L.B.: Conditional election

L.B.: Conditional election March 9, 2007

Left Behind, pp. 255-256

Journalists are calling out questions at Nicolae Carpathia's press conference:

"What do you say to people who believe this was the work of God, that he raptured his church?"

Somebody has been doing his homework. Buck doesn't ask this question, even though he was clued in to the Rapture theory early on, before he left the airport, and even though his Big Assignment is to identify and evaluate all such theories. This unnamed journalist, by contrast, has done so much research into this theory that he or she* even talks like a native premillennial dispensationalist.

"He raptured his church" — only PMDs use "rapture" as a verb. And only someone fully steeped in that particular sectarian subculture would speak so assuredly of its particular boundaries corresponding so precisely with those of God's church.

This unidentified journalist must be someone like the Rev. Bruce Barnes, someone who spent years in and among the PMDevangelicals.** Like Bruce, he knows, "exactly what happened," and that none of those left behind "really had been believers." The church — the real, true church of RTCs — had been raptured and all that remained behind were the "phony" believers and the false churches.

In a broad sense, this distinction is similar to something that all Christians believe. The distinction between the church visible and the church invisible is a way of talking about the fact that what we think of as God's church may not be the same as what God thinks. It's also a reminder that this distinction is something we can't see, which is why we are told, unambiguously, that we are not qualified ourselves to separate the wheat from the tares and why we are commanded not to try.

We've noted before that this command is problematic for Left Behind, which purports to be a novelization of this divine sorting. The book's premise is that the wheat has been harvested and the tares have been left behind, so determining which is which, who is who, is an inescapable task in attempting to tell this story.

That task would give most Christians pause. Jesus told us not to do this and it seems presumptuous, even in a work of fiction, to usurp this divine prerogative.

But for others of us, this doesn't seem extraordinary or even unusual. People like Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins are quite accustomed to helping God out in this way. Separating the wheat from the tares is a fundamental characteristic of their piety — a regular feature of their sermons, their devotionals, their prayers and worship and martial "praise choruses."

Those of us who are more reluctant to do what Jesus told us not to do are often lampooned or criticized by these self-confident members of the really, truly elect. For an example of this, take a look at the Antichrist's response to the unnamed journalist's question:

Carpathia smiled compassionately. "Let me be careful to say that I do not and will not criticize any sincere person's belief system. That is the basis for true harmony and brotherhood, peace and respect among peoples. …"

The hard-to-miss message here it that talk of religious tolerance and respect, like talk of peace and harmony, is the devil's business. That's how the Antichrist talks, so anyone who speaks of such things is suspect. (See earlier, "Cursed are the peacemakers.")

Carpathia goes on to explain why he rejects the rapture theory:

" … I know many, many more people who should be gone if the righteous were taken to heaven. If there is a God, I respectfully submit that this is not the capricious way in which he would operate. By the same token, you will not hear me express any disrespect for those who disagree."

Notice that Carpathia speaks of "the righteous," where the journalist spoke of the "church." I'm not sure how to read this.

I suspect that what's intended here is to underscore something about justification by faith, rather than by works. That's familiarly Augustinian/Calvinist, although I'm not sure Calvin would have recognized the idea that God's grace was conditional upon the recitation of a sectarian formula. But I'll leave that discussion to the Calvinist scholars.

What's more interesting here is Carpathia's objection that the rapture theory makes God seem "capricious." This echoes Chloe's earlier, also unanswered, objections based on what this whole scenario would suggest about God's character. L&J keep bringing up such objections, but never really respond to them. You expect some kind of apologetics — something like, Some will argue that this makes God seem capricious/vindictive, but this objection is not valid because … — but it never comes. This suggests they're mentioned as a warning to insiders rather than as an attempt to engage with or persuade outsiders. Thus only something like, Some will argue that this makes God seem capricious/vindictive, so don't listen to such people.

Buck was then astonished to hear Carpathia say that he had been invited to speak at the upcoming ecumenical religious confab scheduled that month in New York. …

"Ecumenical" is another bogeyman word here. Generally speaking, it should be read here as connoting "relativistic, truth-denying." Keep in mind also that Tim LaHaye is a longtime John Birch Society member, and that the main offices for the ecumenical National Council of Churches are in New York, in a building donated by John D. Rockefeller, and you'll begin to get a sense of how ominous and portentous this is meant to seem. For LaHaye, the arrival of the Antichrist at 475 Riverside Drive will be a fulfillment of its intended purpose just as the Antichrist's triumphal entry at the U.N. fulfilled the secret, nefarious purpose of that institution.

At the "confab," Carpathia says:

"… I will discuss my views of millenarianism, eschatology, the Last Judgment and the second coming of Christ. Dr. Rosenzweig was kind enough to arrange that invitation, and until then I think it would be best if I did not attempt to speak on those subjects informally."

This seems intended as broad satire of the pointy-headed intellectual theologians one might encounter in one of those ecumenical denominations. "Millenarianism" and "eschatology" are not terms that L&J tend to use themselves — they prefer less academic phrases like "prophecy." By placing such terms in the mouth of the Antichrist, they're poking fun at intellectuals, theologians and those who would choose the worldly, high-falutin' sophistication of seminary over of the unvarnished, unambiguous truth-telling of a humble Bible College.

Carpathia's promised discourse on these subjects seems to be met with eager anticipation. That's a bit odd — I can't imagine why such an audience would be interested in listening to such a speaker on this particular topic. Carpathia is not claiming to be a religious scholar, or even a Christian, and the upcoming interfaith gathering will be comprised of people like Rosenzweig, most of whom aren't terribly interested in the first coming of Christ, let alone the possibility of his return. And I'm not sure that either Carpathia or the authors appreciates what "millenarianism" means (they seem to think his utopian scheme for peace through universal disarmament isn't millenarian).

Carpathia goes on to explain that he'll be staying in New York for another month, "If the people of Romania will permit me." And why shouldn't they? I'm sure when they chose him as their leader in a special election miraculously conducted amid the aftermath of the Event, that the people of Romania were expecting he would leave four days later and spent the next month abroad, conducting important business like interviews with People magazine.

– – – – – – – – – – – –

* Most likely "he," since there's nothing here to suggest this unidentified journalist is either a Madonna or a whore.

** Alternate theory: This journalist is the only remaining staff of the "Rapture Index" or some similar "prophecy" newsletter, a token infidel who was hired in a stroke of forward-thinking genius as a way to ensure continued post-Rapture publication. Or, of course, he's simply another character who read the back cover of the book.

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