A pastor friend of mine passed along a truly horrible story by Reuters’ Andrea Hopkins. The premise is that “moderate” Christians are fighting “fundamentalist” Christians with regard to the rapture. The article is poorly written in a journalistic sense: it’s one-dimensional, doesn’t grasp scope of the issue and is layered with opinion.
Let’s begin with the use of the word moderate to describe theologically liberal Episcopalians and Lutherans. I can do no better than repeat what New York Times editor Bill Keller told his newsroom in 2005:
We must . . . be more alert to nuances of language when writing about contentious issues . . . the way the word “moderate” conveys a judgment about which views are sensible and which are extreme, the misuse of “religious fundamentalists” to describe religious conservatives . . .
The article begins with a
goodmoderate Christian’s unverified story about a bad fundamentalist boss who believed in the rapture. It goes on to relay how moderate Christians are fighting back against the theology of the Left Behind novels.
Later on in the piece, coauthor Tim LaHaye paints the theological debate as having two sides: the good, Bible-believing folks like himself who love Jesus and the bad, “socialist” Bible-deniers. That LaHaye would say such a thing is in his best interest. He’s better off not admitting that many other Christians reject his rapture theology, including some who believe the Bible is inerrant and literally God’s word.
But reporter Hopkins paints the rapture debate in precisely the same way. There are two sides — moderates and fundamentalists — and they disagree on whether to take a “fundamentalist” or interpretive view of Revelation.
I suppose it’s too much to ask reporters to read a general book on the beat they cover, but this is where D.G. Hart’s Lost Soul of American Protestantism could be useful. The typical American Protestant vignette painted by reporters and academics is liberal mainline vs. conservative evangelical. Hart proposes that these two groups actually have much more in common with each other than is supposed (both emphasize relevance, both groups politicize the moral meaning of Christianity, etc.).
He focuses on a third group: confessional Presbyterian, Anglican, Lutheran and Reformed Protestants. These are Protestants who emphasize creeds, doctrines, sacraments, liturgy, etc. They have an otherworldly or nonpolitical emphasis — they believe that the main purpose of the church is to share the Gospel and administer the sacraments rather than save the world or reform earthly institutions.
This is the group that my church body — one of the largest in America — belongs to. And my church body has for years published papers and Bible studies about what we believe are errors in Left Behind theology. In other words, if the reporter had looked, she would have found that it’s not just the mainline churches that oppose Left Behind.
Another problem with the piece is that it never really shows the actual rapture views of either group. The reporter says fundamentalists believe that Christians will be taken immediately to heaven, leaving their fillings behind. Moderates apparently believe that Revelation is a story about Jesus confronting the evils of the Roman Empire. For a story about how mainline Protestants are fighting what they perceive to be as doctrinal errors, that’s not a lot of explanation. She also includes contentious statements without any attempt to support them:
Christian moderates also tend to view their fundamentalist cousins with an indulgent wink, more comfortable joking about the rapture than trying to change their minds.
Um, okay. This part was my favorite, though:
The success of the graphic novels is just one indication of the strength of belief in rapture, Armageddon, and the subsequent second coming of Jesus Christ. A 2006 survey for the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found 79 percent of American Christians believe in the second coming, with 20 percent believing it will happen in their lifetime.
To conflate Left Behind theology of the rapture with the doctrine that Jesus will come again? I’m kind of speechless. Does Hopkins not know of the Nicene Creed that includes this belief? It’s only the most widespread ecumenical creed of the Christian Church, after all. And it includes a line professing belief that Jesus will “come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead, whose kingdom will have no end.”
If Hopkins is unable to understand how this belief is not the same as Left Behind theology, she should not be writing the piece.
The second piece of art is an icon of the Second Coming.