There’s a new sculpture in St Anne’s Square in Belfast. Crafted by Lucy Glendinning, it is the figure of a woman being lifted up to the heavens. She faces out towards St Anne’s Cathedral, and it appears she is being ‘raptured’, taken up to meet the Lord in the air. I think the sculpture looks great.
For those of us who grew up within evangelicalism, the coming Rapture was a prominent theme in the sermons we heard and the Sunday School lessons we attended. We were told that the Rapture is what will happen when Jesus comes back and rescues all the people who have been ‘born again’ or ‘saved,’ sparing them from a period of seven years of woe and punishment on the earth.
In my youth group in my American high school, I remember watching a movie about this coming event. The film featured scenes of chaos as Christians all over the planet were spirited away. All that was left behind was their clothing, folded very neatly on the seats of cars, airplanes, etc.
(Oh, and the film – the name of which I do not recall – featured footage from all over the world and I remember that the rioting looked the worst in Belfast, Northern Ireland!)
The case for the Rapture is usually made based on passages of Scripture in the book of Revelations, as well as 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 and Matthew 24:29-31. It was not until I went to university that I discovered that theories about the Rapture had only begun to be developed in the 1700s. I didn’t know that most Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican and Calvinist denominations did not accept the version of the Rapture that I had been taught.
The interpretation of the Rapture offered by the churches I attended as a youth is based on the theology of John Nelson Darby, an Anglo-Irish evangelist who came up with the idea of the pre-tribulation rapture in the 1820s. Darby’s dispensationalist theology has been especially influential in evangelical churches in the United States.
Versions of Darby’s ideas are offered in popular books such as the Scofield Reference Bible and, more recently, the ‘Left Behind’ series, which detail the adventures of people who, previously ‘unsaved,’ have been left behind during the Tribulation and are now trying to remain faithful to God. There is even a Rapture Watch website, whose posts include instructions for those who are left behind after the Rapture.
One way in which evangelicals have spread their ideas about the Rapture is through tracts. If you live in Belfast, Ballymena, or some cities and towns in the US, you may have been offered these palm-sized pamphlets as you walk down the street. The churches I attended as a child always had a wide selection of tracts in the foyer, with topics ranging from the Rapture to how to be saved, for us to take away and hand out to friends.
Peter Rollins, the post-modern philosopher and theologian, has created his own ‘Rapture’ tract. Rollins plans to distribute the tracts during his ‘Insurrection’ tour, which is being launched in at the Re-Emergence Conference in Belfast, 16-18 March 2010. On his blog, Rollins says he is making the tracts
‘available to anyone who might be interested in doing a little street evandalism (handing them out, placing them on buses, hiding them in Christian book shops, slipping them into people’s pockets etc.).’
Of course, Rollins’ Rapture doesn’t have quite the same ending as the one offered by John Nelson Darby or the modern dispensationalists. If you are not able to attend the Re-Emergence Conference or another insurrection event, you can get a batch of tracts at cost price by contacting Rollins directly.