Thursday, July 28, 2005

understanding the Rapture

I have done a whole lotta reading in the past 24 hours about premillinnial dispensationalism--which includes teachings about the Rapture and is the belief system behind the Left Behind series of books.

Why should you know about it? These books have sold 60 million copies--second only to the Harry Potter series. Co-authored by Tim LeHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, they are often presented as The evangelical point of view. They write about a scenario when 40% of the population (true believers plus all the children on the planet) are taken up to Heaven, leaving the rest of the bewildered world behind.

However, some critics take exception to the idea that this is mainstream Christianity. To get some understanding of the controversies, lets first look at the origins of dispensationalism (dispensations = periods of history, starting with the Garden of Eden). Carl Olsen explains:
First, the "left-behind" theology is not the "Christian" or the "biblical" view of the end times, despite what LaHaye says, or what the media sometimes echoes. Premillennial dispensationalism and the belief in a Rapture event separate from the Second Coming is rejected, either explicitly or implicitly, by the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox churches, and nearly every major Protestant denomination. Dispensationalism, with its particular views about the nature of the Church and the role of Jews in end-times events, was created in the 1830s by former Anglican priest John Nelson Darby (1800-1882) and later systematized in the United States by C. I. Scofield (1843-1921) and Lewis Sperry Chafer (1871-1952). Hal Lindsey's 1970 best-selling The Late Great Planet Earth took popular dispensationalism into secular culture, a feat repeated by the "Left Behind" series.
Olsen, an ex-fundamentalist-turned-Catholic is uniquely suited to distinguish the two religions. He has a pdf file laying out the basics here.

Slacktivist (Fred Clark) is another critic, not Catholic this time, but evangelical. He has been critiquing the Left Behind series in his blog for over a year. He has taken the first book page-by-page and discussed the (incredibly bad) writing as well as the ideology. Even though I haven't read the series, I stayed up way past my bedtime reading it (start at the bottom).

This entry gave me pause:

Oct 27, 2003
Why this matters
I get an e-mail newsletter from a Christian nonprofit that has been outspoken in its criticism of the war on Iraq. In response to this criticism, they received the following letter:

I believe that we are in the last days as indicated by the Revelation of Jesus Christ to the Apostle John. We will be in Iraq and other areas of the Middle East because it is in God's plan. To condemn President Bush ... is naive. Muslim terrorists will not respond to the love of Christ because they are evil, they have always been evil and they will remain evil. Their hatred cannot be assuaged by compromise, gift, or any form of negotiation. We should kill them and continue to kill them until their blood flows through the Valley of Megiddo as high as the horse's bridles.
-- Ron Schott, Counselor/Consultant

I present this as an example -- albeit an extreme one -- of why the "end times" mania and wretched theology of the Left Behind series is dangerous for everyone, within and without the Christian community. Swap around a few of the words in this letter and you've got a standard piece of al-Qaeda fundamentalist propaganda. Same world view -- different religions. Actually, that's not true. Kill-the-irredeemable-infidel fundamentalism is always the same religion, no matter what faith it masquerades as a form of.

So did the one of Dec 23, 2004. In the Left Behind series the Antichrist is a peacemaker:

"... a peacemaker and leading a movement toward disarmament. ... I believe his goal is global disarmament."

That word -- "peacemaker" -- practically screams Antichrist. For LaHaye and Jenkins' intended readers, it wouldn't be any clearer if Carpathia had the number "666" tattooed on his forehead and went by the nickname "Horny Beast."

For those not initiated into the cabalistic logic of PMD prophecy freaks, this seems counter-intuitive. Peace, after all, is generally regarded by Scripture as a Good Thing. Peace is one of the fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). The Messiah is described as the "Prince of Peace" (Isaiah 9:6-7). Peace is often spoken of by God's angels, including the heavenly host of the Christmas story in Luke 2 (cue Linus), who sing, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."

Since we're on the subject, a few more examples:

Psalm 34:14: "Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it."

Isaiah 32:17: "The fruit of righteousness will be peace."

Matthew 5:9: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God."

Ephesians 2:17: "He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near."

James 3:18: "Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness."

We could go on, and on, and on. Peace is a pretty major theme in the Bible.

But none of this matters to the prophecy nuts who are convinced that the Antichrist will be a man of peace. And since they believe that the most important thing for Christians to do is to be on the lookout against the Antichrist, and vigilantly opposed to his evil ays, they believe that Christians must oppose anyone who speaks of, pursues, or tries to make, peace.

This is one of the most astonishing and dangerous aspects of the popularity of the End Times heresies promoted by people like LaHaye and Jenkins. It is one of this biggest reasons why this matters -- deeply, truly, seriously matters.

Tens of millions of copies of the Left Behind books have been sold. That doesn't just mean that tens of millions of our fellow citizens have horrible taste in literature. It also means they are being taught to oppose -- to condemn as immoral and ungodly -- any effort that goes under the name "peacemaking."

Since they believe the Antichrist will rule over a one world government, these readers are also being taught to fear, loathe and oppose the United Nations and anything that smacks of multilateral or international cooperation.

Believers are focused on an Apocolyptic vision that will indicate that they will be saved from death--while the rest of humanity undergoes a period of Tribulation. On Oct 20, 2003, Clark discusses the significance of this:

I spent years working for groups like "Evangelicals for Social Action" -- trying to get Christians to follow the Bible's teachings about justice and mercy for the poor, and the "Evangelical Environmental Network" -- trying to promote a stewardly care for God's creation. In that work I would frequently encounter rapture-maniac Christians of the LaHaye/Bush variety who seemed genuinely to believe that any such efforts to make the world a better place were contrary to the will of God as they understood it.

To such people God's will was for the world to spiral downwards into chaos and ever-increasing suffering. Such a view leads these Christians to pursue the opposite of what Jesus taught. It is, in one word, "Anti-Christ."

Here's another indicator that I find disturbing. It is a website to help people interpret world events in terms of the dispensationalist world view:

You could say the Rapture index is a Dow Jones Industrial Average of end time activity, but I think it would be better if you viewed it as prophetic speedometer. The higher the number, the faster we're moving towards the occurrence of pre-tribulation rapture.
55 million people.

What is Peak Oil to them?


Anonymous said...

My Inaugural Address at the Great White Throne Judgment of the Dead, after I have raptured out billions!


Your jaw will drop!

Steven said...

Thank you so much for explaining PMD to me. I especially appreciate your explaining its historical originl, and I appreciate the link to Carl Olson's site. It is very informative.

--Steven Augart, Lexington, Massachusetts, U.S.A.

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