When apocalypticism & speculation are distracting someone from Christ & the gospel

I have a friend of a friend who is nigh-obsessively scanning the headlines for “signs of the times”—anticipating the end of the world. He has not surrendered his life to Christ, but has become increasingly convinced of the supernatural realm. When my friend urges him toward the Lord, he responds that he needs to figure it all out first, he needs more knowledge. But by this he means secret connections and esoteric knowledge—not the knowledge of scripture’s teaching, an understanding of the gospel, or relational knowledge of God. So he goes on speculating, trying to grasp how demonic powers may lie behind societal and governmental activities, puzzling over how to anticipate (and avoid) the “mark of the beast,” and so on.

My friend has shared with him that knowledge does not save us, and encouraged him that he knows enough to enter into a relationship with God. Though this man is recognizing that real evil is at work in the world and that he wants nothing to do with it, he apparently lacks the (logically corresponding) urgency to give allegiance to Christ.

How might you approach this person? And what encouragement and counsel would you offer to my Christian brother who is reaching out to him? I’ve shared a lot with my brother, but would appreciate your insights which I hope can further help and equip him!

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@Lizibeth Several questions come to mind:

  • What does your friend’s friend need to know in order to get off the fence? Does he want to get off the fence? This reminds me of those who kept asking Jesus to show them signs after he healed the deaf, blind, lame, and mute; cast out Demons; raised the dead; and fed tens of thousands of people from just a few loaves and fish. Asking this question would test to see whether pursuing further conversation about this matter is worthwhile at this time.
  • What are his interests? If he is a reader, maybe John’s Revelation would pique his interest and prompt a useful conversation. Does he like history? Maybe some of the rip-roaring stories of people like Elijah and the prophets of Ba’al on Mount Carmel would interest him. Some of the passages like Isaiah 6 or Daniel or Ezekiel’s apocalyptic visions might intrigue him.
  • Patience is the play. Pray to God to open his mind and provide opportunities for conversation.

Just some initial thoughts.

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@Lizibeth the first thing here is, from an evangelism point of view your friend is in a great place. There are multiple doorways to share the gospel with this kind of person. Christians are called to watch also, so we have lots of ground where we can connect our watching with his. Matthew 24:42 and Luke 21 below are examples we can start conversations with.

Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man.” Luke 21:36

I would approach this by connecting on the things that we are called to watch for in scripture and use the conversation as a bridge to plainly share the gospel. For example: when the person talks about the one world government or anti-christ, I would show him, 2 Thessalonians 2:3-5, then bring the conversation to how only relationship with Jesus is the solution to really be safe, eternally safe.

Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the one who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.

I would encourage your friend that he/she is in a great place to share the gospel with this person :handshake: and encourage him/her to make connections to the true gospel.

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@Lizibeth Will pray for wisdom and that the Lord Jesus would open the eyes / heart of this individual to take his eyes off of conspiracy theories and put them on Jesus :slight_smile: One thing that may help is to identify what need these theories are meeting in this individual’s life and then try to help them understand how Jesus can meet that need in a more powerful and truth-based way.

I also agree with @blbossard that it is worth considering whether or not this individual is open to hearing what is being shared. I’ve known people who were so deeply rooted in a particular conspiracy theory that conversations just went in circles. Sometimes people need to experience what Os Guiness calls a “Signal of Transcendence” - something to snap them out of their misconceptions - so that they can be open to actually hearing other viewpoints.

Here are two articles on why people believe theories when there is little evidence. When wrestling with these types of theories, I think it is helpful to understand why people build up such systems. The ancient Gnostic heresies used a similar tactic - they told you that you were the holder of “secret knowledge” and made you feel special or “in the know”. These theories play off hooks we have in our own mind - needs that we have in our own life to feel in control and feel special. If we understand why these theories are appealing, then we can deal with them at a heart level and think more rationally about how to set them aside.

Psychology Today Article on Conspiracy Theories

  • The desire for understanding and certainty
  • The desire for control and security
  • The desire to maintain a positive self-image and be the holder of privileged knowledge that makes the possessor feel unique and special

“Our basic model of people is that there’s a thin crust of rationality over a molten core of crazy,” says Joseph Parent, a professor of political science at Notre Dame University and the co-author, with Joseph Uscinski, associate professor of political science at the University of Miami, of American Conspiracy Theories. Stories of secret conspiracies, Parent says, are “emotional poultices,” cooling the crazy partly by providing a powerful sense of group affiliation.

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Hi @Lizibeth, thank you for sharing this. I just finished listening to a little five minute podcast from Jo Vitale. It was about Peter, after denying Jesus three times, when Jesus appears to Peter asking him three times “do you love me?“ Then the story unfolds into a beautiful display of love, compassion and forgiveness.
It made me think about how terrifying it would have been to be a disciple of Jesus in those days. Would I have done the same as Peter? I don’t know, maybe, probably. I don’t know.

In times like these where the world seems to be spinning out of control, our minds tend to ponder the “last days.” Whether it is or it isn’t, none of us know. There is no amount of prepping we can do “in a worldly sense.” The only prepping we can do is to stay in close relationship with our Lord and Savior, reading His Word and praying so that if or when trouble, persecution, suffering, etc. comes, we will remain faithful, trusting the Lord to “carry” us through.

If your friends friend has not excepted Jesus Christ as Savior, then my thoughts are, he/she has already taken the “Mark of the beast.”
If your friends friend is researching how to avoid the “mark of the beast” I might ask them, do they understand that Jesus Christ IS the only antidote?

What are your thoughts on this approach?

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I hate to say it, but this sounds like someone feeding his pride. The sort of knowledge you’re describing is what I Corinthians 8:1 says puffeth up. But God hides the truth from the wise and prudent and reveals it unto babes. Salvation comes to the humble, but this person refuses to humble himself before God.

That’s exactly why the intellectually arrogant Athenians in Acts 17:21 spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing. Such people are forever learning but never able to come unto the knowledge of the truth, because their whole quest is misguided from the start.

Light is given to those who obey. So God generally gives just enough light for the next step. Because if a man won’t obey the next step of light, then what’s the point of giving him the next two? That just unnecessarily heaps more accountability on the head of a rebel. And God loves sinners too much to give them more knowledge than they’re willing to act upon.

Until he’s ready to humble himself, repent of his sin and accept the simplicity of the gospel as a little child, he really isn’t ready for salvation. The fear of the Lord is where wisdom begins – and until he passes kindergarten, his quest will go nowhere.

That might be the best seed you could sow in his mind for now. Commitment, not curiosity, is the less traveled, narrow path he needs to be on.

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If this friend is incline to watch a few videos I would like to recommend these two links that address both his concerns.
The first, The Shifting Sand: The Meanings of ‘History’, should help him with what is history. A question we all should reflect on.
From the lecture Wright uses this outline:
1, History as ‘events’
2. History as ‘narrative about events’
3. History as ‘task’
4. History as 'meaningful ‘events/narrative’
Here is the link. this is the 3rd of 8 lectures that NT Wright gave in 2018 as part of the 100 year old Gifford Lectures on Natural theology.

The second

The End of the world? Eschatology and Apocalyptic in Historic Perspective.

Is here..

Hope this helps this fellow out.

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@blbossard Thanks for sharing, Brendan! It is often wise to ask, “What would you accept as evidence?” This question tends to highlight our motives in situations where our framework is being challenged. Good insight!

He certainly draws on motifs from Revelation (so far as I understand from my friend’s accounts) but I am not sure if he has read it or just been drawn into speculative interpretation on Youtube, etc. However, you are pointing in a good direction, because apparently the man has recently taken up reading the gospels! This really encourages me that the Spirit is at work through the witness of my friend.

@Jimmy_Sellers Thanks for these resources. I really appreciate Wright’s work and appreciate you highlighting this “The End of the world? Eschatology and Apocalyptic in Historic Perspective” video.

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Spot on, @brianlalor. There is no strategy, nothing we can know or plan for, which can provide the kind of security we are seeking when we feel the world as we know if slipping away, or sense all heaven and and earth being shaken, or even when we feel threatened by pressure on our framework of reality. As Psalm 46:1-3 testifies:

God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.

@SeanO Thank you for your encouragement and thoughtful response! I especially appreciate you highlighting the way attachment forms to ideas which touch our deeply human desires for understanding, security, and worth. Also interesting that you bring up Gnosticism, esoteric knowledge, and being special—part of an inner ring:

We all need a sense of meaning and purpose, so I think the appeal here is really powerful! (All the more as it works more or less underneath the surface of our engagement with an idea…it is a tacit factor in our involvement, rather than an explicit motive.)

Absolutely, @sig. My friend and I discussed this exact point recently.

We’re really on the same page, Sig: I actually used the same word, antidote, when I brought this into my brother and I’s conversation this past weekend! I think there is definitely some confusion going on, a failure to grasp the thrust of the very texts which explain the threat of antichrist. As C.S. Lewis puts it (riffing on Kuyper, it seems):

There is no neutral ground in the universe. Every square inch, every split second is claimed by God, and counterclaimed by Satan.”

The whole point of the drama in Revelation is to depict the crisis of allegiance which faces each of us: we can devote ourselves to the beast or to the Lamb (whose victory over the beast is assured!) The point is not fear, conspiracy, or anxiety. The point is assurance of the victory of Jesus and a welcome to be joined to the eternal Victor in a covenant bond of love.

@jlyons Good word, James. This is true for all of us, isn’t it? It’s easy to flirt but not enter into relationship; to get caught up in endless exploration of intellectual bits and pieces—or the novel, heady or esoteric ideas—and put off the practice, the doing, the being. Father, lead us not into the temptations of distracting curiosity, but deliver us from fruitless “knowledge” and speculation. Deepen our love and commitment to you we pray. Amen.

Thank you all for your thoughtful responses! I look forward to sharing with my friend and encouraging him with your insights and prayers.

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Hi Lizibeth. The words that came to mind when I read your post are found in Luke 10.20.

Nevertheless, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, (or that you have all knowledge and wisdom, or that you have solved a mystery, or that you have it figured out, or … ) but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.

Is your name written in heaven?

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Hello @Lizibeth. I’d like to suggest a different approach…

Understanding that relationship are complicated, and there’s lots of detail we can’t get, I can see two things in your description:

  1. This man appears trapped in his own thinking. His current behavior is not helpful to himself (no good fruit), and he is unaware of that.
  2. There are legitimate core needs (e.g. being seen, heard, understood, loved, validated, etc. - knowledge is not one of them) that this man is trying to get fulfilled (though his searching). None of us escapes this, but there are healthy and unhealthy ways to get these needs meet. I’m making a big guess here, but what could be fueling his continued searching is a sense (perhaps unconsciously) that he can get these needs fulfilled, if only he “understood”.

If I argue with someone that the Flying Spaghetti Monster isn’t real I run the risk of validating that the Flying Spaghetti Monster is worthy of argument, and thus, at some level, real. So, I think responding with more “logic”, even scripture, will probably result in adding fuel to his fire.

Care about him, care about his needs, try to draw out what’s this legitimate core needs are. Try to get him to name them. Then invest in him in a way that focuses on those core needs instead of the tangential, unproductive and fruitless issues he is overly focused upon.

Let’s call him Bill…what if your friend set some boundaries and said something like this?

“Bill, I care about you, and I want to be your friend. But I don’t see these these issues you are investigating as helpful to you. I’m willing to hang out with you, go do fun things, hear about what’s going on in your life, deep inside, walk with you through those things, pray with you, talk about Jesus and the Bible, but I don’t want to hear about these tangental issues. I don’t think they are helping you, and I want to encourage with things that will help. Can we do that?”

If your friend chooses to set a boundary, the tough part will be keeping to it. Gently guide Bob back, when he goes out into the weeds again. “Bob, I know you think there’s a link between the Illuminati and the Corona Virus, but I don’t want to talk to you about that right now. I want to know what’s going on inside you? Are you afraid? Tell me about that…”

This is highly dynamic, as you know. And nothing in this reply really will do justice to this situation, but as I said, I wanted to offer a different approach.

Simply put, stay out of his vortex of “end times”, secret knowledge, etc. and invest in the person, long term (someone else in these replies mentioned this too).

One last analogy: If this man was an alcoholic, you probably wouldn’t want to meet him when he’s drunk, to talk about Jesus. As much as it is possible for you, help him to sober up, or point him to people who can help him. Commit to being there with him through the process as a friend. Then, as a friend and on the man’s behalf, watch for Jesus at work, and be willing to respond as the Lord guides.

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Hi Lizibeth,

I agree that this friend is potentially in a great place for witnessing, as well as a spiritually dangerous place as he is seeking into that “realm” which only He can save us from. His word says that no man can serve two masters. Thus, perhaps presenting to him this verse may help him realize the very evil that he wishes to avoid is what he will ultimately fall into if he is not walking in the light.

Knowledge can be good. In Hosea 4:6, it is written “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” Also, we are given Proverbs and numerous prophecies and warnings throughout the Bible that we may not be deceived. However, Proverbs 9:10 says " “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding." And Matthew 24: 42-44 and Mark 13:33 would also be verses that I might present to this man to help him understand the importance of not only watching but praying! From there, I would try to point out that ultimately wisdom and understanding comes from the Lord. We must have the humility to seek and ask, and ultimately this comes only from personal relationship with the Son. At the end of the day or even the end of time itself, knowledge does not save us. Only our Savior can redeem us and guide us.

To encourage a brother in this situation or almost any that presents a great challenge, I would offer 1 Corinthians 3:7. I would tell him to keep witnessing and not give up, because you never know when He will give the increase!

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