The End Is Near

Famine, pestilence, war, death--at Dallas Theological Seminary, the Apocalypse is the horse to bet on

Curran first met the former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan after Duke had been elected to the Louisiana state legislature in 1989. The more Curran learned about Duke, the more horrified he was. "This was a guy who celebrated Hitler's birthday every year in his living room--with a cake," Curran says. "You tell normal people that and they look at you and say, 'You're not serious, are you?' But there were plenty of people that were at those things."

As a fundamentalist Christian and Republican Party official, Curran took up the task of thwarting Duke. "I called for the state central committee to censure him and remove him from the Republican Party--with Duke standing in the back of the auditorium, looking at me with daggers in his eyes." The censure motion failed, and Duke went on to a place in a runoff election for the Louisiana governorship in 1991. Duke began touting himself as a born-again Christian on the campaign trail, and Curran was chilled by the parallels to the false prophet described in the Gospel of Mark. "Somebody had been giving him Christian lingo to use as a political tool," he says. "I could see it happening on a larger scale." Curran initiated a series of radio ads that he believes helped turn the tide against Duke.

Curran's real-life brush with the Apocalypse was involuntary, but there are legions of eschatology buffs in America who draw liberally from end-times theology to fuel their beliefs. Among them is the co-owner of RaptureReady.com, Todd Strandberg. Along with Arkansas-based partner Terry James, Strandberg, who is in the Air Force and stationed in Nebraska, maintains a clearing-house of end-times information as well as the Rapture Index, a gauge of apocalyptic indicators such as "False Christs" and "Drug abuse." "That's the most popular feature of the site," Strandberg says. He has been tracking the index since 1986. "For some reason it just appeals to people. It's not a predictor, really, it's more like a speedometer of how fast we're going toward the end times." Right now we're doing 155--out of a possible 225.

A sculpture on the grounds of Dallas Theological Seminary depicts the women who found Jesus' empty tomb.
A sculpture on the grounds of Dallas Theological Seminary depicts the women who found Jesus' empty tomb.
Dallas Theological Seminary Professor Darrell Bock has been one of the leaders in developing progressive dispensationalism. "It's a more holistic approach, "he says.
Dallas Theological Seminary Professor Darrell Bock has been one of the leaders in developing progressive dispensationalism. "It's a more holistic approach, "he says.

The Rapture Index may not be a predictor, but Strandberg doesn't shy away from it on the rest of his site. "All current events seem to suggest pretty clearly that the European Union is the revived Roman Empire and that it will usher in the Tribulation period and the end of the church age," says one entry. Strandberg posts his content on upward of 20 mirror sites so that the deluge of post-Rapture visitors desperate for information won't crash them all. He is confident that the end is near. "Way back in the 1800s, they had all kinds of crazy ideas because they didn't have anything to work with," he says of previous apocalypticists. "The picture is so much clearer today. I think there should be more interest than there is."

Darrell Bock might be surprised at just how many people like Strandberg there are. "I don't think the public has any clue what's going on with dispensationalism," Bock says. "For the general public, it just seems way too bizarre."

An oversimplified guide to dispensationalism

What it is: About 25 percent of the Bible is made up of prophecy. Dispensationalism is a conceptual framework that provides an explanation for some apparent conflicts in these predictions, allowing them to be taken literally. From John Nelson Darby's original scheme, two principal types of dispensationalism have emerged, traditional and progressive. No two theologians agree on all the details, but here are a few of the highlights.

What they have in common:

• Historically, most Christians have believed that, following the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, the church (Christians) superseded Israel (Jews) as God's chosen people. Dispensationalism separates the church's destiny from that of Israel, maintaining that God still has a plan for both groups. Biblical prophecies that apply to Israel don't apply to the church and vice versa.

• Instead of believing that some of the Bible's prophecies for Israel were never fulfilled, dispensationalists believe the timetable for prophecies concerning Israel is on hold until the church has completed its time on Earth, culminating in the Rapture. As theologian Craig Blaising puts it, "Like in a modern movie, you just switched scenes. It's like a parallel plot line."

•God's relationship with man is broken up into seven distinct periods called dispensations. For example, the first dispensation is Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

Where they disagree:

• Jesus' 1,000-year (millennial) reign, as mentioned in the book of Revelation:

Traditional: The reign begins on earth after the Tribulation--the seven years following the Rapture.

Progressive: The reign is partially realized now in the church, fully realized after the Tribulation.

•Distinction between the church and Israel:

Traditional: Both are redeemed, but in different ways.

Progressive: Both are redeemed together.

•The dispensations:

Traditional: Self-contained eras with different purposes.

Progressive: Stages in the progressive fulfillment of one purpose.

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