Monday, September 22, 2014

"God hath promised strength for the day..."

Randall Hardman would prefer that you not promote the new Left Behind movie with Nicolas Cage because he believes its theology is bad. In Why “Left Behind” should be... left behind" he explains the origins of dispensationalist theology and why it not only wrongly interprets scripture but poorly prepares Christians for what will come:
.... Christians have always affirmed the second coming of Christ, but only in the system which Darby, Scofield, and later dispensationalists developed were there three comings. This was a brand new take on the end, and while Christians throughout the centuries have always wondered whether their day was the last day (including Paul), with some interpreting contemporary events in such a way, the establishment of a system and a timetable was entirely new, as was the presupposition that Jesus would exorcise his Church from the last days.

When Paul refers to some being “caught up” (1 Thessalonians 4:17) he's not referring to a rapture which will precede a time of tribulation in the modern world: He is giving his audience hope in the midst of persecution and death and reminding them of the hope that all Christians share, that Christ will come again (just not again and then again!) When Jesus speaks of “one being taken” (Matthew 24:40) he is not referencing how Christians all across the world will escape from a period of trial; rather, he is referencing the Genesis flood story (vv 37-40) and, as the context makes clear, being “taken away” is actually unfortunate, as it is the one who is “taken away” that faces judgment.

I could go on with a verse by verse analysis of all the “rapture verses” but there exists an underlying problem with rapture theology, one which has the ability to affect so many aspects of how Christians interact with the problems of this world: It embraces escapism as a solution. Rapture-based theology teaches us to think and hope for an escape from this world, not endurance to persevere in it. In this view, Jesus loves his Bride too much to let it go through the intense suffering and judgment the world will face (very similar to the popular notion that suffering doesn't happen to godly people). But that is not the message of Scripture, nor is it the message of Revelation in particular. Sometimes terrible things do happen to good people and Scripture doesn't promise us an “out.” It promises us a “how.” ....

Jesus did not, though he certainly could have, escape from the cross. Likewise, the message of hope is not that we won't face our cross — many of us will — but that God stands alongside of us as we take it up and gives us the strength and the hope to die with him. “Fleeing to the mountains” or “flying to the clouds” is not redemption; it's escape and it's a belief that God won't let us endure tribulation. Revelation, however, calls us to the opposite: It encourages us to remain faithful even when we feel like it must be the end of the world. [more]