Paradise Lost

Bible prophecy isn’t the problem in our evangelism; it’s the God-given message that works.

Shawn Boonstra
Paradise Lost

Nobody told me when I first got started in evangelism that so many Adventists would be bothered by what I do. I found the reactions strange: the message of prophecy was some of the best news my wife, Jean, and I had ever heard. I was exploding with excitement, and so were all the non-Adventists I was sharing it with. 

And we were all precisely the demographic that, I’ve been told ever since, cannot be reached with the prophetic message: young, secular, college educated. 

There seemed to be a clear dividing line between life-long Adventists and converts; the life-long ones had reservations about preaching our prophetic message to the public. The converts? They couldn’t get enough of it. I began to suspect that perhaps there were issues with the way that some Adventist kids had been exposed to our message—or inadequately exposed to it, to put it more bluntly. Why in the worldwould somebody who was raised with this understanding be hesitant to share it? 

The prophetic beasts are not simply the tools of a devil waiting to spring from the shadows and attack you; they are symbols for the mess that wehavemade.

Over the past three decades, I’ve seen evangelistic approaches that made me understand it better: some were utterly cringe-worthy. And some of it appeared to be selling fear rather than Christ. It makes sense that if you are raised in an atmosphere of fear, such approaches would trigger negative emotions. 

I cannot count the number of times that, when we are preparing to present the message in an urban center, church members have approached me to plead that we not advertise prophecy: “Please, no more beasts!” We have never pictured beasts on the covers of my handbills (and yes, they still work), and the name of our public series is Revelation Speaks Peace, not “Prepare for the End”or some other title reminiscent of street preachers sporting sandwich boards. And yet, because the content is clearly prophetic, some people (almost always lifers) want to change it. 

Sometimes they’ll show me alternatives: placid-looking brochures from some other event, featuring clouds, grassy fields, happy families. “Surely this would be better!” they insist. 

It is obvious to me that these people have never worked with the public: such approaches almost alwaysfail to draw a meaningful audience. Go back and underline the word meaningful in that last sentence. You can draw an audience with many different approaches. The question is whether or not it is the rightaudience. Frankly, I could advertise free beer and draw a huge crowd, but it’s the wrongcrowd. Let me explain why. 

Fishing Lures

Years ago, when I was much, much younger, I was wandering the aisles of a hardware store looking for fishing lures. I knew of a lake that was lousy with fish and had been eager to try my luck from the shore. I selected some of the slickest looking lures I saw—a few of them were expensive—and delighted myself with mental images of landing massive trophies. When I got to the shore, another kid was there with a small bucket of crickets. I laughed to myself: that poor kid didn’t have decent equipment. 

He out-fished me five to one. Why? Because I was thinking like a human, and he was thinking like a fish. 

When we want to eliminate prophecy from our message, we’re thinking like lifelong Adventists, not like the people we’re trying to reach. We have been counseled to focus on nothing butthe preaching of the Three Angels’ Messages. Why? Because God knows what He’s doing with this final phase of human civilization:

“In a special sense Seventh-day Adventists have been set in the world as watchmen and light bearers. To them has been entrusted the last warning for a perishing world. On them is shining wonderful light from the word of God. They have been given a work of the most solemn import—the proclamation of the first, second, and third angels’ messages. There is no other work of so great importance. They are to allow nothing else to absorb their attention” (Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 9, p. 19).

To downplay prophecy is to downplay a massive swath of the biblical material: it’s almost allprophecy. God has not made a mistake in the assignment He’s given His remnant church. It is ludicrous to imagine Him calling an emergency meeting of the angels to announce that He’s made a massive mistake with our messaging because He didn’t see the post-moderns or Gen Zs coming. The fact is that God has given us preciselythe right messaging for this generation. 

The End of the World as We Know It

Think about it: many people living on your street are despairing of hope that anyhuman government is going to be able to fix anything. Inflation has been ruining their plans for the future. The recent pandemic demonstrated just how vulnerable everything is, from our own personal security to the functioning of the economy. The human race is reaping the consequences of preciselywhat Bible prophecy describes: a human civilization detached from its Creator.

The prophetic beasts are not simply the tools of a devil waiting to spring from the shadows and attack you, although I’ve heard them described that way. They are symbols for the mess that we havemade, representations of the way we’ve tried to recapture paradise without God. 

Because God has placed eternity in their hearts, most people instinctively sense that something better is available.

When the nation of Israel begged for a human king (see 1 Samuel 8), the people wanted to become like their neighbors, many of which were highly sophisticated nations (think Egypt). They were not merely rejecting prophetic leadership; they were choosing the path of human-guided civilization. You’ll notice that the book of Genesis doesn’t speak kindly of the first cities. They were built by Cain and Nimrod, both of whom were the embodiment of human rebellion. Cities were an artificial paradise; the world had become violent and tough, and urban centers promised to solve those problems. They had walls to keep out violent invaders. They had larger populations that enabled food production on a larger scale. They had broader talent pools that meant a wider variety of goods and resources. In short, they were man-made substitutes for the Garden of Eden. 

The promise of paradise restored has been failing from the very beginning, however. It didn’t take long for selfish people to realize that cities also could become personalresources for leaders that promised a fast track to power and influence: the citizens themselves became dispensable resources. 

This is what the Israelites demanded of Samuel, and they persisted in spite of God’s warning. From that point forward, they suffered under progressively more wicked kings, to the point where God no longer saw the point in maintaining the temple. “If you want to live like the Gentiles do,” He said, “you might as well live under them.” The Babylonians sacked the Holy City and the temple, and Israel lived under the thumb of Gentile oppressors ever after: Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome. It became painfully obvious that there is no human solution to the mess we’ve made. 

The Church Takes Over

In later years, the Christian church repeated this mistake. “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them,” Jesus cautioned His disciples, “and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant” (Matthew 20:25, 26). Within three centuries, we blew it: we literally invited the Roman emperor Constantine to exercise jurisdiction over the Western church. 

Western civilization has been living with the consequences ever since. Christianity has a black eye because of it; we behaved more like the Roman Empire than the church of Christ for many centuries, and we are still living with the fallout. Understandably, much of the West has rejected traditional Christianity, with even the über-religious United States starting to show decline. 

Yet the deepest, most profound problems remain unsolved. While many of your neighbors might not be able to define it, they live with existential angst. They do not understand the purpose of existence, and they continue to grapple with the question of suffering—and suffering is the question that has permeated western philosophy from its very beginning. Philosopher Susan Neiman writes:

Post-modernism, in part, is the result of westerners despairing of order and purpose in the world.

“Eighteenth- and nineteenth-century philosophy was guided by the problem of evil. Like most short statements, this one is too simple. Nevertheless, … as an organizing principle for understanding the history of philosophy, the problem of evil is better than alternatives. It is more inclusive, comprehending a far greater number of texts; more faithful to their authors’ stated intentions; and more interesting.”

Neiman also points out that the Lisbon earthquake, so well known to Seventh-day Adventists, was a major turning point in western philosophy. Essay contests emerged in its wake, asking Europe’s thinkers to explain how a good God could allow such a horrific tragedy. This natural disaster—and the theological questions that followed in its wake—proved to be an incubator for the philosophy of notable writers such as Kant, Rousseau, and Voltaire. 

The earthquake fits neatly into our Adventist historical prophetic understanding, not only because it was a major seismological event but because it proved to be a radical turning point in Western thought: maybe, some began to worry, we really arealone in the universe. And maybe there is no meaning to life. 

As usually happens, the progressively nihilistic thought that emerged over the next two centuries trickled down from the ivory towers of academia to the general public, leading to this moment, right now. Post-modernism, in part, is the result of Westerners despairing of order and purpose. The nineteenth century, basking in the glow of the Enlightenment and scientific revolution, repeated the promise of the early city states mentioned in Genesis: they promised to solve all of our ills, this time through reason instead of city walls and armies. Much to our chagrin, we used our technological advancements to produce the bloodiest century in the history of the world. The discovery of Auschwitz at the end of the World War II sealed the deal: we are as evil as ever.  

It seems we can change anything except human nature. 

Prophecy Still Works

Now go back and look at Daniel’s prophecies with thatunderstanding. It offers an explanation for the world we presently live in: every single attempt to rebuild paradise on our own has failed. It explains why politicians fail us every single time. It explains why the march of human civilization only seems to make evil more painful over time, because it spreads it much faster, on a much larger scale. “Here is the reality of what you’ve done,” God says through the books of Daniel and Revelation, “and the real reason you’re suffering. And here’s the hope that I am offering: I can replace all of this with the kingdom of Christ.” 

Your neighbors might not understand it in those terms, but they instinctively get it when you present our message the way God instructed us to. I continue to open with Daniel 2, in spite of the complaints of some Adventists. Why? Because it demonstrates what most people quietly hope for: order and meaning. They might not like the religious framework at first—and I’ve seen a lot of people listening in a defensive posture, with arms folded and brows furrowed—but they can’t explain what they’ve just heard, and mostof them return. 

And the handbills? I keep the front relatively placid, but there’s always an element of tension. I don’t use tanks, gas masks, or fighter jets, but you willfind something subtle: a wisp of barbed wire, a lightning bolt, or something that subtly suggests trouble in paradise. Why? Because that’s precisely the messaging of Bible prophecy: there’s a lot of trouble in our human attempts at paradise. Most people, because God has placed eternity in their hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11), instinctively sense that something better is available, and that in the paradise they hope for, the serpent shouldn’t be there. 

When we are preparing to present the message in an urban center, church members have approached me to plead that we not advertise prophecy.

It still draws people, because while cultures shift, the most essential problems faced by humans haven’t changed one iota since the fall of humanity. Our message continues to ring true for the same reason that Greek tragedies continue to fascinate us: we are aware that we have a major flaw that threatens to take us down, and we find ourselves powerless to avoid our inevitable demise: helplessly, we continue to walk into the same trap, over and over . . . and over. 

Think about those beasts for a moment: they are God’s way of reminding us that we cannot fix what is wrong with the human race. They are a vivid depiction of ever-failing human government and the poverty of human solutions. Your neighbors are coming to the same conclusion on their own. Our job? Show them God’s explanation for it, and the solution He offers in Christ.

There’s only one reason I continue to do what I do: because it works. I do not enjoy public speaking. I do not like standing up front. I have no need to see my name in lights. If I could have what I wanted, I would disappear to the life of an introverted hermit, content to live out my days in a library. Trust me: if it didn’t work, I wouldn’t be doing it. 

But it does. So I do. 

Shawn Boonstra is speaker/director of the Voice of Prophecy media ministry, based in Loveland, Colorado, United States.

  1. Susan Neiman, Evil in Modern Thought (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2015), p. 7.
  2. . We have spent far too much time guessingat how to present our message to the public, when inspired counsel lays it out in rather plain detail. Perhaps that should be another article at some point.
  3. People often seem surprised that I still use handbills, even though I also use newer methods such as social media. Why do I persist? Simple: the rightones work, and they continue to pull the rightaudience. 
Shawn Boonstra

Shawn Boonstra is speaker/director of the Voice of Prophecy media ministry, based in Loveland, Colorado, United States.