(Thanks again to Paul Harvey for his posting at the Religion and American History blog.)
Historian Matt Sutton doesn't hold back. He combines careful scholarship with sharp opinion. As a writer, we might say Matt has a "point of view." Even more, Matt is a scholar willing to tell people what he really thinks. Uncommon for an untenured professor.
In this post, Matt shows how it is inevitable that Obama's serene "Angel of Light" manner will be interpreted as yet another indication of the coming Antichrist.
Matt points out that "the vast majority of American evangelicals interpret the most obscure books of the Bible (Daniel, Ezekiel, and Revelation) in a very narrow and particular way. They believe that when these three books are read in conjunction with one another and overlaid with a few of Jesus’ statements, a hidden 'plan of the ages' emerges." And he's right. This is a holdover from the grip of dispensationalism (found in places like Scofield's Study Bible, bestselling Christian books both scholarly and popular, and frequent Sunday sermons) that has held evangelicals for most of the 20th Century.
He continues, "During the last 100 years, evangelicals have witnessed more and more evidence of these prophecies being fulfilled..." and shows how the Antichrist was predicted in the rise of leaders and various policies that emerged in this eventful time.
"So what does this mean for the Obama administration? Nothing very promising. Despite the president’s desire to find common ground with evangelicals, he is unlikely to be able to penetrate the apocalyptic fears that have characterized the evangelical movement since the Great Depression."The flexibility of biblical interpretation and the considerable history of connecting the actions of political leaders with violent acts and natural disasters of all kinds leads these beleivers to connecting the dots of Obama's life to the determinative flow of spiritual history.
Image by jamelah via FlickrIn other words, if you look for the Antichrist, you will find him.
Matt throws up his hands and concludes:
So what can we do? Pray for the rapture. If evangelicals vanish, the rest of us might finally get better medical care, a healthier environment, a more just international community, and full civil rights for gays and lesbians. But short of this miracle, we can at least begin to understand that before Obama is able to penetrate the evangelical heart, evangelicals themselves will need to do some serious soul-searching. Rick Warren and Joel Osteen’s shallow, positive-thinking, feel-good sermonizing is not going to help them do this. Instead, it is up to the younger evangelicals to engage in serious intellectual debate and a rigorous rethinking of the theology at the root of their politics. Anything less and the doomsayers will turn fears of Obama-as-Antichrist into big business. But hell, maybe that’s just the spark the economy needs.Here Matt tips his hand on his own politics. Nevertheless, I think Matt is right that the old-school, end-times prophetic orientation of evangelicals will keep them from ever seeing politicians who fail to live up to a conservative social agenda as being less than an agent of prophecy, accelerating the apocalyptic consummation of history.
And he raises an important question. What are the resources available for re-thinking the theology at the root of evangelical politics? Is there something that needs to be recovered from the past, perhaps Walter Rauchenbush? Reinhold Niebuhr? Is there something to be found more recently in Martin Luther King, Jr.? Or is Jim Wallis and the Sojourner's group a fruitful direction?