End-times 'rapture' theology is nuts, says New Testament expert

By staff writers
January 24, 2007

A leading scholar has said that the end-times rapture theology propagated by many fundamentalist Christian groups, and said to be an influence within the Bush White House, is unbiblical and basically “nuts”.

It is vital that Christians address apocalyptic questions and the proper handling of scriptural texts because there is a powerful sense of ‘an end’ right now in our culture, declared the Rev Dr Barbara R. Rossing at the Trinity Institute's 37th national theological conference on 23 January 2007.

Dr Rossing, who is professor of New Testament at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago, is the author of ‘The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in The Book of Revelation.’ She has lectured, preached, and published widely.

This year's gathering, offered by Trinity Church in Wall Street, New York, concludes on 24 January.

In her presentation, Rossing said that the "whole notion of apocalypse, of catastrophic future scenarios and end times is so prominent on our culture radar screen these days."

The controversial new Christian video game, ‘Left Behind: Eternal Forces,’ invites players to "command your forces through intense battles across a breathtaking authentic depiction of New York City; recover ancient scriptures and witness spectacular angelic and demonic activity as a direct consequence of your choices," she said.

Professor Rossing added: "Ads for the game online show gun-wielding soldiers marching here in New York City, helicopters floating overhead and people being killed all accompanied by the music of 'Amazing Grace'."

She asked, "is this how 'God's Unfinished Future' is about to end – right here in New York as ancient scriptures come to life? No, I think this theology is nuts and that we must say no to the 'Left Behind' fictional version."

However, faced with global climate change, depletion of the supply of oil, escalating violence from wars around the world, the threat of nuclear weapons, and the pain of those who are being left behind in today's globalized economy, Professor Rossing said saying "no" was not enough.

She continued: "If apocalypse means revealing, then the question for us today is what curtain did Hurricane Katrina pull back? What does it reveal? What do other events unveil for us?" she asked. "Whether the accelerating melting of Greenland's ice, the war in Iraq, or 9/11 and its aftermath, how do we read these signs of the times?"

Professor Rossing quoted at length an October 2005 column by Peggy Noonan, a Wall Street Journal columnist and former speech writer for President Ronald Reagan, entitled ‘A Separate Peace.’

The column suggested that the world's people may be living at the end of something. In the article Noonan said that she and some friends were discussing the sheer number of things that parents buy for teenage girls – bags, earrings, and shoes. Some describe it as affluence, but Noonan said "it's also the fear that parents have that we are at the end of something and that they want their kids to have good memories."

Noonan wrote that there's an unspoken subtext in national culture right now; a subtext to society. People are carrying around in their heads an unarticulated and, in some cases, unnoticed sense that the "wheels are coming off the trolley and the trolley is coming off the tracks and it won't be fixed anytime soon."

Noonan asked: if this sense is correct, how are people dealing with it on a daily basis? She surmised that those who hadn't a clue just kept life moving but those who realized that something was askew, maintained the line of thinking of "I've got mine, you get yours."

"As Christians, that cannot be our message," said Professor Rossing.

“We need to read the Bible for the future; for the end of the world", said the New Testament scholar. We can learn from early Christians and New Testament communities about how to live in hope for the future "since they too believed that they were living at the end of the world, the end of the ages.

"As we frame our thinking for the 21st century," she said, "frame the question of 'God's Unfinished Future' in ecological terms [and ask] how can we as Christians find a biblical vision of hope for the future that address ecological economics; that addresses the future of this earth; our home; and is God's home and will not be left behind."

In thinking about "God's Unfinished Future," Rossing said, she wants to make the case for "reclaiming the Bible."

"Even the apocalypse, that scary place at the end of the book, reclaiming it as an urgent wake-up call for our future," she said. "It is a diagnosis of our world, our imperial world."

Likening the Bible to a doctor, she said it is "giving us a tough diagnosis right now" and "a vision for healing and hope."

"As I think about the message of the Book of Revelation for today's crisis, I keep coming back to the medicinal leaves at the end of the book, the Tree of Life and its leaves for the healing of the nation – leaves that I need and you probably do, too," she explained.

Rossing said that the central message of the Book of Revelation is that "God's will is not to destroy our world but to heal it."


You can listen to Rossing's presentation in its entirety at the Trinity Institute's website.

With acknowledgments and thanks to Daphne Mack and the Episcopal News Service.

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.