“Prophecy scholars”: Neither prophets nor scholars.

by K.W. Leslie, 10 November 2017

I’m Pentecostal. So whenever I see an notice or ad for an upcoming “prophecy conference,” they tend to refer to prophets. Actual prophets. Meaning people who’ve learned to listen to the Holy Spirit—and thereafter share with others what he’s told them. True, some of ’em practice some really iffy methods of identifying his voice. But when Penecostals, charismatics, and most continuationists refer to prophecy, we literally mean the same thing we see done in the bible by Abraham, Moses, Samuel, Elijah, Simon Peter, and Paul of Tarsus. They heard God; they shared what they figured he told ’em; that’s prophecy.

Outside Pentecostal circles—though not far outside Pentecostal circles, ’cause from time to time it gets in here—is a whole other type of “prophecy conference.” There, they aren’t at all talking about hearing God. They mean predictions about the End Times. They’re throwing a conference ’cause they wanna tell you what they think the apocalypses mean.

Um… didn’t God deliberately make those visions difficult to interpret, their details near-impossible to pin down, lest people try to make their own plans for the future which do an end-run around him? Well, insist these “prophecy scholars,” not really. ’Cause they were able to figure ’em out. They got a system!

Yep, figured out how to connect the dots. They were more discerning, more clever, more devout, more studied, more fervent, than all the other Christians before them. All the supposedly level-headed folks who insist we’re not to bounce to conclusions based on coincidence and fear-based illogic: They’re wearing blinders. Wake up, sheeple!

So come to their conferences. Pay the admission. Buy their books. Donate to their ministries. Subscribe to their websites. Hire them to preach at your churches. ’Cause they’re not giving away their teachings for free, y’know. They gotta pay the bills.

Anyway if you ever make the mistake of going to the conferences, led by “noted prophecy scholars” (many of whom you’ve never even heard of, unless you or your church have already blown hundreds of dollars a year on their stuff), you’ll notice their definition of “prophecy” is precisely the same as that of pagans. In other words, prophecy isn’t hearing from God; it’s about predicting the future. It’s only about the future. And, warn these guys, it’s likely the near future!

Well okay, they’ve been claiming that for the past two centuries. But unlike their prophecy-scholar forebears, their interpretations are gonna be correct. ’Cause discernment, cleverness, devotion, study, yada yada yada.

Who are these people?

These “prophecy scholars,” you’ll quickly find out, are neither prophets nor scholars.

Certainly not scholars. They pull the scriptures out of context so often, real scholars regularly throw up their hands at them. They ditch every form of context there is:

  • LITERARY. Apocalypses and parables are treated as if they’re literal. Metaphors are treated as if they’re not—and history is treated as if it’s a metaphor for future or cosmic events. (Like when “Lucifer” gets identified as Satan.) Hebrew poetry isn’t recognized as two different ways of saying the same thing; each line in a poem is treated as if it’s a new, separate event.
  • HISTORICAL. Doesn’t matter when the scriptures were written, nor the culture they were written to, ’cause it’s presumed they and their events are about last-generation Christians. (Which we’re presumed to be.)
  • GRAMMATICAL. Doesn’t matter what the chapter, logical argument, paragraph, or even sentence, is actually about. They’ll rip a sentence in half, and claim one half is about one thing, and the other half about another. (Like they do with the rapture.) Everything gets redefined to mean whatever these scholars’ theories need ’em to mean.
  • PHILOSOPHICAL. First-century beliefs (or earlier, in the case of the Old Testament) get ignored in favor of the scholars’ current beliefs. Which, they presume, is what the authors originally meant to say, and Christians have simply been getting it wrong for millennia. Blame the Catholics.

And these “prophecy scholars” certainly aren’t prophets. Seldom do they have anything at all to do with present-day prophecy. That’s because their interpretive system is based on cessationism, that the Holy Spirit shut down miracles between bible times and the End Times. That’s why all the apocalypses have to be fulfilled in the last seven years before Jesus returns: They can’t happen during our miracle-free era.

Now like I said, I’ve known some Pentecostals who dabble in “prophecy scholars” and their belief system. It’s because our movement started after theirs got big in Evangelical Christianity. We didn’t have our own beliefs about the End Times, so some of us adopted theirs. A number tried to claim the Pentecostal revivals were the first sign of the End Times: Hey look, the Holy Spirit turned the miracles back on! But after “prophecy scholars” rejected the early Pentecostals, we looked at Christian history and found out the Spirit never actually did turn off the miracles. Yet in the absence of our own End Times beliefs, some of us still get into this junk.

But that’s the foundation of “prophecy scholar” beliefs: Cessationism. Specifically John Nelson Darby’s cessationism.

John Nelson Darby. Pinterest

Darby (1800–82) was a Church of England pastor in Ireland who quit and joined the Plymouth Brethren. Darby didn’t believe the Spirit did miracles anymore, and adopted a theology which explained why not. He sliced up history into dispensations, time-periods in which he no-foolin’ imagined God had different plans of salvation. That God didn’t always save people by his grace, but that during Old Testament times God actually saved people because they had good karma.

Most Christians who dabble in dispensationalism imagine two eras: Karma for the Old Testament, grace for the New. But Darby figured he discovered seven in his bible. Each of them were indicated by the failure, collapse, and overthrow of the previous dispensation. Kinda like God had no clue what he was doing, so try try again.

  1. INNOCENCE. Adam and Eve’s time, when nobody yet sinned, so everybody was saved. So much for that one.
  2. CONSCIENCE or MORAL RESPONSIBILITY. God didn’t have many commands yet, so you pretty much had to let your conscience be your guide. Of course a few centuries later God had to flood the planet, so that didn’t work so well.
  3. HUMAN GOVERNMENT. God presumably delegated some authority to leaders, kings, and patriarchs. The tower of Babel proved this didn’t work so well either.
  4. PROMISE. The LORD established a relationship with Abraham, and made a covenant and nation of his people—provided the Abrahamites followed him. This continued till God superseded it with his Law.
  5. LAW. Now the LORD got super-specific about his expectations on the Hebrew people. And so long that the Hebrews followed these commands, they were saved.
  6. CHURCH. After Jesus raptured and the Spirit came down, the church age began. Finally, God started saving us by his grace (although plenty of Darby’s followers are pretty sure we’re saved by faith instead). And so it continues till Jesus returns.
  7. KINGDOM. When Jesus returns to rule for 1,000 years, he’ll judge everyone directly. Followers will obey. Non-followers won’t really. Hope there’ll still be grace around; whether there is or isn’t kinda depends on the attitude of the “prophecy scholar” talking about this.

Darby's fans diagrammed human history into big ol' timelines in which they marked off the different dispensations. One of ’em, draftsman Clarence Larkin, drew a few timelines which have pretty much become the basis for all the End Times timelines you’ll find “prophecy scholars” promoting.

“Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth.” Larkin kinda went to town with that compass. Click to see larger.

Larkin was really big on using circles in his diagrams. It’s much of the reason a lot of End Times prognosticators also have lots of circles in their timelines. Some of ’em straight-up swiped their timelines from Larkin. Others have their own charts, but you can see Larkin’s influence just a bit.

“Blood moons” publicist John Hagee gestures in front of his own End Times timeline—which prefers rounded oblongs over circles. YouTube

Anyway. Darby’s system tends to be called premillennialism, named for the belief Jesus returns pre/before his 1,000-year reign in Revelation 20.4-6. As a result a lot of Christians are under the mistaken belief that if you believe in premillennialism, you believe as Darby does.

’Tain’t necessarily so. I have no problem with premillennialism, but dispensationalism isn’t biblical. And when you claim God saves any other way than through grace, you’ve wandered into heresy. You don’t really get a free pass just because you claim he stopped saving people that way in the last dispensation. In fact a number of Darbyists teach it didn’t stop—that the dispensation of Law still applies to the Jews, so they can be saved by obedience instead of grace. That they actually don’t need Jesus, ’cause they’ve got their own exclusive deal with God. (That they’ll all turn to Jesus someday anyway, so don’t sweat it.)

Anyway. More Christians believe in amillennialism, the belief the 1,000-year reign of Jesus isn’t literal, but represents the current church age. That when Jesus returns it’s Judgment Day, when he’ll judge then destroy the world. That when Jesus returns it’s in wrath instead of love, and all hope is gone. Which is so antithetical to Jesus’s character, I obviously lean the other way.

And for the same reason, I can’t buy Darby’s notion that the seven years before Jesus’s return is also gonna consist of a whirlwind of wrath. Yep, Larkin made a timeline of that too.

“Daniel’s Seventieth Week.” Hey look, a rounded oblong. Click to see larger.

Darby grew convinced that the evils of his day, the corruption he saw in his church, all meant the times would get worse and worse till it’d become full-on tribulation. Many Protestants in Darby’s day believed in postmillennialism, that the world would get better, evolve into God’s kingdom, and then Jesus would return to usher us into heaven. Darby believed just the opposite, and his version of premillenialism—and really, a lot of Christians’ views on it—reflected his pessimism. The world’s going to hell, and in the last seven years it’ll basically be hell.

But not for us Christians. Darby figured before the seven years of tribulation, Jesus’ll rapture his followers off the earth, leaving it for the devil to run amok. He’ll return afterwards, with his saints, to clean up the mess. We get to sit it out! Isn’t that awesome?

It’s a bit of wishful thinking, but I’m pretty sure it’s really helped sell this idea to Evangelical Christianity.

Why they get things so wrong.

Three of the reasons these “prophecy scholars” so greatly bollix the End Times and prophecy are the topics I just touched upon: They don’t respect the scriptures, and are more wedded to Darby’s beliefs than the bible. They don’t care about reason, preferring to connect the dots rather than establish real cause-and-effect relationships. And they don’t respect the Holy Spirit's present-day power.

But Darbyists are the folks who are producing most of the End Times books, websites, and videos out there. So whenever an Evangelical gets curious about the End, guess whose resources they’re most likely to come across? Right you are: Darbyist “prophecy scholars.” It’s why you find these teachings and timelines everywhere in Evangelicalism. Among Fundamentalists and conservative Evangelicals, it’s considered official doctrine. Teach anything else and they’ll boot you from leadership—if not from their churches.

Yeah, even in churches like mine, the Assemblies of God, which doesn’t at all believe God turned off the miracles till the End. I point it out to fellow churchgoers, and they’re stunned to discover the foundation of all their favorite End Times theories is unbelief. And yet they still tend to cling to these beliefs anyway. After all, every other Christian they know seems to buy ’em. And they themselves have spent an awful lot of money and time pursuing Darbyist theories. And, like Darby, they’ve looked at the world around them, conclude it’s going to hell, and this proves Darby’s pessimistic view that only tribulation can follow.

It’s not easy to give up a beloved idea. Even when it’s rotten and poisonous at its core.

’Cause when we pull the person and work of the Holy Spirit out of our theological systems, it stands to reason the rest of it is gonna lack wisdom, grace, peace, comfort, compassion, gentleness, and most of his fruit. All that’s left are fearful, paranoid speculations about the devil, the beast, and their minions coming to get us—so start stocking your End Times bunker.

True prophecy would mean the Holy Spirit can, and will, correct these “scholars” and their harebrained interpretations of the End. But because the bulk of ’em insist prophecy ceased, they’re obliged to figure out the End Times without the Spirit, on their own. Hence you’ll notice throughout their interpretations of the End, everywhere you look in their timelines, there’s no Holy Spirit. He’s simply not there.

(Nor is he at all that easy to find among “prophecy scholars.” Speaking from experience, they have very little patience with those of us Christians who dare challenge their loopy guesses.)

As you know—or should—this fruitless behavior is one of the signs of a false prophet. When you see ’em in anyone who claims to be a legitimate prophet, it’s a big waving, blinking sign to stay away. It’s just as true of any “prophecy scholar.”

Paranoid fears and the End.

Now when an actual bible scholar tackles the End, it’s not with the expectation we’re gonna unlock secret knowledge, or figure out the “secret power of lawlessness” in the world today. 2Th 2.8 NIV ’Tain’t a secret anymore, and hasn’t been for millennia: People wanna do as they please, with no regard for God or other people—although they’re certainly pretending otherwise. They call it liberty, sovereignty, self-reliance, libertarianism, freedom—and it’s whatever form of those things which lets ’em evade accountability most.

But to the “prophecy scholar,” this secret power consists of whatever Satan’s currently up to—whatever it’s trying to do to corrupt and conquer the world. With the added belief the horrors of the End Times entirely take place in the future. Not spread out over the centuries, nor happening right this minute to Christians in certain lands. Therefore things are only gonna get worse—unless we stop ’em by voting in their candidates repenting. And staying fearfully vigilant.

Look, obviously there’s evil in the world. Always has been, from the Fall till the final judgment. Does it mean the End has come? Jesus says no, and orders us to stop leaping to that conclusion:

Mark 13.5-8 KWL
5 Jesus began to tell them, “Watch out, lest someone trick you.
6 Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I’m him!’ They’ll trick many.
7 Don’t freak out when you overhear conflicts, and hearsay about conflicts.
These things happen, but it’s not the End yet.
8 People will rise against people; kingdoms against kingdoms.
Earthquakes will happen in other lands. Recessions will happen.
They’re early labor pains.”

But getting ahold of yourself isn’t gonna help “prophecy scholars” sell us freeze-dried food for our End Times bunkers.

And really this exposes the real basis for their activities and beliefs. It’s faithlessness.

It’s trusting their own resources and cleverness, their own gold and guns, to get ’em through tribulation—not the Holy Spirit. It’s trusting their own political clout to stem the tide of evil—not revival, nor Jesus’s second coming. It’s trusting their own minds to figure out the future for their End Times timelines—not being confident that God’ll bring his kingdom into the world in his own good time.

Acts 1.6-7 KWL
6 So when they came together, the students questioned Jesus:
“Master, is it at this time you’re restoring Israel’s kingdom?”
7 Jesus told them, “It’s not for you to know times or timing.
That, the Father sets by his own free will.”

Wasn’t for us to know about then; isn’t for us to know about now. But Jesus’s instruction just isn’t good enough for them. And, they insist, shouldn’t be good enough for you either. Follow them as they construct a future framework out of rumors, suspicion, wars and rumors of war, and try to prove it’s here by linking it as best they can to current events. As, I remind you, they’ve been doing for centuries now.

Is that how Jesus wants us to live? Or does he want us fighting evil as usual, instead of near-future boogeymen? Does he want us putting our faith in God instead of “prophecy scholars” who consistently keep getting proven wrong? Does he want us, say, giving to the needy instead of blowing our money on “prophecy scholars” and their materials? You know, doing the good works Jesus would have us do as we await his return?

What do you think?