Heaven is for real. You’re just not going to end up there.

No, I’m not questioning your eternal destiny. (Well, maybe. But not how you think.)

The other day, a friend shared five things we get wrong about heaven. (I reacted by overenthustiastically quoting half the article on Twitter… which may have cost me a few followers.) All five things lead back to the question question of where. The answer to this question may surprise you if, like me, you grew up on a steady evangelical diet of “this world is not my home” and “I can only imagine.

But it’s not just the where that we get wrong. It’s the why. How did our view of eternity get so muddled? I think lot of it’s the result of how we answer one question: Does this world matter to God or not?

Did Jesus mean it when he talked about “the renewal of all things”? Or does he only care about snatching disembodied souls from the (not-so?) proverbial fire?

Is creation worth saving? Or is it destined to burn?

If God made this world to be his temple, will he occupy it again someday?

How we answer these questions will in large part determine why kind of eschatology we embrace. A world that matters to God is a world worth saving, not destroying. A world that matters to God is one worth coming back for.

—//—

(Not-so) Late, great planet…
It’s funny how one of Scripture’s most powerful images of God returning to earth became the basis for an escapist vision of the end.

The idea of the rapture—a faithful few being evacuated by Jesus before the world burns—hasn’t been around that long, historically speaking. It was developed by John Nelson Darby in the early 1800s and popularized more than a century later by the book The Late, Great Planet Earth — and by the Left Behind series a generation after that.

1 Thessalonians 4 is often cited in support of the rapture:

For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.

But a rapture-friendly reading hinges on something the text never actually says: that Jesus will escort the faithful back to heaven after they meet him in the clouds.

The scene Paul describes mimics a royal visit by the emperor of Rome. These visits were not unlike those made by heads of state today — full of pomp and fanfare. N.T. Wright describes the scene in Surprised by Hope:

When the emperor visited a colony or province, the citizens of the country would go to meet him at some distance from the city. It would be disrespectful to have him actually arrive at the gates as though his subjects couldn’t be bothered to greet him properly.

But here’s the crucial detail. After you met the emperor—after you heard the trumpet call and hurried out the gates—he didn’t whisk you away to some far off place. You escorted him back into the city.

This is the picture painted by Paul. Notice how he never says, “And then we will go away to heaven.” More from N.T. Wright:

When Paul speaks of “meeting” the Lord “in the air,” the point is precisely not—as in the popular rapture theology—that the saved believers would then stay up in the air somewhere, away from earth. The point is that, having gone out to meet their returning Lord, they will escort him royally into his domain, that is, back to the place they have come from.

Heaven is indeed for real. But in the biblical narrative, we don’t go there to be with God. He comes here to be with us.

Joel C. Rosenberg steps up to the mic…

Well, I was wrong.

Someone decided to play the judgment card.

As reported on Matthew Paul Turner’s blog today, Christian author and prophecy enthusiast Joel C. Rosenberg wrote that the Colorado wildfires were indeed sent by God to get our attention.

Here’s an excerpt from Rosenberg’s blog yesterday:

Is it possible God is using natural disasters to get our attention? Natural disasters continue unfolding one after another here at home and around the world as they always have. But have you stopped to notice that so many recently are described as ‘historic’ and ‘unprecedented?’ Eight of the ten most expensive hurricanes in American history have happened since 9/11…

The fact is that throughout the Bible and throughout history God has used natural disasters to shake families, cities, regions and entire nations. Why? To get the people’s attention. To warn people to stop drifting and/or rebelling from God and repent…

Thousands of years ago, God told the Hebrew prophet Haggai to write down these words: “For thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘Once more in a little while, I am going to shake the heavens and the earth, the sea also and the dry land. I will shake all the nations… I am going to shake the heavens and the earth. I will overthrow the thrones of kingdoms and destroy the power of the kingdoms of the nations’” (Haggai 2:6-7, 21-22). This is Bible prophecy. This is an intercept from the mind of the all-knowing, all-seeing God of the universe. It is a weather report from the future, if you will, a storm warning… God told us well in advance that he was going to “shake all the nations.” That certainly includes the United States.

Let us urgently begin praying 2 Chronicles 7:14 for our country… time is running short.

OK, first… let’s talk about this Haggai. His oracle was addressed to Jews in the 6th century BC who, on their return from exile, needed a good kick in the pants in order to get working on the new temple.

THAT was the point of the very passage Rosenberg quoted. Not that his readers would know, since he left out the part that doesn’t fit his theory:

This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory.’

“This house.” As in, the second temple. The one built in the 6th century BC.

When King Solomon built the first temple four hundred years earlier, the glory of Yahweh descended on it (2 Chronicles 7:1-3). That same glory, God’s divine presence on earth, vacated the temple shortly before its destruction in 586 BC (Ezekiel 10).

In order to get construction of the second temple back on track, God promised Haggai that his presence would someday fill the new building, much as it had the old one. According to Christian tradition, this came to pass 500 years later. When Jesus Christ set foot in the finished building, God indeed filled “this house with glory” like never before. The aftershock of his advent reverberated across the nations, just as God had promised.

That’s what this prophecy is about. Not wildfires or earthquakes in 21st-century America. Haggai probably wasn’t even thinking about Colorado when he wrote this oracle.

It’s time we start respecting the Bible’s context — and stop treating it like a horoscope.

More importantly, let’s not take advantage of people’s pain and suffering in Colorado in order to score a few “oohs” and “ahs” from like-minded prophecy enthusiasts.

There is one thing Rosenberg was right about, though. We are seeing an increase in the frequency and intensity of certain natural disasters: droughts, fires, etc. Since 1975, the number of natural disasters has increased fivefold.

But instead of blaming God, let’s should look a bit closer to home. Climatologists have been telling us for years that global warming will have this effect. Maybe it’s time we listened. Maybe it’s time we started taking better care of the planet.

The earth is, after all, the Lord’s.

Ordo creatio (or, why every Christian should be a radical environmentalist)

Sunday’s Gospel reading from the Revised Common Lectionary was Mark 1:9-15, the story of Jesus’ baptism and testing. Mark includes one detail about Jesus’ wilderness sojourn not found in the other Gospels: Jesus “was with the wild animals.”

Our priest made this the focus of his homily on Sunday. He argued it’s not (as widely assumed) a foreboding statement, as if to portray the animals as a threat to Jesus. Instead, it points to the whole-earth implications of Jesus’ redemptive mission. He didn’t come simply to “save souls.”

Jesus “dwells harmoniously with the wild animals,” signaling the restoration of our relationship not just with God, but with God’s creation. “There is no getting right with the world without getting right with God,” our priest said. “But there is also no getting right with God without getting right with the world he made.”

Tree hugger and proud

Environmentalists often meet their fiercest opposition within certain corners of the church, even when environmentalism is rebranded as “creation care.”

This is partly a reflection of an impoverished eschatology — the belief, fueled in part by the wildly popular Left Behind books, that God will dispose of this world in the end and evacuate the faithful to a spiritual realm. The world is going to burn someday, so why bother saving it? It’s funny how we’ve reimagined God to imitate our compulsive habit of throwing stuff away.

But it’s also reflective of an impoverished creation theology. It’s said we were made to “have dominion” over the earth — to “subdue” it. It’s said that in the order of creation, we are the apex — God’s final creative act in a story where the created elements are introduced in order of importance. We humans top the list.

Except that we don’t.

The problem is, we stop reading at the end of Genesis 1. But the first three verses of Genesis 2 are actually part of the story from the previous chapter. The very first chapter division in the Bible is a perfect example of why chapter and verse divisions are such a bad idea. The interrupt the story at random intervals.

When we read the first creation story in its entirety (Genesis 1:1 – 2:3), we see the making of humanity is not the apex of creation. God’s act of resting is the high point.

By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.

I mentioned in yesterday’s post that the first creation story envisions the cosmos as one giant temple. In ancient Near Eastern mythology, temples are where deities went to rest. The earth is God’s intended dwelling place.

We are not the apex of creation. We are not the point of it all. The earth is not ours to exploit and do with as we see fit. The earth is not first and foremost our dwelling place. “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.”

Because he’s a generous God, he invites us to share it with him, to dwell here with him. He invites us to rule on his behalf. That’s what it means to “have dominion” over the earth. We are tending it on behalf of God. We are caretakers. Tenants. Stewards.

Once we see our proper place in the creation story, there is no good reason why Christians shouldn’t be the most impassioned environmentalists of all.

The Evolution of Adam by Peter Enns, a review (part 2 of 2)

So what are we to make of The Evolution of Adam?

There’s no question Enns’ proposals concerning Adam (and Paul’s use of Adam) are controversial for many Christians. They’re not something we should embrace or reject quickly. Books like these often elicit knee-jerk reactions (from both sides) when something more thoughtful is called for.

Like James Dobson did 20 years ago, I’m going to pass on rendering a final verdict. It’s not for me to say what we should make of Adam. Instead, I want to share three takeaways — two positive and one (mildly) critical.

1. Inspiration as incarnation

Some have accused Enns of demonstrating a low view of Scripture and a near-total disregard for its divine inspiration. If Genesis is “wrong” about creation, (I would argue it’s not a matter of Genesis being right or wrong because Genesis doesn’t seek to address scientific reality), and if Paul was “wrong” in some of his assumptions concerning Adam (though not in the point he was using Adam to make, Enns would say), then we are left with an unreliable, uninspired Bible.

But Enns himself never goes there. He repeatedly talks about the Bible’s divine inspiration in ways that should give responsible critics pause before lobbing these rhetorical grenades.

Rather, what Enns does is connect scriptural inspiration to divine incarnation — which, I gather, is the point of his previous book, Inspiration and Incarnation (though I haven’t read it).

God revealing himself in the written word, the logos, is fundamentally an act of incarnation. And incarnation — whether it’s God finding a way to contain infinite divinity within finite humanity or finding a way to reveal infinite truth through finite language — is an act of divine self-limitation. Or divine condescension, if you like.

As Enns writes in the final section of The Evolution of Adam:

Even the expression of deep and ultimate truth does not escape the limitations of the cultures in which that truth is expressed. [God accommodates] himself to the views of the time.

There is a reason why Scripture looks the way it does, so human, so much a part of this world: it looks this way to exalt God’s power, not our power…

The ‘creaturelines’ of Scripture is not an obstacle to be overcome so that God can finally be seen. Rather… we can only see God truly because of the limited, human form he has chosen as a means of revelation, and if we try to look past it, we will miss everything.

According to Enns, the biblical writers’ knowledge of the universe was limited by the time and culture in which they lived. (No doubt our knowledge is similarly limited in ways we don’t fully realize.) Evidently, when God chose to speak into THAT time and culture, he didn’t feel the need to correct every false assumption about cosmology, origins, etc., because he had a much more important story to tell.

The fact that the Bible reflects the cosmological assumptions of its day isn’t a problem for inspiration — unless you attribute to God a compulsion to correct every false assumption people have, much like the overzealous parent who nitpicks a child’s pronunciation just as she’s learning to talk.

Disagree with Enns about Adam if you like, but to accuse him of holding a low view of scripture is, in my opinion, a red herring.

2. Creation as cosmic temple (and a few other things)

Astronomy, anyone?

Using Genesis 1-2 to wage a scientific battle is like using Van Gogh’s Starry Night to make a point about astronomy. There is little to be gained — and a good deal that will be missed.

For example, when we lay Genesis 1 next to other ancient creation stories like the Enuma Elish, we see more clearly the polemical punch our story packs. Genesis 1 effectively neuters the gods of the ancient pantheon. Sun, moon, and stars are no longer gods themselves, but merely created objects, stripped of their supposed divinity. Genesis 1 rather ingeniously suggests that God doesn’t even need the sun to provide light — he’s more than capable of that himself! Genesis 1 is, at its core, a profoundly subversive text.

Genesis 1 also reveals the true purpose of the cosmos: to serve as God’s dwelling place. We’re so used to thinking of God existing outside of time and space that we have a hard time wrapping our minds around this one.

Enns observes that Genesis 1 follows the pattern of a seven-day liturgical week, which for its original Jewish audience would have brought to mind Sabbath and sanctuary. Enns notes the many parallels between Genesis 1 and the creation of the tabernacle in Exodus 25-31. And he draws an important contrast between Genesis and the Baal creation myth:

There is no temple in Genesis 1 constructed after creation to celebrate God’s victory over chaos; the created world is his temple.

Which connects nicely to the resolution of the biblical drama in Revelation, where God returns to his cosmic temple once more, this time to dwell among his people forever.

Meanwhile, in Genesis 2, we see a striking parallel to Israel’s story. Both Adam and Israel are “hand-made” by God. Both are given a piece of land to tend on God’s behalf. Both are given a law to govern their relationship to God. Both fail to keep their end of the bargain, and consequently both are subjected to exile — exile and death being nearly synonymous in the Old Testament.

There is so much good stuff to be explored in Genesis 1-2 once we get over our scientific hang-ups. There is deep truth to be found here, if we’d stop trying to make scripture answer questions it has no interest in answering.

If nothing else, the fact that these stories were carefully arranged to make specific theological points should serve as a clue that their writers were not particularly interested in providing a literal, scientific, or purely historical description of events. They would give us so much more — if we would just let them.

3. Death as the last enemy

I do have one criticism of The Evolution of Adam that I’ll share here. On the next-to-last page, Enns writes, “Death is not the enemy to be defeated.” His point is that some of the things we think of as bad (such as death) need to be revisited in light of evolution.

I agree… up to a point. Death in some form seems to be a vital element of creation and not just a foreign entity. Call it “the circle of life.” Or as Rob Bell once said, “Death is the engine of life.” In the plant world, for example, death and decomposition are vital to creating and sustaining new life.

There’s nothing in Genesis to suggest that humans were immortal by nature prior to the fall. In fact, they needed to eat from the tree of life precisely because they weren’t immortal. Death was woven into our DNA from the beginning.

Immortality, anyone?

And it’s a good thing too, given the reality of sin. I mean, to live forever in a progressively decaying body, now cursed by sin and sickness — who in their right mind would want that? (Unless, of course, you’d like to end up as Lady Cassandra from Doctor Who.)

Still, in a more ultimate sense, death is an enemy to be defeated. Or as Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:

The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

We’re all made to die. The question is whether death will have the last word. And the whole point of the redemptive story — of Christ’s death and resurrection — is so this question can be answered with a definitive, resounding no.

I don’t think Enns would disagree, which is why I characterized this as a mild criticism. In any case, whatever you make of Adam, Enns’ book is one that deserves to be read and considered carefully.

Why it’s important to (occasionally) say something about Mark Driscoll

Yesterday, I wrote a piece challenging Mark Driscoll for comments he made during a recent interview (and after).

Does he EVER smile?

This was the second time in five years I’ve written specifically about him. The first was in response to a talk he gave on the emerging church in 2007.

Writing about Driscoll may be good for the blog stats (not that he has anything to worry about), but there are times I wonder whether it’s good for much else.

I mean, the pattern is all too predictable. Driscoll says something provocative, critics howl with indignation, and supporters rush to his defense. Sometimes the uproar leads to a sort-of apology from Driscoll, accompanied by not-so-apologetic comments about “taking things out of context” and “missing the point.” The offending statements are purged from Driscoll’s web properties (as was the case when he mocked “effeminate, anatomically male worship leaders” on Facebook), and everyone moves on.

I’m sure there are plenty of people caught in the middle, understandably tired of all the fuss about Driscoll. Let him do his thing; if you don’t like it, do something else.

Sitting around, just waiting to pounce on Driscoll isn’t a redemptive use of anyone’s time, but sometimes we have to say something.

Like any celebrity pastor, when Mark Driscoll addresses a wider audience, he’s speaking for all of us who wear the label “Christian,” whether we want him to or not. In Seattle, where I lived for three years, he is the most recognizable face of Christianity — to both Christians and non-Christians.

I used to say, half-joking, there are two types of Christians in Seattle: those who hang on Driscoll’s every word and those who apologize to their non-Christian friends for him.

But it’s not really a joke.

One day, a friend who attended Driscoll’s church came to me for advice. She loved a lot of things about her church but was bothered by Driscoll’s periodic rhetoric toward gays, “effeminate” men, etc. She had a gay friend who she wanted invite to church. But she had some hesitation, too. What if Driscoll made one of his famous remarks — not just expressing his view of biblical sexuality, but belittling and demeaning gays in the process?

Driscoll had been on his best behavior lately, so my friend decided to take a chance. She invited her friend. And that Sunday, Driscoll fired off yet another degrading comment about people who are gay.

You can guess how the rest of the story goes.

The thing is, I understand why Driscoll wants a manly-man version of Christianity. For too long, the dominant portrait of the Messiah (especially in American Christianity) has been of a “gentle Jesus, meek and mild.” A Jesus who didn’t make a sound in the manger (at least that’s how the song goes) and didn’t veer far from this course later in life.

Or there’s the seeker-friendly Jesus, who rose to prominence in the 70s and 80s, market-tested and focus-grouped to appeal to comfortable, middle-class suburbanites.

I don’t want that Jesus either, Mark.

But when Driscoll objects that he “can’t worship a guy [he] can beat up,” he’s created yet another distortion of the real thing. His image of Jesus owes more to Fight Club than it does the Bible.

During his recent interview, Justin Brierley reminded Driscoll that Jesus was, in fact, beat up. To which Driscoll replied yeah, but Jesus is coming back so he can “give a beating.”

Yes, Jesus is coming back in glory, as a king reclaiming his rightful kingdom. That’s part of the gospel story.

But I’m not convinced Driscoll’s idea of a cosmic butt-kicking is the best way to understand the highly symbolic, apocalyptic imagery of Revelation. Even if it is, I believe Driscoll misses the point for at least two reasons.

One, he fails to understand that Jesus’ glory is a direct result of his prior humiliation (Philippians 2). He is the glorious, all-conquering king precisely because he allowed himself to get beat up and laid down his life.

Two, Driscoll doesn’t seem to realize that even if Jesus is coming back to “give a beating,” as he says, that’s not the part WE have to play. When Jesus gave his followers their marching orders, it was very much along the lines of his first coming. It was “take up your cross” and “lay down your life.” It was “turn the other cheek,” not “give your enemies a pounding” (physical or otherwise).

You can talk about Jesus’ mighty return all you want. But it’s his first coming, not the second, that shapes our mission now and how we are called to live.

To say otherwise is to miss the point of the gospel, the “good news” that was meant to be liberation for all.

Those in the neo-Reformed community, to which Driscoll belongs, talk a lot about “getting the gospel right.” But when your picture of Jesus starts to look more like a Xander Cage/William Wallace/Batman figure… when your presentation excludes and demeans others, simply because they don’t conform to your definition of manly… then you haven’t gotten the gospel right.

And that’s why sometimes, we have to say something.

The day the tulip died, part 4

It’s time I said something nice about Calvinism.

The Reformed tradition puts a lot of emphasis on having a biblically informed worldview. Maybe more so than other Christian traditions. In fact, this might be one of Calvinism’s most important contributions to the wider church.

Everyone has a worldview — a framework of core beliefs, values, etc. But not everyone is intentional about who or what shapes their worldview.

For me, this changed with a book I read in college. Albert Wolters’ Creation Regained is a good presentation of a traditional Dutch Reformed worldview, heavily influenced by 20th-century theologian and politician Abraham Kuyper.

Wolters organizes his worldview around the defining events of the biblical narrative: creation, fall, redemption, and restoration.

Perhaps most importantly, he reminds us that creation is something God pronounced “good.” This is a much-needed corrective to some of the rhetoric you hear from some Calvinists, particularly in the neo-Reformed camp. At times it seems like they bypass creation altogether — as evidenced by the iconic TULIP acronym, which begins (unfortunately enough) with “total depravity.”

A truly Reformed worldview starts with creation, not the fall. Wolters insists that God made the world good and still has plans for it. In other words, don’t read Genesis 3 until you’ve read Genesis 1-2.

This has serious implications for how we engage the world today. Wolters argues that we are still called to fulfill the cultural mandate of Genesis 1. As divine image-bearers, we are God’s representatives to every aspect of creation. We’re not supposed to compartmentalize into categories like “sacred” and “secular.” It’s all sacred.

This doesn’t mean we don’t take the fall or its consequences seriously. The fall is precisely why we need the last two motifs of the biblical story: redemption and restoration.

And this is precisely where the Reformed tradition (or the best of it, anyway) offers a vital alternative to the escapism so prevalent in some corners of the American church: if God hasn’t given up on his creation, then redemption and restoration must have something to do with this world (as opposed to some far-off, ethereal realm).

This explains how the psalmist, writing long after the fall, could declare that “the earth is the Lord’s” (Psalm 24:1). It explains why both Old and New Testaments envision a “new heaven and a new earth” (Isaiah 65:17; 66:22; 2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21). And it explains why Jesus looked forward to the “renewal” — not the eradication — “of all things” (Matthew 19:28).

Ultimately, God is our only source of redemption and restoration. But he invites us to participate in in the renewal of all things. We are still his image-bearers — not only his voice, but his hands and feet to a world he intends to restore.

Now, different people have applied a Reformed worldview in different ways — not all of them good. Some historians believe that Kuyper, for example, was the inspiration for Christian nationalism (sometimes known as dominionism), which gave rise to such ill-advised projects like apartheid in South Africa.

I can’t help but wonder if that’s one unfortunate consequence of combining a Reformed worldview with a belief that God predestined only a select (and therefore superior) minority and consigned the rest of the world to damnation. Many of the Jewish religious authorities of Jesus’ day thought along similar lines, and it led to a theological and racial arrogance not unlike the worst elements of Christian nationalism or dominionism in more recent times.

But if a Reformed worldview (minus the baggage of doctrines like limited atonement, perhaps) can help us rediscover a world that God made good and intends to renew, then that would be something worth celebrating.

So what do you think is Calvinism’s best contribution to the wider church?

Part 5 of this series can be found here.

The day after the day after May 21st

“The Bible guarantees it,” the billboards boasted.

“It is absolutely going to happen,” insisted the civil engineer / amateur Bible scholar.

No surprise to most Christians — and to the delight of many avowed non-Christians — May 21 came and went without so much as a bang (except in Iceland). It was most definitely a rapture-free weekend.

Harold Camping was left standing in his doorway, visibly shell-shocked when confronted by reporters. His followers — many of whom quit jobs, quit saving for their kids’ college, or burned through their savings — had to pick up the pieces of a life they had long since given up on.

As the designated hour passed in New York City, one of Camping’s followers could only stammer, “I do not understand why nothing has happened.” Robert Fitzpatrick had crunched the numbers for himself; then he sank $140,000 into promoting Camping’s prediction. In the midst of crushing disappointment, Robert wasn’t prepared to face the possibility that more than just his numbers were off.

There are lessons to be learned in the aftermath of May 21 — for all of us, not just those who got sucked into all the date-setting hysteria.

(1) It’s time we stopped turning the Bible into something it’s not.

The Bible is not a reference book. It’s not a handbook. And it’s definitely NOT a secret codebook.

It’s a story. It’s a collection of books written by various people over hundreds of years. It contains history, poetry, personal correspondence, oracles, apocalyptic visions, and more. But no secret codes.

Yes, numbers sometimes carry symbolic significance in the Bible. The number 7 often indicates perfection or completion. The number 12 and various multiples of it sometimes represent the people of God in one form or another… 12 tribes, 12 disciples, the 144,000 (12 x 12 x 1000) faithful in Revelation, etc.

But people like Camping go much farther, determined to unearth a hidden meaning that isn’t there. Numbers in the Bible are, at most, symbols or metaphors — nothing more. And sometimes numbers are just… numbers.

So when the writer of Genesis wrote that it was going to flood in seven day’s time (Genesis 7:4), it might’ve been his way of hinting at the totality of God’s judgment, as represented by the flood. Or maybe he just meant it was going to flood in seven days.

When Harold Camping says Genesis 7:4 secretly means the world’s going to end 7,000 years after the flood, he’s making stuff up. He’s turning the Bible into something it’s not.

But let’s be honest. We all do that to varying degrees. Every time we treat the Bible like a magic answer book. Every time we (mis)use it to advance our own agenda. Every time we forget that the Bible is, first and foremost, a story to be experienced and lived — not a code to be cracked.

(2) It’s time we all said farewell to escapism.

The May 21st crowd shares at least one belief in common with the majority of evangelicals: they’re convinced God is going to evacuate his followers from this world, just before burning it to a crisp.

Jerry Jenkins, co-author of the Left Behind series, complained about Camping’s date-setting, saying “it makes us look worse.” Well, yeah. For good reason. In the final analysis, Jenkins’ notion of the apocalypse is nearly as flawed as Camping’s.

The Bible NEVER characterizes Christ’s return in terms of evacuation or escape. Just the opposite. Christ came to earth once, and he’s coming again — not to evacuate a lucky few, but to make his dwelling among us. For good.

1 Thessalonians 4, the most famous “rapture passage,” uses the language of a royal appearance, not an evacuation.

Back in the day, Caesar liked to pay the occasional visit to his colonial outposts. As the royal procession approached, a trumpet blast would signal his appearance — his parousia. The people of the city would march out to meet Caesar (quickly, if they knew what was good for them). This meeting was called the apantesis, and it ended with the people escorting their king BACK to the city.

This is the picture Paul uses to describe the coming of Christ:

At the parousia… the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to apantesin the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.

Yes, Christ will come back. Christians have believed this from the earliest days. And yes, we will be with God always — pantote. The question is, where?

And the answer is… here.

Those who give up on this life in anticipation of a disembodied existence in another world miss the point entirely. God is in the business of redeeming and restoring this world. He is coming back to this world.

Rapture theology is a direct descendant of first-century Gnosticism — the belief that everything physical (i.e. this world) is bad and only that which is spiritual is worth preserving. The New Testament writers and the early church fathers rejected Gnosticism as heresy.

Why? Because Gnosticism worships a lesser god who offers a lesser salvation. The Bible introduces us to a much bigger God who isn’t the least bit interested in giving up on the world he made — a world he called “good” not once but seven times.

Harold Camping’s god is way too small. His vision of eternity is too puny. He could’ve spent his 89 years (and counting) partnering with God to redeem and restore his good creation. Instead, Camping leveraged his considerable influence to entice the gullible and misguided — himself included — with an escapist fantasy.

May we not waste our lives by teaching other people to waste theirs.