Gribben continues his critique of Left Behind and generally all rapture fiction by dealing now with issues of ecclesiology and the Christian life in general. Gribben at this point will begin to cause people to perk up their ears; especially dispensationalists. Many may not agree with Gribben’s critiques of dispensational theology, but overall, he is on track in noting the many problems within the Left Behind theology.
His first issue he finds in the Left Behind material as well as in most dispensational writing is the problem of not referring to those who are saved after the rapture as the Church. Gribben is right to note that the phrase “tribulation saints” does not occur anywhere in the Scriptures to refer to those saved after the rapture. But, what should we call those who are saved after the rapture? If the rapture removes the church from the physical sphere of the earth? Then who are these Christians? Dispensationalists would normally argue that these hearken back to Old Testament believers. For instance, dispensationalists argue that there is no need for the ordinances since the Church has been removed. There is no need to celebrate communion for the Lord has come (1 Cor 11:26).
The major problem though, is the Gribben does not offer a reasonable alternative. He is right to note that these ordinances are a “means of grace” in a sense (p. 86). He does not adequately deal with what dispensationalists argue regarding the ceasing of the ordinances following the removal of the church at the rapture. He also is not very convincing in his reasons for calling these individuals “the church.” Regardless, he is right in my opinion regarding the low view of the church in today’s theology. But, not calling these individuals the church, I am not convinced, creates a low view of the church. Of course, progressive dispensationalists do not necessarily argue that there are two peoples of God (I believe in one people of God) but that there are two distinctions between the two groups (Israel and the Church) (see p. 82).
Also, I would correct Gribben’s thinking about dispensationalism and the New Covenant (p. 85). Many modern dispensationalists argue that the church does indeed participate in the New Covenant today (see R. Bruce Compton’s, “Dispensationalism, the Church, and the New Covenant” in Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal).
Regarding worship and church life as depicted in the Left Behind series, I would whole-heartedly agree with Gribben in that the series seriously downplays the required corporate element of being part of the Church (whether we call it the church or not). Of course, this is quite typical of our salad bar type Christianity today where you take what you want and leave what you do not and never commit to anything. The local church is of such importance to us in this dispensation (to use a good dispensational term!) that our whole lives should be governed around it. The local church is of the highest priority in the life of the believer, despite what modern Evangelicalism believes. With Gribben I agree with this. The Left Behind series does a serious disservice to Christianity on this issue.
Also, Gribben is right to note the problems with the spirituality outlined in the Left Behind series. It does reflect a very mystical spirituality which is foreign to the Scriptures.
Gribben also has issues with how the Left Behind series portrays the relationship of the Christian to the Law (p. 91). Of course, Gribben is right to note the difference between what classical dispensationalism has taught on the issue compared to the idea of being under no law at all in the Left Behind series. Of course, dispensationalists are not antinomians. We are under the Law of Christ. But, we are not under the Law of Moses (although Gribben is incorrect regarding dispensationalists and the teaching of Christ. Only some believe the teachings of Christ [i.e the Sermon on the Mount for example] are not for today). You cannot divide the law up into various arbitrary divisions because you do not want to be under the civil or ceremonial law. The law is one whole. You are either under it, or you are not (see Alva McClain’s, Law and Grace).
Finally, Gribben’s covenant theology permeates a lot of thinking. He is very opposed to the idea of not calling those in the tribulation period the church, because of course he believes that all covenant believers, regardless of the dispensation, have been the church. This of course as a dispensationalist I cannot agree with for various reasons. I would of course direct readers to a number of publications that deal with this issue most specifically, Charles Ryrie’s, Dispensationalism and Renald Showers’, There Really is a Difference!
Apart from these caveats, I agree with Gribben’s premise. There is a low view of the church today and the Left Behind series are not helping. Do not turn to them for effective teaching in areas of ecclesiology. We, covenant theologians, new covenant theologians, and dispensationalists alike, should uphold a very high view of the church today.