The Last Disciple by Hank Hanegraaff and Sigmund Brouwer

Take -THAT-, Tim LaHaye...
Opening an apocalyptic can of worms...
I was a teenage Dispensationalist... 

Hank Hanegraaff of Bible Answer Man fame has thrown down the gauntlet to Tim LaHaye by releasing his own fictional counterpoint to the endtimes: The Last Disciple . Co-written by Sigmund Brouwer, this is the first in a proposed three-volume series that places the events of the Book of Revelation squarely in the first century against the backdrop of the Roman persecution of Christians under the Emperor Nero.

The book itself is a pretty good page-turner (I read it in no particular rush as bedtime reading in about two weeks). The protagonist of the story is a member of Nero's close inner circle named Vitas. Although a number of characters in the book are actual historical figures, Vitas is not. In the story, Vitas is increasingly troubled by the paranoid Nero's persecution of Christian believers. Although not a believer himself (at least in what's been published so far) Vitas finds himself in the middle of a spiritual struggle made even more complicated by his love for a freed Jewish slave, Sophia who is herself a believer in Jesus of Nazareth. The story takes place on a number of fronts in the Roman Empire, but primarily goes back and forth between first century Rome and Jerusalem.

I liked this book, and I don't want to reveal too much of the story. The authors have carefully constructed a tale that will appeal to both men and women. To speak in great generalities, there's enough action, fighting, and intrigue to keep male readers interested while the romantic threads that run throughout the story will keep any female reader turning pages as well. And regardless of your gender, if you are a student of John's Apocalypse, ancient history--especially Roman history--there's more than enough here to keep you interested.

As hinted at above, there's a little bit of controversy to this book, in more ways than one. First, from a theological perspective, Hanegraaff & Brouwer's Last Disciple takes a viewpoint completely contrary to the Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkin's Left Behind series. More than that, both The Last Disciple and Left Behind are printed by the same publisher, Tyndale House ! Word is that Lahaye is furious at Tyndale for publishing an opposing viewpoint. "They are going to take the money we made for them and promote this nonsense," said Tim Lahaye in an article first appearing in the Dallas Morning News.

In a nutshell, LaHaye's Dispensational Premillennial view says that at some date in the future, Jesus will return to take all believers away (known as the "Rapture") in an event that inaugurates a seven-year reign of terror by the Antichrist. This will end in an apocalyptic showdown between the forces of good and evil where Jesus will return and institute a thousand year rule, after which Judgement Day will occur when believers will enter into eternal glory and unbelievers will be cast into the Lake of Fire. Whoops, I just ruined the ending for those of you reading the Left Behind series. My apologies.

Hanegraaff and Brouwer are coming from a perspective known as Partial Preterism. If you've never heard of this, let me explain. Preterism says that the events described in the Book of Revelation have already taken place in the first century. The tribulation is the persecution of the church in the fifties and sixities of the first century, and Nero is the Antichrist. The Book of Revelation itself is written in a code based upon Old Testament symbols so as to keep it's message a secret from the Romans. A full preterist believes that everything that is described in the Book of Revelation has already taken place. A partial preterist such as Hanegraaff will distinguish himself by saying that not all of the things described in the last book of the Bible have yet occurred. Believers are still looking forward to the bodily return of Christ, the resurrection from the dead, and the judgment before entering into eternity, according to the partial view.

I grew up in a tradition that primarily espoused LaHaye's viewpoint of dispensationalism. Many Christians go through a time in their lives when they are overly fascinated with these issues. For me, it was when I was in high school, around my senior year. In seeking to understand the end times better, I read the leading authority of the day, Hal Lindsey. I read The Late Great Planet Earth (which, incidentally was the top-selling book, Christian or secular, of the 1970's), Lindsey's commentary on Revelation, There's a New World Coming, and of course, The 1980's: Countdown to Armageddon.

But the more dispensationalism I read, the less I seemed to buy it. Primarily as a sticking point for me was this idea that Jesus was going to come back in this secret second coming and take all the believers away seven years before his real second coming. I could not and still cannot find any biblical warrant for anything like this. Later I would learn that the idea of a "rapture"--rescuing all believers from the tribulation--is essentially new theology, originating from the mid-nineteenth century with John Darby who was a huge influence on Charles Scofield of the Scofield Bible. These were to influence 20th century individuals such as Charles Ryrie, Hal Lindsey, Tim LaHaye and others who have championed and promoted dispensationalism to the point that it is a predominant view among evangelical Christians. Although I don't consider it heretical, I have to remind people that it is not historic Christian belief.

There is one part of The Last Disciple in which Hanegraaff and Brouwer poke a bit of fun at the Left Behind series. The "last disciple" refers, of course, to the Apostle John who doesn't even appear in the book until well into the last third of the story. On p. 318, Hanegraaff and Brouwer write:

John continued to smile. "I'm sure that all believers would wish to be whisked away, taken up into thin air, to avoid the Tribulation. Yet that would be a false hope, especially if it replaces the true hope of the Resurrection, for the resurrection of Jesus and the resurrection promised to us because of it are what give us the hope to endure troubles. In this age. In any age, even should it take thousands of years for the Second Coming."

Personally, I am respectful of the partial preterist viewpoint more than dispensationalism because preterism treats the historical context behind the biblical text seriously. However, I think there is a midway point that I prefer. As I began to reject dispensationalism in my late teens, I began to form my own understanding and later I found a particular perspective that matched what I had understood from my study of the Bible quite well. It is known as Historical Premillienialism. If anything it is a midway point between the two options already discussed here. First of all, it does treat the historical realities behind the Book of Revelation seriously as does preterism, but it also looks to a future time of heightened persecution and an extremely godless individual who sets himself up as a messiah, and seeks self-worship, and self-exaltation. Historical premillennnialism rejects the idea of a secret rapture of the church, but rather says that believers will go through the tribulation before the second coming of Christ.

Biblical prophecy can have layers or multiple fulfillments. So in Hosea 11:1, the prophet can say "Out of Egypt I called my son" referring to the Exodus, but it also has further implication in regard to the Messiah as noted in Matthew 2:15 when Joseph hides Mary and the infant Jesus in Egypt to escape Herod. In Isaiah 7:14, we read "and a virgin [Hebrew, almah] will conceive and give birth to a son." This prophecy had immediate implication for King Ahaz, but it also had significance regarding the Messiah to come as noted by Matthew in his Gospel (Matt 1:22-23). This is--in its truest sense--prophecy being fulfilled which comes from the idea of being filled full. There can be layers to prophetic writing. This can certainly make it difficult to interpret, but it keeps us watchful and humble as we approach the Scriptures and the events that take place in the world around us. Unlike dispensationalists, we are careful not to jump to conclusions in interpreting current events and we would certainly avoid setting any dates for the return of Christ which has become fairly popular with dispensationalists over the last two centuries.

So, although I am respectful of Hanegraaff's position--much more so than LaHaye's--I would have to find a median position that treats seriously the history behind the Book of Revelation, but still looks for events to take place. Hardly anyone disagrees that through the ancient number game of gematria where letters of the alphabet stand for numbers (explained in detail in the book), the number 666 clearly says Neron Caesar. Even dispensationalists like LaHaye will admit this. And here I would agree with them that Nero formed the prototype for the antichrist--one who is absolutely opposed to God and his people. And yet, there is one like Nero, perhaps you could say, in the spirit of Nero who is still to come.

Besides interpretational differences, the only real problem I have with The Last Disciple is that in order for it to really work, the Book of Revelation has to have been written in the early sixties of the first century. Although I believe that most of the epistles were written in the fifties and the Gospels in the late fifties or in the sixties (before the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple), I have a hard time believing that John's Apocalypse was written this early. Almost all evangelical scholars and church tradition beginning with Irenaus has placed Revelation as being written during the reign of the Emperor Domitian around AD 90. There are a number of issues surrounding this that I am not going to go into here right now, but I think this is a monumental issue with Hanegraaff's argument.

I do recommend the book though. The Last Disciple reminded me how central the resurrection of believers is to the hope that we have for the future. The first century Christians were willing to face death in the Roman coliseum so bravely because they knew that their physical death was not the end. They knew that they were coming back, and coming back in bodily form. This is our hope for the future, not some secret rescue before things get really, really bad.

I admit up front that I have not read ANY of the Left Behind series, but if you have or even if you haven't, The Last Disciple will introduce you to a lot of history and background that sets the context for the New Testament. One word of warning: there are some highly graphic descriptions in the book relating to the cruelty of Roman persecution. But the Roman persecution, like many of the events in the book are grounded in reality as opposed to some books grounded in pop-theology and speculation. 

The Bruce And Me

Photographic proof at LAST that I wasn't making it all up! 

Last year when I wrote a review of Bubba Ho-tep , I mentioned that I had actually met THE BRUCE a few years back. Tonight, I happened to come across the long-lost picture. This photo of Bruce Campbell and me was taken October 31, 2001 at the now-defunct Hawley-Cooke bookstore. He was there to sign copies of his book, If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B-Movie Actor .

Now, if I could just find that picture of me and Ron Ely ... 

You Are Without an Excuse: Get a Mac

...a Mac mini, that is... 

See that box above? That's the computer. Yep, the whole thing. Meet the new Mac mini . It debuted at MacWorld in San Francisco on Tuesday. It costs only $499, and so now you are without an excuse.

Everything plugs into the back. This is a great machine if you already have a computer (and who of you doesn't?) because you don't need to buy a new monitor, keyboard, or mouse. Even if you have a Windows machine, your peripherals can be plugged into the back of the Mac mini. In fact, if you are a Windows user, you are one of the primary targets that Apple is aiming for with this computer. Lots of you have had Mac-envy for years, but you've been afraid to take the plunge. Well, at $499, this is the lowest-priced Mac ever made.

I would imagine with the Mac mini being so small (6.5" x 6.5" x 2" and under 3 lbs.), some people will treat it almost like a laptop. Keep a monitor, keyboard, and mouse at work and another set at home and just take your computer back and forth. It will fit into a bag or backpack and you can transport it back and forth.

For those of you who are skeptical, let me make my pitch...

The majority of you reading this are doing so from a Microsoft Windows-based PC. Odds are that right now as you read this, every site you visit on the internet (including this one) is being transmitted to a third party who is selling that information to marketers. You have to update your computer everyday downloading updates from Norton Antivirus, McAfee and the like to make sure you aren't infected with viruses and worms. You have to run Ad-Aware to remove the spyware that the majority of Windows machines like yours are eat up with. Microsoft sends out near-weekly updates to WindowsXP because after three years, they still haven't really completed the operating system.

Well, guess what? On my Apple Macintosh computer, I don't have to do any of that. Yes, there are occasional OS updates from Apple, but not near the number that come from Microsoft. And yes, I do have anti-virus software on my Mac, but guess seven years of being a Mac user (I switched from Windows in 1998 after one crash too many) I have never had one of my Macs infected with a virus. I run anti-virus software because it's better to be safe than sorry, but I've never been infected. Yes, some of you have sent me viruses via email after your Windows computer was infected, but those viruses don't affect the Mac operating system. It's like bullets bouncing off Superman's chest.

I've had the Mac PowerBook I'm writing this blog on for a couple of years. A couple of months ago, just as a precaution and because I was kinda curious, I downloaded and ran a program that looks for spyware, trojans, and dataminers (the hidden software that send information about your internet habits to other companies). It didn't find ONE single instance of such a program on my computer. NOT ONE. I need you to understand the significance of this. If you are a Windows user, there are so many vulnerabilities in your OS, that you can't run a Windows computer for ONE WEEK without having dozens of such programs on your computer. Don't believe me? Download Ad-Aware right now and check. If you've had your PC for a while and you've never run a program like this, don't be surprised to find hundreds of these little parasitic programs. And you wonder why your computer runs so slow these days? As a Mac user, I don't have to worry about these things. They just don't affect me.

I referred above to having one crash too many when I used to be a Windows user. I remember trying to create a presentation in Microsoft PowerPoint running on Microsoft Windows98 and every few slides I built, the computer would crash (this also happened to Bill Gates last week at CES ). Finally, I had enough. After a lot of research I found out that PowerPoint (and the rest of MS Office) began on Macs and then was ported over to Windows a few years later. I made my switch to the Mac. I use programs like PowerPoint and Word for the Mac everyday. Unlike Bill Gates last week, I don't remember the last time PowerPoint crashed or locked up on me.

In case you misunderstand me, I am not anti-Microsoft. I think Microsoft makes some great software and I use Microsoft Office 2004 everyday. I just don't like Microsoft operating systems, that is, Windows of any flavor.

Windows on "IBM-compatible" PCs was an afterthought when Apple refused to license the Mac OS to PC companies (this was around 20 years ago, believe it or not). Windows is and always has been a cheap, clunky knock-off of the Mac operating system. The Mac OS, however was built from the ground up to be a graphical operating system. If you are into digital photography or video editing, the Mac is hands-down the platform for such things. Windows PC's can't even come close.

Simply put, creative people use Macs. Granted, we're talking about machines here, but Apple makes computers that tend to inspire people. They are elegant...practically works of art. This includes not only the hardware, but the software and the entire user experience. Think about it for a minute.... every once in a while, you are driving down the road and you can spot the Mac users by the little Apple decal on their vehicle. When was the last time you saw a Windows sticker on a car? When was the last time someone told you he was passionate about his Dell?

And granted, the Mac mini is not the most powerful computer Apple makes--not at this price point. However, I will tell you that it has a faster processor than any of the three Macs I have regular access to, and I wouldn't consider any of my Macs slow--not like the chug, chug, hard drive grinding PC's that I sit at every now and then when I am trying to help someone with their Windows machine.

There's no reason not to switch to the Mac. Windows XP hasn't been upgraded since 2001 (unless you count the plethora of patches, critical updates, and service packs). The Mac has had three major upgrades in that amount of time.

Software is not an issue. Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) is available for the Mac. Microsoft makes this suite for Mac users and believe it or not, they are more stable on the Mac (where they originated) than on Windows computers. File compatibility is not an issue. I send Windows users Word documents created on my Mac all the time, and they open them just fine. And they send me documents created in Excel or Word for Windows and they open on my Mac without a hitch.

The future of the company is not an issue. Apple reported yesterday to the highest quarterly earnings in their entire history . And whereas companies like Microsoft had a drop in stock prices over the last year (Microsoft was 3% down for the year), Apple is up around 185% (look for the stats at the end of this CNBC video clip to see for yourself).

You know for the longest time, the only real excuse folks had was that Apple computers were just more expensive. I had to give you that one, although I would have been quick to point out that you get what you pay for. Mac users tend to get more life out of their computers and replace them less frequently because they are so well-built and long-lived.

However, now with the Mac mini, starting at $499, you don't even have the cost excuse anymore. The price is right. Stop wasting time and get a real computer. Get a Mac.

One final note: Priced as is, the Mac mini comes with only 256 MB of RAM. These days, I recommend both Mac and Windows XP users get at least 512 MB of RAM. With computer memory, more is always better. The base-model Mac mini is $499 ($479 for students and teachers) and upgrading it to 512MB of RAM will up the final cost to $574 ($546 for students and teachers). Either way, it's still bargain-basement prices. GET A MAC.