When I became a Christian in 1974 I had a wonderful appetite for things to do with the faith. Church was not enough, you don’t learn a lot from one ,or often two, sermons a week. Even a university Christian union once a week didn’t satisfy my appetite, so it was first the Christian Union bookstall, and later the local Christian bookshop did a lot of trade from my thirst for knowledge. But looking back my choice of literature was not very … erm … consistent.
Much of my reading was about the Charismatic renewal, Mostly autobiographies of people who had been filled by the Holy Spirit and things had happened. In fact I read so many of them, often by the same ghost writers, that I recognised the format.
But I was reading everything. A number of books were written by Hal Lindsay, the first of these was The Late Great Planet Earth. This present generation (or at least the generation alive in 1970 when TLGPE was published) was the last generation alive before Christ returns to judge the earth. Call me naive, but this was my first contact with Christian eschatology, and I ate it up. It was backed up by Bible verses, so it must have been true, mustn’t it?
But after after another of his books I read Satan is alive and well on Planet Earth. (He likes to put Planet Earth in his titles.) After my first encounter with eschatology if a Lindsay book, this was my first encounter with cessationism, the belief that the gifts of the spirit finished at the end of the apostolic age, about 100 AD.
This was a day God changed for me.
First I was the first time I really had to think about what I was reading. Lindsay’s cessationism contradicted what I had read, heard and experienced when involved in Charismatic renewal. I had experienced the filling with the Holy Spirit, seen people healed, received healing myself and even seen someone healed by God in response to my prayers. God became a God I had to think about.
After a lot of thought and a lot of time my views on the return of Christ have changed. Gone is the simplicity of Lindsay’s Dispensationalism, in it’s place is something far more complex, so complex that I;m not sure that I actually understand it myself. I haven’t lost faith in God, nor have I stopped believing that Christ is returning. In fact both beliefs have been strengthened.
I went through a period where I was not kind to people who held my former belief about Christs return, why couldn’t they understand why I’d moved on and move on themselves. Couldn’t they see that in fixing a date, even vaguely to a generation, they were doing what a lot of Christians had done before, set a date and been proved wring when that date or generation had passed.
But I was wrong. I was too harsh to them. If God is to return at a time no one knows then it could be in this generation. No one is wrong in being prepared for Jesus’s return. All those people who have got the date wrong were right to be ready. In Advent we talk about being ready for Jesus to return, Let’s be ready.