Thursday, June 16, 2011

I'm No Theologian, But...

I had just finished an overview study of Revelation, one book that, quite frankly, I've avoided over the years because it seems to cause more diversity than unity. Like most Christians, I had read it, and yes, I had my own theories, but unlike the foundations of my faith like the holy trinity or Christ as the only way to salvation, my opinions on John's Revelation weren't worth dying for.

But Scripture it still is, so I dove in headfirst with my ladies' group this past spring to learn theologians' major interpretations of the various symbols, images, etc. locked within its pages.

Eleven weeks later, I still don't know too much about what's exactly coming our way, but I at least now understand where the different camps derive their interpretations from.

With the coming apocalypse fresh in my mind, I read about Leonard Sweet and Lori Wagner's newest science fiction novel, The Seraph Seal, and I immediately wanted to read it. And now? I'm disturbed by what I perceive to be another example of universalism taking root in modern day Christianity.

The year is 2048, and the world is on the brink of destruction. Two main characters--Angela and Paul--work to decipher an ancient manuscript, uncovering clues a la Divinci Code to learn the role they must play at the end of days. At the same time but unbeknownst to the pair, evil US president Matthew Serafino also seeks to maneuver into position so that when the earth is destroyed, he can lead humanity into his version of a new age.

Sound neat, right? Yes and no. (Spoiler alert--do not read further if you like surprises).

Sweet and Wagner develop an intriguing idea that the four horsemen of the apocalypse mentioned in Revelation are not angels but humans. In the authors' idea of balance and unity, there are four "good" horsemen and four "bad" horsemen, and whichever group of four unifies in the end at the proper location will determine what new age is brought to the earth. Even if you disagree with mankind having any impact on the coming judgment, this idea was interesting and well-developed.

The novel is also quickly paced and a page turner in its description of a world literally falling apart in correlation to the bowls the four horsemen are supposed to pour upon the earth ( all marine life dying, waters becoming poisoned, sun blowing up, radiation poisoning, etc.).

The first flaw that makes the novel less than it could have been is that it just doesn't quite measure in terms of the chase. The clueless main characters--Angela and Paul--keep happening upon clues, but instead of revealing more of the puzzle along the way, almost all the clues point to the same thing--the place they must be at the end, Bashan. The reader is literally beat over the head with this place's name. We get it! Day of the Lord. Bashan.

The second flaw is the ending. Evil, maniacal, can-be-wherever-he-wants-at-a-second's-notice-because-of-holographic-technology President Matthew Serafino doesn't get his hands on the manuscript (although I'm not sure why because if his hologram could teleport inside the building where it was located, it could surely teleport inside the vault ten feet away where the manuscript lay). He has worldwide power, access to all information, manipulates people and places with unlimited resources...but without the manuscript, he concludes incorrectly about the place where the "rapture" into the new age will take place. Really!?

Concluding the book is a 70-page dictionary, detailing all the different organization, names, etc. the authors created for the future? Really!? For a work of fiction? It was interesting, but if I weren't writing this review, would I have read it? NO.

That's the problem with the literary text. But what I find more disturbing is the problem with Sweet and Wagner's Christianity which seems anti-Biblical and to support Universalism instead.

While the novel bases itself on the four horsemen of the apocalypse and all of God's ensuing wrath, that is it as far as parallels to any version of a Christian end times. There is no Jesus returning in the clouds. There is no judgment day. Instead, those who have "faith" that they're supposed to be in Bashan when the earth explodes (not faith in Jesus, mind you, but faith in a place as a portal to the new age) are raptured to another dimension or alternate reality (not sure which). Selling this as science fiction would be fine. Selling this as a Christian apocalypse? No.

One quote from the book really emphasizes the universalism theme. The main character says, "Many of them wouldn't even know who the Lamb in the center is, who the Christ is, who has been the saving mediary of all humankind for centuries. many of them have never heard of him. They're coming, most of them, because they have nothing else to believe in. But, they're coming. And that is the beginning step of faith" (p. 355).

All those at the portal are swept into a New Age--a new earth. There is no Jesus in this new earth. There are tears. And the main character Paul (who was a believer) doesn't make it through the portal into the new age because he is not in the exact location when time expires. Again, really!? Like our God is bound by the space of a circle around a portal!?

Instead, Paul shoots back in time 150 years, as he says, "the Lord's way of always providing new chances to begin again, perhaps." What happens to the evil men, the unbelievers? Are they, too, given another chance at life, another chance to change the world? The reader doesn't learn. But just the fact that one character not in the portal gets another chance implies as much for God's judgment being final and for all.

I have never said this before, but if you are a Bible believing Christian, don't raise your blood pressure reading this book. It touts universalism and is a slap in the face to the eternal finality of God's judgment of this world.

*Thomas Nelson provides me with a complementary copy of the book, and I receive no compensation for my review, positive or negative.

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