Friday, August 31, 2012

Ghosts of End Times Present: John Hagee's Alternate Is-raelity

From the June 2009 E-Block. The Ticker will return on Wednesday after the holiday.

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In past E-Block editions, we had a series titled The Ghosts of End Times Past, in which we profiled eschatological commentators whose names were most famous in earlier years. Our focus now moves to what we will call the Ghosts of End Present - prophecy teachers whose names are currently famous and who are making a mark on the Christian scene. 

We begin with someone whose name has appeared on a list of the 50 Most Influential Christians today: John Hagee, author of many books, pastor of the Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, and prominent television preacher. Hagee's ministry is quite influential, to the point that he might be referred to as "Joyce Meyer doing the End Times." 

I knew little of Hagee prior to my research for this article, save that his advocation of traditional dispensational eschatology involved a strident defense of the modern political state of Israel. We will not here decide the virtues of that support from a political perspective, although we will have cause to address Hagee's rationale for that support as it forms a considerable foundation for his eschatological outlook. We will also not concern ourselves with Hagee's other theological stances; only with his eschatology.
For this study, I obtained six of Hagee's most recent books:
  • The Beginning of the End (Nelson, 1996) [BE]
  • Final Dawn Over Jerusalem (Nelson, 1998) [FDJ]
  • From Daniel to Doomsday (Nelson, 1999) [FDD]
  • The Battle for Jerusalem (Thomas Nelson, 2000) [BFJ]
  • In Defense of Israel (Front Line, 2007) [IDI]
  • Financial Armageddon (Front Line, 2008) [FA] Except for IDI, these books contain material on the subject of eschatology. BFJ partially and IDI specifically discuss Hagee's support for modern Israel. We'll divide this article into two portions, one for each topic.

    Hagee on the End Times: Lindsey Redux

    Part of our investigation in this series is to discover any new or unusual teachings on dispensational eschatology, to see what might be offered as the best possible arguments. Hagee, it is fair to say, provided little or nothing new that I have not already seen from teachers in the Ghosts of End Times Past series, particularly Hal Lindsey.

    Indeed, the resemblance to Lindsey is to the point that it is disturbing: Not only is the scriptural exegesis a mirror for Lindsey (though I attribute that to a common core of teachings and exegeses, not direct copying from Lindsey to Hagee), but so are the techniques.

    The two most disturbing difficulties are these:

    Poor documentation. I noted in our last issue of Lindsey:
    ...many claims used are provided with no documentation, or else are reliant upon anecdotes Lindsey heard while speaking to a single person. (E.g., "A university student" told Lindsey that several of his friends signed up for courses in witchcraft [107], and this is used implicity as evidence for a widespread interest in witchcraft on college campuses and for greater, future interest in the occult.)
    Hagee, regrettably, does much the same thing; in some cases, arguably worse, as even much of what he documents comes out of patently unreliable sources. Here are some examples:
  • BE, 120: Hagee validates his exegesis of Matthew 24:27 by appealing to an unnamed library book on meteorology he pulled off the shelf as a grad student.
  • To validate his future view of the Antichrist's "mark of the beast" system, he appeals to a story of an unnamed scientist who brought him a box marked "Top Secret" that was filled with computer chips, supposed to be good for implanting under the skin. More than once, Hagee appeals to visits in his office from unnamed persons as validation. Also more than once, Hagee misreports quotations and facts because he relies on questionable sources. At BE112, he refers to a quote reportedly by Augustine, saying that the early Christians "caught orators by fisherman - not fishermen by orators."
    This quote is used in service of a sort of anti-intellectual point, but it appears to be a misquote. There is a similar quote where Augustine says fisherman were chosen as disciples rather than orators or others for the sake of humility, but this does not serve the purpose for which Hagee wishes to enlist Augustine.
  • While Hagee makes many excellent points against stereotyped views of Jesus and the apostles as blond, blue eyed white men, and does well indeed to point the finger at past Christian anti-semitism, he uses many questionable sources to back up his specific claims. At FDJ12, Hagee's source for information on the Inquisition is the Jewish philosopher Dagobert Runes - and that appears to have been his only source for many claims on the subject. As frequent readers know from my article here, there are far more qualified and reputable sources such as Henry Kamen that are available for consultation. As it is, at IDI26, Hagee claims that the Inquisition burned alive 323,362 people - which is 321,362 people more than Kamen, a professional historian, indicates were killed by Inquisition over its entire history of several hundred years.
  • At IDI19-20, Hagee erroneously says that Constantine made Christianity "the official state religion," which is untrue: Constantine legalized Christianity, but paganism remained the official state religion until the time of Theodosius I, later in the century. Hagee also repeats odd sentiments that Constantine's Christianity was "full of idolatry because of pagan influence" and was essentially a "mother-child cult" - these are not claims made by responsible historians, and more closely resemble something that might be said by persons who argue that the story of Jesus was a copy of that of Mithra.
  • Hagee also quotes a source as saying Constantine and the Nicean council imposed edicts to persecute Jews; the quotes calls Jews "parasites" and "murderers of our Lord." Hagee's source is Gil Kaplan's, Israel's History of Persecution - a book so obscure that it is not even in OCLC. The quote, in any event, is much mangled; it may be found here, and it refers to "parricides," not parasites, and also does not contain a good chunk of what Kaplan reports.

    Admittedly, it is still not very complimentary to Jews, but it also not as radically insulting as Kaplan (and thereafter Hagee) make it out to be in their version of it.

    These may seem minor issues, but for one such as myself who does research by trade, Hagee's uncritical use of sources is quite difficult to countenance, and make it hard to trust Hagee as a reliable source of information.

    Never Mind What I Said. Far more disturbing, however, than Hagee's carelessness with sources is the way he approaches exegesis of the Biblical text with reference to modern times as an interpretative template. Like Lindsey, Hagee did his best to interpret current events in light of a dispensational paradigm.

    This is natural, and not to be begrudged, but it is not the disturbing part. Rather, it is that, like Lindsey, we see no sign as we advance thorough Hagee's work chronologically that he admits that his earlier prognostications were in error.

    To explain this, let's advance chronologically through Hagee's books that we examined.

    The Beginning of the End (Nelson, 1996)
    Like Lindsey, Hagee reaches into current "fads of disaster", such as the ebola virus (88), to interpret Biblical prophecy. But in this book in particular, it was the 1996 assassination of Yitzhak Rabin that is said to have "launched Bible prophecy onto the fast track" (8) because" His blood will now become the bonding force that will drive the nation of Israel and other leaders of the Middle East to new heights of unity to secure a legacy of peace" in Rabin's memory.
    Hagee also predicts that oil will be the main motive for a Russian invasion of Israel, as they attack Israel to appease Islamic nations, who will cede control of some oil in return for the favor.

    Other points of note include:
  • 37-8: Noting that NATO has 16 members, the Council of Europe 33 members, and the European Union 16 members (as of that date), Hagee explains the fulfillment of the "ten nations" prophecy by suggesting that "any of these groups could consolidate to ten." Arguably, so could the 50 states of America or the 67 counties of my home state of Florida, but that's not a very good reason to see any of those as Daniel's ten horns in the early stages. Hagee is explaining away, not explaining, why these organizations do not fit the dispensational format.
  • 98: Seeking to validate the dispensational view with reference to the "earthquakes as birth pains" prophecy of Matthew 24, Hagee notes that the number of quakes recorded has increased. In an endnote [193-4] he concedes that this number has increased because of better detection abilities, and acknowledges the Geological Survey's findings that earthquake numbers have "stayed relatively constant." However, Hagee concludes: "Nevertheless, it is true that the Bible predicts that earthquakes will increase in the last days, and the number of earthquakes measured has increased 1.58 times between 1983 and 1992."
    But haven't even more seismographic stations been installed during that 9 year period? Isn't Hagee essentially saying, "I know there's a reason for the increase that does not cohere with the Biblical interpretation I have offered, but they have increased anyway"?
    One oddity worth note at 134, as Hagee says: "You might say that 666 was stamped upon the very image of Nebuchadnezzar since the image was 60 cubits high and 6 cubits wide."

    I am no mathematician, but I am still trying to grasp the math on that one!

    From Daniel to Doomsday (Nelson, 1999)

    Although this book predicts a severe "economic earthquake" [9] and again appeals to diseases like Ebola [84] as a sign of the End Times, one the main interpretive templates for future tribulational disaster is - as the date may suggest - the Y2K bug [52ff]. Hagee issues dire warnings of imminent economic chaos, deaths, and so on, thanks to the Y2K bug's effect on computers.

    But the question that came to mind at once - what happened to the assassination of Rabin as a sign that Biblical prophecy was on a fast track to be fulfilled? It is no longer emphasized as such. And so again, what I said of Lindsey in the last issue comes to the fore again:
    Lindsey is simply too adept at sticking his moistened finger into the air to detect any sort of event or prediction that MIGHT support his exegesis. Things like Israel's mineral wealth, the Jupiter Effect, the HAARP project, and global warming (as well as the rejection of it!) have been recruited for Lindsey's purposes. This does not mean that all of these things are or will necessarily be bogus, but it does show that Lindsey is too ready to uncritically accept claims that he thinks he can use. He is also not particularly good at admitting when his use of these things was in error. It would have been nice if, in books like AC, he had admitted that "the Jupiter Effect" turned out to be a red herring. But while he's on the spot to show when he is right or looking right, he is far too reticent when it comes to admitting when he was not.
    In this respect, I am sorry to say, Hagee is not much different than Lindsey.
    Other relevant notes from this book:
  • 23: Daniel's statue's ten toes of iron and clay are read as a coalition of autocracies and democracies. This should be kept in mind for later.
  • 107: Hagee addresses several views on the Rapture. Although works by Sproul and DeMar were already available, the preterist option is not one addressed by Hagee.
  • 130: Hagee offers a fictional scenario with Saddam Hussein still in charge of Iraq, and joining forces with Russia to invade Israel.
  • 228-9: Hagee finds some significance in that the colors of the demonic breastplates in Rev. 9:17 are, apparently, the same color as Eurodollar, except that red is missing. To resolve that difficulty, Hagee suggests: "Perhaps the Antichrist will add his signature color, red, to the mix, and the horsemen of Revelation 9 will wear the official colors of his new world government." Again, it appears that Hagee is too eager to detect fulfillments in whatever he can find.

    The Battle for Jerusalem (Thomas Nelson, 2000)

    I will have little to say about this book, for good reason, as what little I have to say will be enough to speak for itself. In essence, The Battle for Jerusalem contains exactly the same eschatological material as From Daniel to Doomsday (it has material on other subjects as well), with whole pages being verbatim copies of what was it that earlier book - with one major exception:
    There is nothing about the Y2K bug as a cause for End Times events. Nor is there any admission of error by Hagee for his prior appeal to the Y2K bug.

    In light of this, I cannot but be disappointed in both Hagee and Thomas Nelson publishers. It is quite all right to have been mistaken about things like the Y2K bug (as indeed many were), but it is not acceptable to be mistaken about it in such an important way, and then not own up to one's earlier mistake -- especially with respect to books that sells hundreds of thousands of copies, and are written by someone as prominent as Hagee.

    One other point of note concerns earthquakes (112-3). Since the data does not support the conclusion of an actual increase in the number or severity of quakes, Hagee re-interprets the prophect thusly: "...I believe He meant it would quake as it did in the past when God moved in the affairs of men."

    The quakes have thus gone from being literal to figurative. Note that the issue is not that Hagee has adopted one view or the other, but rather, that he does so, without any admission that his views have changed or that he erred in his earlier view.

    Financial Armageddon (Front Line, 2008)

    By now, it will be easy to guess where Hagee ends up in this newest book: The current financial crisis is the new sign of the End Times upon us, where before Rabin's assassination and the Y2K bug were not. The publisher, Strang, admits to having rushed this book through production in a mere 6 weeks (vii) - one is tempted to guess, because of the great possibility that the economic situation would change so quickly that the book would become dated. In light of the crisis, it is argued that people will look for global leader to solve financial problems (viii), and no doubt, this will be the Antichrist.

    The book reads as an odd mixture of Hal Lindsey and Larry Burkett, as Christians are encouraged to start their own businesses, become self-sufficient, and use alternative energy sources. This is all very sound advice, but it is a bit too dramatized for Hagee to say that he will "reveal God's secrets for avoiding a personal economic crash" and offer advice from God as a "Master Investment Counselor" (2-3). Hagee also finds a large economic crash forecasted in the Bible in some rather curious places:
  • Haggai 1:6 You have sown much, but harvest little; you eat, but there is not enough to be satisfied; you drink, but there is not enough to become drunk; you put on clothing, but no one is warm enough; and he who earns, earns wages to put into a purse with holes. Of this it is said, it "describes a future economic crash with runaway inflation."
  • James 5:1-5 Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten. Your gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure! Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. You have lived luxuriously on the earth and led a life of wanton pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. And this, it is said, forecasts an "economic crash that will happen in the last days."
    I think it is clear that the exegesis of these passages owes much more to imagination than to sound, contextual principles of hermeneutics.
    Other notes:
  • 32: Dead Sea mineral deposits are offered as a reason for Russia to invade Israel. These deposits, we might note, were appealed to by Lindsey in the 1970s as a reason for Russia to invade. It has been 35-40 years, and these mineral deposits are still the subject of prophecy analysis -- and still remain unexploited?
  • 57: Daniel's ten toes are now said to be a coalition of democracy and radical Islamic nations representing "ten governments" in the end times. Hagee has altered his stance once again, and without a concession of his prior interpretation.
  • 66: The growth of Islam is appealed to as a sign of the End Times. There is no mention of the corollary and more significant growth of Christianity (as noted by Jenkins, per our review of The Next Christendom in the last issue of the E-Block).
    Honoring Israel

    Such are matters of concern where Hagee's eschatological exegesis are concerned, and we now turn to something that is one of Hagee's, shall we say, "pet projects" -- support for the modern political nation of Israel. Again, we will not judge here the merits of such support, as that is beyond our scope. However, Hagee's motives for support deserve serious scrutiny.
    There are two aspects we will examine:
  • Replacement theology. Hagee has much unkind to say to those who argue that the Christian church has "replaced" Israel as God's covenant people. I will say by way of preface that I, myself, do not hold to a "replacement theology" and indeed would agree with Hagee that arguments for it are lacking. However, I do hold to a position which I will call expansion theology, one which as much displaces Hagee's view as it does replacement theology.
    In a nutshell, I do not think that Israel has been replaced, but rather, that the definition of "Israel" has been expanded (or perhaps "clarified" would be a better word) to mean "those loyal to God's covenant". My basis for this is Romans 9, which I exegete in detail here.

    From this point, I will repeat words I used to address a Jewish anti-missionary website some time ago:

    Deuteronomy of course is a covenant, a treaty between a suzerain (Yahweh) and his subjects....disobedience to this covenant required punishment.
    I realize that AMs will have their own ideas about this passage, but I would answer with Deut. 18:15-18:
    The LORD thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken; According to all that thou desiredst of the LORD thy God in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying, Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God, neither let me see this great fire any more, that I die not. And the LORD said unto me, They have well spoken that which they have spoken. I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him.
    Using this as a basis, I would reply that:
    1. The "Prophet" like unto Moses is to be understood as Jesus, a mediator of a new covenant for all men.
    2. The command given is to hearken unto this prophet.
    3. It therefore stands to reason that disobedience of this command, to hearken unto this prophet, is a cause for punishment.
    Again, one may choose to dispute whether Jesus is indeed this prophet, but it is not arguable that if he was, and the Jewish adherents to the Deuteronimic covenant fail to hearken unto him, they are disobeying and breaking the covenant just as much as they would had they worshipped an idol, or murdered, or stolen. And thus, if they still today refuse to listen to his voice, they remain in rebellion to the commands of the Deuteronomic covenant and are subject to punishment. They have not been disowned, but they are still being punished.
    ...We say rather with Paul (Rom. 10-11) that the true Israel is not found in the flesh but in the heart. Israel has not been replaced but expanded, and those in rebellion as above are still subject to punishment.

    Hagee's objections to "replacement theology" are of no effect against this thesis.

    But now to the second issue:

    Against the Crisis Theory
     
    For this section I must once again quote some earlier content of my own:

    Let us ask this question: If Jesus had been recognized as the Messiah, in the way that he desired - if the Triumphal Entry had resulted in his being recognized as King of Israel, rather than rejection - how would things have been different?
    We would suggest that the Kingdom of God would have indeed begun on earth at that time (not just in the hearts of men): And hence, though knowing he would be rejected, Jesus prepared the way for his acceptance as Messiah during his ministry.

    The crucifixion, and the resurrection, were then in a sense a "Plan B" for the Kingdom of God, to use a rather crude term. We see even in Jesus' ministry, of course, hints that the "failure" of Plan A is imminent (viz. his predictions that he will be killed) - but Plan A is nevertheless put forward to the people as an option they can take if they are willing.

    They did not: Hence "Plan B" - and hence the most clear statement of its taking effect at the Last Supper, when betrayal and execution was imminent. And this is why Jesus speaks of the Kingdom of God coming in his teaching and healing ministry, whereas Paul saw it as evidenced by the Crucifixion and Resurrection.
    Note that in this I am not adopting a "neotheist" position whereby God did not know "Plan A" would fail -- I am saying that He left the door open with "Plan A" as a matter of justice and righteousness, though He knew we would reject it.

    I came up with this idea on my own, but apparently, it isn't new: Hagee refers to it as the "Crisis Theory." Hagee finds it necessary to object to this view and argue (as at FBJ 98) that the Jews did not actually reject Jesus, but rather, God prevented them from accepting Jesus so that Gentiles would be saved.

    One is constrained to wonder about the morality of a situation wherein God is said to prevent salvations in order to achieve others. However, we will deal with Hagee's objections to the "Crisis Theory" nevertheless.
  • FBJ 100: Hagee rejects the Crisis Theory because "a sovereign and almighty God is not subject to the whims and choices of man." However, like Calvinism, Hagee's response neglects the dimension that in such a situation, God would have sovereignly surrendered the right of choice to men. It does not compromise God's sovereignty if God made the rules and ceded choice of His own accord.
  • In IDI and FBJ, Hagee argues that "God's plan, from the beginning, was for Jesus to die" and he notes Jesus' predictions of his own death. This, however, is accounted for under the Crisis Theory (at least as I have formulated it) inasmuch as the offer of "Plan A" was made for the sake of justice and righteousness. God's foreknowledge that Plan A would be refused does not mean that it was not able to be accepted.
  • Hagee appeals to the many places where Jesus says to "tell no man" of his deeds, and reads this as a way Jesus refused to be a triumphant messiah. In this claim, Hagee's errors are multi-fold.
    First, he ignores the fact that in spite of these admonitions, people went out and "told" anyway.
    Second, Hagee fails to reconcile these admonitions with quote obvious messianic acts by Jesus -- enterining Jerusalem on a donkey, the feeding of multitudes, and the public healing of Lazarus, for example. In this as well, Hagee fails to distinguish -- even as Jesus' contemporaries did -- between the political/military Messiah and a spiritual one. Jesus rejected the former, not the latter.
    Third and most importantly, Hagee misunderstands the reason for Jesus' admonitions. As we have noted in other contexts:

    ...according to Jewish apocryphal texts (and in line with the honor strictures of the day), including the Psalms of Solomon and 4 Ezra, only God could declare who the Messiah was. By this line of thinking, "Any self-designation only proves that the proclaimer cannot be the Messiah." [Chars.DSS, 142] Thus, Jesus' relative silence on the issue "may well be an implicit indication that he thought of himself as the Messiah." (ibid.) (See also O'Neill, [ONi.WhoD, 48-53]: "The Messiah had to remain hidden and could not say who he was.")
    Naturally, whether we take it to be an actual event of history or not, this explains the significance of the voice from heaven declaring Jesus' divinity after His baptism. Jesus would never, by the honor strictures of this day, be eligible to reveal himself as divine to a wider public audience; it would have to come first from an outside source: In order to make his salvific mission most successful, would have to work with, a constraint of history.

    Indeed, such open self-proclamation would have been seen as dishonorable, and taken as a strike against Jesus' divine identity.

    ...Jesus' reluctance to be known is an example of what would have been regarded as honorable behavior in the ancient world. For Jesus to have been plain about his divinity and Messianic nature in public would have aroused serious envy (as we do see it did, from his opponents, especially in John) as he would have been claiming a high level of honor, and this would have been seen as drawing from the well of honor, which was a "limited good". Thus to make such claims and take such actions would have been seen as taking honor from others. In an individualist society with limitless good, the thing to do is go out and share what you have with others, and even brag about it. The world Jesus lived in would have found such behavior intolerable; hence he twlls the leper to keep things quiet where his role is concerned. The "testimony" is for the purpose of the leper being able to return to normal society after being ritually unclean.

    Thus when Hagee argues [IDI 139] that if Jesus wanted to be Messiah, he "would have conducted himself like any other politician who would do anything the mind of man could imagine to make the nightly news" and "create public awareness" he is badly in error, and not in tune with the social strictures of the New Testament world.

    Finally, regarding the Crisis Theory, Hagee says [IDI 135] that "...the biblical text parades three witnesses before us (Simeon, John the Baptist, and John the Revelator) who plainly state that God's plan from the beginning was for Jesus to die." Hagee does not quote or cite any of these three witnesses; I do not see any obligation to cull the many words of the two Johns for verification, but all Simeon says is:
    Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.
    Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.
    I can find nothing here to suggest that there was no "Plan A" in the offing; at most, indications (in the parenthtical portion) that might allude to Jesus' death -- but that would still not exclude a foreknowing of the rejection of "Plan A" as offered.

    Conclusion
     
    Such is our analysis of one of today's leading teachers of prophecy, and I will frankly say that I am disappointed:
  • Hagee's works fairly well take a dispensational exegesis for granted, and offer little in the way of defense of that exegesis.
  • While one may applaud Hagee's stance against Christian anti-semitism, his building of a case for it includes some irresponsible elements. One does not correct error with more error in the opposite direction.
  • Hagee shows no willingness to admit to his prior mistakes in prognostiation.
  • Hagee's familiarity with broader Biblical scholarship, and the tools of research, is demonstrably lacking. I can close with no other words: It is unfortunate that one such as Hagee has gained as much influence as he has. But the church has much of itself to blame for allowing him to rise to prominence.
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