The Jesus Movement: Its Rapture Became Ours

By Michelle Van Loon:

We’re a generation removed from the Jesus Movement of the late 1960′s and the Rapture still Screen Shot 2015-11-13 at 1.20.11 PMhasn’t happened despite astonishing certainty about when we could expect it on the part of some of the most influential voices of the era. Hal Lindsey had the timetable of the Lord’s return all figured out in his influential 1970 book,The Late Great Planet Earth and Earnest Angley’s 1950 tome, Raptured, was the Left Behind of the day. Angley’s book, which a friend and I took to calling “Raptured, raptured, raptured, raptured” because of the groovy lettering on the early 1970′s cover, was even more terrifying to me than Lindsey’s book when I was a teen. Christian rocker Larry Norman’s rapture-ready classic I Wish We’d All Been Ready was the only logical response to terrors of the kind of AntiChrist-ruled world Angley described.

The Rapture, the teaching that God will suddenly call all true believers to leave this decaying planet in the twinkling of an eye and join him in heaven, certainly wasn’t a new idea at that time, thanks to the theological stylings of John Nelson Darby and his disciple, C.I. Scofield, who codified Darby’s ideas about the end times into a very popular Bible version that shaped the theological understanding of generations of fundamentalist and conservative Evangelical Christians.

However, this particular view of the end of days has affected us far beyond a few Sunday School classrooms. Jesus Movement adherents grabbed onto this theology and made it dogma. As I noted in my first post in this series, Evangelicalism has been the primary beneficiary of the Jesus Movement, and is now having a bit of an identity crisis. Our children aren’t sticking around in our churches – and neither are many of us. This time of transition is an opportunity for a bit of spiritual housecleaning as we consider the unintended consequences of some of our choices and fanned into flame by a time of revival. We reap what we sow.

While scholars, theologians and pundits have written plenty on the effect of the notion of the Rapture on our churches, politics, and cultural engagement, I’d like to toss out a few observations from my perspective about how the dominance of this particular end-times scenario has played out in our midst four decades after Larry Norman wistfully sang his “too-bad, so-sad” song to all those who’d been left behind.

When we in the Jesus Movement heard about the Rapture, we wanted:

  • Escape from suffering – What was going to come after the rapture was hell on earth. Who wouldn’t want an escape hatch?
  • Certainty – A bulletproof explanation that put the chaos of our world in context.
  • Hope – The escape hatch would spring open, and we’d win! Of course, the idea of the rapture also struck fear into most believers. I remember walking into a house when I was in a college for a Bible study and NO ONE WAS THERE. A jolt of electricity shot through me as I immediately assumed the rapture had happened and I hadn’t made the cut.
  • An Evangelism Tool – Movies like A Thief In The Night illustrated for our unbelieving friends and family what the dispensational charts told us.

The unintended consequences of the dominance of this view of the future of the world have been:

  • A dismissal of any and all other legitimate, historical theological views of the end of days – Yes, there are others. John Nelson Darby’s view (and all those charts his innovation spawned) didn’t exist two hundred years ago. The Rapture has been lousy for fellowship with believers who hold a different historical viewpoint since adherents tend to treat it as a non-negotiable of the faith.
  • Being so heavenly-minded we’ve not always been much earthly good – Why bother if we’re just going to get zapped out of here at any moment anyway? A few old Jesus Freak friends still sign off their communications with “Here, there, or in the air”, an everyday reminder to stay Rapture-ready.
  • Disengagement and/or triumphalism when it comes to culture – See “being so heavenly-minded…” above. We’ve either hunkered down in fear or gotten a giddy “told ya so” glee as this piece of bad news or that one fits into our particular doomsday Rapture script.
  • $$$ – Between the Left Behind series , the more recent Blood Moons publishing phenomenon, and a boatload of conferences, publications, sermons, vendors (Gold Bullion to get you through part of the Great Tribulation in case the Rapture doesn’t happen at the beginning of it), the Rapture has been a pop-Christianity marketing…goldmine.

I do believe an end of days is coming to this world. God’s Word describes it, and we are to live in readiness prepared to welcome our coming King by doing what he’s asked us to do – love him heart, soul, mind, and strength and love others as we love ourselves.

I’d like comments for this post to stay on the effects of the Rapture on our practice in 2015. What else would you add to my list above? Are there positives I’ve missed?

Thanks to David Swartz for the prompt to reflect on this topic.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.


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