Thursday, May 19, 2011
The Rapture is Coming?! Part II
Well, things are getting more & more frenetic the closer we get to the zero hour for Harold Camping's prediction - which is, by the way, 6 pm PST on Saturday. (Read my first post, The Rapture is Coming?!, for more background.) One of the by-products of this intense coverage/discussion of the End Times (and particularly the Rapture) has led me to do some more extended reading & study this week... and it leaves me in a kind of weird spot. We'll get to the "spot" in a minute - but first a little history. I grew up in Southern California in the 1970s, back when it was one of the great gathering places for Jesus Movement folks - Calvary Chapel was king & Chuck Smith (their pastor) was a gifted speaker who spent a lot of time on the sure return of Jesus Christ. One of the guys who led my youth group Bible study was an ex-hippie who came to Jesus & was a big part of a "Jesus Music" band - and he was also very into teaching & talking about the End Times. You see, evangelical culture was flooded with books (The Late Great Planet Earth was the most notable), films (I still run into people who were profoundly influenced and/or scared by "Thief in the Night"), and music (Larry Norman's "I Wish We'd All Been Ready" was popular - long before DC Talk covered the tune or LaHaye & Jenkins ripped off a line to title their series) about the Rapture. Remember, it was the 1970s: Watergate, the fallout from the Sexual Revolution, the loss of the Vietnam War, the energy crisis - complete with gas rationing, the 1973 Arab-Israeli War,etc. It was pretty easy to convince folks that life was getting worse & a one-way ticket out of here was an incredibly desirable thing - esp. if the destination was eternity with God. Notice that the fervor for this kind of thing began to ebb as circumstances got better - reaching a real low point for the End Times business when the perennial favorite for the "Who is Gog & Magog?" contest (see Revelation 20) - the Soviet Union - went belly up in 1989. But the flames were fanned again with the release of the "Left Behind" book series... and movies... and young adult book series... and one begins to wonder whether the primary motivation is theological or financial. (My personal critique of the series? In short: "badly written dialogue, cardboard cut-out characters in an interesting plot... but undercut by the need to shoehorn in the author's very detailed premillenial dispensationalist view of Bible prophecy.") Of course, there's been a long history of prophecies (check out the website A Brief History of the Apocalypse - http://www.abhota.info/ - for that long, sad lineage) about the end of the world, both inside & outside Christianity... Camping is just the latest one to gain notoriety. OK, enough history. With that particular theological context growing up, I'd always just assumed that the Chick Tract/Left Behind/Thief in the Night storyline was the only or best way to interpret the Scriptures. But with some research, I kept running into the pretty much inescapable fact that the "doctrine" of the Rapture (as we know it) pretty much starting in the 19th century with the teachings of John Darby (pretty much the father of dispensational theology) & C.I. Scofield (who published the Scofield Chain Reference Bible, which put Darby's theology on the same page as the Scriptures in the form of footnotes). So, the Rapture is a theological belief that's a little more than 150 years old. New isn't necessarily bad... but when it comes to theology, it's always possible that something "new" simply means folks pulled stuff out of context to come up with their belief system... so I find myself struggling with what I believe about the Rapture - but, then again, I've always struggled with what I believe about the End Times. Not about the sure return of Christ or that God will reign... but with the nitty-gritty details of what will happen when and the tendency of some believers to want a "map" of how it's all gonna go down. Am I saying there won't be a Rapture? No. Is it possible that the return of Christ (the Second Coming) and the Rapture will occur at the same time? Yes. Do I know this for sure? Absolutely not. Here's my two cents - this particular issue (the Rapture) can NOT be one of those theological hills that we chose to fight to the death for... the divinity of Christ, the truth of the Resurrection, the inspired nature of Scripture - yes, these fundamental beliefs are worth everything we have. But a particular brand of End Times theology is not worth our time & energy. Since we acknowledge that "no man knows the day or the hour" and that appearance of the Lord will be "like a thief in the night", we do a horrendous disservice to those in need of Jesus' saving grace by focusing inordinate amounts of attention & emotion on fighting with each other over signs & interpretations. You & I may not agree completely on what will happen at the end of time - but I once again would suggest that our call to evangelize & disciple, to serve & minister in the name of Christ is substantially more important than convincing someone of our particular eschatology.