There are many things that I abhor in (American) Evangelicalism (a nebulous term, I know). One such thing is the pre-tribulational rapture.
In order to best explain what the pre-tribulational rapture is, I only have to point to the sickeningly popular fiction-series, Left Behind. This sloppy excuse for a piece of fiction revolves around the basic premise that the rapture has just occurred (i.e. the notion that at any second, all Christians will be raptured/taken up into the heavens by Christ). After this, the earth and the inhabitants who have been left behind (get it!?) will have to suffer through seven years of hell on earth known as the “tribulation.”
Tangent: There were a few movies made out of this claptrap starring everyone’s favorite proponent of the ‘four spiritual laws’ Kirk Cameron. A remake of the Left Behind movie is in the works, but this time it will be starring Nicholas Cage (maybe he will find a copy a Gospel written by Jesus on the back the Declaration of Independence).
Thanks to figures such as John Nelson Darby (1800-1882), C.I. Scofield (1843-1921), and Tim LaHaye (1926-), the so-called pre-trib rapture, and its broader framework of pre-millenial dispensationalism, have become staple features of the Evangelical theological diet. Antecedents to the pre-trib rapture doctrine can be found in the charismatic excesses of Edward Irving and Margaret McDonald in the early nineteenth century, but the pre-trib rapture was ultimately invented by Darby, popularized by Scofield, and then made into the theological standard for a large swathe of Evangelicals by LaHaye’s Left Behind twaddle. Despite the fact that the pre-trib rapture is not even deemed worthy of attention by most academic theologians (except maybe for some folk teaching at Dallas Theological Seminary), it is nevertheless a live theological option out there for the typical American Evangelical.
Why do I consider this nonsense to be a theological fail? Having been proponent of pre-trib dispensationalism for several years (ahhh… the good old days as a teenager arguing with non-pretribbers on the ‘Rapture Ready’ message boards), I can say that it provides a perfect breeding ground for callousness towards the world. Oh, and then there is the fact that it is utterly without merit in scripture or tradition. The biblical case for the pre-trib rapture rests solely upon arguments from silence, harebrained typological interpretations, and eccentric interpretations of a few passages. The case for the pre-trib rapture from tradition is, well, non-existent. It is without pedigree in the church until about the last 200 years or so (despite revisionist authors such as Grant Jeffrey who completely mangle the writings of the early church fathers through very selective citing).
What else is there that I dislike about the pre-trib doctrine? It leads to the Bible-as-secret-code mentality. It is, for some reason, tied up into the view of a radical discontinuity between the present created order and the divinely-promised New Heavens and New Earth, leading to the equating of “environmentalism” with “liberal paganism.” Oh and let us not forget the blood-filled apocalyptic hermeneutic it rests upon, leading to the secret feelings of schadenfreude whenever one hears of a massive earthquake, tidal wave, or a “rumor of war.” After all, the world is, και δεῖ, getting worse and worse, and that can only mean one thing… the rapture is coming! I’m going to heaven while the earth will go to hell! Let the good times roll!
In a nutshell, the pre-trib rapture is hogwash. Pure drivel, plain and simple. It trivializes the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. It trivializes the Christian life. It approaches the Bible with a naïve hermeneutic. And the doctrine all too easily leads to a detachment from the world. But thankfully, even though it is a common perspective in Evangelicalism, it does seem to be on a steady decline.