Confessions of an Ex-Dispensationalist or the Rapture Left Behind

It seems it’s becoming a tradition on this platform that during important liturgical seasons in the church calendar I post material that has nothing to do with it. I am not deliberately trying to be contrarian but it always seems to turn out that way. This time around I want to talk about the rapture, something that is usually not discussed during this period but then again it does not have its own designated period. However, I do think Easter is probably the most appropriate time to talk about it. I have never discussed it here before but this time I have been prompted to do so by a recent conversation I had with a friend.

As it often does, our conversation drifted to matters of theology. We were talking about the meaning of the gospel and how it affects Christian life now. She recalled an experience she had during a journey with her dad, where a radio evangelist from a popular Word of Faith denomination was talking about the meaning of Easter. Her dad wasn’t pleased with the young man’s preaching to say the least and we discussed that. Before long I had practically given an overview of my own theology so I wanted to map out where she was at. Since the radio preacher had mentioned the rapture I let her know I didn’t believe in it and I asked what her thoughts were on it.

The rapture was something I never understood, became highly suspicious of and finally a few years ago I completely left behind. I am a person of strong conviction when it comes to things I believe are theologically true. Combined with the fact I was never comfortable with the whole rapture thing to begin with, I tend to underestimate how shocking it is to find someone who not only doubts the rapture but completely rejects it. I could see the genuine surprise on her face as she briefly stared at me wide-eyed, as if she had never seen me before. As usual, whenever I get into such situations, I am very calm and collected. I innocently asked,

“Supposing if the rapture is not real, does it really change anything?”

Her gaze fell to her lap, eyes darting back and forth, trying to find what to say to the prospect of a rapture-less theology. She then looked at me and said,

“Of course it does!”

She was absolutely right. How you view the future shapes your attitude towards the present. So I restated my question more precisely,

“Without the rapture does it affect the core gospel message?”

I explained from 1 Corinthians 15 how the Gospel is about Jesus’ resurrection. She then pointed out,

But it says Jesus will come again to reign.”

I agreed but I also pointed out that nowhere in 1 Corinthians 15 does it include a rapture. I told her the principal reason why I totally reject it is because it cannot be found in the Bible. We quickly went through the main proof texts which I tried to demonstrate do not mean what rapture theologians say. The astonishment on her face only grew wider.

I have never bothered to write about my stance on the rapture and dispensationalist theology as a whole because in articulating what I do believe, it implicitly excludes what I don’t. I believe the resurrection is the cornerstone of Christian faith and it is the beginning of God’s new creation. Christian eschatology, that is our theories of what will happen at the end of the world, is based on the resurrection. Since he was raised ahead of time we are assured those who put their trust in him will also be raised at the end of time and he will restore the entire world. That is why there is no better time to discuss alternative eschatologies, in this case rapture theology, than Easter. To believe in an escape to a non-earthly reality, abandoning what’s left to destruction and misery is completely contrary to it. It also highly objectionable because it denies the fundamental goodness of God’s creation. You only rescue things of value. If it was no good, there would be no impetus to save it after it was marred by evil. Besides, why would God put all this effort in to making a wonderful world only to abandon it because things went wrong. Surely, the creator of the cosmos has the power to restore and renew it. One of the world’s leading theologians Jürgen Moltmann in a scathing critique puts it this way,

[1]A God who only waits to ‘rapture’ Christian crews from their aircraft so that the aircraft crashes and thousands of persons are killed cannot be a God whom one can trust. Rather that is the wicked idol of a pathological contempt of the world.

Being quite theologically independent myself, I did not expect to convince her on the spot. I am someone who does not accept things solely based on popular tradition which leads me sometimes to disagree with a lot of things. As such I do not expect people to agree with me immediately. Sometimes they eventually do, other times they don’t and I am totally OK with that. I said to her as I do to others, you got to look into it carefully yourself and make your own mind up.

Beyond, the simple maxim of keeping an open mind it is adiaphora, that is, a non-fundamental theological difference. Though this issue doesn’t stop you from being a Christian it certainly affects what type of Christian you are. So it is important but not important enough to affect your “salvation.” As with many eschatological details, there’s charitable room for theological disagreement. However, I strongly insist that an exegetically faithful reading of scripture, also attested by two millennia of church history, does not include a rapture or other tenets of modern dispensationalist theology.

You can find here a collection of resources that clearly spells out the origins of rapture theology, why it is not biblical and what are the harmful implications of accepting it. Now I cannot tell you to reject something as important as that without offering a viable alternative which you can find here on this platform.

[1] The article by S.D. Morrison, Two Painfully Obvious Reasons the Rapture Must Be Left Behind, also provides some good arguments against dispensationalist theology.

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