This story from FoxNews reports that a group of Christians holding a pre-tribulation, premillenial doctrinal understanding of eschatology (or “last things”) have launched a website which will alert friends and loved ones if the “Rapture” has occurred. According to this report, “Final e-mails from vanished subscribers will be triggered when three of the site’s five Christian staffers fail to log in for six days in a row.” Those persons administering the site seem quite certain they will be among those taken up in to heaven when the final trumpet sounds.
The site, http://www.youvebeenleftbehind.com/, will alert up to 62 loved ones of your departure via an email message if the above criteria are met. This form of premillenialism has led the site administrators to also facilitate storage of financial account information. This is so you might pass your assets on to family before the conclusion of the tribulation, which according to this strand of theology is a period lasting 7 years.
This story does include one bit of poor journalism, stating, “According to Christian theology, after the Rapture, Satan will rule a global government that will torment doubters with seven years of Tribulation”(emphasis mine). Such broad statements about Christian theology fall short of the truth, as eschatology is but one of many historic doctrines which exhibit broad diversity between different Christian communities. This reporter could have done a better job by indicating the strand of theology from which this perspective comes, rather than making a blanket statement that doesn’t do justice to the tradition. Some Christians will no doubt be offended by this generalization, as they would claim that the particular eschatology which gave birth to this website is not only errant, but dangerous.
Dispensationalism (what we’re talking about here) can trace its roots to John Nelson Darby, a Christian leader during the 1800s. His teaching became largely popularlized through the publication of the Scofield Reference Bible. I know all about it–I went to seminary at a place that holds dispensationalism as a key doctrine. I’ve had my fair share of conversations about premillenialism, postmillenialism, and amillenialism. I’ve read books on the topic. I’ve sat around discussions concerning the specifics of the “tribulation,” asking if the rapture will occur pre-trib, mid-trib, or post-trib. I’ve also been around persons who do their very best to match current events with what they understand as relevant biblical passages so that they might speculate on the timing of Jesus’s return. I’ve spent a good deal of time thinking about these matters myself, continuing to study the different eschatological frameworks and measuring them against the biblical evidence so that I might arrive at a well-reasoned faith.
We all know that dispensationalism has been popularized in recent years in the publication of the Left Behind series of Christian fiction. LaHaye and Jenkins (and friends) have not only published books, but guides for Bible studies, a video game, and other forms of media to increase their following. This particular product is quite interesting, to put it mildly.
For church leaders and preachers out there who don’t like premillenial dispensationalism, what is your response? Clearly there is one particular form of eschatology that dominates the American landscape. Aside from premillenial dispensationalism, are there any other options, and if so, are we teaching them? If we are teaching them, do our people have the ability to clearly articulate the grounds upon which they might hold an amillenial or postmillenial viewpoint? Can they make clear statements about the nature of God’s actions in history, and what Christians claim concerning Jesus’s awaited return? Or are they pan-millenialists, asserting they are not worried about particulars, simply confident it will “all pan out in the end.”
Stories such as these present a challenge to church leaders across America, particularly those persons who exist in church traditions that believe dispensationalism is not our best option. We do have other perspectives which have a rich historical and theological heritage, but are we teaching them? How well are the people in the pews instructed concerning our belief in last things?
For some persons the response might be, “well, I’ll preach and teach about how dispensationalism is wrong.” I say unto you, “OK, but are you going to construct a theology in its place that is historically and theologically well grounded?” If you go about blasting away what you believe are misconceptions, you have to go about the work of construction. You have to tell a narrative that makes sense. Eschatology is about hope. The doctrine which you teach on this aspect of theology is critical for your ministry.
I hope that pastors, church leaders, and Bible teachers who take this stuff seriously will consider how they might address eschatology. It is one of the essential pillars in building a systematic theology. It deserves our reflection, our esteem, and our best efforts at teaching people in our congregations in a way that they might understand. Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection are all events that in themselves are eschatological. The world hasn’t been the same since God took on the flesh, died on the cross, and rose three days later. Now, we await the culmination or full measure of the Kingdom of God to be brought about as we exist in the time between the times. Until Jesus returns, what is our hope?
That, my friends, is a question I hope we can stand to answer.
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