In defense of Left Behind


On the occasion of the rebooted Left Behind movie franchise with Nicolas Cage (which, for some reason, sounds kind of awesome to me), many of my mainline Protestant colleagues in the blogosphere are eager to tell the world that the Rapture (along with the premillennial dispensationalist belief from which it springs) is a recent innovation in the history of Christian theology, having emerged in the past 200 years.

Then they tell us all the nasty things that the Rapture implies about God and his Creation. Read this representative blog post, for instance.

While I agree with the blogger, and nearly every major Christian thinker for the past 2,000 years, that there will be no Rapture, I’m unconvinced about the rest of it. And I said so in response to a clergy friend who linked to the blog post above.

Here’s what I wrote:

It’s not that I disagree with this blogger about the Rapture. I’m no fan of “modern” theological ideas, of which Rapture is one. But how much difference does believing or not believing in the Rapture make when we still have to contend with the Second Coming?

Aren’t we disregarding way too much of the New Testament, including the words of Jesus, to imagine that the Second Coming will only be something for the world to celebrate and not also fear? How will the Second Coming not be a fearful event when Final Judgment follows shortly thereafter?

Even if you’re a preterist [ed. note: I’m not] who believes that every parable of judgment that Jesus seemingly told about the Second Coming actually refers to the destruction of Jerusalem, you’re still left with Sheep and the Goats, for example—a frightening parable of final judgment, right? If the Second Coming ushers us into this judgment, it can’t be a happy occasion for those who have refused the gift of forgiveness and salvation in Christ.

If we believe in the doctrine of hell, we acknowledge the frightening prospect that people will, indeed, be left behind—eternally. Isn’t that far worse than being left behind temporarily?

Furthermore, while the redeemed, renewed, and re-created world on the other side of the Second Coming will be in continuity with our world, there will also be radical discontinuity. And even if believers were whisked away to heaven for a little while, I’m not aware that most dispensationalists believe that heaven is therefore the final destination: don’t they also believe in a return to a renewed earth on the other side of the millennium? (Forgive my ignorance here. I honestly haven’t studied dispensationalism in depth. But I see no logical reason why the Rapture precludes believing in a physical resurrection of the dead into a redeemed and renewed earth. Right?)

2 Peter 3:10-13 gives us the best picture of both continuity and discontinuity with the world to come: “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”

I grant the highly metaphorical language here, but Peter himself speaks of the world’s “dissolving,” “melting,” and “burning.” All that to say, whether or not we “neglect the present world and let it crumble away while we focus on our own eternal glory,” the world in the hereafter will be drastically different from our world today.

2 thoughts on “In defense of Left Behind

  1. I hope your “…Protestant collegues” don’t confuse premillenial (which is early church belief) with dispensational. And though the Rapture teaching depends on the premillenial teaching, the reverse is not true. And I hope we can all be thankful for opportunites to point others to Jesus whether it comes from worlks of fiction that may open doors or from the opportunity to point people to what the Bible says.

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