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 - - 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.


Jonathan Degann said...

Well, that "Brief History of the Apocalypse" was... extensive. The Christian Science Monitor has just five highlights, each of which is very amusing.

What especially caught my eye was #3, in which a psychologist joined a doomsday group as a mole and reported on the way the survivors dealt with their disappointment. This became the basis of the term many of us know, "Cognitive Dissonance", when the mind rushes to reconcile conflicting concepts. He observed that the most convinced in the cult would find a way to affirm that they were right all along. In this case, their furious efforts to meed the end successfully averted it.

It should be a pleasant pastime to see how Mr. Camping deals with his own cognitive dissonance.

AnnH said...

I once watched an interview with LaHaye and his co-author. The co-author made clear that the work was not theology, but a piece of speculative fiction; and it was pretty clear from the subtexts that it written to capitalize on the growing market for Christian fiction. It was also very very clear from body language and other comments he made that LaHaye wanted no such distinction: he wanted to pitch the books as a window into the truth...not because they were, but because Christians would then buy them--and he didn't want to lose that marketing edge, lest it cost them money. The co-author was very frank about how lucrative the series was: LaHaye kept trying to divert the conversation from the massive profits back to the spiritual benefits of buying the books.

Anonymous said...

I generally tell people that although Darby is considered the "father" of dispensation and the rapture, all he did was give names to things Christians already believe in. That's why none of this camping silliness moved me. The Bible spells out pretty clear what will happen and how, just not when. (Maybe I am biased about Darby though considering I am one of the few people you'll run into that has a Darby translation Bible!)
- a friendly Christian boardgaming follower

Mark (aka pastor guy) said...

Anonymous, I think the "what will happen & how" are clear only if you approach the Bible with a particular outside framework - and those frameworks (theological preconceptions) have varied depending on the culture & time.

My point is not to argue various eschatologies... though I have some large questions about anything based on dispensational theology.

The point of my post was to highlight that "end times" falls into the "important but NOT vital" category of theology.

Anonymous said...

Yeah I agree with you overall this is not one of the more important subjects to discuss the small details about (sorry, should have mentioned that in my first comment) though I am now interested in what questions you have about dispensational theology. I won't post my belief on the rapture (it is your blog and I'll respect that) but I think we can agree that a tiny plus to what Harold did is get people talking about it that otherwise wouldn't and maybe open opportunities for the Gospel.

Anonymous said...

I live like this. The rapture will happen 5 minutes from now, if not then wait just 5 more minutes. Are you ready. You must be sinless and perfectly Holy or you won'be taken.

Mark (aka pastor guy) said...

The most recent reply from Anonymous (boy, there are a lot of you with that name! sheesh...) suggested that sinless & holy living is the only way to guarantee getting "raptured".

I would suggest a careful reading of Ephesians 2:8-9 as a starting point - well, counterpoint.