The Rapture and Other Things Christians Believe

One of the most intense theological themes in my life was a period — of about four years — when all things eschatological were most important to me, including the Rapture: Was it pre trib, mid trib, or post trib?  As a young professor no longer interested in the rapture question I read RT France’s interpretation of Matt 24:29-31, who saw it tied into 70 AD, and then I learned its connection to folks like G.B. Caird (later to N.T. Wright) and some lesser knowns but quite well known in their days.

Not so much so among the populist evangelicals who mostly believe in a physical rapture into the skies.

What do you believe about the Rapture? Yea or Nay? If Nay, what do you think the texts — say 1 Thess 4–5 — are talking about?

Billy Hallowell, who told me a year or so ago that he was writing a book on such topics:

When it comes to eschatology — the biblical study of the end times — there are some major theological differences among denominations and broader Christian cohorts.

From debate over a theoretical tribulation period to battles over a so-called “rapture” event, Christian leaders’ views are surely shaped by their organizational affiliations.

Consider that the research conducted for my new book, “The Armageddon Code: One Journalist’s Quest for End-Times Answers” found that 43 percent of self-identified evangelical pastors embrace a pre-tribulation rapture — the view that Christians will be taken up before the tribulation period that precedes Jesus’ second coming — compared to just 31 percent of Mainline preachers.

Mainline pastors (36 percent) are also more likely than evangelicals (17 percent) to select “the concept of the rapture is not to be taken literally,” though it should be noted that it is difficult to pin down some of the differences between these two groups, as they overlap one another.

There are certainly a number of differences between evangelicals and Mainline Protestants. As PBS once noted: “[Mainline Protestants] have a more modernist theology. So, for instance, they would read the Bible, not as the inerrant word of God, but as a historical document, which has God’s word in it and a lot of very important truths, but that needs to be interpreted in every age by individuals of that time and that place.”

Moving behind the evangelical and Mainline paradigm, the research became even more intriguing when considering specific denominational affiliations, with Pentecostal preachers distinguishing themselves (73 percent) as the most likely to embrace a pre-tribulation rapture, with 61 percent of Baptists agreeing. Lutheran ministers, though, are the least likely to select this worldview, with just 1 percent of doing so.

Showing just how strong a belief in a literal rapture is among some Christian leaders, consider that only 6 percent of Baptist pastors and less than one percent of Pentecostals embraced the idea that “the concept of the rapture is not to be taken literally,” compared to 60 percent of Lutherans, 48 percent of Methodists and 49 percent of Presbyterian/Reformed pastors.

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