Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Mark Hitchcock's MacGuffin City


From the January 2011 E-Block.
***
As one of his students, Mark Hitchcock is the natural inheritor of the mantle of prophecy teacher John Walvoord, and we are pleased to note that he follows Walvoord into the tradition of moderately rational exposition of dispensational eschatology, lacking the sensational aspects found in many other writers like Hagee and Lindsey. For this survey we consulted three of his books:

Apocalypse of Ahmadinejad [AA]
The Late Great United States [LGU]
Second Coming of Babylon [2CB]

I chose Hitchcock as a subject because my interest for this series at this time is how writers understand America’s role in dispensational prophecy. But when it comes to Hitchcock, the answer is contrary to my goal: As the title of LGU implies, Hitchcock sees – almost no role for the US in Biblical prophecy. Hitchcock’s premise rather is that America is not in Bible prophecy because we’re such a moral cesspool and such an economic mess that we’ll drop out of the picture and become unimportant as a nation. Plus, it also won’t help that the Rapture will depopulate us (something Dave Hunt also suggested – which is quite logical, if dispensational scenarios are granted). And, we might get hit with a terrorist nuke or something else that will decimate our lives and economy.

So in essence, rather than finding America in Bible prophecy, Hitchcock devotes himself to not finding it there, and explaining why. The paradox is to some extent disturbing, for there’s a certain imperialist arrogance to the premise that America, being as important as it is, certainly would have been part of prophecy: And Hitchcock’s explanation actually assumes that same imperialist arrogance even as it dispenses with the US, for it assumes the US would have been mentioned if it hadn’t been devolving as Hitchcock supposes it to be.

Generally, there’s not much else specific to report aside from one topic we’ll deal with below. Like most prophecy writers, Hitchcock is compelled to read the newspaper to try to find a way for events to match what he thinks prophecy will bear. These days radical Islam is all the rage in eschatology, where Communism used to be. Hitchcock is right in with that crowd; in AA112, for example, he says that Israel may attack Iran to stop its nuclear program, and that this may instigate the Ezekiel 38 war of Gog and Magog (Russia) versus Israel.

The one major topic I see a need to address has to do with what Hitchcock says of Babylon. His scenario requires Babylon to be literally rebuilt and to become the Antichrist’s central HQ. In LGU and SCB, he discusses several reasons why Babylon must and will be literally rebuilt, and these will concern us because under our preterist understanding, “Babylon” in Revelation is a code word for Jerusalem. Although Hitchcock is not addressing preterism in these volumes (see link below for where he does), his arguments in LGU concern attempts to identity “Babylon” as code for “New York City” – and since he replies by affirming a literal Babylon, this has an obvious impact on preterist arguments as well.

As a preface, I will note again what I said on this topic in reply to another dispensational writer, Chambers:

But as to the rebuilding of Babylon, this is PFA’s showcase, and I’ve noted that other folks have picked up on this view as well since then: Search “Babylon rebuilt” online and there will be a host of observers breathlessly pointing to it as a sign of prophecy fulfilled.

The question is – why?

By all accounts, the rebuilt Babylon was, and still is, intended to be a glorified tourist trap. Thinking that it is a sign of prophecy fulfilled would be like arguing that such could also be found in the Holy Land Experience theme park, which rests not 10 miles from where I now sit. Is the model of the Jewish Temple at the Holy Land Experience a signal of soon to come sacrifices, and of eschatological fulfillment?

One might also point to a variety of other factors. There’s apparently been a lot of guff over the US military being careless with the site…The fact that people are very much concerned about damage to artifacts more than they are about plans to make this into a world political capital (meaning, they are not concerned at all) does not bode well for predictions of this as a future Antichrist HQ.

Of course, the dispensationalist will inevitably encourage us to wait and see; just like the European Union will eventually have exactly 10 members – some way or another – so someday this tourist-trap Babylon (which even Chambers admits has been described as a "megalomaniacal Disneyland") will host the Beast. You just wait and see. But don’t hold your breath while you wait.

Hitchcock, of course, must also have a “wait and see” approach: There’s nothing offered to explain why what is now a tourist trap will eventually become Antichrist Central. However, let’s look at the reasons he offers for reading “Babylon” in Revelation as the literal Babylon.

First: Hitchcock says that while it is possible Babylon is a code for some other city, “the text contains no indication” that it is.

Well, if it did, then it would hardly be a code! But there are two reasons that this protest is ineffective. First, it is fairly clear that 12 Peter 5:13 refers to “Babylon” as a code for some other city – some say Rome; I would say Jerusalem is possible as well. But Peter doesn’t offer any “indication” that it is. Nor would he need to: This is a demand made by Hitchcock as a member of a low-context society. As a member of a high-context society, Peter MIGHT give an indication that he is using code (see below), but there is greater likelihood that he will not, for he can and will presume his audience understands his references.

In 2CB, Hitchcock adds that John tells people when he refers to Jerusalem figuratively as Sodom and Egypt, and supposes this means that he would have to indicate when he refers to it figuratively as Babylon. But per the above, the high context nature of communication means that he need do no such thing. At most it might tell us that John’s “Sodom” and “Egypt” designations are new to his readers, while the “Babylon” reference is familiar to them (as the Petrine usage also suggests).

Second, it is said that Babylon is the “most-mentioned city in the Bible” (except Jerusalem) and is “consistently pictured as the epitome of evil and rebellion against God,” so it “makes sense that in the end times [God] will once again raise up this city as the capital of the final world ruler.”

Well, no, it doesn’t make sense at all, actually: Why bother with all the fuss of raising a whole new city just to have an “epitome”? Indeed, it makes far more sense for the “Babylon” designation to be applied to a city that epitomizes evil and rebellion, for that would be in line with the cultural linguistics of applying names to things (eg, as Jesus called Peter “Satan”) to signify something. While I imagine dispensationalists could simply say that “only God knows” how logical it will be to raise up a whole new city for this purpose (!), that resort in itself will show that there is no rational argument for it to happen.

Third, Hitchcock says that Babylon fits the geographic criteria for world rule, being on the Euphrates, and centrally located in the world. This is an odd argument, since I have heard the same said of Jerusalem. But it is meaningless anyway: Modern commercial travel and electronic communications make the location of an administrative location irrelevant. If anything, it makes little sense to run new communication lines out to a site in the desert when so many other cities already have it (as well as other necessary infrastructure) in place.

Fourth, noting that the Euphrates is referred to in Rev. 16:12, Hitchcock says it “makes sense if the rebuilt city of Babylon on the Euphrates functions as a religious and political center…”

Well, again, no it doesn’t – it makes sense if Euphrates is simply a barrier to travel, which it also would not be; if anything an empty river is more of a barrier to modern transport than a filled river. There is no logical connection between this imagined Babylon as a “religious and political center” and the Euphrates being run dry.

Fifth (also: 2CB, 79)Hitchcock appeals to several OT prophecies about Babylon that are yet fulfilled, so he assumes there must be a new Babylon to fulfill them. In all cases Hitchcock either begs the question of a dispensational interpretation, or makes the same errors of hyperliteral interpretation that Skeptics do when considering Ezekiel’s Tyre prophecy. (Link below.)

In sum: While Hitchcock is certainly one of the more rational dispensational expositors, his analyses ultimately fail on the same grounds as they all do.
Links:

Ezekiel and Tyre
Review of anti-preterist book in which Hitchcock took part, and committed several errors.

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