Rapture theology is popular in the US and has been ever since it was invented in the 1800’s. It’s certainly not a worldwide phenomena – thank God for that. Yesterday I wrote about Christian escapism, which Rapture theology dips deeply into, and why I think this bad theology is allowed to continue to exist.
Today, I’m going to talk about the real costs of Rapture theology. In order to do this, we have to dig down a bit to some underlying assumptions about the Rapture – the culture of Rapture Theology, if you will.
First, understand that Rapture Theology has made a mark on US domestic and foreign policy. Maybe not in direct ways. I don’t think you’ll ever find something that points to a specific policy flowing directly from Rapture theology. There are exceptions of course – look at the foreign policy ideas of people like Sen. Ted Cruz, concerning the Middle East. A great deal of his foreign policy ideas are shaped by Rapture Theology.
But just because there isn’t a direct link, doesn’t mean that there isn’t influence.
Rapture theology is more than just about theology and our understanding about God. It also has an impact on how we see people and the rest of creation. It’s a theology that, at its core, believes that creation is not redeemable. It’s a theology that believes that people are not redeemable either, unless they have the right beliefs. It’s a theology that is in direct opposition to the belief that God loves creation so much that God would come to creation, die for creation, and then come back to restore and renew creation. (See John 3:16 and Rev. 21 as starting points).
It’s a theology that stops at the flood and sees God as only an angry God bent on destruction. Never mind that God changes and promises not to destroy the earth by flood again. Never mind that at creation we hear God say “it is good” at the end of each day and part of creation.
To buy into Rapture Theology, one must believe that things that God says about creation aren’t true. It’s a theology that doesn’t jive with what we know about God. It’s a theology that cherry picks verses out of context to be twisted and mangled in order to support the deeper belief that creation, and ultimately people are un-redeemable. It’s a theology that puts humanity in the driver seat of determining who gets into heaven and who is kept out – we get to be the ultimate judges. Humans get to decide if other humans are pure enough to be in God’s presence. Did they believe the right things? Did they say the right things? It’s another sin of certainty, which is really a sin of control over others.
But we know that God renews, redeems, restores all throughout the bible – in the OT and NT. In the Old Testament, we hear about God redeeming the Israelites – saving them from the tyranny of Egypt and restoring them to the land promised them (Read Exodus through Numbers).
Then we hear about Israel being exiled to Babylon and God redeeming Israel and restoring Israel back to their land (read Daniel, Isaiah, and other books of the prophets). We hear about God working through Josiah to renew Israel in their worship life (Read 2 Kings). We hear about God working through prophets to proclaim how God changes, restores, redeems, and renews (Try Elijah for starters, or Jonah will work too). Job 19:25 describes God in this language – “I know that my redeemer lives.”
The New Testament is chock full of examples of redemption, and renewal, and restoration. The entire Gospel message is a message of redemption, renewal, and restoration. Paul’s story is a story of redemption and change. The Acts of the Apostles is full of stories of how God changes lives and renews and restores. Just ask Lazarus is God is a God who renews and restores. The list could go on and on.
So what are actual costs to buying into a Rapture Theology? Many.
Let’s start with criminal justice. In the US we focus most of our attention on punishment instead of rehabilitation – or redemption, renewal, and restoration if you prefer. If your theology is based on the idea that creation and people can’t be redeemed and that God can’t change them, then it’s not a long stretch to see how this impacts what we do with people in our criminal justice system. We punish them. There is no redemption or chance for change after all. In the end, God’s going to destroy everything anyway. There is no point in rehabilitation. I’m not saying that our criminal justice system was created by people who bought into Rapture Theology. But the underlying culture has certainly influenced the criminal justice system.
We see the real cost of Rapture Theology in how we do “health care.” We actually don’t do health care here in the US, we do sick care. We focus on treating sickness. Our insurance doesn’t reward people who change their habits or lifestyles. Why would it if the underlying thought is that people don’t change and that they are un-redeemable and can’t change? Instead, we only manage sickness. Again, our health care system wasn’t designed by Rapture Theology proponents. I argue that the culture underlying it has influenced the health care system though.
Rapture Theology means seeing the world in black and white – only two options and you better pick sides! It’s a focus on conformity of belief, not any type of orthodox Christian belief. It’s all or nothing. You are either saved because you bought into Rapture Theology, or you are doomed. It’s not dependent on Jesus’ action, but on what we believe.
There is no redemption, renewal, or restoration – only death and destruction. With Rapture Theology, there’s this weird idea that Jesus is coming back twice (can we say that’s not in the bible) – the first time to take all the people who got it right and had the right beliefs regardless of how they lived their lives, then God goes all nuclear on everyone else, but gives any survivors a second chance to get it right and then comes back a second time and whisks those few who do change away.
But it’s not real redemption – it’s just a change in thought and belief – not a change in their life, not a change in relationship, not a change in a heart-felt belief. It’s a change in head knowledge only. It’s shallow, really. It’s better described as submitting, regardless if the person actually believes it or not. It’s like following a law so as not to get into trouble – you drive 55 mph because that’s the law and you’ll get a ticket if you get caught.
These things aren’t on the surface and you won’t find our policies written with Rapture Theology terminology. You won’t find direct links between Rapture Theology and the policies we have. Instead, Rapture Theology has impacted the American culture since it was brought here and allowed to flourish – imparting its unhealthy fear of God, and mistrust of one another, and disregard for God’s call for us to be stewards.
It’s time for Rapture Theology to die off and be brushed into the ash heap of history, along with other really bad and false beliefs and ideologies. Rapture Theology isn’t going to save anyone. In fact, it has cost a great deal – brought fear in many people’s lives, an unhealthy view of God as really angry at them, given the church a bad name by making some parts of the church extremely judgemental and toxic, cost people’s lives and potential because of the criminal justice system and health system that is based on the same view of humanity, and hurt the church’s message of stewardship.
If I could say anything positive about Rapture Theology it would be this – I only hope that it is true in this sense – that the theology itself gets Raptured away, never to return again.