Okay, 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…?
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.
The 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.
The 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.
If 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.