. Why criticize fellow evangelicals, when we should be united in proclaiming the Gospel? But this is precisely the problem: the gospel being proclaimed today by the vast majority of evangelical pulpits and media is far removed from the true gospel of Jesus Christ.
What is the true gospel?
The term "evangelical" comes from a transliteration of the Greek evangelion which means "good news" (Luke 2:10). What is this good news? Paul says it is "the gospel I preached to you… that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures" (1 Cor 15:1, 3-4). Evangelicals came into prominence during the 16th century Reformation when Luther used evangelische Kirche ("evangelical church") to distinguish the Reformation churches from the Roman Catholic Church, which called Protestants "evangelicals" in a derogatory sense.
To the Reformers, the evangelion or "gospel" is summed up in the five solas: sola fide, "faith alone"; sola Scriptura, "Scripture alone"; sola gratia, "grace alone"; solus Christus, "Christ alone"; and soli Deo gloria; "glory to God alone." Luther considered Sola Scriptura–the Bible alone is the authoritative source of all doctrine, worship and life–as the formal principle of the Reformation. Sola fide–justification by faith alone in Christ alone–is the material principle. These two principles summarize the Protestants’ gospel.
True gospel vs evangelicalism?
Before you accuse me again of being too critical, read "Evangelicalism’s Terminal Generation?," a reflection on current evangelicalism by this eminent president of a highly-respected seminary. Dr. Mohler says, "We should be very concerned about certain trends in contemporary evangelicalism that threaten this integrity." What are these trends?
First, and most importantly, Dr. Mohler cites "an ominous confusion about the Gospel itself":
Much of what is presented in many pulpits–and marketed by flashy television preachers–bears little resemblance to this simple message. Instead, sinners are told to seek after riches, material blessings, vibrant health, and earthly rewards. Salvation is packaged as a product to be hawked on the airwaves and sold at a discount. The notion of salvation from sin and judgment is entirely missing from this scenario. Instead, salvation is presented as a gift of self-enhancement.
Televangelists, megachurches, prosperity gospel teachers, and pop rock music, entertainment and various worship innovations are just some symptoms of this trend.
The second concern is that "the Gospel had long ago been transformed into a social and political message of liberation from oppression." This concern includes not only the discredited liberation theology, but also the self-esteem gospel of Robert Schuller.
The last concern, Dr. Mohler says, can be lumped into postmodern pluralism. This pervasive concept rejects the exclusivity of salvation through Christ alone, and can be seen in various popular movements such as inter-faith services, ecumenism, and "God loves everyone" universalism and inclusivism. Those who insist that Jesus is the only "way, truth and life" are marginalized as intolerant, bigoted, narrow-minded snobs, even by fellow "evangelicals."
Finally, Dr. Mohler warns, "Evangelicals must regain theological courage and conviction, or we must face the tragic reality that this may be evangelicalism’s terminal generation."
As a result of these popular trends, it is often very difficult to find true evangelical churches: those that proclaim Scriptural doctrine, worship and practice. Consequently, survey after survey find that there is widespread Biblical and doctrinal illiteracy among evangelicals, confirming Dr. Mohler’s assessment that ours may be evangelicalism’s "terminal generation."
Jesus prophesied that the "last days" will be marked by apostasy and lawlessness, and he was not referring to those outside the church: "And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold" (Matt 24:10-12).
Paul also prophesied that "in later times some will depart from the faith" because they had been deceived by demonic, lying false teachers (1 Tim 4:1-2). In the last days, he says, there will be people who, "having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power," and "always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth," will commit all kinds of wickedness (2 Tim 3:1-7).
Dr. Mohler asks, "Are we evangelicalism’s terminal generation?" Essentially, we are, as all kinds of evidence show. But Jesus says that in spite of increasing apostasy and lawlessness in the church, the flickering light of the true gospel will never be extinguished till the day he returns (Matt 24:14) and says to those who led many astray by their false gospels, "Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matt 25:41; cf Gal 1:8-9).