(This is Day 14 in our look at the Bible’s Book of Revelation, what it means and doesn’t mean.)
The concept of the Dispensationalism–commonly know today as “Rapture” or “Left Behind” theology–has been a characteristic feature of conservative and evangelical Christian theology for a long time now.
Way too long in fact.
“Left Behind” theology teaches that the true Christian believers among us will be removed from the world just before (or maybe within) a period of hellacious earthly Tribulation.
This abrupt removal of true Christians from the world in the great “Rapture” means that you–if you are a good, bona fide Christian–could be swept away to the divine realm any minute.
(Hopefully you’ll have your clothes when you go to meet God.)
Unfortunately, your spouse, you children, your siblings–who may not have the bona fides required to spend eternity with God–could be left behind to endure Hell on earth.
N.T. Wright, the British Anglican on everybody’s short list of best theologians alive, once wrote what follows about the “Rapture” craze–when America’s enchantment with the god-awful Left Behind novels and films was peaking–in a 2001 article titled “Farewell to the Rapture”:
“The American obsession with the second coming of Jesus–especially with distorted interpretations of it–continues unabated. Seen from my side of the Atlantic, the phenomenal success of the Left Behind books appears puzzling, even bizarre.
“Few in the U.K. hold the belief on which the popular series of novels is based: that there will be a literal ‘rapture’ in which believers will be snatched up to heaven, leaving empty cars crashing on freeways and kids coming home from school only to find that their parents have been taken to be with Jesus while they have been ‘left behind.’
“This pseudo-theological version of Home Alone has reportedly frightened many children into some kind of (distorted) faith.”
Indeed, the distortion of faith presented in the popular novels by the warped minds of two money-grubbing evangelicals who co-authored the books has made a mockery of the Bible and Christian faith.
The heck of it is, the now commonly-held doctrine of the Rapture was never a doctrine at all until a Brit named John Nelson Darby (1800-1882) invented it!
But it wasn’t even popularized until a kook in my beloved city of Dallas, Texas– C. I. Scofield–published Darby’s nonsense in what became the very successful Scofield Reference Bible.
Scofield’s “Bible” was first published in 1909 and, unfortunately, the unbiblical “Rapture” theology has had staying power.
Barbara Rossing, the New Testament theologian at Chicago’s Lutheran seminary and author of The Rapture Exposed, explains why the “Left Behind” Rapture theology made famous in novels and films is not only an unbiblical 19th century invention–but dangerous theology:
“We must address the question how the book of Revelation–especially the warrior Jesus in Revelation 19–gets used by American fundamentalist Christians to justify war and conquest, whether in Iraq or in Israel.
“In my view, today’s Christian fundamentalists have hijacked the nonviolent Lamb of Revelation as the predominant image of Jesus and replaced him with the fierce Lion, a move that has terrifying and violent consequences for both Jews and Christians—especially when followers seek to influence U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.
“Drawing on the interpretation invented by British preacher John Nelson Darby in the 1830s, pre-millennial dispensationalists split the traditional second coming of Jesus into two parts—first a so-called ‘Rapture, when born-again Christians get to escape up to heaven, then seven years of tribulation and wars, followed by the so-called Glorious Appearing seven years later, when Jesus returns for what ends up being a third time.
“They claim that this scenario—including the rebuilding of the Jewish Temple and its desecration by the Antichrist—-is laid out in Daniel 9:25–27. For them, the world is now counting down for a series of ever-worsening disasters and wars, leading up to the end.
“Dispensationalist Left Behind theology is dangerous for the Middle East. Israeli theologian Yehezkel Landau calls it a ‘perverse parody of John 3:16: God so loved the world that he sent it World War III.’
“Some Israelis have been willing to accept American fundamentalists’ financial and political support because their theology promotes a very pro-Israel foreign policy in the short term. But as Landau and others point out, dialogue among Jews and Christians working for peace in the Middle East is ill served by such problematic alliances.”
Today’s takeaway might be this:
14. Don’t buy into “The Rapture” or the enduring popularity of the “Left Behind” stuff that has enriched a lot of preachers and fundamentalists while making a mockery of God and the book of Revelation. It’s not only a false doctrine but a potentially dangerous one.