A Review of "Rapture Fiction and the Evangelical Crisis" by Crawford Gribben – Preface and Chapter 1 – "The Rapture Fiction Phenomenon"

In this first post on a review of Rapture Fiction and the Evangelical Crisis by Crawford Gribben we’ll introduce you all to Dr. Gribben, treat a little bit of the reasons for writing and his background in the preface to the book, and treat chapter 1 of the book, “The Rapture Fiction Phenomenon.”

Dr. Gribben is the lecturer in Renaissance literature and culture at the University of Manchester, a member of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church and the author of The Irish Puritans: James Usher and the Reformation of the Church (also from Evangelical Press). Before his current post at Manchester, he taught in the School of English at Trinity College, Dublin, and was a visiting lecturer at the University of Lausanne and a visiting scholar at Westminster College, Cambridge. He is a fellow of the Royal Historical Society . His research interests centre on three major themes: the literary culture of puritanism; relationships between literature and theology, especially in Irish and Scottish contexts; and the history of apocalyptic and millennial thought (taken from the back of the book).

In the preface to the book, Gribben identifies the main reason for writing. He rightly notes the theological decay in much of evangelicalism and specifically in the modern “rapture fiction” movement so characterized by the Left Behind saga.

He importantly explains that he is not specifically arguing against dispensational premillennialism rightly because eschatology is less important of an issue than the Gospel. He notes people like James Montgomery Boice and John MacArthur who are defendants of dispensationalism yet continue to hold a solidly Reformed soteriology. I think though, as a side note, Gribben continues to assume that normally dispensationalism embraces a “free grace” view of sanctification based on his footnote comments on MacArthur. It should be known that there is no decidedly dispensational view of sanctification (see for instance Jonathan R. Pratt, “Dispensational Sanctification: A Misnomer” Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal 7 (Fall 2002): 95-108). He also is not arguing against dispensationalism because his background where he was saved was within Brethren assemblies of those who were committed to dispensationalism.

Gribben starts off on the right foot. He sets us dispensationalists at ease realizing that he is not trying to tear apart our movement but instead is attacking problem areas within the movement. For that, he is commended.

Chapter 1 of the book titled, “The Rapture Fiction Phenomenon,” sets the stage for the rest of the book by introducing us to the genre of “rapture literature.” He rightly acknowledges that the world is “future obsessed.” Hollywood continues to produce end-time movies which the populace gobbles up. Y2K and 9-11 only served to fuel the desire and obsession of people in the end times. Gribben does an excellent job of tracing the developing obsession with the end times over the last number of decades.

Gribben rightly notes what the popular dispensationalism of America believes regarding the rapture of the Church and the 7 year Tribulation period and rightly notes the political connection between popular dispensationalism and an American way of life. But, more importantly, he correctly notes that the political and mainstream beliefs of popular dispensationalism is not necessarily shared by the theologians of the movement (he quotes Stephen Spencer and J. Dwight Pentecost, both of Dallas Theological Seminary fame, as being those of a more “theological” dispensationalism).

He correctly notes how dispensationalism grew through the Scofield reference Bible and the ministry of Moody Press. Much of the Bible Institute movement was decidedly dispensational in the beginning. While popular dispensationalism has deteriorated from a biblical/theological framework, the original beginnings of the popular movement were decidedly biblical and theological as people once again had a desire to study out the Word of God.

I think Gribben is the right man to have written this book. While he is not a dispensationalist he does not characterize dispensationalism as a doctrine of the devil as some have come to from other camps. He rightly acknowledges that one can be a dispensationalist and still hold to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As a dispensationalist I am glad to see this recognition. And more so, I am glad that someone has taken the time to identify the problems of “popular dispensationalism” and attempt to deal with their watered down form of the Gospel.

I look forward to continuing to interact with Gribben and this book. I think it is a valuable book for informed laymen and those in the ministry to read and interact with. If popular dispensationalism is as popular as Gribben says it is, we have much to fear if they water down the Gospel.

Next week we will review and interact with Gribben’s second chapter, “The Origins of the Secret Rapture.”

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