Creeping fundamentalism

Jane Lampman of The Christian Science Monitor writes today about what she calls “rapturist” theology, and she clearly grasps most of the subtexts as Christians debate how Jesus will return to Earth.

Inevitably, she describes most Christians who expect a pre-Tribulation rapture — in which Jesus rescues believers from looming plagues of Old Testament proportions — as fundamentalists, though she grants that “the interest in end-times prophecy has spread beyond their circles.”

Premillennialists’ other flaw is — wait for it — literalism. Lampman writes that Barbara Rossing of the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago and other critics aim to “demonstrate that [premillennial theology] is a modern literalist interpretation based on selective passages taken out of context.”

The real issue is whether Revelation ought to be considered prophecy applying to contemporary world events, prophecy already fulfilled centuries ago or, as apocalyptic literature, never intended as prophecy.

Christians who care about end-times thinking could tell any reporter that there are four contending views, including amillennialism. But for Christians who consider Revelation prophetic, reading strictly as poetic language is not an option. They may be guilty of category confusion, but literalism is not the primary culprit.

Lampman does an admirable job of showing that premillennial theology leads some Christians deeper into their faith, rather than into abandoning a world they consider doomed. She first offers this adjective-laden and imprecise introduction:

Barbara White, a Jewish African-American mortician from Buffalo, N.Y., was “saved” at age 7 by a pastor “who was heavy on the rapture.” It shapes her whole life.

“The priority is time — every day I cram five days into that day because of the sense of urgency,” she says. “I feel I have to love every day, encourage someone every day.” She has also become pastor of an interdenominational church.

Lampman could have filled out her coverage with quotes from the Center for Millennial Studies. Because she writes that premillennial thought has “been avidly promoted by televangelists and on Christian radio for decades,” she might have pointed out that not even all TV evangelists embrace a “rapturist” understanding. Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network, for example, affirms the rapture without the trappings of premillennialism. Ah, but isn’t Pat Robertson a grand champion fundamentalist, if not (in one fundy-bashing joke) the Antichrist? It’s enough to make your head hurt.

And she cites this example of how premillennialists are supposedly exerting an influence on the foreign policy of President Bush:

When President Bush started to call on Israel to pull the military back from Jenin refugee camp in 2002, they helped mobilize 100,000 e-mails to the White House; the president never said another word in public.

Who would have thought that email packed such a political wallop? If this is a movement closing in on raw political power, amillennialists have nothing to worry about.

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  • Kendall Harmon

    Doug, just came across your post. I posted on the same article–didn’t use the word literal once.

  • Stacy L. Harp

    Literalism….hmmmm, we can’t have that can we?

    Why is it that taking the bible literally is such an issue for people. That’s crazy…if you look at any other book or text there usually is no issue with taking it literally.

    About a year ago I snapped a picture of a church marque that said “Taking the bible seriously, but not literally” – I then called the church and spoke to the pastor and found out he was into “process theology” – in other words, as things change, then God changes. That’s absolultely ridiculous!

    Come to think of it, why should we take anything literally. Why believe this ladies comments? Hmmm…

    On another note – the picture of Pat Robertson is hilarious. I’m not a huge fan of Robertson, but even he doesn’t deserve this picture – even though it is funny…..

    Come to think of it…don’t take that last sentence literally… :)

  • Kim Horton

    Historically the Church only focused on Christs physical return and the Judgement Day for

    everyone. Simple. Now with all the books and films,(Left Behind,)

    it belongs in the science fiction and fantasy section of your book stores.

  • Jim Laird

    There is an epic battle for the minds of earth’s inhabitants with two main thrusts: Christianity vs humanism. Many of us can agree that humanism excludes Christianity while Christianity is elusive. It is evangelical, fundamentalist, irrational,science fiction,fantasy, absolutism, radical, extremism, etc. Part of the problem many people wish to be on the Christian band wagon; but have little understanding of it. One can go back to the writings of Minno Simons who became a leader and apologist for the anabaptist movement in the 16th century who espoused the following for true Christianity: Discipleship based on the New Testament they possessed, Adult water baptism for adults who accepted Christ (this was cause for death at the behest of the Roman Catholic Church as well as Luther, Calvin and Zwingli), love for each other and all people regardless of their position (see writings of John in the New Testament), No oaths to be used (This should be welcomed by humanists since there are no absolutes), and (gasp) pacificism. One might compare this to the founder (a respected womanizer of his day)of Islam who used warfare to establish his religion. And lastly, I seem to detect hatred emanating from too many humanists as well as some “Christians”. It is time for these sort of people to grow up and be adults attempting to achieve the common good.