An article written by Religion News Service reporter Daniel Burke was featured this last week in multiple online news outlets. You can read the full article, at the Huffington Post. I do want to commend the reporter for writing what I felt was a very fair article.
The summary of the article is that the Islamic Antichrist theory, of which I am cast as the primary representative of, is merely the result of the underlying anxieties of Christian fundamentalists. That some would eventually cast Islam as the system of the Antichrist was altogether predictable, as Christians at large have a long history of painting their political or theological enemies as the Antichrist.
Ironically, this particular analysis is equally as tired as is the long line of apocalyptically minded Christians who have who manipulated the Scriptural data (and most often extra-biblical sources) to paint their political or theological boogeyman du jour as the Antichrist. If it is easy, as the article states, for apocalyptically minded Christians to twist the idea of Antichrist into the image of whoever they may wish to demonize, then it is arguably even easier to stereotype apocalyptically minded Christians into the mold of overly anxiety-driven, theologically shallow and unself-aware Antichrist-pointers. But as easy as it might be, the purpose of this post is not to turn the socio-psychological analysis back onto the analyzers. For even if stereotyping apocalyptic Christians is somewhat of a lazy position to take, I do sympathize with and understand this perspective — as it is certainly not without basis. In fact, this view is one that I have spent a substantial amount of time considering.
Before I ever considered the Islamic Antichrist theory, I’d already read all of the books. There was Paul Boyer’s “When Time Shall Be No More: Prophecy Belief in Modern American Culture”, which catalogues a long line of premillennialists down through Church history who have wrongly pointed to their own political or theological enemies as the Antichrist. There is also Bernard McGinn’s “Antichrist: Two Thousand Years of the Human Fascination with Evil”, which is more or less another historical survey of various opinions regarding the Antichrist that have prevailed throughout history. And then there was my personal favorite in the genre, Gershom Gorenberg’s “The End of Days: Fundamentalism and the Struggle for the Temple Mount” which looks at fundamentalists from all three Abrahamic faiths as they relate primarily to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount. So I am fully aware of the proclivity of some Christians to see in various enemies of their day, the Antichrist. Premillennialists of various stripes have been consistently committing this error almost from century one.
How then, does a student of the Scriptures approach and seek to understand the many biblical passages that give us numerous details regarding the coming Antichrist without falling into the pitfalls of so many that have come before? In surveying the long list of failed antichrist-pointers, I’ve identified two universal common denominators. Others could be highlighted as well. But the first and primary error to avoid, is reliance on extra-biblical material, with the Bible playing only a minor supporting role. We’ve seen prime examples of this most recently with the Mayan Calendar craze. There, the Mayan calendar was the primary source of fear, and then the Bible was used, or barely used, to somehow prop up a pagan and unreliable source. Another recent example is the book Petrus Romanus, the subtitle of which makes the bold claim, “The Final Pope is Here”. Petrus Romanus looks, not primarily to the Scriptures to make its case, but rather to “the prophecy of St. Malachy” as well as every imaginable conspiracy theory and anti-Catholic polemic that exists. In 2009, the author of Petrus Romanus, Tom Horn argued in “Apollyon Rising 2012″ that the Antichrist would make himself known by 2012. In Petrus Romanus, the argument is presented that the False Prophet would come into power by the end of 2012. By looking to numerous private revelations and pagan prophecies, Horn argued that the Great Tribulation would start near the end of 2012. Needless to say, its safe to say that this claim has now been shown to be false. We are in 2013 and the great tribulation hasn’t begun. The point here is not to attack anyone, so much as to show that when the Scriptures are not the primary basis for a particular eschatological view, then you can quite well guarantee that it will result in a false claim.
The second common error among Antichrist-pointers is to adopt a view which is self-centered in its worldview, failing to take into consideration the actual worldview and context of the Bible. And thus various European protestants over the past 500 years have cast their various theological and political enemies of the day as the Antichrist. Americans in more recent times pointed to Russia. And of course another popular claim among conservative Americans these days is to point to President Barak Obama as the Antichrist. Now, to be clear, I am far from a fan of the President, but I personally think such claims are downright silly. Each time I hear any serious claims that Obama might be the Antichrist, I am reminded of the classic bit from the Monty Python film, “The Life of Brian” where the young Brian is mistakenly thought to be the Messiah by crowds of adoring seekers. At one point in the movie, as a crowd is gathered outside of Brian’s house, his mother opens a window and shouts out, “He’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy”. Similarly, I often feel like declaring of President Obama, “He’s not the Antichrist, he’s just a very naughty boy”. But some will not be persuaded until he is long out of office. Regardless, my point is that pointing to Barack as the Antichrist ignores not only the Middle Eastern emphasis of so many of the primary antichristic prophetic passages (cf., Dan. 2, 7, 9:26, 11, Ez. 38,39), but it also betrays a very American-centric worldview and represents, in my opinion, a clear imposition of this America-centric worldview into the pages of Scripture.
So, while it would be tempting to summarize the broad Scriptural basis and many very reasonable arguments that stand in support of Islam as the prophesied beast system, instead I will simply say that the Islamic Antichrist theory is really little more than a thoroughly contextualized eschatology, fully supported by every significant and relevant biblical passage. In other words, rather than being a view which simply casts the greatest present enemy of the United States as the Antichrist system, instead the Islamic Antichrist theory (alternately, the Middle Eastern Antichrist theory) looks to the greatest enemy of Israel and acknowledges the overwhelming Islamic character of the entire region surrounding Jerusalem. As I have emphasized so many times, once one recognizes the thoroughly Jerusalem, Israel and Middle Eastern / North African context of the entire Bible, then the Islamic Antichrist theory is almost impossible to deny.