Left Behind

Regarding Israel and the End Times, what is Dispensationalism? What is the rapture?

Regarding Israel and the End Times, what is Dispensationalism? What is the rapture?

THE QUESTION:

Regarding Israel and Bible prophecies about the End Times, what are the meanings of such terms as Dispensationalism, the rapture, premillennialism, the great tribulation,  pre-tribulationism and Armageddon?

THE GUY’S ANSWER:

A March 31 New York Times article on how religion may influence U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s approach toward Israel had this headline: “The Rapture and the Real World: Pompeo Mixes Beliefs and Policy.”

One key point was that the then-Congressman told a religious audience in 2015 that humanity faces “a never-ending struggle” until “the rapture.” Yes, think “Left Behind” books and movies.

The move of the United States embassy to Jerusalem, and U.S. recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over Syria’s Golan Heights, were thought to boost both President Donald Trump’s evangelical support and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s April 9 election prospects. Analyzing those decisions, the Times explained that “white evangelicals,” Pompeo included, believe “God promised the land to the Jews, and that the gathering of Jews in Israel is foretold in the prophecy of the rapture — the ascent of Christians into the kingdom of God.”

The Times wording was truthy but confusing, and the standard rapture belief is not taught by evangelicalism as a whole — but only one segment. Also, the “white evangelical” reference is strange, since this doctrine can be found in quite a few different kinds of evangelical sanctuaries.

So let’s unpack some elements of these complex matters.

Secretary Pompeo is a member of the Michigan-based Evangelical Presbyterian Church, a small body (89,190 members, 207 congregations) that forsook the more liberal Presbyterian Church (USA) in 1981. It upholds the Westminster Confession and catechisms proclaimed by British clergy and politicians assembled by Parliament in the mid-17th Century. Churches that follow such Reformation-era credos affirm Jesus’s Second Coming and the Last Judgment, but not the modern rapture belief formulated two centuries later.

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'End Times' thinking: Do biblical prophecies explain why so many evangelicals back Israel?

'End Times' thinking: Do biblical prophecies explain why so many evangelicals back Israel?

Hey journalists, can you say “Premillennial Dispensationalism”?

Believe it or not, the odds are very good that, in most elite newsrooms, some editor or reporter on the political desk knows — or thinks that he or she knows — the meaning of this theological term. Hint: It’s a modern interpretation of apocalyptic passages in the Old and New Testament, producing a kind of “how many Israeli fighter jets can fit on the head of a pin” view of the end of the world.

After all, there are all of those “Left Behind” novels all over the place. Then the books led to several movies that, in some corners of the evangelical subculture, are kind of like the “Rocky Horror Picture Show.” They’re so over the top that they have become high-grade camp.

The key is that there are some modern Protestants who can accurately be called “Premillennial Dispensationalists.”

Repeat after me — “some.”

As in, “not all.” As in, not even a majority of conservative evangelicals fit under this doctrinal umbrella. Why does this matter, in political terms? Here is David French of National Review to explain, in this weekend’s think piece. If fact, this is a think piece inside of a think piece. Hold that thought.

It never fails. Whenever a Republican president makes a controversial or contentious move to support Israel — such as moving the American embassy to Jerusalem, or yesterday’s decision to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights — you’ll see various “explainers” and other stories that purport to inform progressives why the American Evangelical community is so devoted to the nation of Israel.

The explanation goes something like this — Evangelicals believe that the rebirth of Israel is hastening not just the second coming of Christ, but a particular kind of second coming, one that includes fire, fury, and war that will consume the Jewish people.

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Concerning Jerusalem, Donald Trump, Arab Christian anger and, yes, American evangelicals

Concerning Jerusalem, Donald Trump, Arab Christian anger and, yes, American evangelicals

Trust me when I say that I understand why so many Christians in the ancient churches of the Middle East are frustrated with America, and American evangelicals in particular, when it comes to the complex and painful status of Jerusalem.

As I have mentioned several times here at GetReligion, when I converted to Eastern Orthodoxy two decades ago my family became part of the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese -- which is closely tied to the ancient Orthodox flock based in Damascus. Then, from 2001-2005 (including 9/11), we were active in a West Palm Beach, Fla., parish that was primarily made up of families with ties to Syria, Lebanon and, yes, Israel and the West Bank.

I will not try to sum up their lives and viewpoints in a few lines. Suffice it to say, they struggled to understand why so many American Christians have little or no interest in the daily lives and realities of Christians whose Holy Land roots go back to Pentecost.

Thus, I am thankful that the Washington Post international desk has updated a familiar, yet still urgent, news topic as we get closer to the Christmas season. The hook, of course, is the announcement by President Donald Trump about the status of the U.S. embassy in Israel. The headline: "Trump plan to move U.S. embassy to Jerusalem angers Middle East Christians."

The overture is familiar, yet sadly newsy:

JERUSALEM -- Some of the festive cheer was missing this weekend at a public Christmas tree lighting near the site where Christians believe an angel proclaimed Christ’s birth to local shepherds. 
“Our oppressors have decided to deprive us from the joy of Christmas,” Patriarch Michel Sabbah, the former archbishop and Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, told the crowd in the town of Beit Sahour in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. “Mr. Trump told us clearly Jerusalem is not yours.”
The Trump administration’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the U.S. Embassy there has provoked widespread opposition among Christians across the Middle East. When Vice President Pence arrives next week on a trip touted as a chance to check on the region’s persecuted Christians, he will be facing an awkward backlash.

Right there, you see, is the story that has loomed in the background for decades.

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Mark of the Beast: This time, a Godbeat pro gives us 666 reasons to like her apocalyptic story

Mark of the Beast: This time, a Godbeat pro gives us 666 reasons to like her apocalyptic story

The Beast is back.

My most-clicked post of the year concerned "Mark of the Beast: 666 reasons to look for religion angle in microchips installed in employees' hands."

That recent post noted a Wisconsin technology company's plan to install microchips in employees' hands and highlighted the holy ghosts in mainstream media reports.

Just last week, Deann Alford — a faithful GetReligion reader who supplied excellent commentary for my original post — shared a link to a yet another haunted piece on the chips controversy.

But fret not, faithful masses devoted to high-quality news coverage of religion: Godbeat pro Holly Meyer of The Tennessean (part of the national USA Today network) has produced an excellent story on the subject.

Her newsy lede:

NASHVILLE — The apocalyptic "mark of the beast" prophecy in the Bible makes some wary of a Wisconsin company's recent decision to embed microchips into the hands of willing employees.
The end times account in the New Testament's Book of Revelation warns believers about being marked on the right hand and the forehead by the Antichrist.
But inserting rice-sized microchips under the skin of Three Square Market employees does not fulfill the prophecy, said Chris Vlachos, a New Testament professor at Wheaton College in Chicago.
"I think that this is more of a fulfillment of end times novels and movies than the Book of Revelation itself," Vlachos said.
Earlier this week Three Square Market, the Wisconsin firm that makes cafeteria kiosks to replace vending machines, brought in a tattoo artist to embed microchips into the 40 employees that volunteered.

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Mark of the Beast: 666 reasons to look for religion angle in microchips installed in employees' hands

Mark of the Beast: 666 reasons to look for religion angle in microchips installed in employees' hands

A technology company's plan to install microchips in employees' hands has been making the rounds on social media the last few days.

ABC News notes that the chips — not the chocolate kind — will allow workers "to enter the office, log into computers and even buy a snack or two with just a swipe of a hand."

"Want those vending machine snacks without digging for change? There's an implant for that!" proclaims the NBC affiliate in Dallas-Fort Worth.

How convenient! (And creepy!)

My friend Alan Cochrum, a former copy editor for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, posted the story on my Facebook page and issued a challenge to me:

Your next religion-coverage mission, should you choose to accept it: See how many reporters pick up/report on the reaction to this in some religious circles, and how many don't or are completely baffled by it.

It sounds like Cochrum sees a potential holy ghost (or perhaps 666 of them) in these microchips.

Another GetReligion reader — Texas journalist and author Deann Alford — also called our attention to this story. In an email, she wrote:

Yes, I knew about the technology, which is routine now from pets adopted from shelters. It’s been around more than a decade. Our cats Weasley and Murph both have chips. Lusia, who went to kitty heaven in 2015 at age 21, did not.
A stunning one-big-happy-family story that has ZERO about what this ushers in. Thing is, with horrid Bible literacy rates in society, even in the church, not surprising that the journalist raises no alarms about this. The only voice of dissent included in this otherwise cheery story has to do with privacy concerns.
Without revelation from Revelation in the story, in this age of ever-rising identity theft, what’s a reader not to love about a secure way to do transactions? 

So apparently, the religion angle has something to do with Revelation. (Yikes! I am no expert on that.)

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Is the Babylon Bee insider 'Christian' funny, or truly funny enough for prime time?

Is the Babylon Bee insider 'Christian' funny, or truly funny enough for prime time?

So what is this week's "Crossroads" podcast actually about?

Well, on one level it's about the "Christian" humor website called The Babylon Bee. But on a deeper level, it's about what happens when the word "Christian" is turned into an adjective defining a form of popular culture. At that point, all kinds of interesting and even distressing things take place. There are news stories in there, folks.

For example, when you hear someone talking about "Christian" rock 'n' roll, doesn't that (if you are of a certain age) make you think of that famous "Seinfeld" episode that included the riff about the car-radio buttons? Here's a flashback, from an "On Religion" column that I wrote long, long ago:

As she pulled into traffic, Elaine Benes turned on her boyfriend's car radio and began bouncing along to the music.
Then the lyrics sank in: "Jesus is one, Jesus is all. Jesus pick me up when I fall." In horror, she punched another button, then another. "Jesus," she muttered, discovering they all were set to Christian stations. Then the scene jumped to typical "Seinfeld" restaurant chat.
"I like Christian rock," said the ultra-cynical George Costanza. "It's very positive. It's not like those real musicians who think they're so cool and hip."

It's all about the world "real." We are not talking about "real" musicians, here. We are talking about "Christian" rock. Thus, when most people hear the phrase "Christian" rock, they probably think of this rather than this (please click these URLs).

What do you think of when you hear people talk about "Christian" movies? Do you think of this or of this?

How about the fine arts? When you think of Christian paintings, do you think of this or, well, of this?

I could go on. "Christian" humor, including satire, is not new -- in fact, it's ancient.

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Journalism f-word alert: New York Times serves up classic hit piece with Tim LaHaye obit

Journalism f-word alert: New York Times serves up classic hit piece with Tim LaHaye obit

You may have heard of hit pieces, which is journalism aimed at taking a person down. Here is a hit obituary -- The New York Times’ article on the passing of evangelical superstar Tim LaHaye.

Check out the headline: "Tim LaHaye dies at 90; fundamentalist leader’s grisly novels sold millions." That gives you an idea of where this article is headed.

Now tmatt has, through the years, written time and time again urging journalists to heed the advice of the Associated Press Stylebook and to avoid most uses of that particular f-word, along with Mollie Hemingway and others in the GetReligion pantheon.

Now, it is certainly true that LaHaye went to Bob Jones University, a campus that has long embraced the "fundamentalist" label, but he also led a Southern Baptist church and most members of America’s largest non-Catholic Christian denomination would never call themselves fundamentalists. Also, his audience as a writer and speaker was much larger than the "fundamentalist" niche.

Guess the Times didn't get that memo. Here’s how the piece starts:

The Rev. Tim LaHaye, a leader of the Christian fundamentalist movement and co-author of the best-selling “Left Behind” series of apocalyptic novels prophesying mass slaughters and the end of the world, died on Monday in a San Diego area hospital. He was 90.
His death, days after he had a stroke, was announced on the website for his Tim LaHaye Ministries.
In an age of seemingly endless natural and man-made disasters, the action-packed tales by Dr. LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins struck readers as all too realistic, even if they were based on biblical accounts of the Second Coming, the appearance of an Antichrist and multitudes leaving a calamitous dying world for heaven.

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