EpiphanyConsider this my post for the feast of Epiphany. Heh.
Garrett asked me to weigh in on the Left Behind computer game last week. I downloaded the demo and was quite pleased with its campiness, but didn't get very far because 700-odd megabytes of RAM isn't enough for comfortable game play. And they don't make it for Mac, either. Guess they figure most of those folks will be Left Behind anyway, haha. Hippie liberals.
As far as the game's morality? It's atrocious. The post-rapture followers of Jesus must kill or convert as many people as they can in that world. I think it's pretty clear these folks have little idea of what "follower of Jesus" might actually mean, and that's all I've got to say about that. Noakes had a little fun with it a few months ago, read that here.
As most of you will know, I think the pseudo-Christian doctrine of the Rapture is a deviant position, and that the entire system of premillenial dispensationalism is heretical. It was developed and popularized in the last couple of hundred years by the emerging fundamentalist movement in Western Christianity. As I've said before, We can thank the Enlightenment and Scottish "Common Sense" philosophy for the Western (but mostly American) insistance on treating the Bible like it's a strange hybrid of a math book and Nostradamus' prophecies. It has never been a mainstream Christian belief - it's unfortunate that so many American Christians believe that anything popular in America is mainstream.
It's just bad, m'kay? Let me try to express why:
- It's a convoluted and novel way of reading the Bible. You have to assume that the biblical writers wanted to predict the far-flung future rather than give the people of God the imaginative tools they needed to live faithfully at the time of writing.
- It re-directs Christians from their responsibility before God to enact the Kingdom in the world he's saving, and instead to engage in revenge fantasies like this Left Behind game. That's just not very Christlike, m'kay? It causes Christians to believe - falsely - that what they do in this life doesn't matter, and that what does matter is converting lost soul to believe in the Rapture.
- People get converted to waiting for the Rapture rather than following Jesus. Yes, I've met them.
- It's not in the Bible. Did we establish this, yet? Look it up.
- The ancient heresy of Gnosticism provides the context for the doctrine: that the physical world is irredeemably bad, and that the only good is "spiritual" and non-bodily (more here). You know what? Christ's coming forever hallowed the flesh.
Revelation warns that the unsustainable, unjust practices of the empire will lead to its end. It's not so much a punishment as the consequences and logical end of its actions. The angel of the rivers cries out that this result is "axiomatic."Tom Wright offers some stories:
That axiom of judgment can serve as a warning, a wake-up call, for us to see the consequences of our actions, to get us on the path that God wants for us. The Bible's threats of judgment are meant to lead to repentance, not to a kind of predictive gloating by which one plans to escape and then watch the torments of others. That kind of voyeuristic violence is one of the worst features of the Left Behind series. The adherents of that view plan to watch the judgment, but they believe they're not going to suffer it.
God and the world are not far away from each other in biblical thought. Heaven and earth are not separated by a great gulf. A few years ago I wrote art for an American periodical called Bible Review, and I did one deconstructing the Left Behind nonsense, you know, the misreading of 1 Thessalonians 4, and I basically did an exegetical job on 1 Thess. 4 and said, “this is why you don’t read it this way.”And from that article in Bible Review:
One letter in response said, “How does Mr. Wright think he’s going to get to heaven if he doesn’t get raptured?” I happened to be lecturing in a church in Grand Rapids shortly after that, and I asked the adult Sunday School class, “Is it true in this highly educated technological society, are there many people who still think heaven is a space within our cosmos located some distance up in the air?” And they said yes. I think we all know that‘s not right, but we’ve not tried to conceptualize what is right. Heaven and earth are the twin and interlocking spheres of Creation, of God’s good world. Together they are good, meant to interlock and impact upon one another. How that happens has always been deeply mysterious: in Genesis, they heard the Lord God walking in the cool of the day, looking for them. This is deeply mysterious… (link)
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.Read the rest here or download as a .pdf here.
The Ascension of Jesus and the Second Coming are nevertheless vital Christian doctrines, and I don’t deny that I believe some future event will result in the personal presence of Jesus within God’s new creation. This is taught throughout the New Testament outside the Gospels. But this event won’t in any way resemble the Left Behind account.
My argument is not that Rapture-philes are necessarily vindictive people, or that they are on the whole "bad Christians." I am arguing that
- The Rapture is heretical
- Believing in it places us along a path of spiritual formation that will actually make us less like Jesus, and less attuned to his purposes of salvation and redemption.
Come back next time, when I'll discuss how the Rapture has replaced the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the creeds as a test of biblical and doctrinal orthodoxy within American Christianity.
See also my own naughty revenge fantasy.
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