Monday, September 5, 2011

Farewell to the Rapture?

N T Wright has a reputation as a solid scholar so when he writes something, people take notice.

I have his 800 pages plus book “The Resurrection of the Son of God” where he argues for the case of a real, physical resurrection – which I thought should have been obvious to anyone reading the NT. He is the author of “New Perspectives on Paul” for which he has received both praise and criticism.

Dr Wright is also one of those scholars who don’t see a future kingdom for Israel. Mike Vlach quotes him as stating:

Jesus spent His whole ministry redefining what the kingdom meant. He refused to give up the symbolic language of the kingdom, but filled it with such a new content that, as we have seen, he powerfully subverted Jewish expectations.”

I think Dr Vlach does a decent job responding to that position HERE. I’m reading Alva McClain’s “The Greatness of the Kingdom” which meticulously exposits both OT and NT Scripture regarding the Kingdom, so I struggle to understand how Dr Wright holds to his view.

With that in mind I found his 2001 article “Farewell to the Rapture” a revealing read into the mindset of his type of scholarship. It’s important for non-pretribulationists to note here that Dr Wright’s main focus isn’t the timing – it’s the idea of the rapture.

Dr Wright:

The American obsession with the second coming of Jesus — especially with distorted interpretations of it — continues unabated. Seen from my side of the Atlantic, the phenomenal success of the Left Behind books appears puzzling, even bizarre. Few in the U.K. hold the belief on which the popular series of novels is based: that there will be a literal “rapture” in which believers will be snatched up to heaven, leaving empty cars crashing on freeways and kids coming home from school only to find that their parents have been taken to be with Jesus while they have been “left behind.” This pseudo-theological version of Home Alone has reportedly frightened many children into some kind of (distorted) faith.”

I’m impressed that someone bothered to collect official statistical data addressing the issues in that last sentence. It’s a pity that it wasn’t cited. Either way…

For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord. (1Th 4:16-17)

I like Kevin Zuber’s astute observation:

And . . . there will be a “rapture” – hey, if 1 Thessalonians 4 teaches anything it teaches we are going to be “caught up” . . . unless one is willing to “spiritualize” that passage and say it’s not going to be a “bodily catching-up” . . . in which case we have a “bodily resurrection” of the dead in Christ and a “spiritual catching up” of those who are alive and remain!”

Now that’s a thought!

Still, Dr Wright begs to differ. Apparently these passages MUST be spiritualized and Dr Zuber didn’t get the memo:

“Paul’s mixed metaphors of trumpets blowing and the living being snatched into heaven to meet the Lord are not to be understood as literal truth, as the Left Behind series suggests, but as a vivid and biblically allusive description of the great transformation of the present world of which he speaks elsewhere...Paul’s misunderstood metaphors present a challenge for us: How can we reuse biblical imagery, including Paul’s, so as to clarify the truth, not distort it?”

Well there you go. All those “misunderstood and mixed metaphors” are a challenging trap for newbies who think Scripture actually means what it says.

Interestingly, in his book (mentioned earlier), Dr Wright chose to understand passages alluding to the resurrection as literal, rather than metaphors. So I guess that somewhere, somehow, there exists some advanced manual or code of interpretation that is handed out to PhDs who’ve attended the right colleges and seminaries.

I just wish these guys would write some easy-to-follow guideline for a schmuck like me so that I can know when to take any given passage of Scripture literally or symbolically, or when to re-interpret something stated in the OT using the NT.

Speaking of which, Dr Michael Rydelnik’s book “The Messianic Hope: Is the Old Testament Really Messianic? ” is a must read. Chapter 8 “RASHI’S INFLUENCE ON THE INTERPRETATION OF MESSIANIC PROPHECY” is an eye opener (and warning) for those who rely on Rabbinic guidance for interpreting OT scripture.

You can read Dan Phillips’ review of the book HERE

In the meantime, since the writing of “End of the Rapture” in 2001, the concept hasn’t died and neither has dispensationalism. It’s one thing to mock the popular Left Behind genre or authors who are not always considered great examples of disp, and quite another to properly interact with the bedrock that props them up.


The New Perspective on Paul - Part 1

A Defense of the Old Perspective on Paul - What Did St. Paul Really Say?



Lew Miller said...

Thank you for bringing these articles together. I am sorry more people don't participate.

Lew Miller said...

Thank you for bringing these articles together. I am sorry more people don't participate, but I know many people read it.

mac said...

Thanks for the encouragement, Lew.

This blog is my way of collecting my thoughts together and hopefully learning in the process.

God bless.

Aaron Veverka said...

I've written about this before, how it was created recently in history,

Dr Heiser does a beautiful job explaining eschatology here,

I personally after examining the Bible without filters see these things in this light.

Alf Cengia said...

Thanks for the comment. Yes, I took a look at your article. It's familiar material. I invite you to read the following article and check out the links at the end for a bit of history on Darby (also Irving and the rapture) which you may not have been aware of:

You might also search this blog for responses to your other assertions re persecution vs God's wrath and the alleged number of second comings.

I'm aware of Michael Heiser and have read some of his works. I've never found anything in them which compels me to question either dispensationalism or pretribulationism. Moreover, while he has recognized scholastic credentials, he also has his biases. I have his latest book "The Unseen Realm." In it he shows a preference to a regional rather than global flood. He also interprets some of the "let us..." OT passages where God is speaking as if He is also addressing the Divine Council. Heiser does this frequently because of his Divine Council premise. However, other good scholars see these "plural" passages as the Triune God speaking.

Alf Cengia said...

BTW, I reviewed Heiser's book here:

I wrote in conclusion that:

"The Unseen Realm is an interesting book. But it is uneven in places and should be read critically. My concern is that its readers will want to read more of Heiser’s materials without being aware of his methodology and his views on the Old Testament, especially the Genesis creation account. Given all this, I hesitate to recommend it."

Heiser is too willing to allow what he accepts as science and the ANE to dictate the meaning of texts in the OT. So, in fact, Heiser does use filters when reading his Bible.

Other scholars who are familiar with Hebrew studies and science have no problem taking Genesis at face value.

Personally, I think Heiser has some interesting ideas, but his willingness to re-interpret the text is dangerous.