Archives For Rapture

HBC_Covers_EndTimes_FINAL_2.25.16Teer and I recently had the privilege of interviewing Jeff Pugh on his new book The Home-brewed Christianity Guide to the End Times: Theology After You’ve Been Left Behind

I first “met” Jeff through his book Religionless Christianity: Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Troubled Times. If you’ve been duped into reading that crap Eric Metaxas book on Bonhoeffer then here’s an alternative.

Jeff is an ordained United Methodist Elder in Virginia and teaches Religious Studies at Elon College. If I have anything to say about it, he’s going to be a Crackers and Grape Juice Regular as we seek to develop an East Coast flavor for Tripp Fuller’s Home-brewed Christianity family.

Everyone knows someone who subscribes to what Jeff likes to call “batshit crazy” theology about the eschaton. Take a listen so you can learn to understand your sister-in-law, co-worker, or neighbor.

You can download the episode and subscribe to future ones in the iTunes store here.

We’re up to 15K listeners now.

We’ve got more listeners per episode than the average UMC has on Sunday am.

In fact, if podcasts were churches, we’d be the pastors of one of the largest United Methodist Churches in the world.

Even better, we do this s#$% gratis, in our own free time just because we think ordinary people in and out of the church need conversations about God, faith, and life without stained-glass language.

So PLEASE…

Give us 4 Stars and a good review there in the iTunes store. It’s not hard and it makes all the difference. 

It’ll make it more likely more strangers and pilgrims will happen upon our meager podcast. ‘Like’ our Facebook Page too. You can find it here.

Again, special props to my friend Clay Mottley for letting us use his music gratis. Check out his new album.

If you’re receiving this by email, here’s the link to the podcast: http://www.spreaker.com/user/crackersandgrapejuice/episode-28-leaving-left-behind-behind

 

2014-emailteaserIn 2014 average of 20K readers per month came from over 250 countries and, according to Google Analytics, these were the most viewed posts on the blog this year.

For the second year in a row, the year’s most popular post was not written by yours truly. Last year it was my wife’s post while this year the honor belongs to my friend, Teer Hardy. For the first time, a Barth-themed post made it into the Top 5 (#3) while my personally felt piece of the year comes in at #5.

1. Why I Left the Ordination Process

2. Is There an Unforgivable Sin? 

3. The Way Forward for the UMC: Stop Baptizing Homosexuals

4. Why Rapture-Believing Christians are Really Liberals

5. I Don’t Need to have Faith 

 

And, in case you missed them, these were the most played or downloaded sermons or podcasts of 2014. You can find them in iTunes here.

1. What Do Our Prayers Sound Like to God

2. Marriage: Someone Better

3. Jesus’ Enemy-Loving Offensive

4. The Sacrifice of War

5. Podcast with Thomas Lynch

One of the things Google Analytics can measure is the amount of time each reader spends on the post, and for most of you out there the data shows that you actually take the time to read all or most of what I’ve written and, for that, I’m truly grateful.

 

 

 

 

image001This past Sunday for our Leaving Left Behind Behind series we thought through the ‘rapture,’ the (un)biblical notion when the Risen Christ comes again believers will ‘meet him in the air’ and then…go somewhere else.

The problem with the rapture isn’t only that it’s a willful misreading of 1 Thessalonians 4 on which the idea is purportedly based, the problem is with its understanding of the someplace else to which we’ll be raptured.

The bigger problem with the rapture is heaven.

Our everyday notions of heaven do not come close to the hope the bible gives us.

Heaven it should be said straight away is not a place.

Heaven merely names God’s presence in its fullness.

So heaven isn’t a place because God isn’t a place.

When it comes to heaven there’s no ‘there’ there to which we can be raptured.

So the Christian hope is not of heaven as a destination of souls; it’s for the consummated reign of God. The God who made us to desire God and God’s Kingdom ultimately gets what God wants.

The Christian hope is for the creation declared ‘good’ to be renewed (Rev 21). This New Creation is finally what the Garden of Eden could not be: a place where God and God’s creatures dwell together. It’s as if what God wants is for us to join him in the life of the Trinity but there’s not enough room- New Creation is the space required for God’s desire.

     The Christian hope then is not for the rescue of the few worthy souls left after Armageddon.

It’s not escape from a swiftly sinking planet.

It’s the fulfillment of God’s original creative intent.

It’s the completion of Cross and Empty Tomb: the reconciliation of all things.

For ‘Heaven’ as in God’s fullness to come once and for all to Earth.

All things; so that, what was done at Eden is forever undone.

Communion with God is restored. Communion with one another is restored. Communion with creation is restored.

For this reason, all the imagery scripture uses to speak of heaven is profoundly communal: a new heaven and earth, a new Jerusalem, a marriage feast, a choir of countless people from every language.

Again, the Risen Jesus is our grammatical rule when speaking of eternal life. Whatever eternal life is it’s like what we find in the Easter Jesus. His bodily self is somehow restored. His life in the goodness of creation is renewed. His communion with the Father is consummated. His broken relationships (with Peter and the disciples) is reconciled.

As John Polkinghorne says, the old creation contained sacraments in it (ie, signs pointing to God). The New Creation is a sacrament. As Paul says, God will be ‘all in all.’

     As Robert Jenson says, ‘the End is music.’

To summarize:

Heaven = God’s presence in its fullness

Therefore in the immortal and slightly redacted words of Belinda Carlisle: Heaven is not now but will one day, on the Last Day, be a place on Earth.

Which makes this bit from comedian Louis CK all the more prescient:

Warning, his language makes me sound like Rev Dimmesdale.

image001I continued our Leaving Left Behind Behind series this weekend by talking about the rapture. Since the rapture is a topic over which many Christians disagree I thought a faux debate would be appropriate so this sermon follows our Au Contraire Mon Frere format.

I had friends of a theological bent send us eschatological assertions. We spun a carnival wheel and whatever number we landed on we took a pro/con position on the statement.

Facing off against for au contraire was Marco Santangelo, the chief librarian at the George Washington Presidential Library and Princeton Seminary grad. My lemming, Teer Hardy, MC’d the event.

If you like what you hear here, check out Pub Theology this Thursday night at Forge Brew Works when Marco will be our special guest for ‘How Do We Live in American When We have a King?’

You can listen to the rapture edition of Au Contraire below or on the sidebar to the right.

You can download it in iTunes or through the free mobile app.

 

image001We’re continuing our Leaving Left Behind Behind series this Sunday by talking about the rapture.

One of the dangerous delusions suffered by biblical literalists is the fantasy that their reading of scripture is one shared by the historic Church.

In case you’ve been spared the straight-to-video, Kirk Cameron Left Behind films, the rapture is the belief that prior to the last judgment the saved will be taken up in to heaven by Christ, leaving all the other unlucky bastards behind to deal with the mess that the PO’d returning Messiah will dole out.

Unknown-1Kirk Cameron’s not the only reason the Left Behind movies are terrible. As far biblical doctrines go, the rapture is thin, ridiculous and contrary to the larger biblical narrative.  The rapture might make for good pulp fiction but it’s antithetical to the greatest story ever told. After all, scripture begins with God declaring his creation ‘very good.’ It continues with God promising to Abraham to make it so again. Israel, Christ and Church are all links in the scriptural chain the ends, in Revelation, where it all began: in a Garden. New Creation.

Escape from creation doesn’t fit the story.

Worse, the rapture is a belief premised exclusively upon an almost willful misreading of a solitary text:

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. 17Then 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

The allusion St Paul makes here is to the arrival of a victorious, conquering military leader. Those who wished to celebrate the victory would rush out beyond the city to greet the coming hero. Think: Palm Sunday.

This would not have been unsubtle allusion to the Thessalonians who in Paul’s lifetime had experienced such entrances (invasions) by Pompey and Augustus.

The rapture mistakenly supposes that the coming Jesus has some other destination in mind.

Another leg of the journey.  A connecting flight.

But the ‘cloud’ imagery is a clear echo of Daniel’s vision in which the Son of Man comes on the clouds when God has given him dominion- not of heaven- but the Earth. Christ returns not to whisk souls away to heaven but to rule the New Creation.

On earth as it is in heaven.

As Brian Zahnd points out to read this text as a rapture of believers to heaven is like waiting at the airport terminal for a returning soldier- waiting with your own bags packed as though as soon the solider arrives home you will all be hopping on another plane for another destination.

UnknownNot only is the rapture of biblical literalists a willful misreading of the text, it’s an unhistoric reading of the text. Credited to John Nelson Darby, the rapture dates only to the mid-19th century.

It’s a modern belief.

Guess what else dates to the same approximate time period?

Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species.

Contrary to popular belief, Christians did not initially have a problem with evolution. Few Christians in the historic tradition ever held to a literal reading of the creation story. That God would use evolutionary means for the process to which Genesis gives poetic expression wasn’t a hard pill to swallow.

Natural selection was a different animal. The notion that violence and suffering was woven into the very fabric of existence seemed to contradict the most basic conception of God as Love. No longer was it axiomatic for believers to see the world as a sacrament to God’s loving glory.

‘Creation’ thus became ‘nature.’

Nature that was, Darwin had pointed out, red in claw and tooth.

No longer charged with God’s grace, the world came to be seen in the 19th century as a closed-system of purely mechanical, material processes.

It was in this new zeitgeist that Darby’s rapture theology took off in American Protestantism. Around the same time God had been vacated from the earth, Protestants started looking for the day when they would be evacuated for heaven. The core biblical theme that God through Christ will redeem this world gets lost when you no longer see this world as ‘creation.’

So not only is the rapture unbiblical and unhistoric, it turns out that the rapture is also a ‘liberal’ belief.

Rapture theology accepts the basic assumption of liberal modernism:

God is fundamentally absent from the present world.

Of course, by ‘creation’ the ancient Christians never meant the processes behind the world’s beginnings. Rather Creator is our answer to the question ‘Why is there something instead of nothing?’ A question no species’ origin can ever answer.

The rapture may be bulls$% as theology, but it does point out one needful lesson: the bible’s primary plot of creation-redemption-new creation falls apart once you stop seeing the world around you- even the reddened claws and teeth- as charged with the glory of God.

image001According to a recent Pew Survey on Religion, those who check ‘None’ when asked about their religious affiliation are the fastest growing religious demographic in America.
In many cases, the Nones are rejecting a cartoonish caricature of Christianity- a Christianity seemingly centered on fear and judgment.

What many of the Nones are leaving is the Christianity popularized by such books and films as the Left Behind series. But if ‘Do not fear’ is one of the bible’s most consistent refrains than that sort of Christianity should be left behind.

Starting this Sunday I’ll begin a new sermon series: Leaving Left Behind Behind.

Join us as we demystify what the Bible really wants to teach us by using words like:

Satan, antichrist, rapture, judgment and hell. duccio_di_buoninsegna_040

Starting with Satan, we’ll unpack the concepts Left Behind tries to make scary and instead discover how they can be put to constructive, life-giving use in our everyday world.

If you’ve got questions about any or all of those topics, I’d love to hear them and have them in mind as we move through the series.

20121222_XHE004_0Some of you asked me that very question after my Hell sermon for our Razing Hell series. I didn’t have time to write up a response and, lucky duck, Scot McKnight beat me to it:

———————————–

The almost universal traditional view of hell in the Christian church is that it is a lake of fire, that it will last forever and ever and that the wicked will be conscious and tormented endlessly. So Edward Fudge, in his Hell: A Final Word , sketches what we find in the lake of fire text in Revelation.

The Lake of Fire in Revelation in Revelation 20:14-15

Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. 15 Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.

First, the lake of fire is probably related to Daniel 7′s river of fire, a fire that destroys evil world leaders (the Beast and the False Prophet).

Second, in Revelation the Beast, the False Prophet and Satan/Serpent are thrown into the Lake of Fire. The place for the unholy trinity of evil. They are “tormented day and night forever and ever” (20:10). Only they are said in the Bible to be tormented endlessly.

Comment: Yes, Fudge is right; no one else is said to be tormented forever. But wicked humans are tossed into the same Lake of Fire in the next chapter. But Rev 14 has humans with much the same finality — humans, the smoke of their torment, endless.  More importantly, God is thereby now theologically and logically connected to endless torment. The unholy trinity may be upgradings of sin and evil and wickedness but they are still said to be tormented endlessly. Fudge appeals next to a human — Hanns Lilje — but this is an argument from a human or an authority or an experience. It doesn’t for me wipe away the glaring reality of an endless torment administered by God. The problem of endless torment is now officially connected to a theological problem.

Death is tossed into the Lake of Fire (20:14). Hades is tossed into the Lake of Fire (20:14).

The Lake of Fire is the Second Death. The death of the age to come. Lake of Fire is defined by Second Death, meaning that Second Death is the ruling image.  The two options are life (eternal, city of God) and death (final, second death, Lake of Fire). Humans enter the Lake of Fire, the Second Death: Rev 21:8.

So for Fudge all texts dealing with endless torment are explained, destruction is seen as the ruling image, Death is the outcome, and the absence of life is the outcome for the wicked. For Fudge the emphasis — undeniable — in the Bible is a fire that consumes or destroys, not a fire that purges or that torments. Edward Fudge makes the best case of anyone alive today for the annihilationist viewpoint.

We’re winding down our sermon series, Razing Hell, this weekend talking about the Second Coming.

When many people think of the Christian belief in the eschaton, last things, it’s the last judgment they have in mind. Many Christians have Michaelangelo’s grave depiction of the last judgment, in which an irate Christ rejects the damned at his feet and the martyrs surrounding Christ seem to delight in their torment, seared in to their minds.

Michaelangelo’s painting is evocative and beautiful in its way but biblical it is not. It’s true imagery of the last judgment populates a number of Jesus’ parables. Jesus speaks of judgment coming like thief in the night. He speaks the faithless being cast into darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. Still, the sense of resentment, self-righteousness and revenge that animates much Christian preaching on judgment is antithetical to Jesus’ own preaching on it. Judgment in Jesus’ parables isn’t about what will happen one day. It’s meant to compel faithful behavior in the here and now.

Jesus’ judgment is not vindictive.

Yet neither does scripture give us a God who is smiling, doting old man. For as many Christians who erroneously espouse a resentful, vindictive God there are as many Christians who act as though God is not entitled to judge us.

God is, as Hebrews says, a consuming fire (12.28).

What gets lost too often is that the fire of God is the fire of loving judgment- a purifying fire. God’s judgment is not a closure on relationship with us; God’s judgment is the means by which God opens relationship with us. The Last Judgment is no different, theologically, than the judgment preached by the prophets or worked on the Cross. It’s a judgment in which our Sin- that which separates us from God- is burnt away.

As Gregory of Nyssa understood it, there’s no actual difference between the fire of God’s judgment and the light of God’s glory. It’s one and the same. It’s only our perception and experience of it that changes.

This is what separates the inhabitants of Hell, Purgatory and Heaven in Dante’s Divine Comedy. The spectrum is marked by the extent people can stand to be in the light of God’s glory.

When it comes to belief in the Last Judgment is that at the end of time, all of us will be held to account (1 Corinthians 3). There is no distinction between believers and unbelievers, between the saved and the not-so-much. There is no easy, get-out rapture before the judgment. All of us will be held accountable for the mercy shown to us based on whether we too have been merciful to others (Matthew 25). Have we returned grace with grace?

The Christian hope is that we will all be judged but that the Judge is the Crucified Christ. The King who judges us is the one who died for us while we were sinners. This is a Judge determined not lose us.

 

This week we close our Razing Hell sermon series by talking about the Second Coming, probably the Christian doctrine most burdened by fanciful, unhelpful interpretations of scripture. Here’s NT Wright’s take:

We’re finishing up our Razing Hell sermon series this weekend talking about the Second Coming, a doctrine that’s gotten muddled and weighed down by the silly (and not very old) idea that God’s faithful will be ‘raptured’ and whisked off to heaven before Christ comes back ‘to judge the living and the dead.’ Apparently the Creed should have an asterisk there: *except the faithful who have a rapture ticket out of here.

Here’s NT Wright explaining why so many self-professed biblical literalists, literally lose the plot when it comes to rapture theology.

van impeWe’re winding up our Razing Hell sermon series this weekend by talking about the Second Coming of Christ, terrain normal Christians cede to the fundies, which is a shame because we need the full trajectory of our story to shape our present faith and action in the world. I already pointed out what I take to be the problems with the Left Behind rapture way of reading scripture. As a corollary, here are some of my own guidelines when it comes to talking about the Second Coming.

  • Christians must be mindful that, because this is a matter of deepest mystery, the bible’s speech is necessarily imagistic, metaphorical and parabolic. The bible, so to speak, gives us poetry about the End not prose. It’s poetry rooted in and consistent with what God has shown us in Christ but it’s still poetry. It’s not a photograph or rote dictation of the future that awaits us. Jesus never returned from the grave to describe the landscape or furniture of heaven.
  • Our hope is grounded in the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ. From the beginning of creation, the purpose of this God has been to share God’s life and love with creatures. Our speech of the End cannot be in contradiction with what the love shown to us in the Son, and our hope of the End must be in harmony with the aims of God revealed at Good Friday and Easter.
  • Our hope cannot be expressed dualistically. Just as evil and sin are privations, no-thing, our understanding of the End cannot then predict a final conflict between Good and Evil as though Evil were a living, equal opponent to God. Likewise, our hope is holistic. God has declared everything good not just our ‘spirit’ or soul. Our speech about the End cannot then distinguish between the material and the spiritual, the body and the soul, the personal and the communal. We don’t hope to escape this body. We don’t hope to escape this world. Our hope is for God to restore everything and every part of us.
  • Our hope in the End relativizes all earthly power. This is what animates John’s Revelation. ‘Rome’ won’t last forever and will lose eventually; therefore, we need not take its power seriously. We need not fear and we need not succumb. God wins in the end. Literally, we have all the time in the world to live faithfully.

 

  • Our hope is for an End. What makes Christians different, from say Eastern religions, is that we believe Time and History will come to an end. Time and History are not cyclical. This End is not, as contemporary apocalypticism suggests, a violent closure; it’s an End that is a fulfillment of this creation. A fulfillment that leads to a new creation.

Yesterday, as President Obama was sworn in, the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir sang ‘Battle Hymn of the Republic.’
As catchy as is the chorus of that hymn, I’ve never enjoyed singing it in church. Whenever you conflate the Second Coming of Christ with the justness of an American war you’re on dangerous theological ground. Anyways, more on that later.

This weekend we conclude our Razing Hell sermon series talking about the Second Coming. Perhaps no other Christian doctrine is so fraught with popular misunderstandings and willful, fanciful misinterpretations of scripture.

van impeYou know what I’m talking about: guys like Jack Van Impe making dire predictions about current events, identifying politicos like Obama with the Antichrist, interpreting Middle East Politics according to the coded schema of Revelation. And don’t even get started on the rapture.

These ways of reading Revelation, popularized in our own day by the Left Behind novels, are actually quite new and modern ways of interpreting, beginning with the rise of the modernist movement in the late 19th century.

These readings distort John’s original hope. Typically, such movements join visions of cosmic, final warfare with political action, divide the world into good and evil, demonize all who disagree, and are convinced of the rightness and righteousness of their view.

Such groups differ in the extremity of virulence of their views but all of them see present world events as fulfillments of biblical descriptions of the end time and as heading, by God’s predetermination, toward the cataclysmic end of history.

There’s a reason this way of reading Revelation is appealing. It gives gravity to the events of our own day. It makes scripture ‘exciting’ in that Revelation becomes like a treasure map or crystal ball, and it raises the stakes of my own individual belief.

As you’ve probably been exposed to before, contemporary apocalypticism predicts an exact timetable leading to the awful end ordained by God and predicted in the bible. It sees the beginning of this end ushered in by the modern state of Israel and it will culminate in a final battle of Armageddon. The faithful, however, will be ‘raptured’ to the Lord, escaping the tribulations and destruction. Evangelization before the final destruction will be done by 144,000 converted Jews. This will happen in our lifetime, according to such groups.

The problems with this way of reading Revelation are many and it departs from an authentic hope in Jesus Christ in significant ways:

1) It depends on and feeds fear.

2) The ‘rapture’ is based on a solitary biblical text (1 Thessalonians 4.17).

3) The notion that the faithful will be exempt from tribulation or suffering is alien to the Gospels.

4) It elevates the power of Evil to almost godlike proportions.

5) The timetable is deterministic. God’s set it in stone from the beginning. There’s nothing we can do to change history nor does our faithfulness effect it.

6) The world is divided between believers and infidels.

7) Jews are not sisters and brothers in the covenant nor are they people whom God loves and we must love too. Israel is important only for the role it plays in a timetable towards Armageddon.

8) Reconciliation of sinners is impossible.

9) The real object of hope is not Christ or New Creation but rapture.

10) Most importantly, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus are secondary, in this view, to the apocalypse. The Cross is less decisive than a final, cosmic war. Armageddon is more significant than Golgotha. Christ’s work on the cross was not ‘finished.’ Moreover, the Cross is no longer the full disclosure of God’s character or nature. In the Cross, we see a God who suffers wrath in our place: ‘while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.’ By contrast, contemporary apocalypticism sees it as ‘while we were still sinners Christ smote us in a cosmic battle.’ What emerges from this view is an almost schizophrenic Jesus.