First, it was Y2K, then the War on Terror. At the onset of the 2020s, it is the global covid-19 pandemic. In modern history, there is always a looming menace that threatens to usher in economic and societal collapse. And as information is shared no more easily than ever, there is a growing trend to embrace the prepper lifestyle and be ready when calamity arises.
How should Christians respond? Should we also embrace the prepper lifestyle?
Christians should not become preppers. But we should, with prayer and wisdom, discern our present reality so that we may live in the present and prepare for the future in a God-honoring, Biblical manner.
In other words, let’s learn from the prepper’s observations, and apply Biblical teaching and wisdom to our response.
What Is a Prepper?
A prepper, in simplest terms, is someone who takes steps to prepare for the ultimate collapse of Western (specifically American) economies and political structures. The prepper’s objective is to achieve complete self-reliance in order to minimize or eliminate the impact of an economic collapse on his family and way of life.
The typical precautions taken by the prepper include the stockpiling of non-perishable food, fuel, and ammunition. The prepper may also establish a small family farm as a means of ongoing food production.
Prepper’s homes are regularly outfitted with solar energy production and independent wells and septic systems in order to sustain an off-the-grid operation.
Finally, preppers tend to store a portion of their wealth in gold and silver bullion in order to protect against the collapse of government-backed currencies.
The Prepper’s Analysis
Preppers believe that an economic collapse is inevitable, citing the unsustainability of inflation and the centralization of capital among the wealthiest persons. This trend, they say, will force more people into poverty as basic goods become more scarce and more expensive.
Preppers typically believe, though to varying degrees, that governments and others in power are actively manipulating economic activity in order to eventually cause such a collapse.
The Christian Prepper
In America, preppers tend to identify as Christians, primarily for two reasons. First, is that skepticism of a strong centralized government is common to the ideology of the conservatives of the political right who favor smaller government and less regulation.
Evangelical Christians, who align with the political right more for social reasons than economic reasons, also count themselves as political conservatives and thus are more exposed to prepper ideology that is espoused by their socio-political allies.
The link between Evangelical Christianity and prepping is further reinforced by the tendency among American Evangelicals to interpret the book of Revelation and related Biblical passages through the lens of dispensationalism.
As such, Evangelicals view world events as signs that we are nearing the rise to power of the anti-Christ, and the onset of the great tribulation that will mark the beginning of the events foretold in Revelation.
As Christians, we must constantly check our thinking against Biblical truth, and our actions against the character of God. This is true in all areas of life, but especially so in areas that are deeply politicized. And so, as we consider the merits of prepping, we must discern how much our thinking is informed by our politics, and how well our behavior reflects the work of Christ in us.
The Problem of Evil
With even a cursory reading of Scripture and world history, one can easily identify the link between evil and power. The human heart, stained by sin, is inherently selfish and prideful. As the ambition of pride grows, so does the desire for power. And so, it doesn’t take a conspiracy theorist to conclude that human power systems will inevitably attract evil, and when evil holds power, it will seek ways to exploit that power.
No human system, be it a democracy, a dictatorship, or something in between is perfect. We are imperfect people designing imperfect systems in an imperfect world. The fact that our world is broken by sin leads us to our second observation. Our human efforts are incapable of making the world better.
Again, both scripture and history remind us that violence, mistreatment, and evil are nothing new. And it doesn’t take a particular interpretation of end-times prophecies to conclude that the world will remain evil and corrupt until God completes His plan for redeeming and restoring His creation.
So As Christians, we should agree, at least in broad terms, with some of the foundational observations made by preppers about the human condition and state of the world. But we should do so without embracing the tendencies to blame a particular political institution, nation, or group of people. For it is the inherent darkness of the world against which we shine our light. And this is true in all cultures, and in all ages.
So is prepping consistent with how Christians are called to live? The Bible does indeed teach us to be prepared and to work toward preparedness. Consider Proverbs 6:6-8, which says:
Go to the ant, you sluggard;
consider its ways and be wise!
It has no commander,
no overseer or ruler,
yet it stores its provisions in summer
and gathers its food at harvest.
And Proverbs 28:19, which admonishes the lazy:
Those who work their land will have abundant food,
but those who chase fantasies will have their fill of poverty.
Yet, when we apply Biblical wisdom to our preparation, we find that we must prepare in a way that constantly seeks the Lord’s counsel and depends on Him.
Jesus taught us to learn from the birds, whom God keeps fed, and not to worry about tomorrow (Matthew 6:25-27). And in the cautionary parable of the Rich Fool, Jesus further warned against being motivated by greed in our preparations (Luke 12:13-21).
Preparing While Relying on God
That is why scripture often pairs watchfulness with prayer. Before his arrest, Jesus warned his disciples to watch and pray in order that they not fall into temptation (Matthew 26:41). Paul instructs us to be watchful and thankful as we devote ourselves to prayer (Colossians 4:2). Preparation without prayer leads us to the pride of self-reliance, and the greed of hoarding.
Jesus has built the church as a community of people who share one another’s burdens. We are called to meet each other’s material needs, and we cannot do that if we hoard for ourselves without regard for the need of others. Of course, many preppers are fully prepared to provide for their families and even their faith communities. But they are equally prepared to use violence to defend their possessions.
Yet, scripture reminds us that our battle is not against flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12) and that we do not wage war as the world does (2 Corinthians 10:3). In fact, scripture instructs us to feed an enemy in need (Proverbs 25:21), and Jesus tells us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44).
So while we are wise to learn survival skills such as food production, and to prepare for economic contingencies, we must never let our need to prepare turn our hearts and minds away from our calling as Christians. And God’s kingdom, people living in this world, we must be prepared to love, to give, and to serve as Jesus would have us do. By doing so, we live as faithful witnesses, shining God’s light, no matter how dark the world around us becomes.