So, a lot of folks seem to be in a flap over the Left Behind movie…pro and con. I admit I have not seen it. I did read the books when they first came out though. I saw them in people’s hands at airports, on planes, and being read sitting next to swimming pools at the resorts we frequented. So, maybe they were not the most scholarly treatises on end time theology, but I am sure they made a lot of people think about what God is planning for the new earth and heavens.
The movie has prompted a lot of scholars to weigh in on the subject. I just watched a YouTube response to the movie and the notion of a rapture, posted by Dr. Ben Witherington III, of Asbury Seminary. He did a great job of questioning the authenticity of the teaching on the rapture based on how recently it surfaced in church history, the paucity of Scripture supporting it, and the dispensational schools of thought that have propagated the teaching.
Down through the years another criticism of the rapture teaching has been that it has produced disengaged escapists who are doing nothing to advance the Kingdom of God, sitting around waiting to be beamed up. I do see that in many of the churched Baby Boomers today. They are increasingly horrified at the downward spiral of society and seem content to retreat to and watch the “coming demise of the world” from the safety of their churches or screened in front porches. But is that really the result of a rapture theology or because we have lost our first love?
I was raised in a church and Christian environment in the early 1960’s that firmly believed in the rapture of the Church as the first step in end-time events, but they were anything but disengaged from the mission of God in their families, their regions or the world.
It is not my intention in this blog to try and defend a pre-tribulation rapture position or suggest that we all adopt Darby’s theology. I would like, however, to add some historical background concerning how the Lord used a renewed interest in His imminent return to advance the Kingdom. I took a graduate course on the history of awakening movements taught by Dr. Edith Blumhoffer, currently at Wheaton College. Dr. Blumhoffer, like Dr. Witherington, ascribed the emergence of rapture theology and the notion of the imminence of Christ’s return, to a British pastor, John Darby, in the 1830’s.
According to Dr. Blumhoffer, until Darby published this little book there had been little consideration of the ramifications of the return of Christ to the life of the 19th Century Christian. Dr. Blumhoffer said that the notion of Christ’s imminent return (more than how it would happen) created, in the late 1800’s, the environment for a renewed interest in the person and work of the Holy Spirit…out of which the Holiness Movement was birthed.
This may be an oversimplification, but this is how I remember Dr. Blumhoffer describing the process:
* With renewed interest in the possibility of Christ’s return, fostered by Darby’s book, Christians began to sense an urgency for two things:
- a) To be found holy at Christ’s return…hence the beginning of the Holiness movement in the UK and USA.
- b) To make sure their family, friends and acquaintances were saved and ready…spurring the evangelism initiatives of notable people such as D.L. Moody, R.A. Torrey and A. J. Gordon and A.B. Simpson, to mention just a few.
* The next question that was asked back then, was how we move forward in holiness and be effective in our witness to family and friends. And the answer, almost universally, spurred a renewed interest in the person and work of the Holy Spirit. R.A. Torrey and A.J. Gordon wrote classic works on the Holy Spirit out of this spiritual milieu.
So, what is my point? I am not suggesting that the tremendous work of God done in the late 19th Century is tied to embracing the specifics of a rapture theology. I am suggesting that we not so quickly dismiss the influence of people like John N. Darby without at least realizing that God seemed to use his book and teaching to bring about a move of God that we still benefit from today…and maybe would do well to see happen again; namely an urgency to be holy and see our family, friends and neighbors come to know Christ.