The following is a review of Barbara Rossing's The Rapture Exposed, which appeared in an issue of Sharing the Practice, the journal of the Academy of Parish Clergy. In the light of the release of the Left Behind Game, I thought it might be helpful to consider Rossing's important book.
Barbara Rossing, The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation, (Basic Books, 2004), $15.
The best-selling Left Behind series has put Christian fiction on the map and has heightened interest in end times scenarios. But, do these books provide a good reading of Scripture or offer a truly Christian world view? Barbara Rossing, Professor of New Testament at Lutheran School of Theology, says absolutely not.
Rossing’s book critiques the dispensationalism that underlies this series and similar books, while at the same time offering a different and more biblical view of our future. The dispensationalism of Tim LaHaye, Hal Lindsey, and Pat Robertson appears at first glance almost scientific in the way it arranges biblical texts so that reader of Scripture can interpret world events through the lenses of Scripture. For those who find Ezekiel, Daniel, and Revelation unintelligible dispensationalism seems to make sense of seemingly bizarre texts. LaHaye’s books then makes it even more real through dramatic presentation.
The linchpin of dispensationalism is the rapture – I remember as a teen having “rapture practice,” and wondering when it would happen (Hal Lindsey led me to believe it would be around 1988). The idea of the rapture, which, as Rossing argues convincingly, is not a biblical term, suggests that Jesus will return at the end of the age to take up (rapture) all Christians prior to the “tribulation” and “Armageddon.” It offers Christians the promise that they will be spared the horrors of the tribulation and bloody world war that non-Christians will endure.
What is important about Rossing’s book is that she demonstrates clearly that this theology is not only not biblical but it does not ring true to the character and nature of God. Instead of a God of love, the God of “Left Behind” is a God of vengeance, who wreaks havoc on all who do not obey. She leads the reader through the disputed texts and offers a more coherent and “peaceful” vision of the Bible. In place of LaHaye’s vision of wrath, she offers a vision of hope. In place of the Lion, she points us to the Lamb of God who brings peace and safety.
Instead of offering a “prophetic vision” of the 21st century, Revelation offers hope to 1st century Christians facing horrible persecution from a militant Roman government that demanded total allegiance. The victory promised by the Lamb of Revelation is not the result of military action, but of a willingness to lay down one’s life for the other. Instead of leaving people behind, it promises the reign of Christ on earth, a reign that brings peace and justice for all. That is a message that we need to hear, especially as we watch Iraq ravaged by human induced violence and New Orleans and Biloxi ravaged by nature.
Rossing’s very readable book offers a broken world a strong word of hope and reminds us that the way we read the Bible can influence political action – such as an uncritical support for Israel in the hope that an intransigent Israel will trigger war, questionable environmental and economic policies (why plan for the future if the future is short), and support for unbounded militarism (the tools of Armageddon). It is also easy to read into Revelation one’s favorite enemies, whether they are the Roman Catholic Church, the “Communists,” or Muslims. With so much at stake, Rossing makes an important read.
Robert Cornwall, Ph.D., APC
First Christian Church