Seeking light in the darkness of american evangelical eschatology

sketch of burning earth with person flying up from it into the stratosphereDue to the Camping/May 21 fiasco, I had opportunity to read and think about the subject again.  It helped reiterate my beliefs and convictions  concerning the return of Christ.  Essentially I believe He will return someday; once, publicly, and triumphantly to judge and restore and recreate the new heaven and earth.

First, I do not trust American evangelical interpretations of Revelations/etc.  Secondly I do not believe a whit of the premillenial-dispensationalism, Left Behind (rapture–> 7 year tribulation –> 2nd Coming) gnostic sensationalism that dominated the radio programming, preaching, books and Sunday Schools of my maturing years.  In most of my acquaintance circles, including my church, premillenialist dispensationalism’s rapture/tribulation/2nd – 2nd Coming continues to exert influence, although I believe for most people it is one of the negotiables.

In recent years, I have felt the call of God to focus on His kingdom in the here and now, rather than obsessing over the signs and times that might indicate the “action film” culmination of His plans for earth and heaven.  I Thessalonians 5:21 says, “Test everything.  Hold on to the good.”  I have scrutinized the broadly embraced premillenial/rapture/dispensationalism (by american evangelicals) and found it to be a tree growing rotten fruit.  That fruit doesn’t look or “taste” like Jesus Christ, and therefore I am compelled to avoid it.  Why?  Read on to find out.

Thankfully I am not alone, and God has been awakening other post (and/or reluctant) – evangelicals like myself to the bad taste.  Instead of giving you my poorly worded reasons for turning away from premillenial dispensationalism, here are some fellow travelers’ thoughts on why we are compelled to reject the teachings of LaHaye, Hagee, Hal Lindsey, Camping and others hogging the end-times limelight of the past and present.

    • The two-stage + tribulation rapture theory is not mentioned by Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Edwards or Spurgeon. It is not taught by the Puritans or the Catholic Church. It is not part of any classic Christian confession. All believed in one return of Christ.  Why is this? The advocates of the two-stage rapture need to admit that if the great teachers of the church have not found this doctrine, it is a recent innovation.  […]  The mythology of the rapture is used to promote all kinds of false and manipulative teaching in the church. It is a creation of the enthusiasts, propagated by the evangelical fringe and marketed by the booksellers and publishers for the sake of [the] its “exciting” story line.  (Michael Spencer – “Three Questions About a Secret Rapture”)
    • […] the system [dispensational premillenialism] seemed to miss (or at least downplay) the most important theological point of all—that Jesus and the story of him told in the Gospels is the pinnacle of God’s plan, the fulfillment of his promises. [..]  The dispensational approach fails to see that Jesus fulfilled the calling and role of Israel.  […]  The Jewish people are called to Christ through the Gospel like everyone else, and though God continues to deal providentially with nations, there is no special divine plan for the nation of Israel. The boundaries of the Promised Land now encompass the entire earth, and soon all the kingdoms of this world will become the Kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ. Not so, say the dispensational teachers. For them the future vision is made up of the Middle East, the nation of Israel, the land of Palestine, the coming Antichrist, a rebuilt temple, the battle of Armageddon, and so on. The event that will trigger it all is the Rapture, when the Church is “caught up” to heaven to be with Christ, spared from the season of trouble that will come on the whole world. It is only within the entire dispensational system that the teaching of the “Rapture” makes any sense. In fact, you will not find any passage or text in the Bible that unambiguously teaches the pre-tribulation Rapture. (Chaplain Mike.  internetmonk.com “Time to Leave Behind the Rapture“)
    • A strong American nationalism seems to go hand in hand with Rapture belief. (Thankfully I don’t know anyone so hyper Rapture-ite that they’ve made plans for tomorrow’s End of Days.) Those I’ve met have a strong sense of America being a God-ordained country, sometimes even being seen as the pinnacle of righteous human governmental and socio-economic expression.
    •  “When so many pastors teach and point to the rapture and draw Middle East politics and events into it, as I heard, and illustrated with some of the examples above. Why do these pastors and Christian leaders still have credability? ”  Because it would be way too uncomfortable to deal with our industrialized need for oil causing many of these issues. Believing in all these end times theories mean they can still drive their SUVs to the grocery and it not be their fault in any way shape or form.  Says someone who’s definitely NOT a tree hugging environmentalist.
    • So the Church was wrong for over 1800 years in their end times teaching, and it was only in the last 100 years that men finally unlocked the secret meaning of the Bible through Dispensationalism by John Darby, CI Schofield, etc? Too many people proof-text and fail to understand Bible generes which leads to bad theology, IMO.
    • I think the whole dispensational view is intimately connected with the other major problem in the evangelical world—that all-encompassing drive for evangelism no matter what compromises must be made (and no matter the “kind” of convert created). If the rapture can occur at any moment and this interim parenthesis will go away, all that matters is getting people to sign on so they can be taken out of the world. Discipleship, living out the Gospel in the here and now, improving the world we live in—anything that takes time—becomes essentially meaningless. I doubt anyone in dispensational circles would put it in those terms, but I honestly think that eschatological view is at the heart ultimately of that view of the mission of Christians (and the church) in the world.
    • You are right, Jeff. Dispensationalism is ultimately a world-denying view that seeks escape from this earth for all people except the nation of Israel, who, as God’s “earthly people,” are part of some plan to have a kingdom in this world. There is a dualism in dispensationalism that approaches gnostic fervency. On the other hand, people like Wright affirm God’s plan for the world and the place of everyone in it. (Imonk writer Chaplain Mike)
    • Also, you [as a premillenial dispensationalist] start to see human beings, created in God’s image (say the Palestinians ) as soulless pawns, pieces of crap and no more than paving bricks under your steamroller theology.  More like Palestinians, Jews, you, me, everybody become nothing more than pieces to move about on the End Time Prophecy gameboard.

    • The standard texts frequently used to back up the concept of a rapture (1 Thessalonians 4 and 1 Corinthians 15) have never been a secret to Christians. Augustine commented on them. Calvin commented on them, and also commented on Augustine’s comments on them. There’s no question that the Bible teaches a “catching up” of Christians who are alive at the time of His return, following a resurrection of all who have died in Christ. What sets Dispensationalism’s take on this apart is the timing of this prophesied event and how it fits into their eschatological scheme. From the very mouth of one of the deans of Dispensationalism, the late John F. Walvoord, it all boils down to this: the Dispensationalists’ rapture has to occur prior to a seven-year period of Great Tribulation in which God resumes dealing with the world primarily through ethnic Israel solely because of Dispensationalism’s unique ecclesiology—i.e., because it views Israel and the church as two completely distinct entities (“two peoples, two programs, two destinies”), and because they believe that God only deals with humanity through either one or the other at any specific time. Once you remove Dispensationlism’s ecclesiology, you’ve removed the only theological rationale they have for a “pretribulational rapture.” There is no exegetical rationale, and never has been.
    • Chaplain, you briefly mentioned escapism as a primary motivation of dispensationalism, the rapture theory in particular. I agree with you and feel that this should be the main point of any discussion rather than playing ping pong with Scripture quotes. In my view the whole western church tends to fall into escapism with salvation seen as fire insurance and a get out of hell free card. It’s a sorry tasting fruit and the dispensationalists just give us the best model to study. Even Jesus wanted to escape what was coming but he bit the bullet.
    • There is a piece of discussion on this whole mess we sometimes miss, and it is tied to the pragmatic church growth movement. Remember, the end justifies the means. I mentioned something inappropriate being discussed on our local CCM station, and someone said “Even if it isn’t right, it may attract people to listen to the station who otherwise would not and by listening to the radio station may come to Christ”. My former pastor said similar things about subjects he was preaching on Sunday mornings “I know teaching on ‘How to be a better xxx in xxx easy steps’ may not be right, but once we get them in the door we can teach them about Christ”. I have heard followers of Harold Camping say the same thing “Even if he gets the date wrong, perhaps someone will give their life to Christ just in case.  Is typical church any different than Camping?

My hearty amen goes to each comment.  If you disagree and feel strongly that the  eschatology of LaHaye, Hagee, and other pre-trib, premillenial, dispensationalist is your choice, then seriously reflect on the attitudes/actions/ideas that result from the specific teachings of these end-times theorists.  You may not support any of the following, but all of the spokemen or lay advocates of pre-trib/premillenial dispensationlism I’ve ever known are supporters of some or all of the following:  Pro-american empire, anti-Palestinian, anti-europe, pro-torture, pro-military, pro-american exceptionalism, anti-conservation/creation care, pro-extreme individualism, pro-american capitalism, pro-corporate power, pro-signs/wonders sensationalism, pro-war, and many other harmful and deceitful ideologies.  Compare those attitudes/actions/ideas with the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.  I hope you find that Jesus Christ is the better source of living water.

(All the above unnamed commentators can be found in the comments following this article at internetmonk.com, “Time to Leave Behind the Rapture“)

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About Andrew Zook

Artist dad husband writer progressive post-evangelical emergent Anabaptist graphic designer web designer reader video editor
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2 Responses to Seeking light in the darkness of american evangelical eschatology

  1. Gary says:

    Lots of good points.

  2. slaveofone says:

    Certainly, for me, I took a long look at the fruit of American Evangelical/Protestant eschatology and founded it dead and rotten and those feeding on it becoming withered, confused, stunted, or fallen trees, and I said to myself “there is no water of life in this!”

    Perhaps the lunacy of it all is best summed up in the very idea of “left behind.” The “left behind” are the ones that are supposedly not “raptured” or taken away. All right, let’s look at one of the major scriptural themes of God’s judgment and restoration and see how it compares. When you separate the wheat from the chaff, it is the chaff that is taken away by the winds of heaven and is the good stuff that is “left behind” to sow a kingdom of righteousness. !!!!

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