Wednesday, January 24, 2007

My Review

END TIME DELUSIONS:

The Rapture, the Antichrist, Israel, and the End of the World

by Steve Wohlberg

I read this book anticipating that I would find myself agreeing with much of what was written within its pages. Since I knew that the author, Steve Wohlberg, is very critical of popular end time views popularized by such novels as Left Behind, I knew that I would at least agree with much of his critique. His style of writing is very engaging and easy enough to understand and he has a flair for turning a phrase. This makes the book a quick read for those interested in delving into end time issues. The book itself is broken down into four sections that deal with what he believes are delusions concerning the rapture, the seven year tribulation, the Antichrist, and Israel.

In the first section dealing with the rapture, Wohlberg does a very good job of showing scripturally that the ‘rapture’ is neither pre-tribulational or secret/invisible. He follows in the tradition of many classical Protestant writers who have taught that Christ’s church will be ‘caught up’ to be with the Lord upon Christ’s glorious appearing and not seven years earlier in a secret rapture. He also points out that the doctrine of the pre-tribulational rapture did not come about until the 1830’s under the teaching of John Nelson Darby and the Plymouth Brethren. It was through the study notes of the famous Scofield Bible that Dispensationalism, which teaches the radical separation of the church and Israel and the pre-tribulational rapture, became the dominant eschatology in America. As far as section one is concerned, Wohlberg is standing with historic Protestant teaching concerning the end times. So far so good.

In section two, dealing with the doctrine of the seven year tribulation, Wohlberg again critiques the traditional Dispensational view of the prophecy of Daniel 9, which has posited that there is a break between the 69th and the 70th weeks which constitute the ‘church age’ we live in today. Again, he adequately illustrates that church teaching has historically held that all 70 weeks dealt with the period leading up to the first advent of Christ and the destruction of the second temple by Titus’s Roman army in 67-70 AD.

Again, so far so good.

In the third section, dealing with the issue of the Antichrist, Wohlberg starts off in the first four chapters pointing out what scripture teaches concerning the Antichrist, and again stands with historic church teaching (Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox) on that issue, contrary to modern Dispensational teaching. In chapter 11, Wohlberg argues emphatically that the Antichrist cannot be an individual person, but must be a kingdom, based on his connecting the 2nd Thessalonians passage describing the man of sin with the Daniel passage describing the 4th beast. While this may be an accurate interpretation, it is an issue many sincere, godly, and theologically orthodox Christian teachers have come to different conclusions about. Thus being dogmatic about this can bring unnecessary division among those who would otherwise agree on more fundamental issues of faith.

It is in several of the subsequent chapters that Wohlberg begins to express views that differ significantly, not only with traditional Dispensational teaching concerning the Antichrist and its interpretation of John’s Revelation, but also with historic church teaching concerning eschatology and even the incarnation of Christ.

Wohlberg adheres to an eschatological viewpoint called ‘historicism’ which sees the majority of John’s Revelation being a rough timeline of church history until Christ’s return at the end of the age. Many of the Protestant reformers and many well-respected Protestant teachers up to today have held to historicism or variants of it. Many of my favorite teachers and theologians held to that view. I do not. It is, to this day, a minority viewpoint among Protestants, even among those who do not hold to Dispensationalism. Historicism has always been strongly anti-Catholic, since it sees the Roman Catholic Church as the apostate ‘Whore of Babylon’ described in Revelation. Strangely enough, Wohlberg quotes Dave Hunt, a fellow anti-Catholic as a trustworthy source concerning the Catholic church, even though Hunt holds strongly to traditional Dispensationalism, a viewpoint Wohlberg later on describes as being a false teaching and a product of demonic ‘frogs’ sent to delude Christians! Apparently, Hunt is still trustworthy enough to speak on all things Roman Catholic, even though he is also a purveyor (according to Wohlberg’s own arguments) of demonic deception through his Dispensationalism. Strange indeed.

Again, while historicism is one of several Protestant viewpoints concerning how best to interpret Revelation, Wohlberg takes what ‘could’ be interpreted a certain way and makes it into what ‘must’ be interpreted that way. The net result of this method is that if anyone takes another viewpoint from his, they are misled at best, probably deluded, and maybe even under the influence of demonic powers. This lack of humility in interpreting the text of scripture leads to a type of Protestant popery itself. Wohlberg, unfortunately is guilty of an arrogant assumption that his reading of scripture is the ‘plain’ and ‘obvious’ reading, uncontaminated by any influences of culture, ideology, or personal interest. Later on, I will show that Wohlberg himself has been influenced greatly by teachings that he does not acknowledge, yet which have deeply shaped his theology. But more on that later.

The most troubling aspect of Wohlberg’s book has to do with his Christology. In his zeal to be as anti-Catholic as possible, he ends up doing fundamental damage to the doctrine of the incarnation of Christ. In chapter 18, “The I.D. of Antichrist”, Wohlberg brings up the key passages from John’s letters concerning the Antichrist. Passages stating that the spirit of Antichrist is shown by those who deny Christ as having come ‘in the flesh’. Wohlberg then goes on to explain what denying that Christ has come in the flesh means. It is here that he gets into heretically deep waters.

On page 106, Wohlberg says:

Here’s a key question: What kind of flesh did Jesus become when He fused with humanity? Paul answered with the utmost clarity: “Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise took part of the same” (Hebrews 2:14 KJV, emphasis added). Don’t miss it. Paul said Jesus took “the same” flesh as “the children” have. “The children” doesn’t apply to Adam and Eve, for they were never babies but were created directly by God in the Garden of Eden. Rather, “the children” applies to their descendants after sin entered the world, that is, to fallen humanity. (all emphasis in original)

Also on page 106, Wohlberg then goes on to explain what “the flesh” is.

“”The flesh” is a biblical expression which describes our basic human nature as it has been affected by sin. Paul said, “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells…” (Romans 7:18). In other words, the flesh itself is bad. It’s our enemy. It’s like a nasty cesspool that often stinks and seeks to drag us down. “The flesh” is the channel through which satan works to tempt us and lead us into actual sin.”

Here, Wohlberg seems to be stating that the term “flesh” can only mean our sinful/bad/fallen nature, and that it cannot have any other meaning. However, the passages that speak of Christ coming “in the flesh” use that language not to connote Christ’s supposed sharing of our fallen status, but of being fully “physically” human. In particular, the apostle John wrote what he did precisely because he was dealing with those who denied that Christ had actually come in the flesh. These proto-Gnostics were saying that Christ only “appeared” to have come in the flesh, since, in their eyes, the flesh was inherently evil, and therefore could not inherit salvation. The essence of the spirit of antichrist was twofold: that Christ had not “really” come in the flesh, and that God had not ‘incarnated’ Himself through Christ Jesus. In other words, Christ’s deity was also denied. There is nothing in John’s letters or his gospel that imply in any way that Christ possessed a ‘fallen’ nature like ours. To be fair to Wohlberg, he does make clear that Christ never sinned. Yet even what he has affirmed is far beyond what scripture itself states concerning Christ’s nature in the incarnation.

In the following chapter, entitled “Battle of the Isms”, Wohlberg argues that the Roman Catholic Church, through two Jesuit priests, has conspired to divert the church’s attention to antichrists in the distant past and the distant future. He presents this in such a way as to give the impression that these views, “Preterism” and “Futurism” only came about from their writings. Yet many other writers have illustrated quite well that these views have existed throughout most, if not all, of church history, far pre-dating these two Jesuit authors. Thus, his conspiracy theory ends up falling rather flat in light of the easily found church views on the antichrist. In the next chapter, called “Faith of our Fathers” Wohlberg gives a stirring account of the martyrdoms of John Wycliffe and John Huss. The “Faith of our Fathers” is an apt phrase for Wohlberg to use, since it gives a clue to his own views, which I will bring up after the next section.

In the fourth section called “Israel Delusions” Wohlberg starts out quite well. In the first several chapters, he points out many of the problems inherent in the popular “modern Israel is a signpost to the end times” viewpoint we see so often on “Christian” TV and radio. Yet in his final few chapters, Wohlberg becomes more fanciful in his interpretations of biblical texts and more dogmatic in his ascertains of the clarity of these texts; texts in apocalyptic literature such as Revelation and Daniel and Ezekiel that have always been notoriously difficult to understand, even for the most serious and devout students of scripture.

The last three chapters of Wohlberg’s book reach the final crescendo of what he believes the real “end time delusion” really is. It is in these chapters that his influences begin to come out more readily. Several times during the reading of the book I had an inkling of something more going on than meets the eye when it came to where Steve Wohlberg was coming from in his views. The first clue came from his strong defense of historicism. Again, even though it was the majority report among the early Protestant reformers, his argument for that view raised some red flags for me. Then came his view of Christ’s incarnation that obviously rang some very disturbing bells. It took till the end section, and his argument that the ten commandments would be the dividing line between true believers and the apostate church, to have the rest of the pieces fall into place to help me to realize that he did indeed hold to a consistent viewpoint, but that it had to do with a lot more than just end time issues.

What finally nailed it down for me in fully understanding where Wohlberg was coming from was his own writings on his website that he mentions in the book. On his website, not only does he advocate for the views he expresses in the book, but he also argues for soul sleep, conditional immortality, a non-literal and non-eternal hell, and for full observance of the seventh day Sabbath.

Throughout his book, Wohlberg gives clues to these viewpoints rather indirectly. But he never once acknowledges his own inspiration for these views. He presents his book as the sincere search for biblical truth that’s willing to look beyond what is popularly taught in modern churches. What he does not share, and this raises concerns over his straight-forwardness, is that in every major divergent view, he squares perfectly with Seventh Day Adventists. Many of his references in the book come from Adventist sources, though the names are not well known outside of Adventist circles. In fact, if you do an internet search of his name, you can find that he pastors an Adventist church in California. Yet, even this fact, which most authors are more than happy to include in their biography, is missing from his book. The fact that Wohlberg advocates for every major Adventist viewpoint, yet never acknowledges that in his book, or even on his website, brings out a major feature of Seventh Day Adventist behavior that has plagued them for many years. Adventists have frequently been rightly criticized for not being up front about their identity when they present themselves or their teachings to the general public. Since Steve Wohlberg is himself an Adventist pastor, this criticism holds true for him as well.

Finally, “End Time Delusions” seems like an unusually appropriate title, considering Steve Wohlberg’s own background and views. As much as I agree with much of his critique of popular end time teachings, he ends up representing another fundamentally flawed perspective. Not only on end time issues, which are certainly important, but on even more important doctrines concerning our Christian life and even touching on how we view Christ’s incarnation. It’s ironic that if we are living in the end times, his own book could then be classified as an “end times deception” in its own right. Sad, but I believe, unfortunately true.

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