Friday, May 27, 2011

Attempting "Romulus" - Learning Banjo!

Here is my attempt at "Romulus" by Sufjan Stevens. Hope you enjoy!

Once when our mother called,
She had a voice of last year's cough.
We passed around the phone,
Sharing a word about Oregon.
When my turn came, I was ashamed.
When my turn came, I was ashamed.
Once when we moved away,
She came to Romulus for a day.
Her Chevrolet broke down.
We prayed it'd never be fixed or found.
We touched her hair, we touched her hair.
We touched her hair, we touched her hair.

When she had her last child
Once when she had some boyfriends, some wild.
She moved away quite far.
Our grandpa bought us a new VCR.
We watched it all night, but grew up in spite of it.
We watched it all night, but grew up in spite of it.

We saw her once last fall.
Our grandpa died in a hospital gown.
She didn't seem to care.
She smoked in her room and colored her hair.
And I was ashamed of her

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Dispensing with Dispensationalism and Leaving Behind “Left Behind”

I had a few more people ask me some questions about the rapture so I am undertaking my most concise, clear cut effort to do away with rapture theology.

Let’s start by saying that not one church father over the last 2000 years has believed in any thing like the rapture. There are no church creeds that affirm a taking away of Christians to heaven. There are no denominations that officially uphold rapture theology that were created before 1830.

Rapture came about in the late 1700’s and find it’s foothold in the 1830’s. John Nelson Darby, considered the Father of Dispensationalism, spread his rapture theology around Plymouth Brethren circles for years. This culminated with some other false beliefs about prophecy, future, one-man anti-Christ, and so on. These ideas found there way in Matthew Henry’s Commentaries and into the Scofield Reference Bibles. The idea gained more and more popularity. Dallas Theological Seminary grabbed hold of the theology and some of their presidents wrote books supporting it. Dallas Theological Seminary has had a huge impact on very outspoken conservative evangelicals. I consider myself evangelical, but a different flavor than these folks.

In our generation, the biggest proponent of this thought has been the “Left Behind” series. This is a series of books wildly popular, especially in America. They have popularized this unbiblical/ untraditional End Times scenario to such a degree that this is where our biblically illiterate Christian culture gets its information about Jesus and His return. There are also tons and tons of dispensational preachers claiming to have all the answers.

In fact, until I went to seminary, I believed that Heaven was our ultimate destination. I believed that rapture would take us away and we would live in some spiritual existence forever. This dualism is a very common understanding of death and afterlife in many evangelical churches. Then I started reading about pastors and leaders of churches and professors who think that our rapture and heaven beliefs are ridiculous. I had to ask myself, “How has the church gotten so off base from scripture and orthodoxy? And why do those who know most about scripture, like know Greek and Hebrew fluently, consider these beliefs rubbish?” The only answer that I can come up with is that these things, the things of heaven and afterlife and even the bible in general in many respects, are vague and require years of growth and study and sitting with and chewing on over and over and still maybe not come to an answer. But people don’t want the disciple’s route; they want fast answers and everything to be in black and white.

Fast answers, even if wrong, are one of the problems with Americans. We want black and white answers, even when there aren’t any. Alexis de Tocqueville, in his ground breaking study on the birth of our nation, noted that we were very practical, very pragmatic, that we weren’t philosophizers. He said, “In America the purely practical part of science is admirably understood, and careful attention is paid to the theoretical portion which is immediately requisite to application. On this head the Americans always display a clear, free, original, and inventive power of mind. But hardly anyone in the United States devotes himself to the essentially theoretical and abstract portion of human knowledge. In this respect the Americans carry to excess…” (Democracy in America, Chapter 10). I fear he was right both 200 years ago and now. Basically he said, Americans are awesome at inventing and applying knowledge to situations. They study things for themselves and even put their discoveries in common language for all to understand. But there is a deeper, higher thought that has little practicality but is still “essential” or necessary for a society. He says, “Nothing is more necessary to the culture of the higher sciences or of the more elevated departments of science than meditation…” (ibid). Unfortunately, understanding religion, especially harder concepts of self-denial, the Kingdom of God, and Eschatology (The study of End Times) all deserve a lot of meditating, of chewing, or thinking without a lot of application. So, I believe Rapture Theology and Dispensationalism are so popular because we all have these questions in us of  “what happens when we die?” “Where did my loved ones go?” “Jesus said he is coming back to make all things right and to dwell with us forever, what does that look like, why and when?” These questions are meant to drive us closer to Christ. They aren’t solvable in a day. Yet Dispensationalists will tell you point blank what they think they have interpreted correctly. They have an answer that is easy to understand and is very black and white. Unfortunately it is often wrong and more than that, it robs God and His Word of its beauty and inherent mystery that he purposely leaves. Again, my professor, world-renowned New Testament scholar Ben Witherington loves to say, “God has revealed enough about the future to give us hope, but not so much that we do not have to live by faith every day for the rest of our lives."

In fact, in the end of “The Challenge of Jesus” the great N. T. Wright says that he thinks the End is going to be a lot like the Road to Emmaus and the Two Disciples with Jesus. When Jesus had died and just after his resurrection, there were two unnamed disciples on the road to Emmaus. They were sad at the news of Jesus and his death. Jesus showed up in disguise and talked with them. After a while scripture says that Jesus showed them that all of the scriptures, the law and the prophets pointed to his death and resurrection, that this was the plan all along. Their eyes were opened and they rejoiced. Wright thinks that this is what the end will be like. Jesus will show up at the end and show us exactly what he meant and he will open our eyes, but until then, there will be a certain amount of mystery. This whole idea should be our first sign of false teaching. When someone has all the answers, and even a date for the end, then it is time to pack things up and go disciple under someone else.

But Rapture folks aren’t without scripture to give a little credence to their beliefs. Again, Matthew 24 and 1 Thessalonians 4 are the two main passages they use to back up their ideas. In fact, I don’t think I have seen any other support passages except the repeat of Matthew 24 in Mark 13 and Luke 17. Unfortunately, good bible study isn’t done by having an idea AND THEN looking up verses to support them but by reading scripture and letting it form ideas. The first way is called Eisegesis and is bad, using religion and scripture to support our ideas. The second is Exegesis and is good. Let’s look at these passages in depth:

Matthew 24 says, “Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see “the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven” with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other... ‘But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming." (Matthew 24: 30-31 & 36-42).
  • The conversation usually revolves around the last few verses: “Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left.” This was the scenario I was presented with as a young man and many other kids and people believe that this is the rapture. There is even a Christian-ese way of just alluding to this passage and we all know what you’re talking about, “two men in a field, one will be taken…” Ask most evangelicals about just that snippet and they will say rapture. The problem is the context gives an exact opposite meaning:
    • The verse immediately preceding the men in the field says, “For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man.” NOAH IS THE CONTEXT. Almost everyone knows that story of Noah, but if not, you can read it in Genesis 6-11. Genesis is the first book in the bible, so go to the very beginning and skip ahead to the 6th chapter. You could probably watch “Evan Almighty” to fill in the blanks :). The story goes something like: (1) Man has turned evil and rebelled towards God, (2) God is going to bring judgment on the people by destroying everyone except one righteous family to start over with (3) Noah is chosen to build the Ark therefore preserving the whole animal species and humans through all those on the ark.
      • The questions are: Who is taken? Who is left behind on earth? Why did God have Noah build such a big ark? What does God say about creation?
        • Who is taken?: The wicked… the evil who are being destroyed. “The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5). Literally Matthew 24 says, “and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man.” Do you see? Those in the flood are swept away. They are the ones who depart. The flood takes them away. So it will be when Jesus comes, those taken away will be like the ones lost in the flood. The ones left are the ones who are righteous.

        • Who is left behind?: Noah, his family and the rest of creation… This is God’s favored line. This is his chosen way to restart creation. It is actually good to be left behind!

        • Why such a big ark?: God is saving creation too, animals and all, except unicorns, they out because they so arrogant.

        • What does God say about Creation: it is good! (Genesis 1)

        • What does Revelation 21 (the second to last chapter in the whole bible) say, “2And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘See, the home* of God is among mortals. He will dwell* with them; they will be his peoples,* and God himself will be with them;*4 he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away’” (vv. 2-4, emphasis mine).
        • So, all of those things comes together to show us that God loves creation, he loves the world that he created. When Noah was to start the whole thing over, he was left behind here with the pairs of animals. “…so too will be the coming of the Son of Man.” Jesus doesn’t want to whisk us away to heaven to live in some sort of weird spirit realm; in fact, Revelation 21 says that God’s spirit realm is coming here, to earth, so that He will dwell with us. The new heaven and new earth is Heaven and Earth combined.
        • Some questions you may have:
        • What is heaven? - We don’t totally know but we do know that it is the realm of God and that when we die BEFORE the End Times, we are with God in heaven. But heaven isn’t our final home, just a temporary place until the resurrection?
        • What is the Resurrection? - Read 1 Corinthians 15 – we are all going to receive new, physical bodies that aren’t susceptible to disease, death, decay. Again, no endless spiritual realm, but a physical realm with new bodies that do no perish. We all get to have our own personal Easter!
        • What of heaven and Earth? - They will be judged and refined like gold passing through fire. They aren’t literally going to be melted like dispensationalist’s interpretation of Peter, but refined like figuratively. All injustice will be stomped out. All hunger and disease and pollution will be forever gone. All will be fully reconciled to God and restored to original glory.

I hope all that makes sense, because now we have to move into a more philosophical passage; 1 Thessalonians 4. This passage has received a bulk of the weight for supporting Rapture Theology. It is tired of carrying all the weight they have put on it. Hopefully we can unburden it. Before we read it though, let me say, it is a mysterious verse. This whole topic is flooded with super-natural acts and insights. I am not trying to make the super-natural like the natural. I am not trying to bring the things of faith into the things of science, only provide reason in the things of faith. So yes, these things sounds weird, and are weird, but that is ok, I am not trying to explain away their weirdness, only add reason for why they are weird and let them be that way.

 “For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord for ever" (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).
  • So, let me first acknowledge the rapture ideas present in the text:
    • Yes, Jesus shows up
    • Yes, there is language that involves rising...
    • Yes, there is even this tricky passage about being caught up in the clouds together in the air and then being with the Lord forever.
      • I kind of feel like Houdini, locked in a straight jacket, getting plunged into some water and then having to appear on the other side unscathed. This passage seems to support rapture if any ever did. But the experts agree, there is no rapture hiding underneath here.
  • But first, before we explain away the rapture here, the experts want you to read another passage; Psalm 24, “Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the King of glory may come in. 8Who is the King of glory? The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord, mighty in battle. 9Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the King of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory. Selah” (vv. 7 – 10).
    • This is a scene of a King returning. This scene happened all over the world for millennia. Kings would return from battle or diplomacy and the gates would be lifted. There would even be a committee that would go out of the city and usher him back into town.
  • Both Ben Witherington and N. T. Wright have the same interpretation of 1 Thessalonians 4: 13-18. They both think that those being caught up into the air in the clouds are the welcoming committee of the King, going out (or up) to usher Him back to town. This certainly makes the most sense when we re-read Revelation 21 (above). They both say:
    • “What is envisioned here was a rather common scene. A king has been away, perhaps away in a far country fighting battles. He, his entourage, and his army return to is own capital city” (Witherington, Referring to Psalm 24 in his book “Revelation and the End Times,” pp. 17-18) He connects this to 1 Thessalonians 4, “The difference, of course, was that Christ is envisioned as returning from heaven, trailing clouds of glory, not kicking up clouds of dust on a war charger. But still the imagery used is that of a returning triumphant king, adopted and adapted to the circumstances New Testament writers believed would occur when Christ returned. Here is how Paul describes that great and fearsome Day of the Lord in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18… [see above for verse]… First of all, notice what Paul says about the Lord coming down from heaven with a loud cry of command – in the entrance liturgy [Psalm 24] this would be a cry for the gates to open. In this version of the entrance liturgy, it is the cry for the gates of the land of the dead to open and the command for the dead in Christ to arise and come forth to the Lord. Second, there is clarification that the person doing the heralding is, in fact, the archangel who descends with Christ blowing a trumpet loud enough to wake the dead! Hark the herald angels, indeed! Thus, in this scenario, first the dead in Christ will arise, then those Christians alive at the time will rise up to meet Christ in the air with the departed saints. This is the traditional greeting committee going out to welcome the king back into his realm or dominion. Everyone listening to these words would know what comes next – the King with the greeting party descends back to the earthly realm, where they will be together evermore and Christ will reign on earth forever.” (p. 21, emphasis mine).
 
    • The brilliant Bishop, N. T. Wright, says basically the same thing in his paper “Farewell to Rapture.” He says, “Paul conjures up images of an emperor visiting a colony or province.  The citizens go out to meet him in open country and then escort him into the city.  Paul’s image of the people ‘meeting the Lord in the air’ should be read with the assumption that the people will immediately turn around and lead the Lord back to the newly remade world. Paul’s mixed metaphors of trumpets blowing and the living being snatched into heaven to meet the Lord are not to be understood as literal truth, as the Left Behind series suggests, but as a vivid and biblically allusive description of the great transformation of the present world of which he speaks elsewhere” (http://www.ntwrightpage.com/Wright_BR_Farewell_Rapture.htm, emphasis mine, everyone should read the whole thing, sooooo good).

    • For my more reformed friends:
      • Here is R. C. Sproul on this passage, “Though passages like the one for today’s study are sometimes appealed to as proof of a secret rapture, the Bible is quite clear that there is but one return of Jesus and that all will see it. On that glorious day, as Paul tells us, the dead in Christ will rise and the faithful still living will join them ‘in the air’ to meet the Savior as He returns to earth to bring His kingdom to consummation (1 Thess. 4:16–17). Our hope in the return of Christ is not a hope that we will escape great persecution and suffering. Rather, it is a hope that on the glorious day of Jesus’ return all of our suffering will be reversed and that we will be vindicated as the people of God. We will meet Christ in the air and share visibly in His triumphal reign over all” (http://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/rapture/, emphasis mine)


  • So, 1 Thessalonians 4 is an interesting passage. I am not claiming that the case is solved on that pericope, but I think Witherington’s and Wright’s interpretation fits best with the overall ideas of the End Times. 

  • Also, if we look at the passage, yes there is a meeting of the Lord in the air, but some key rapture pieces are missing:
    • First, the passage says air and clouds, not heaven… this is the earthly realm.
    • Second, it is not a secret rapture as there are trumpets and loud commands with clouds being swirled about.


The Rapture is a new idea and its biblical support is lacking. The support it does have is from ambiguous, mysterious verses that I would be leery about establishing any doctrine on. I think it is time to do away with dispensationalism and rapture. The church has been plagued by it for too long. It provides easy answers for complex situations. At best, it over-simplifies God’s word in a wrong direction and at worst it is heresy, providing an escapism from this world that Christ died to redeem. At worst, it causes Christians to take delight in the injustices of the world because it means “Jesus is that much closer.” At worst, it causes us to miss the Kingdom gospel of Jesus restoring all creation with the ending being a reconciliation of Earth and Heaven when Heaven comes to earth.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Can you hear the Fat Lady singing?

"Ideas have consequences... The hope of impending departure can lead believers to abandon interest in the world and its problems. The expectation of deteriorating conditions prior to the soon-approaching rapture is morally corrosive, encouraging pessimism, fatalism, and the forsaking of political responsibility. Disengagement from the problems of the world is ethically indefensible, but it is all too common among today's prophecy elite. Their books tell us that nuclear war is inevitable, that the pursuit of peace is pointless, that the planet's environmental woes are unstoppable, and so on."
Craig Hill, In God's Time 

So, Harold Camping is predicting the end of the world.... AGAIN? What's new... but this time it seems to be in my face everywhere.

Since this has become common knowledge now, I thought I would spell out a few things from my studies for the people around me trying to get a grasp on the situation.

This will be a historical/ theological lesson, so I apologize in advance for people who aren't as nerdy as I am, but this is my love. Hopefully it can help you and I can make it interesting enough.

First and foremost, THERE IS NO RAPTURE. For those who don't know what the rapture is, it is the idea that Jesus comes and takes all true believers away to the special place known as heaven. This theory has sooooo many flaws, I don't even know where to begin (See below for more detail). So, I am sorry to all the politico conspiracy theorists and pessimists and "Left Behind" fans, but there just isn't evidence for a rapture in scripture.

Rapture was invented in the 1830's by a young girl who had a vision. Then a guy named John Nelson Darby took up the cause of spreading this girl's vision of rapture. There are many causes that led to its great popularity today, (Scofield Reference Bible, Moody and his media outlets, Dallas Theological Seminary which impacted leader after leader until we got such names as Jerry Falwell, James Dobson and the LeHayes). Unfortunately it has reigned too long and has caused untold damage. But I will say with utter confidence that not a single church or church leader before 1830 believed in a rapture. It is an entirely new theology and it is entirely awful.

Almost every Christian leader believes that Jesus is coming back to restore all things, to bring justice to every broken situation, to destroy death and to judge all wicked and righteous. Even Muslims believe something similar about Jesus. so my contention isn't with Jesus coming back, but coming back to steal Christians away to leave the world to rot.

This flies in the face of all we hold dear. Christ comes and inaugurates his Kingdom. A kingdom that spreads throughout creation, the same earth that the Father declares "good" upon creating. The Kingdom that is taking over every square inch of the planet so that peace and love can rule and injustice can be banished. So that brokenness can cease. A place where new life and the restoration of all things can begin. Jesus died for his life's work, redeeming creation to the Father, and then in rapture it seems to be all for not. That we, Christians, leave right in the thick of it. How does that make sense?

Jesus is in the middle of a mass restoration of all things to its original glory, to the way it was first created. He has created his Church, his body, to carry on this work through his direction, love and strength. And then he is going to take us all away? If anything, we are going to be in the midst of this whole thing as it goes down.

But more than rapture, the idea that someone is going to call it done, is telling us that the fat lady is singing is just mind boggling to me. First, Jesus is very clear he is coming back but more than hazy on details. He says that even he doesn't know when it will go down, "‘But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father" (Matthew 24). Why would someone take it upon themselves to do such a thing? It isn't very Christ-like as Jesus even refused to do it.

Secondly, there is one set of characteristics that are repeated over and over in context of Jesus' return: it is going to be sudden and unexpected. Jesus, in Matthew 24, says that his coming will be like a thief coming in the night. No one expects a thief and no one will be able to expect Jesus. This exact phrase is repeated by a multitude of authors throughout the New Testament. "For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night" (1 Thessalonians 5:2). "But the day of the Lord will come like a thief..." (2 Peter 3:10). Jesus even reiterates this in the apocalyptic literature of Revelation, "Look, I come like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake and remains clothed, so as not to go naked and be shamefully exposed" (16:15).

It is my contention that billboards and a million dollar ad-campaign is not "like a thief in the night." I mean, these people can't even say that they are some voice of the Lord preparing the way, Jesus doesn't want a prepared way, he is coming suddenly with great surprise. (sidenote: Honestly, I would be totally surprised if Jesus did come back on Saturday... maybe that is the perfect day to come back. We're all thinking about it so much, that we're not thinking about it... think about it! Genius....).

Mostly I see it as total arrogance to assume that we are the 'end all.' How self-centered does one have to be to think that our generation or country or (insert current delineation or sub-group) is the one in whom will be raptured or cause of God to end all things and come back? It takes a total lack of the knowledge of history to assume somehow that we have arrived, that we are the peak, or even that things are so bad that God has to step in fix it. 

People have been doing this for a thousand years and probably even before that. I am embarrassed by this man's example of Christ to those around me but Christianity has suffered through much worst. I'll meet you on Sunday for hamburgers. We are having church in the park. You're more than invited as I am sure we will all still be here.

My professor Ben Witherington III from Asbury Theological Seminary wrote a book a year or so ago that is absolutely necessary reading for interested in these types of things. It is entitled "Revelation and the End Times." He is an amazing, world renown scholar of the New Testament. He has some fantastic quotes just for such an occaision as the someone predicting the End Times, the Rapture and what not:
  • "Let me be as clear as I can: There is no encouragement in the New Testament itself to speculate about the timing of the return of Christ. What is said about the matter is that it will come at an unexpected time, and come suddenly. No one knows when Christ will return. Therefore, the church must always be ready, always be the church expectant" (p. 25).
  • "God has revealed enough about the future to give us hope, but not so much that we do not have to live by faith every day for the rest of our lives" (p. 28).
  • "Nothing that is happening now in human history can force this return of Christ to transpire any sooner or later than God decides. None of the events transpiring now lead up to the return of Christ in such a fashion that we could read the signs of the times and tell when it will happen. On the contrary, Christ will come like a thief in the night" (p. 56).
  • "... there is no theology of rapture to be found in the New Testament anywhere, never mind the term itself" (p. 91).





~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Super Nerdy Dissection of Rapture~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Wesleyans have a thing called the "Wesleyan Quadrilateral" to help us interpret and understand things. The four parts of the Quad are: Scripture, Reason, Tradition and Experience. These are super useful tools to help guide us. Scripture is supreme and the rest kind of support the scripture aspect with tradition and reason fighting for second spot and experience being pertinent but a wild card. Experience is super important and is one of the markers of John Wesley's legacy. More on that later, but trust me, you would love it...

So, as to the Rapture, it fails almost all criteria:
Scripture is silent on this issue. There are some scripture Rapture people ('Dispensationalist') use, but it is ambiguous or just plain badly interpreted. There are two main scriptures used for Rapture; Matthew 24 and 1 Thessalonians 4.

The part in Matthew 24 that Rapture folks use would be a great support passage except the context gets in the way. As a great man once said, "A text without a context is a sure sign you're getting conned." So here is the text from Matthew 24:
"Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see “the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven” with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other... ‘But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming." (Matthew 24: 30-31 & 36-42).
So overall a strange passage. Some scary elements, some beautiful ones.

There very clearly is an idea here that people are being taken and that Jesus is doing it. I will give you all that, but Jesus sets the context quite clearly, "For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man." Ok, so what happened with Noah again? Did God take the true believers away to somewhere special and all the people being judged get 'left behind'? No, we all know the story, Noah and his family built an ark and God took the bad people. So, when there are two in the field or grinding meal, the one taken is the one being judged. The ones left are the righteous.

More than all of that, Dispensationalists do something funny (peculiar not haha) with prophecy that blinds them from most of it being fulfilled. Most scholars believe that tons of prophecy were already fulfilled, and most of Matthew 24 is no exception. Ben Witherington, a NT scholar, professor of NT at Asbury and hero of mine, said this, "Only a minority of what is said in Matthew 24-25 or Mark 13 has any bearing on current or future events as we view them in the beginning of the twenty-first century, precisely because they already happened in the debacles leading up to and including the Jewish war with Rome in a A.D. 70 when the temple and all Jerusalem were utterly destroyed" (Revelation and the End Times, p. 8).

1 Thessalonians 4 is a bit more ambiguous. The doctrine of the Rapture is that Christ will come and secretly takes us away to heaven. 1 Thess. 4 has some elements of this, but where is speaks to rapture, it is also weirdly silent:
"For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord for ever" (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).
 This passage is just plain weird and I don't even pretend to understand it. Certainly it says that we, Christians, will meet Jesus during his return in the air and clouds. And even that we will be with him forever after this event. It is an odd/awesome passage. The problem is that it doesn't say anything about leaving earth and going to heaven. Witherington believes this passage is like a royal band-wagon where a returning king would be greeted by his subjects and ushered back into his kingdom. He says it this ways:
"...those Christians alive at the time will rise to meet Christ in the air with the departed saints. This is the traditional greeting a committee going out to welcome the king back into his realm or dominion. Everyone listening to there words would know what comes next -  the King with the greeting party descends back to the earthly realm, where they be together evermore and Christ will reign on earth forever. Paul ends by saying that the Thessalonians, currently persecuted and facing difficult times, should encourage each one another with this promise of the return of the King. During the last almost two hundred years of church history, a very different interpretation of this text has arisen in some conservative Protestant circles called dispensationalism. These people say that this text is the 'rapture' of the church out of the world before or during the final period of great tribulation upon the earth. So far as I can tell, this interpretation of 1 Thessalonians 4 did not exist before 1820..." (p. 22).
Witherington may be right or he may be wrong, I certainly like his work on the passage, but either way, the passage is ambiguous and is not something that either side should be basing there theology on, especially the crux of their theology as do dispensationalists."

      As you can see, we have discussed scripture passages, used reason to deduce the rapture goes against the narrative of Christ's Kingdom plan and talked about tradition in that this idea is not anywhere present in almost 2000 years of church history save a century and a half.


      There will be a day when all is made right and death is flung into the depths of destruction. There will be a day when Christ comes to reign forever, when we receive our resurrected bodies and are made new to dwell in God's new heaven and new earth. When all brokenness will be restored and when all injustices will be trampled under. Let us look forward to that day when we experience everlasting peace and our hope is fulfilled, but let us not be so arrogant and foolish to assume we can know when or follow after men blindly who lead us nowhere.

      Here is a blog post from Witherington written yesterday about this very thing.

      Monday, May 2, 2011

      Heavy laden thoughts on Bin Laden

      The news came... it lit up twitter like a fire storm. The people wanted to know but the mystery mixed with hope was palpable. CNN was so sure of themselves. And then Obama speaks; it's true.

      I was overjoyed, but... This 'but,' this tension. Dig deeper. What is it? All my friends are excited. All my Christian friends are quick to throw the first stone.

      I responded, "Let not death nor violence be glorified but may justice and peace be long lived."

      This remains true. Death and Violence should never be glorified. When Jesus said, "...all who draw the sword will die by the sword" he wasn't just speaking about how his disciples weren't supposed to use violence or merely waxing eloquently, he was speaking a profound truth: when violence is used against violence, only violence wins, only violence is exalted. Will he be replaced? Will Al Qaeda retaliate? Will this make Al Qaeda stronger? Or does it dissolve it?

      But what about Bin Laden? Surely if any deserved it, he did. This argument isn't without biblical support. Romans 13 says, "But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer" (v. 5). This passage clearly states that the state has the God-given right to used the sword, and may even be just when using it against evil. (sidenote: it is entirely unclear whether or not Christians are to be a part of the state and most of scripture would be against it). Even the saint Dietrich Bonhoeffer has to come to mind. A Jesus pacifist at heart, he felt it necessary to assassinate Hitler, or at least attempt to. The plan horribly failed and he was martyred for his faith.

      So what about Bin Laden? What is the nagging tension we feel about this or at least should feel about this? A brother posted this verse:
      "Say to them, As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways" (Ezekiel 33).
      What shall we say then? Who gets to smugly be pleased at the thought of hell or rejoice in death?

      Bin Laden's death comes a week after our celebration of Holy Week in the Christian calendar. How quickly we forget. How quickly we forget that Jesus proclaims victory through dying a revolutionary's death on the cross. How quickly we forget the Last Supper dialogue:
      When it was evening, he took his place with the twelve; and while they were eating, he said, ‘Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.’ And they became greatly distressed and began to say to him one after another, ‘Surely not I, Lord?’ He answered, ‘The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.’ Judas, who betrayed him, said, ‘Surely not I, Rabbi?’ He replied, ‘You have said so.’
       While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.
       Don't you see? Jesus calls Judas out as his betrayer, as the evil one. How does he do it? He says that it is the same one that is dipping in his bowl. The one who would've been sitting closest to Jesus was the betrayer. I like to believe that Jesus sat next Judas precisely because he was wicked.

      More than that, Jesus doesn't ask him to leave or go outside and then lock the door, he serves him communion. Judas was likely the first person in history to drink from the wine that symbolized Jesus ' forgiveness of sins and eat the bread the symbolizes the body broken. Judas is the main catalyst for spilled blood and body broken and yet he, in all likelihood, receives the first grace of the New Covenant.

      Jesus has to be producing fruit from an inner spring of love and a firm conviction that he meant what he said, "But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you..." Do we believe it? Do we believe that evil isn't to be overcome by evil but be overcome by good?

      The tension is present because we are wrong to take delight in vengeance. God specifically declares all vengeance his. We are wrong because we have failed to love our enemies and pray for them and bless them. I admit, I didn't pray for Bin Laden. The tension is trying to pull us in Christ's direction, the Kingdom direction instead of the Empire's direction.

      May peace be sought, may violence damned and may we be drawn to Christ!

      Blessings!