Signs of the End

"The Rapture is a racket"

That's the gist of a new book on the rapture and the Left Behind series by Barbara Rossing, a professor at Chicago's Lutheran School of Theology.

She's been "debunking the rapture" on the radio , television and in news stories

Here's what she told 60 Minutes II

“You can piece together that vengeful warrior Jesus. You can find him here and there. But the heart of the Bible, the overwhelming message, even in the Book of Revelation, is a non-violent lamb who conquers, not by killing people, but by giving his life,” says Rossing, who believes that the "Left Behind" authors are marketing a false view of the Bible.

“The message of Revelation is that oppression will be ended. They take the message and personalize it to evildoers. They make this an us vs. them kind of theology. If you’re not with us, you’re against us. They forget the message of the Bible is that each person is created in the image of God.”

I think Rossing is right on.

But her book, and most of the criticism of Left Behind, including my own, has failed to explore what makes this books so attractive to so many people.

There may be some clues in a new book coming out called These Will Not Be Left Behind, which tells stories of readers who say the Left Behind books changed their lives.

I was interviewing a minister recently who was very critical of the Left Behind books from an artistic viewpoint, but then had this point. These books tell readers about a God who loves them and intervenes with power in human history.

Modern religion has "castrated God" this minister added--God is reduced to a kind, loving, warm fuzzy buddy who has no power to change lives and save the world. A book like Left Behind shows a God helps believers in this world and prepares a place for them in the next.

I don't think we can underestimate the power of that kind of message on readers. Left Behind's theology may be shaky and it may lead to unjust positions towards Palestinians-as this piece from Sojourners called "Short Fuse to Apocalypse" points out.

But the hunger or need they are filling for readers- for assurance, to know they will not be forgotten or left behind by God is something to many of us critics have ignored.

One true sign that the end is near. Someone has written a profile of Fred Phelps--a self proclaimed "prophet of God's hate--that makes him a sympathetic character.

The profile, which ran on Religion News Service's wire, can also be found here.

Who would have guessed that Phelps--who made a name for himself with his God Hates Fags signs at Matthew Shephard's funeral--got his start as a civil rights lawyer who once got an award for his work from the NAACP?

The pieces leaves us with a picture of Phelps,74, as a sad figure--reading in his office at the same church he's preached at for nearly 50 years, and a sense that nothing of the teaching of Jesus--like "love your enemies"--has ever penetrated his stone cold heart.

Here's a bit of the story

The 74-year-old preacher sits at a table in his church office, a utilitarian, paneled room bathed in harsh fluorescent light, poring over pages marked with yellow highlighter. Intense blue eyes searching the Old Testament for verses that prove
God hates, not loves.

Love? That's a story that "kissy-poo ministers" tell misguided parishioners so they'll stuff the collection box on Sunday, Phelps insists. "You're not going to get nowhere with that slop that `God loves you,'" he scoffs in a deep Southern drawl. "That's a diabolical lie from hell without biblical warrant.

What makes this piece so remarkable is that there's no mocking--just honest, straightforward reporting that shows Phelps the respect he denies to so many others.

Since you've stuck with me this long, here's a reward. Try this piece from Cathleen Falsani about trying to save the world, one coffee cup at a time.

BTW, this Godsend Institute site is still creeping me out.


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