Theology Thursday: Still Waiting for the Rapture!

Below is a news article I saved on my computer 14 years ago (by the way, it’s the very same computer I still use today! To find out how, see my other blog). Though the author misrepresents the parties on a couple of minor points, I think it’s worth digging up and re-posting once every decade or so. Especially since more and more TV “evangelists” and radio preachers are making more noise about bible prophecy today than ever before. Even in the scary days of the Cold War, when everyone expected the human race to destroy itself in a nuclear holocaust, and even years after “experts” in bible prophecy like Hal Lindsey made predictions that failed to come true; even though they have been proved wrong again and again, people still buy their books, support their TV and radio shows with donations, and attend their seminars and promote their views. Now the focus is on the middle East and far East, and on the rise of Islamic terror instead of Russia, Israel, and the PLO. The names change, but the story remains the same: “Within the next 10-20 years, it’ll all be over and we’ll be outta here.”

I want to chat about why this weird, escapist theology remains so popular even though it is little more than 200 years old. No one in all of church history from Acts to beyond the Reformation ever taught any such thing. The Pilgrims and Puritans never imagined such fanciful stuff. The Reformers never proposed any such thing. Historic premillennialists never taught such wildly irresponsible science fiction stuff. But rather suddenly (historically speaking), it has become the majority report among evangelical Christians. I would like to know why! And next Theology Thursday, I’ll offer a couple of possible explanations. And of course, I will recall and remind us of Jude’s call for his bretheren to contend earnestly for the faith that was once for all delivered (note that: Not “discovered,” delivered!).

Dispensationalists Promised Rapture to Avoid Violent End

By: Grace Halsell
Scripps Howard News Service
GRACE HALSELL, a resident of Washington D.C., is the author of Forcing God’s Hand:
Why Millions Pray for a Quick Rapture – and the Destruction of Planet Earth
released by Crossroads International Publishing.

While we got through Y2K with scarcely a hitch, a growing number of Americans still say the end is near.
Christians have been talking about the end of the world for 2,000 years. So what else is new? Actually, a new doctrine – and an astoundingly popular one – turns the old meaning of End Times and even of Christianity itself upside down.

Formerly, for 1,800 years, the church held to a theory of “no pain, no gain” – that is, salvation came through trial and tribulation and obedience. This new doctrine, less than 200 years old, holds that while God expects us to wage a cataclysmic war to destroy the planet, born again Christians need not suffer one moment of agony. They can be Raptured, wafted up to heaven where in grandstand seats they can watch the holocaust below.

The Rapture is a key, indispensable ingredient to understanding this new doctrine. Until the mid-1800s and the preaching of two men, John Darby of England and a Tennessean, Cyrus Scofield, no one, whether Catholic or Protestant, held the view that Christians had such an easy escape hatch. Scofield (1843-1921) in particular made the Rapture doctrine popular with his Scofield Reference Bible.

“Scofield implanted his own ideas in the Bible. This meant that many in the pew failed to distinguish between the words of Scofield and those of the Holy Spirit,” writes Joseph M. Canfield in “The Incredible Scofield and His Book.”  The Darby-Scofield doctrine – called dispensationalism – teaches that God from the beginning planned certain time periods or epochs – called dispensations – all centered in Israel. It teaches that Jerusalem’s mosque must be replaced by a Jewish temple, that Christ will return to establish a Jewish kingdom, sitting on a throne in the third temple in Jerusalem and presiding over Old Testament style temple worship such as sacrifices of red heifers.

By some estimates, as many as one out of every 10 Americans accepts this theology. Large and influential seminaries that teach the doctrine include the Moody Bible Institute of Chicago, the Philadelphia College of the Bible, the Bible Institute of Los Angeles and about 200 other colleges and institutes. There are more than 100,000 students in bible schools and 80 to 90 percent of the teachers, as well as their students, are dispensationalists. Of the 4,000 Christian ministers who attend the National Religious Broadcasters convention annually, at least 3,000 are dispensationalists.  The theology pervades Assemblies of God, Pentecostal and other charismatic churches, as well as the 15-million member Southern Baptist Convention and independent Baptists. Reportedly, this is the fastest growing religious movement in Christianity today.

Dispensationalist books rival if not outsell the popular John Grisham novels. Hal Lindsey’s “The Late Great Planet Earth,” a best seller for more than 10 years, has sold more than 25 million copies. In the late 1990s, evangelist
Tim LaHaye’s series of four books dealing with the Rapture sold nearly three million copies.

The Dallas Theological Seminary, fountainhead of dispensationalism, has graduated many of the pastors now preaching dispensationalism in some 1,000 nondenominational Bible churches located throughout the United States. In these burgeoning segments of Christianity, theologians, pastors and seminary presidents teach the same doctrine that cult leaders such as Jim Jones told his followers as he led them to death: The end is coming soon. So let’s get on with it. Let’s be ahead of the crowd. Followers drawn by the appeal of the free Rapture ticket dig deeply into their checkbooks to reward their preachers and build huge churches. Elevated by money and acclaim, ministers of Armageddon theology wield power and are authority figures in their communities, often with more influence than leaders in institutional churches or of scholars or theologians in orthodox Christianity.

The dispensationalists say the world is getting steadily worse, that we need do nothing to save our forests, rivers, air. They sharply criticize the status quo, but make no effort to change it for the better. They preach about a God of wrath, of vengeance and war. They portray Christ as a five-star general leading all the armies of the world, slaying billions of unbelievers. As for that final battle, “I’m not worried,” said television evangelist Jerry Falwell in a summation of his Rapture doctrine. “You know why? I ain’t gonna be here.”

Why has this fanciful theology remained so popular in spite of dozens of it’s promoter’s predictions failing to come true for decades?  Does anyone else remember that Russia was going to invade Israel and hasten Christ’s return by no later than 1988?  I do.  I read it in Hal Lindsey’s book – which still sells a zillion copies a year.  How did this theology get to be the majority view among evangelicals?  Why is it that even in Reformed churches these days, no one talks about eschatology (and thus, the only ones who do talk about it are heard)?

Comment below!  Next week I’ll propose some answers of my own.


2 Replies to “Theology Thursday: Still Waiting for the Rapture!”

  1. Thank you for posting. I’m glad I’m not the only one who finds this a fascinating subject right now. Part of the reason (as the article mentions) I think it became mainstream is because of the Matthew Henry and Scofield commentaries. Both of them are written to interpret Revelations as showing a dispensational view including a pre-trib rapture. Many conservative/ fundamentalist Christians treat these commentaries as near biblical.
    Plus, when Christians want to retire they predict the end of the world. Let’s all take a moment of silence for John Hagee. Okay, that’s enough. haha.
    Blessings on your journey!


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