I grew up in an evangelical subculture fixated on Bible prophecy and the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
I attended a revival service during which my great-uncle preached in front of a chart detailing his interpretation of prophetic passages. My youth group introduced me to the movie “A Thief in the Night,” which Christianity Today described as combining “religious themes with the chills of a horror film” (fmchr.ch/ctthief), or one of its sequels. (I’m struggling to remember which of the movies I saw, but I’m pretty sure the Antichrist wore a leisure suit.) The initial movie’s title comes from 1 Thessalonians 5:2, “For you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.”
My parents called me during my college years in the mid-1990s and told me about visiting a nearby church one evening for a speech by prolific Christian author Jerry Jenkins. They were surprised that only a handful of people showed up to hear Jenkins, who mentioned he was working on a series of novels with pastor and activist Tim LaHaye. Jenkins’ days of small audiences were soon behind him. I worked a few years later at a Christian bookstore that kept selling out of “Left Behind,” the first novel that Jenkins wrote with LaHaye. Their “Left Behind” collaboration ultimately included 16 novels for adults plus 40 “Left Behind: The Kids” books. Separate movie adaptations starred Kirk Cameron and Nicolas Cage.
The popularity of “Left Behind” has faded, but many Christians remain focused on the end times. When I flip to the higher channels on my television these days, it doesn’t take long to find a well-known evangelist selling “emergency food buckets” or saying the next “blood moon” fulfills prophecy. It’s safe to say these shows won’t be booking Free Methodist scholar Howard A. Snyder who has become a leading critic of “today’s dispensational premillennialism, with its ‘rapture’ and ‘left behind’ accent,” which he calls “a sharp departure from historic Christian doctrine” (fmchr.ch/snyderlb).
Free Methodists have the freedom to believe different things about “the day of the Lord” as long as we agree on the basics. Here’s the entire section on “The Return of Christ” in the Free Methodist Articles of Religion: “The return of Christ is certain and may occur at any moment, although it is not given us to know the hour. At His return He will fulfill all prophecies concerning His final triumph over all evil. The believer’s response is joyous expectation, watchfulness, readiness and diligence.” The “Judgment” section simply states, “God has appointed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness in accordance with the gospel and our deeds in this life” (fmchr.ch/fmaor).
Some of us might prefer to leave consideration of “the day of the Lord” completely behind. Jesus, however, says at the end of the Parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1–13), “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.” Keep reading, and you may even find an old song going through your head. “Give me oil in my lamp. Keep me burning…” (fmchr.ch/oilbyrds).
Higher Ed Guide
Free Methodist founder B.T. Roberts, this publication’s former editor, helped young people prepare for the day of the Lord when he started Chili Seminary (now Roberts Wesleyan College and Northeastern Seminary) near Rochester, New York. He said students’ “welfare for both worlds requires” Christian education (fmchr.ch/btrw).
Other Free Methodists followed Roberts’ lead and started institutions of higher learning in California, Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, South Dakota and Washington that have had a huge impact inside and beyond Free Methodism. I wouldn’t be here without my parents’ decision to attend one of these colleges, and my life is infinitely better each day because I chose to follow in their footsteps.
In the center of this issue, you’ll find LIGHT + LIFE’s annual Higher Education Guide. If you know someone considering a college, university or seminary degree, please share this issue with them. Please also consider visiting the websites of these institutions and contributing to scholarships for students who might not otherwise afford a Christ-centered education.
Jeff Finley serves as this magazine’s executive editor and previously worked as a reporter and editor for Sun-Times Media. He is an alumnus of Greenville University and the University of Illinois, and he serves on the board of Friends of Immanuel University.1