Thursday, September 18, 2008

Ascension Deficit Disorder, or "I Was A Teenage Skeptic"

So, we had this traveling and beloved evangelist who came to our church for a week-long revival. Several times throughout the week, he teased us with a promise that, come Friday, he would prove to us that the Bible says the rapture of the saints will take place before the Seven Years of Tribulation. At the time, I was a teenager- I’m guessing 15 or 16. Even back in those days of my biblical fundamentalism years, I was quite skeptical of whether the rapture was really a biblical concept, even though it was one of the primary teachings of the church of my youth. So, “Finally!” I thought, “someone who seems to have a lick of sense, is going to show me how the rapture is more than just an idea cobbled together from a bunch of disparate and hard-to-understand verses that only seem to relate to one another if you really want them to.”

So, the night came and the evangelist had me all atwitter, hoping to get some sensible warrant for a doctrine that always (ALWAYS) leaves an imprint of anxiety and fear on others (“Comfort one another with these words,” my foot. “Scare the begeezers out of one another” is more like it.) And here was his proof that the rapture was going to come before the tribulation: He read Revelation 4:1 from the King James Bible:

“After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter.”

And the evangelist said, “See! ‘Come up hither!’ Now, some people say that we have to stay down here on the earth and suffer through the awful things that are going to take place, but I’m going up with John at the sound of the trumpet.” And that, I’m afraid, was the ‘kith and kin’ of his entire argument. The remainder of the sermon was a thumbnail sketch of the awful events that would be plaguing the earth with the repeated refrain, “I don’t know about you, but I’m going up in the 4th chapter of the book!” And, of course, the service ended with a strong appeal for those of us who did not want to have our foreheads tattooed or to wade through rivers of blood flowing down Main Street, etc., to come to the altar and get right with God so that we, too, could go up in the 4th chapter of the book.

I didn’t go to the altar. I do not expect to go up in the 4th chapter of the book. I don’t care whether the ‘rapture’ is supposed to take place before, during, or after the seven years of tribulation. I think that whole line of reading, preaching, and indoctrination is simply wrong. And, I do not always know how to say it, but my goal is to imagine a different way of taking texts like I Thessalonians 4, Matthew 24, and the book of Revelation seriously, without taking them literally. Or, as a late friend of mine often said, “I have quit taking them literally, in order to take them seriously.”


  1. A friend of mine told me that the phrase "fear not" appears in the Bible many, many times. (he gave some number, but I don't have the time or inclination to count) I can't imagine the same God who tells us to "fear not" wants to "scare us into heaven". When Matthew quotes "he who stands firm will be saved" maybe what we are being saved from is fear, which in my experience can be very crippling.

  2. I agree entirely. You may hear me banging the 'stop the fear' monkey too much in this blog, but I have to tell you when the Tim LaHaye books became a sales phenomenon (instead of just ignorable like so many similar books before them), it felt like my worst nightmare returning. And the fear stick still seems to be LBT's primary means proclaming salvation. Hard to imagine.


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