Thursday, May 26, 2011

Biblical Eschatology or Rapture Theology?

It's no secret that I don't believe in the rapture and that I think it tends to foster poor praxis. I have said here before that it creates an escapist attitude and that it is not a good motivation for evangelism.

The recent "rapture scare" has only reinforced my thinking as we witnessed those who sold everything to proclaim the date and warn others of the impending doom. Now they are left to pick up the pieces and deal with the choices they have made.

In the Washington Post, Kyle Roberts and Adam Rao have a good article on the differences between rapture theology and biblical eschatology. As part of their critique of rapture theology and the recent "rapture scare" they offer three helpful points that distinguishes biblical eschatology from rapture theology.

Affirms the inherent value of the earth and motivates care for creation. Rapture theology suggests that we are “just passing through” this temporary dwelling place. Eventually we will escape this world and find our final home in an ethereal realm, a “heaven” filled with mansions and streets of gold. Again N.T. Wright helps to re-frame our expectations. God’s plan is for “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev. 21:1), what Wright calls “life after life after death” (pp. 148ff). Since the goal is the re-creation and redemption of this world, we have motivation to care for and cultivate it now.

Offers a compelling vision for resistance against evil, injustice, and all forms of oppression in the present world order. Rapture theology generates an “escapist” mentality whereby our best hope for dealing with injustice, wickedness, and hopelessness is to simply fly off to a perfect spiritual world unhampered by sin and finitude. Most harmfully, Rapture theology sees injustice, oppression, and even natural disasters as predictive signs of the end of this life for Christians, rather than as the evil and discord they really are.

Redefines Christian mission as anticipation of and participation in the kingdom of God. Salvation, as Wright suggests, enables us to be witnesses to and signs of the ultimate salvation of the cosmos, as well as participants in that salvation (p. 200). That’s why the biblical witness says that Christians are to be agents of reconciliation with those who do not yet know God and are to participate in the restoration of the cosmos (2 Cor. 5:20). In contrast, rapture theology suggests a sudden, disruptive end to that project, cutting off hope for reconciliation and renewal


Well said!
You can read the rest of the article here.

19 comments:

  1. Sigh.
    John, I think that we have already had these discussions already. But a few points apparently continue to need to be made. Linking those who believe in the Rapture to Camping is unfortunate. Not a single rapture proponent I know supported Camping. Even Tim LaHaye denounced it. Furthermore, Camping's problem as far as i could tell was his use of the Bible to ascertain a date which the self-same Bible states cannot be known. Or in other words, was his problem primarily about believing in the Rapture or date setting? Furthermore, believing in a rapture does not in and of itself "foster poor praxis." I know godly rapturists and less than godly ones, but the same could be said for those who hold to a different eschatological positions, yes, including Post-tribs. In fact, I wonder if you could could really tell a persons spiritual walk by their eschatological position. I have not been able to do it. I would agree with you that the rapture in and of itself is not the greatest motivation for evangelism. As one who happens to believe in the rapture, I can tell you that my motivations for evangelism have not been about the rapture. It is about the Gospel and the glory of God. That being said, you should know that the NT contains a number of references that indicate that avoiding the judgment to come is used as a motivation for believing the Gospel. Also, as I have said before, if you have issues with the rapture exegetically-fine. Take it on based on your reading of the Scriptures. But, why do you feel the need to demean fellow Christians with a broad brush and unproven misconceptions? Is that the right praxis?

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  2. Charles, thanks for stopping by again. I suspected I would hear from you. But that is why I blog, to interact with people.
    I am not sure that it is accurate to say that I am linking people who believe in the rapture with Camping(at least not all people). And I am glad that LaHaye denounced Camping. I have been wondering where the national leaders have been on this score. I expected a much more vocal opposition to his date setting.
    You are correct that Camping’s main problem was date setting. But setting the date was tied to his rapture theology. Is this not what he proclaimed would happen on May21st? It seems that his rapture theology only exacerbated his attempts at date setting.
    As I have said before, I by no means am suggesting, nor are the author’s of the Washington Post piece, that everyone who believes in the rapture can be stereotyped this way. In fact, I am not suggesting that I can tell anyone’s spiritual walk by their eschatology anymore than I could by how often and in what way they pray.
    What Roberts and Rao (and I at times) have done is to critique the theology. I have not attacked anyone specifically. This is a disagreement and critique of a theology, not individuals. The recent events merely serve as an illustration.
    Thus I must take issue with your accusation that I am demeaning fellow Christians. I have read the post again and I just don’t see it. If what you mean is that by critiquing a theology that I think is both unbiblical and unhelpful I am therefore attacking those who support it, I am not sure how to respond. Is it demeaning to Catholics when Protestants disagree with and critique the Catholic view of Mary or the Eucharist or vice versa? I did not call anyone names nor did I question their fidelity to Christ. But I do question this piece of theology no matter who adheres to it.
    In my defense, I wonder if you read my post last week on what to do when the rapture does not happen. I think it was far from demeaning. I suggested what leaders needed to do for and with those who would be disappointed when Saturday came and went.
    Yes, I do know that avoidance of judgment is one reason for believing the Gospel. But as I have said on this blog before (see my review of Bell’s book), escaping hell and not missing rapture are not the only reasons for turning to God.

    (See my next comment since the response is too long for one comment)

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  3. Part -2


    As for exegesis, I suppose that we could discuss this many times but would still disagree. While I am aware that several passages are sometimes used to support the rapture, 1 Thessalonians 4:17 is at least the starting point. I am sure you know all this, but here we go.
    Paul uses two terms in 4:17 to describe the events of Christ’s coming in relation to those who are still living at the time. The first is harpazō which means “to take something forcefully, to steal or capture in war”. In the New Testament, the word is used in parables which speak of the conflict between the kingdom of God and that of saran (TDNT p. 472). The second is apantāsin and can be understood as a technical term for a civic custom of antiquity where by a public welcome was accorded by a city to important visitors (TDNT p. 380; Fee however would not call it a technical term). The New Testament uses the term four times in Matt. 25:6, Acts 28:15; I Thess. 4:17 (Moulton and Geden p. 83). Each time it is used it refers to a group of people leaving one place in order to meet someone who is coming to them. Bruce notes that in profane Greek the term was often used to describe the people of the city going to meet the dignitary and accompanying him inside (Bruce p. 102) . Thus Paul has painted a picture of the second return in which saints are taken forcefully from the kingdom of Satan and go out to meet Christ as He returns to the world and accompany Him back in His victory. Is this a “rapture”? In a technical sense, yes. But not in the way that it is popularly presented. It is not a secret removal or such. And I don’t think that we are under obligation to take it literally (ie expect trumpets, angels, floating in the air and such).
    I hope this explains my point a bit clearer. I am not attacking any individuals. I am critiquing a theology that I think is unbiblical and unhelpful. And I think Roberts and Rao have done a good job a directing our attention to what biblical eschatology is all about.

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  4. As I am working through your explanation Dr. Byron, could you tell me what sources you are referring to with: TDNT; Moulton and Geden; and Bruce?

    Thanks. This is an interesting post!

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  5. John,

    I think that your linking of Camping with those who believe in the rapture is fairly clear when you state, "The recent "rapture scare" has only reinforced my thinking . . ." Your "thinking" on what exactly if it is not the rapture which you begin with in your opening paragraph? Isn't that a link?
    You state in your defense that, "setting the date was tied to his rapture theology." Yes, but a misuse of the doctrine by some is not necessarily a problem with the doctrine itself. Calvinistic election has been used by some to discount the need for missions (e.g., see some of the responses to William Carey). Does this mean that election is wrong because some have abused it? I know a number of Calvinists who would cry "foul" under such circumstances--and rightly so.
    You also claim that you are not saying that all rapturists fit the critique above. Really? Where do make that clear in your post? Do you actually use the word "some" or other language that would suggest that you were not painting with a broad brush? Where is the nuancing here? Keep in mind that you do not have to attack anyone individually to be demeaning, a broad brush does that quite well!
    I think that critiquing a theology is fine, particularly as it relates to the exegesis of biblical texts. But the critique that you made in your original post does not take the theology or texts on, but a broad-brushed mis-characterization of what you think are the implications of the theology. There is a difference between the two. By the way, I appreciate you exegetical treatment of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. Had that been your original post, I might have disagreed with certain conclusions (as I obviously do) but I would have had no complaint about your approach except in one small sense. I do think that it is not helpful to call an approach "unbiblical" just because your interpretation of a passage disagrees with another interpretation. For example I do not think that it is helpful to use the term "unbiblical" to label either cesassionists or non-cesassionists based on their redaing og 1 Cor 12-14. These groups obviously disagree in their interpretation of texts, but to label one of the other does not help to foster dialogue between the two. Frankly, I think my understanding of the rapture is quite "biblical" but you will not find me calling positions that disagree with me "unbiblical." As you can attest, I have never referred to your position as "unbiblical" even though you happen to disagree with what I think is a better reading (in my opinion) of texts such as 1 Thess 45:13-18. If your goal as a blogger is to really interact with people then I would suggest how you frame the positions and arguments matter. I like your blog and read it regularly as you know. I did see your previous posts and as I recall agreed in general. But keep in mind, as I do, that we are accountable for every post. In my opinion, this post was lacking in the ways that I have indicated and most of your subsequent explanation has not alleviated that as this response would suggest.

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  6. John,

    Concerning your exegesis I would offer three responses.

    1. Your suggestion that, harpazō means “to take something forcefully, to steal or capture in war” is open to question. Note that BDAG has "to grab or seize suddenly so as to remove or gain control, snatch/take away."

    2. Concerning apantāsin, I would againt point to BDAG which has to "be snatched up to meet the Lord in the air." Whether apantāsin was a technical term is debated as you note. So any conclusion built on this debated point should be tentative at best.

    3. While you may not "think that we are under obligation to take it literally (ie expect trumpets, angels, floating in the air and such)," I would ask you if such an approach is hermeneutically consistent. If you are taking the Lord's return literally, the saints dead and alive being taken literally, then why not these these other details literally? How do you determine methodologically which details in this passage to take literally and others to take non-literally?

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  7. John,

    I don't see my response to your part 1. Did it not go through?

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  8. Charles,

    It got caught in the spam for some reason. I released it. I will have to run, but will try to respond again later today. Thanks for the conversation.

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  9. John and Charles, I appreciate your give-and-take on this issue but it does not look like either one of you is going to be able to "sink my battleship."

    I am really glad this is a secondary issue and "good men can disagree." I also appreciate that both of you are trying to be fair and not to caricature the other.

    Unfortunately Roberts and Rao get a little too close to the caricaturing of those who hold to a rapture. I think it must be too easy to take extreme examples from proponents of a view and form conclusions.
    ~Daniel

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  10. John, good post. Personally I think you try to hard to be kind to people who believe in the rapture. It is disingenuous to say that it is a more rational idea if in fact you don't predict an exact date. The belief is bizarre and unbiblical period.

    pf

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  11. "2. Concerning apantāsin, I would againt point to BDAG which has to "be snatched up to meet the Lord in the air." Whether apantāsin was a technical term is debated as you note. So any conclusion built on this debated point should be tentative at best."

    The reference to BDAG here is somewhat misleading. The quoted portion that you give is just that, a quote. As the entry in BDAG makes clear, this is their full translation of ἁρπάζεσθαι τοῦ κυρίου εἰς ἀέρα from 1 Thessalonians 4:17. The portion relevant for understanding ἀπάντησις within that quote is "to meet." ἀπάντησις itself does not seem to have any connotations of meeting "in the air." For that, as the entry in BDAG makes clear, it needs to be coupled with εἰς ἀέρα.

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  12. I'm not sure that the idea of being caught up to meet the Lord is the question. What happens after that meeting is. Dispensationalism has those caught up going to rest in heaven during the tribulation. Those of us not so inclined understand it more to be going out to meet the Lord, then returning immediately with him. This would be similar to those in a city going out to meet a coming dignitary. The citizens don't sit and wait for Caesar to arrive, they go out to meet him. It seems that Paul had this in mind. So, what does that do our present theology? There's the discussion.

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  13. David,

    Not sure I understand your point. I quoted the entire translation from BDAG so I wouldn't be accused of cherry picking. Concerning apantāsin,doesn't the context relate to how we should understand this? There is both references to "clouds" and "air" in this verse. Maybe I am missing something here.

    Mike,
    Your view is common although I obviously don't agree with it. But is your theological inclination driving your understanding of the passage? Where is the return to earth in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18? As far as 1 Thessalonians has it, the Lord is in the air and the believers in the air, and "so we shall always be with the Lord." There is nothing about touching down here. How do you know this is what Paul has in mind, when he doesn't actually appear to say it?

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  14. Charles,

    I am sorry for the long delay in responding. Life has been very busy.

    First, I can't agree with you that I am demeaning anyone. I am critiquing a theological view point and where I think it leads.

    As far as the exegesis let me respond to your three points.

    It is true what you say about the BDAG definition of harpazo. But I am not sure that it changes my stance. The snatching term is also used for how Satan steals the seed in the parable of the soils (Mark 4). I have no problem with the idea here. I just don't see it as a secret event.


    2. While apantāsin, is debated as to its technical status, the fact is the other two times it appears in the NT it does have the idea of going out to meet and then returning with the person met (Matt 25:6; Acts 28:15). Thus it seems reasonable to also interpret 1 Thess 4:17 this way. I don't see why we need to assume that people remain in the air simply because it does not describe a touchdown on earth. It would seem implied. And as Gordon Fee has said, "how could they, [the Thessalonians], have known about an ‘event’ otherwise unknown in the church until the mid-nineteenth century?" (Thessalonians, 180).

    3. It is your third point where I think we would disagree the most. You ask:

    While you may not "think that we are under obligation to take it literally (ie expect trumpets, angels, floating in the air and such)," I would ask you if such an approach is hermeneutically consistent. If you are taking the Lord's return literally, the saints dead and alive being taken literally, then why not these these other details literally? How do you determine methodologically which details in this passage to take literally and others to take non-literally?

    My answer is simple. I see this as a passage containing apocalyptic imagery that is intended to convey an idea. But I don't for, instance, hold to the ancient cosmological view that heaven is up in the air and therefore Jesus will come from the air or that believers will meet him in the air. This is a passage that was conditioned by the cosmological worldview of the time.

    Let me come at this methodological question with another question. Do you think that just because Paul says in 2 Thess 2:8 that the Lord will destroy the lawless one with the 'breath of his mouth" that we should then expect Jesus to be blowing on people? I can't and don't see it that way and I am not sure that Paul did either.

    I am not sure that it is inconsistent to hope for the resurrection of the dead and not think that it will happen without trumpets.

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  15. I am not a NT scholar (yet), so could someone please tell me what sources you are referring to with: TDNT; Moulton and Geden; Bruce; and now BDAG?

    If God breathed into his (Adam's) nostrils the "breath of life" (Gen 2:7); then why couldn't the Lord destroy the lawless one with the "breath of his mouth?" Breathing involves both inhaling and exhaling. Breathing into (exhaling) brings life. Perhaps taking breath in (inhaling) removes life, as in 2 Thess 2:8. Just a thought.

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  16. John,

    You state that, "First, I can't agree with you that I am demeaning anyone. I am critiquing a theological view point and where I think it leads." The problem is that you have not really addressed my points here. You are free to disagree with that, but it would be a lot more convincing if you could demonstrate it rather than just claim it.

    Concerning your exegetical points, I am okay with the disagreements. I would say this about point 2, I would agree with you about the idea of going out to meet and then returning with the person met. The difference is that I think there is a gap between the former and latter. In a sense our differences are one of degree. We both see two separate, albeit related events: (1) a going out to meet and (2) a returning or coming back with.By the way, far be it for me to take on Fee, but I would point him and you to some of the comments on 4:17 in the ACCS series.

    Concerning point 3, I would make two observations. First, I am not sure ancient cosmology is taking place in 4:17. I think 4:17 is better understood in light of Christ's ascension (Acts 1:9-11). Do you see ancient cosmology or apocalyptic imagery at at work in Christ's ascension? I might add that "ancient cosmology," at least for Paul, did not equate the "air" = the sky = heaven. Note that Paul speaks of a "third heaven" (2 Cor 12:2). The air/sky would be the first heaven.

    Now Concerning your statement, "Let me come at this methodological question with another question. Do you think that just because Paul says in 2 Thess 2:8 that the Lord will destroy the lawless one with the 'breath of his mouth" that we should then expect ? I can't and don't see it that way and I am not sure that Paul did either." First I would point out that this passage doesn't say anything about "blowing on people" (plural) but on the "lawless one" (singular). I would see "breath of His mouth" to refer to Christ's speech, in a sense, a speech act.

    Beth,

    Sorry about the shorthand in the posts above.

    TDNT = Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 10 volumes edited by Gerhard Kittel

    Moulton and Geden = Concordance to the Greek New Testament

    By Bruce, I think John means F. F. Bruce, a New Testament scholar who among other things wrote a commentary on 1 and 2 Thessalonians in the Word Biblical commentary series.

    BDAG is short for A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd Edition. This is the standard Greek lexicon for the NT.

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  17. Thank you, Charles! Next Fall I'll begin my Greek and NT classes, so then I should know what these texts are.

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  18. No problem Beth. Enjoy your studies.

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  19. please clarify something for me . i have always thought of the trumpet and arch-angels shouting the accompening of hosts of angels ect to speak of the second coming of the Lord . Could you address this so I get a better understanding of the end times ?

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