Why we should leave “Left Behind” behind

CrashOkay, I’ve sat on this post for about a month now since the Nicolas Cage movie, “Left Behind” came out. Although it’s not my intent to offend, I know I do run that risk with some of you. You are free to disagree with me and, hopefully, still like my other stuff. But I think this is important, so I ask that you first read with an open mind and heart. And certainly, check it out for yourself.

And if what I say must make you mad before it makes you glad, then…just maybe…that’s a good thing. My hope is to love the fear out of you. 🙂

Furthermore, my intention is not to unnecessarily be provocative and certainly not to start an eschatological debate. What makes me write about this is because of what this deeply entrenched doctrine says about our heavenly Papa, how it affects Christians who embrace it, and how the world that Jesus died for responds to such a message.

So…here we go. Ready?

First, does anyone besides me have a problem with this modern eschatological scenario depicting a God who’s called Love secretly snatching away a relative few “real” Christians, leaving cars crashing into each other, planes falling out of the sky…LOTS of people killed in the aftermath…?

I mean…really???

Does this sound like the heavenly Father who bankrupted heaven for all mankind (John 3:16; 1 John 2:2)? The Father Jesus told us about–the Prodigal’s father?

Is He schizophrenic now?

And I call this scenario “modern” because the popular “pre-trib” secret rapture view didn’t really get out in public before 1830, then it only became popular after the Scofield Bible came out in 1909. It was never part of Christian teaching for over 1500 years–the early Church fathers didn’t teach it and none of the Reformers held this view. Even now, most Christians around the world don’t embrace it.

Why it’s important

First, understand that your eschatological view will color how you perceive the times you’re living in…in radically different ways.

For instance, you will either interpret what’s going on in the body of Christ right now as a great awakening or the great deception. You will either think we’re entering into the Church’s finest hour or the great apostasy.

See what I mean?

The Left Behind books have been a huge success over the years, selling over 65 million books worldwide, which in my mind only shows the voracious human appetite for lurid fear-based sensationalism.

And besides this, we have preachers writing best-selling books, blogs, doing videos…to feed our obsession with our favorite conspiracy theories, blood moon hysteria, complete with charts, false prophets, judgments on nations, who’s the latest Harlot Babylon villain, who’s the antichrist….I mean, come on, really?

My Bible calls the last book the Revelation of Jesus Christ, not the Revelation of the Antichrist.

The more optimistic alternatives

The sad thing is, most Western evangelical Christians don’t even know that there are other happier, I believe, more consistent theological alternatives to this popular fiction. I will mention a couple here to get you started.

First, Christian eschatology basically divides into two very different positions–the Preterist view and the Futurist view. I will add here that both views are considered orthodox by most scholars. You can click on the links and do your own research if you’re not familiar with these terms. The Left Behind view embraces one of the Futurist positions.

Here are some books you should read if you really want to understand the alternatives.

First, for the Preterist view, I would highly recommend two books.

VictoriousEschatologyThe first is called, “Victorious Eschatology” by Harold R. Eberle and Martin Trench. It’s well written, easy-to-read, written for the non-scholar in mind.

This book will answer a lot of questions I may have stirred up if you’ve been embracing the Left Behind scenario.

RapturelessThe second book is “Raptureless: an Optimist Guide to the End of the World” by Jonathan Welton. It’s also a very well written book, easy-to-read for non-scholars. This one also provides more historical evidence for first century fulfillment of our popular “scare” texts, along with a good scriptural foundation.

What’s great about this option is that Welton provides a free on-line version that you can read first if you like. But I would recommend buying the book because it has more stuff.

There’s obviously deeper, more scholarly books available, but this is a good start.

CaseForHistoricPremillennialism_BlombergIf you would like an alternative Futurist view, I would recommend “A Case for Historic Premillennialism: An Alternative to “Left Behind” Eschatology” by Craig L.Blomberg and Sung Wook Chung.

This book is a bit more scholarly but still an easy read and a good place to start with understanding other (more classic) Futurist views.

The bad fruit of “Left Behind” eschatology

I will briefly list some of the bad fruit that I’ve seen from embracing the “Left Behind” eschatology.  A few of these are paraphrased from Jonathan Welton’s book.

– First of all, it’s a fear-based based doctrine, therefore an orphan-based doctrine. It’s message is not to receive God’s love but to escape the Great Tribulation. It takes the focus off of Christ and on to self-preservation.

– It creates short-term thinking. If you think Jesus is coming at any moment, you’re not thinking about generations to come.

– It causes Christians to abdicate their royal Kingdom role on the earth. Hey, if the world is “going to hell in a hand-basket” and “I ain’t gonna be here when the ____ hits the fan,” I’m not going to be keen on discipling the nations.

– Hope is narrowed down to a rapture escape instead of found in a Person–Jesus Christ.

– This end-time view has been a seed-bed of many cults and militias.

– It has bred a litany of false prophecies about when Jesus is coming (I could give you a long list of all the ridiculous date-setting I’ve witnessed over the last four decades).

– It creates an us vs. them, anti-cultural mentality and an elitist mindset about who is truly saved and who isn’t. We tend to view the world around us with a jaundice eye.

– As already mentioned, it breeds Christian witch-hunting for false prophets, lying signs and wonders. Apparently, the devil still has a lot of power to do miracles, but God doesn’t. Again, fear-based instead of love-based.

– It lends itself to a morbid taste for what’s been called “newspaper eisegesis” instead of sound exegesis of Scripture. Every disaster, earthquake, economic downturn, terrorist attack…turns into a judgment of God and fulfillment of prophecy.

– While it is effective in scaring people to God, it’s a terrible way to evangelize because there is no fear in the Kingdom, only love. The Good News is about an invitation to a new life in Christ, living in the Father’s embrace. It’s about relationship, not about escaping the “Tribulation” (or hell, for that matter).

Time to leave “Left Behind” behind and fulfill our destiny

I hope that what I’ve said has made you think instead of made you mad. But at least check out the resources I’ve listed. Just because something is popular and deeply entrenched in Christian tradition doesn’t make it right. Investigate this for yourself. Remember, doctrines like eschatology are not something you can afford to be dogmatic about. Stay open and teachable. The Holy Spirit will show you. Get ready for an upgrade. 🙂

Finally, I believe we’re in a major shift happening in evangelical Christianity today–a much needed shift in my view. And it’s effecting every area of what we’ve traditionally been taught, including our eschatology. I have to say that I am very encouraged. I don’t see it as the “great deception.” No, we’re unpacking our rapture bags and being about the Father’s business as His Spirit is waking up His Bride and moving us into our destiny.

About Mel Wild

God's favorite (and so are you), a son and a father, happily married to the same beautiful woman for 42 years. We have three incredible adult children. My passion is pursuing the Father's heart in Christ and giving it away to others. My favorite pastime is being iconoclastic and trailblazing the depths of God's grace. I'm also senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in Wisconsin.
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29 Responses to Why we should leave “Left Behind” behind

  1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I too believe that God is a God of love, but He is also a God of truth and righteousness, a God who will not let sin go unpunished. when I read the Bible I read it for what it actually says, not according to what I what to believe God is. There are plenty of scriptures that support the rapture, and we cannot just dismiss those verses.

    • Mel Wild says:

      Thanks Stephen. I appreciate your view. I wasn’t really coming against a rapture per se, but the idea of a secret rapture like the one depicted by Left Behind. Of course, there is no word “rapture” in the Bible. But I know what you mean. Just know that there are different views on what the rapture actually is. I don’t have time to go into it here. That’s why I just referenced the books by people smarter than me. 🙂

      God’s truth and righteousness cannot be divorced or separated from His love. Our reading of Scripture must always be based on context and realizing we have a bias to our interpretative lens. We all believe all the Bible to be truth. That’s not the question; it’s about finding proper consistent exegesis of the Scripture we believe to be inspired. And God didn’t let sin go unpunished, Jesus paid the price for us and dealt with sin Himself. All that’s left is for us is to believe in His finished work. I’ve read the best from all positions and they all feel like they have strong Scriptural support. So, again, it’s more a matter of honest but differing interpretations of those passages. And I’ve tried to objectively study the “Left Behind” version for years myself and have found no explicit Scripture stating a secret rapture. It’s mostly based on inferences. Even some of the best “pre-trib” scholars admit such. And besides, it has many, many scriptural problems that I didn’t have time to go into here.

      Anyway, I agree. Let’s not dismiss any verses. And let’s be open to differing views and really look at how people have interpreted them and investigate it for ourselves. But regardless, there’s room for disagreement. Blessings to you, brother.

  2. Kathleen says:

    Glad the Holy Spirit didn’t let you sit on this post any longer 🙂 So many great points!
    – too many to list but here’s the top two for me:
    “It’s about relationship, not about escaping the “Tribulation””
    “Stay open and teachable. The Holy Spirit will show you. Get ready for an upgrade.”
    Thanks for the call to wake up and search for truth in Scripture as revealed by the Holy Spirit!

    As a side note, thank you Nicolas Cage for an inferior movie that exposed the need for God’s children to refocus and seek understanding of Who our Father IS… 🙂

    • Mel Wild says:

      Thanks Kathleen. I think you have a point there! God can use this movie to bring these things to our attention so we can upgrade our understanding of God, who we are as His sons and daughters and our purpose here. Amen! Blessings to you.

  3. bullroarin says:

    Good post Mel. You won’t get an argument from me on this topic.

    The earth belongs to the Lord and His purpose for the earth has never changed…to establish His kingdom on earth. The parable of the sower in Matt. talks about the weeds sown with the wheat, both grow together and at harvest time its the “weeds” that are gathered and taken out…not the wheat. Jesus tells us who the weeds are so I’m not sure where “Christians” get the idea that it is them. I don’t have time tonight to write much more…but I’m sure that you get it.

    ~ Dave

    • Mel Wild says:

      Thanks, Dave, and amen. You don’t need to explain that to me. I’m totally tracking with you on the wheat and the weeds thing. And you hit on what I think is my main beef with the fruit of Left Behind eschatology. God’s cultural mandate (Gen.1:26-28) never changed. In fact, Jesus re-established it with His finished work and sending the Spirit of adoption, making us sons of our Father. Now, we are to re-present the Father’s heart to the fatherless world around us, not wait for the rapture and turn everything that happens into the judgments of God. But it took me a LONG time to get this straight, so I don’t blame people for not seeing it. And I am confident in the Holy Spirit’s ability to show anyone whose heart is open…including mine. 🙂

  4. secretangel says:

    Amen… Like the “milk” that many new Christians drink, this “Left behind” mentality helps many to turn to God to totally save them, even from tribulation. But as we grow in our relationship with Christ, we realize that the “meat” of it is that God provides, heals, rescues and that He wants us to realize that while we are in the midst of the trials and tribulations, He will be with us and get us through it. If God “raptures” us, who will be left for His Light to shine through. It is a higher calling to know that we will overcome anything that happens here because He will take care of us… not remove us. Thanks for sharing this, Mel!

    • Mel Wild says:

      Amen. It is a higher calling. And Jesus prayed “I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one.” (John 17:15). What don’t we get about that? Somewhere, we lost our way and got focused on escaping instead of continuing Jesus’ work on the earth (John 20:21). We are the light of the world because Jesus is in us (Matt.5:14-16). I’ve said this already in other comments but God never rescinded His mandate for us to expand the Garden (Gen.1:26-28), which means expand the Kingdom of heaven’s culture to our world–bringing healing to the broken, hope to the hopeless and the Father’s love to an orphan world around us.
      Blessings to you. 🙂

  5. LightWriters says:

    While I see this subject as one of the Bible’s greatest mysteries, and agree with your thought processes that God would not bring ‘chaos’, I must say that I still remain most puzzled by the Gospel passage repeated in both Matthew and Luke, “Two men will be standing in a field. One will be taken, the other left…” (Matthew 23: 40 and Luke 17:44) This particular Bible reference seems to indicate what might be construed as a ‘rapture’ experience…However, in Revelation, the Lord speaks to one of the 7 churches, the church in Philadelphia, the church of brotherly love, and says He will “keep” (protect, rescue) those who persevere in the matter that this church was doing, in obedience to the Lord, and that He would shelter them from the hour (time) of testing (tribulation) which will come upon the whole earth to test everyone alive.” (Revelation 3:10) However, this verse in Revelation, like the verses in Mark and Luke, in my understanding provides no clear or precise explanation of how God will either literally or spiritually ‘take’, protect, or rescue via a ‘rapture’ experience. Only 1 Thessalonians 4:17 seems to directly announce a supernatural experience which is utterly inexplicable to our human reasoning, by declaring that ‘…we who are left behind will be caught up together with the Lord in the air…”

    • Mel Wild says:

      Thanks for your comments and honest ponderings here. Not sure how far down this rabbit hole I should go. 🙂 Here’s some relatively brief answers to what you’ve brought up. I share them just to explain alternative views. I am not dogmatic about them.

      You are mentioning the common inferences made by the secret rapture view, which I fully realize are deeply intrenched in the minds of Western evangelicals. But, again, keep in mind that they are inferences, not explicit statements. You have to read “secret rapture” into them (called “eisegesis”), And these inferences are open to different interpretation so they should be held loosely, not dogmatically. The Preterist position views these passages as having to do with the coming destruction of the Temple and events surrounding it, answering the disciples’ question about Jesus’ statement (Luke 21:5-6). The Historical Premillennial view would see some of them fulfilled and some connected with the Lord’s Second Coming and resurrection. But unlike Dispensationalists, they don’t see two second comings–one secret and the other at the resurrection.

      For instance, the “one taken” in Luke 17 seems to be taken to destruction (“where the vultures are gathered.”) For Jesus answers this question in verse 37… “And answering they said to Him, “Where, Lord?” And He said to them, “Where the body is, there also the vultures will be gathered.” We know that vultures (and eagles) are scavengers and gather where there are dead things. This goes along with the “wheat and tares” parable that Dave mentioned. The eagle was also a symbol of the Roman army. One Preterist view is that it was about the random killings by the Roman soldiers that took place during the time leading up to the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD.

      The promise to the Philadelphia church (Rev.3:10) was just that, a promise to that local church in the first century. For we know in history that this church was “kept” through tribulation in the first and second centuries. And the same word “keep” here is the same word John uses in John 17:15, where Jesus prayed NOT to take us out of the world but “keep” us from the evil one. Certainly, rapture is not in view here. Keep in mind, the early church was under great persecution in their day. They looked at these promises in Revelation as encouragement for them, “to show His servants—things which must shortly take place.”(Rev.1:1), “Shortly” take place, not 2,000 years later! Not to say there aren’t future events to us in Revelation, but using Rev.3:10 as an escape text is, honestly, quite a stretch.

      Finally, the 1 Thess.4:17 is probably the only passage in Scripture that comes close to being explicit about a rapture. But again, the word “rapture” is not used here. And even so, it doesn’t follow that it means secret snatching away to escape the “Great Tribulation.” To me, the context is the resurrection (“those who sleep” – vs.13-14), along with those “who are alive and remain” being changed. A parallel verse is 1 Cor.15:52-55. Paul uses the well-known Hellenistic Greek word for “meet” (ἀπάντησις – apantēsis) here. The word was commonly used to describe the people of a city going out to meet a dignitary and escorting him back into the city with great fanfare and celebration. Certainly not secret! The same word is used in Acts 28:15 when the brethren came out to meet Paul and escort him into the city. Also be aware that Preterists have other viable interpretations of this passage.

      The problem I see is that we’ve greatly complicated these passages by trying to apply them all to our time. Many could be pretty straight-forward admonitions to the first century church (they are letters to them, after all). The “Raptureless” book I referenced details a lot of the historical evidence for the “tribulation” (“Jacob’s Trouble”) that the Jews went through as fulfilled in the Jewish wars between 66-70 AD, They also see other passages about the persecution of the early church. The Historic Premillennial view (held by the ante-Nicene fathers) sees some of Matthew 24 fulfilled (or a dual-fulfillment possibility) and some of Revelation fulfilled. Scholars like George Eldon Ladd held a mixture of both views. But none of them believe in a secret rapture to have the church escape persecution.

      I’m giving you short answers here that don’t do them justice. If you would like to dig into it further, I suggest reading the books I mentioned. There are many scholarly books on this also that I could also recommend. Again, don’t just take the deeply entrenched cultural view. Investigate it for yourself. 🙂 Blessings.

  6. And the ‘house of cards’ continues to tumble… the shaking is coming from all quarters. The very anchor points of some of our beliefs are getting shaking to the core… and replaced with up-grades more in keeping with the heart of our Father. I’m on-board with you, Mel and love the direction this is going.

    Below are a few of my postings in support of this empowering eschatological trend: Some are a light-hearted… and some just ask ‘what if’… but this whole subject is turning from fearful to exciting!!

    ‘What If: Musings About Our Fall… and Restoration’ – http://wp.me/p23r7p-fq
    ‘A Little Fun With Our Classic Rapture Theory’ – http://wp.me/p23r7p-fq
    ‘More Fun with Controversial Stuff’ – http://wp.me/p23r7p-5E

    And lest we get a little too dogmatic about our views here are some cautions:

    ‘Dangers of ‘Hard-line’ Eschatology’ – http://wp.me/p23r7p-aS

    Onward!… Fellow-explorers.

    • Mel Wild says:

      Thanks, Mark. I love the way you position this. It’s not something to be afraid of, like scared orphan children hiding in the dark, clutching on to these deeply entrenched beliefs…no, it’s an exploration! An adventure! Come out, come out, wherever you are! It’s okay! Papa God is opening our munchkin eyes to who we really are! Upgrade is definitely the word. These are truly exciting times to be living in! Arise and shine! We are the victorious Church, not the defeated and fearful waiting for rescue. All of creation is waiting for us! (Rom.8:19)

      Thanks for the links to your posts on this big subject. I recommend people read them. Let’s not be afraid to explore these possibilities. Again, God is doing wondrous things in our day. Let’s embrace the adventure. 🙂
      Blessings, bro.

    • Mel Wild says:

      Btw, you repeated one of your links, Mark. “A Little Fun with Our Classic Rapture Theory” I found here… http://marklhen.wordpress.com/2012/07/23/a-little-fun-with-our-classic-rapture-theory/
      Good stuff! 🙂

  7. Mel, love that you tackled this straight on. Thanks, too, for the books references. Here’s another one for you and your readers: Understanding Eschatology and Why it Matters, by Rob Dalrymple. It’s academic, but actually quite easy to understand. Everything you said here validates my understanding of Scripture, too, especially Thessalonians and the “taken and left behind” references in Luke. And according to Revelation, we certainly don’t want to be the ones taken away! Bless you, Mel, for your willingness to dig into the trenches.

    • Mel Wild says:

      Thanks, Susan. And thanks for the book reference. I haven’t read that one and I have a whole pile of academic books on all positions. I like the title. Yes, it is important to understand this. On the other hand, remembering it’s not central to our faith or something we should be dogmatic on or split over. I think if people will actually investigate this for themselves, and not just the popular sensationalized versions that get all the airplay, they will be truly blessed and encouraged. And most importantly, love will replace fear. The focus will get back on Jesus and off of who’s the latest candidate for the Beast and the Antichrist is. 🙂

  8. Steven Sawyer says:

    I am so grateful for you and your passion for these discussions. I admire your energy and your research and your critical thinking you brought to bear in this post. Seriously. I’m sure the points you made are valid and stimulate warm fuzzies and amens for many of your readers. I avoid these topics and all theological discourse in general. I am not an eschatologist type. I haven’t ventured there. I didn’t see the “Left Behind” movie, but I read the first book. Then I decided reading any of that nonsense further would only cloud my perspective, bore me and waste my time. I would much rather watch J. Vernon McGee YouTube audio sermons, or read Tony Evans or Andrew Murray or A.W. Tozer. I’m not convinced that knowing all about the things you’ve proffered here will make heaven any more glorious, or my path here on earth any straighter. But many believers need to hear what you have to say. It is important to many. And I will encourage you to continue sharing these thoughts with your readers. Seriously. I will read and support everything you right. God bless. And thank you for sharing.

    • Mel Wild says:

      Thanks Steven. Your encouraging comments are much appreciated. And I can appreciate your position. I’m actually not an eschatological geek either, even though I was for several years in a galaxy far, far away. :). My interest now is more on getting believers to focus on their life IN Christ, in the Father’s embrace, instead of speculating over who the Antichrist is, pronouncing judgments and and waiting to escape. As I mentioned, it gets God’s beloved son and daughters focused on the wrong things and interpreting what’s going on around them in a very negative way. Also, that anything that creates fear instead of love is moving away from God. Of course, I’m not talking about the reverential awe aspect of “fear,” but actual fear of the world, fear of tribulation, false prophets and the like. Anyway, I will do my bit to get us out of hiding and into our destiny. 🙂
      Blessings to you brother.

  9. waltsamp says:

    First, let me compliment you again on the quality of your writing. If it were allowed I would envy you. Now to the subject at hand, I have a problem with both the Preterist and Futurist understandings of Revelation. I have been studying Revelation on and off for about 10 years now hoping to find an understanding that satisfies me. I have even done an unpublished book manuscript on Revelation that is summarized at the Revelation page on my blog that I think fails to do justice to John’s visions. I think you might call my present thinking the pessimist’s understanding. I think Revelation is first of all a call to Christians to persevere in their faith in Christ through all the adversities that will certainly come and second an explanation as to why people are so resistant to the good gift of eternal life. I have just posted on my blog “From the Present World to the Final Creation” that addresses in several ways the second issue as well as some others.

    • Mel Wild says:

      Thank you for your comments, Walt. I can totally appreciate what you’re saying. And I do agree that there are holes in both the Preterist and Futurist positions, We have to be honest admit that there’s a lot of mystery here. And honest scholars on both sides admit such. Yet, it’s the only book in the Bible that promises to bless those who read it and keep it (Rev.1:3). That’s why I hold on to my understanding loosely but continue to be open to new understanding. And I can agree with your basis premise on its application to us to overcome adversities and keep the faith in them. I will check out what you have to say. Thanks again!

  10. gahigi says:

    Interesting article. I’ve heard a little bit before along these lines but you’ve definitely opened it up for me. I’ve even heard of the different views but no more than that, just labels that I never investigated. When I saw the movie Left Behind with Kirk Cameron I think in that one they mentioned how many had left and the number was like over 100 million (but less than 200 million) or something, clearly only a few. That seems to be far from the number that you see in revelation where it says no one could number how many were there in heaven. It’s also pretty dim when you think about it and very saddening because if this is all dependent on us and how measure up to God’s standards then I’d feel all hope was lost. But if I can put my hope in Jesus then it feels a whole lot better and way more optimistic. I guess it’s a case of the letter vs the Spirit. And that’s what’s been preached since 1830 or 1909. If however the rapture were to happen and pilots and drivers and people operating other vehicles or machinery disappeared I’d pray that God would take over and put his angels in their seats bringing people to safety. Thanks for the article. I’m not mad at you.

    • Mel Wild says:

      Thanks for your comments. I really appreciate it. I agree with you. If it’s up to us “measuring up” then we’re all doomed. Thank God for Jesus!
      I personally think God is a lot more optimistic than we’ve been with our relatively recent Western ideas of the end of the world. Currently, there are over 2.4 billion professing believers in Christ in the world and Christianity is the fastest growing religion. So, when movies (or our pet doctrines) depict only a small percentage of these getting “raptured” they are being elitist, not to mention, adding a lot of requirements to salvation than simply by grace through faith. I think it’s arrogant, judgmental and misguided to say that 95% of these people are lost. There are so many levels of “wrong” about that idea, I don’t have time to go into here. Yes, Jesus said the way is narrow–it’s Him! But, once you find Him, the Kingdom is immensely large and wide.
      Hey, and if I’m wrong. See you in the sky! 🙂
      Blessings to you.

  11. Pingback: Why I don’t focus on eschatology | In My Father's House

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