Critics balked at naming Obama and the Antichrist in the same sentence. But noted theologians said Jeffress' example, when read in context, properly frames end-time prophecies in light of current events.
"I don't sit around in my office thinking up controversies. But I do use controversy to shine the light on Jesus Christ," Jeffress, the pastor of the 11,000-member First Baptist Church of Dallas, said Thursday (Jan. 9).
Jeffress knew the quotes issued by the publishing company for his new book, "Perfect Ending: Why your eternal future matters today," would be provocative, but he approved their use in the press release. No stranger to controversy, Jeffress drew attention during the 2012 presidential elections when he referred to Mormonism as a cult. And, on the eve of the election, he warned his congregation against voting for Obama. Jeffress stands by his comments, arguing each ensuing media eruption allowed him to share the Gospel from a national platform.
With the Jan. 6 release of a press statement by Worthy Publishing, Jeffress has come under fire yet again. Using current events to illustrate how a future world ruler could easily subvert moral law, Jeffress named names.
"Although President Obama is certainly not the Antichrist, his policies are paving the way for the Antichrist," Jeffress stated in the book.
President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary Paige Patterson said, "I understand what Jeffress is saying."
Agreeing with the overall message, Patterson said he would have couched it in broader terms. As Western governments grow in power and influence -- beyond the limited authority intended by God -- there is a corresponding decrease in individual freedom.
"To exceed that has always been dangerous and portends a day when government will be irresistible and totally corrupt," Patterson said.
"Is the Obama administration guilty? Yes, and so are almost all Western governments."
Craig Blaising, a Southwestern Seminary professor of eschatology and theology and member of First Baptist Dallas, said the pastor's comments are nothing new or out of character. Jeffress preached a similar sermon series in 2013.
"Dr. Jeffress was not identifying the Antichrist and he emphatically said so," Blaising said.
In the book and from the pulpit Jeffress revealed a pattern of influence that allows a leader to overturn religious and moral laws. Using a current president as an example is acceptable and prudent, Blaising said.
Patterson said, "If mentioning present sitting politicians in an effort to identify them with someone in Scripture, that is a failed policy and a hermeneutical mistake.... But as I understand it, Pastor Jeffress did not make that mistake. He simply pointed out that some of the policies of the Obama administration were clearly the Bible and set the stage for the coming of a world ruler."
In researching the book Jeffress questioned how the Antichrist would be able to thwart political and personal resolve, forcing people to subjugate their will to the collective will of government with so little opposition. He found the answers in recent U.S. legislation.
"Jeffress describes how our current political leaders are enacting laws and issuing court orders that offend or trespass against God's Law as shown in the Book of Daniel -- such as the baker in Colorado who was ordered, against his religious convictions, to create a cake for a gay wedding or face punitive fines," the press release stated.
Jeffress told Baptist Press that for too long pastors have neglected to speak authoritatively and accurately about biblical eschatology. Failed attempts by end-time prognosticators in the 1970s and 1980s to name names and predict the coming of Christ embarrassed many pastors and theologians into silence. But in that void has risen more false teachings, Jeffress said.
The pastor said he wanted to enlighten and engage Christians, not forecast the coming apocalypse.
"I am not Harold Camping reincarnated," Jeffress quipped, referring to the widely popular radio Bible teacher who predicted the world would end May 21, 2011. Camping died last year on Dec. 15.
Blaising said, "There are a whole lot of people saying a lot of things that are not supported by the Bible. They may have a little bit of truth with a lot of imagination."
Pastors need to speak the truth about end times and can do so as an effective apologetic approach to witnessing. But Blaising said there will be increasing pushback from an increasingly secular society.
"There is a great effort underway to control public discourse and silence Christians," he said.
The only "acceptable" speech is that which gives recognition to select groups the society deems worthy of promotion. Christians are not among that group and so their speech is disallowed regardless of the truth or merit of its content, Blaising said. And it is that context into which Jeffress' statements were cast.
But that reality should not stymie Christians, Jeffress said.
"The truth is always provocative," he added. "The desire for political correctness should not trump the message of truth."
Patterson concluded, "To single out the leader of the Western World and call attention to the unbiblical policies of his administration is certainly no different than what biblical prophets did including John the Baptist. Policies have promoters and simply to act as though this were not the case is also a mistake."
Bonnie Pritchett is a correspondent for the Southern Baptist TEXAN (www.texanonline.net), newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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