Nicolas Cage is slated to one-up Kirk Cameron in the latest Left Behind movie this October. The movie is based on a novel based on a theology based on Darby’s method for reading prophecy in the Bible.
I myself read all 16 of the Left Behind books in high school and college. Voraciously. With pleasure.
The series had topped the New York Times Best Seller List in 1998 and I was an adolescent Christian with budding adolescent desires for God, life, and literature; Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins’ books gave me all three.
Kirk Cameron’s Left Behind movies quickly followed – along with children’s books, graphic novels, and the Eternal Forces video game, each celebrating a vision of a future filled with acts of God.
That’s really what it was all about – acts of God. Every page spoke of a Deity acting malevolently toward some and graciously toward others, but acting none the less. We were hungry for God as a character; modernism, secularism, and scientific discovery had all but ruled out God’s part in our world. Anticipating God’s plan to break the silence and vindicate our faith was nothing short of worship.
So I dove in.
I studied the signs and wondered the wonders. I even begged my parents for a copy of LaHaye’s Prophecy Study Bible.
Then I went to Bible college and read commentaries that wove Daniel 7 with the contents of Revelation into a unified theology of the future – a future in which Christians were expected to be raptured, the rest of the world experience a horrific tribulation, and Jesus return with a vengeance to judge the living and the dead.
But I eventually left rapture theology behind.
I learned about the foreignness of apocalyptic literature, started reading the biblical texts against the backdrop of their historical contexts, and discovered the novelty of the dispensational movement as a whole. Reading through passages of a long-extinct genre with the eyes of modernists had given rise to “faithful” interpretations that managed to miss the point. These interpretive conclusions, in turn, rippled out in unique readings of other biblical texts and so on into an eschatological system supporting the rapture.
A system that only came into existence during the last half of the 1800’s.
But when I read 1 Thessalonians 4 these days (the only supposed rapture passage in the Bible), “we will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air,” I hear hope for the future public return of Jesus and a metaphor for the authority that he will bring with him. The whole vision for this text is the comfort of grieving Christians with news of life after death, not a sneaky snatching of pilots from airplanes and babies from birth canals.
The Christian hope is not rapture; it’s resurrection.
That said, I’ll probably watch the Left Behind movie anyway. There’s just something about Nicolas Cage playing the role of a womanizing-pilot-turned-Jesus-radical that I can’t look away from.
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