A Review of Rapture Fiction and the Evangelical Crisis – Appendix – “Alternatives to Dispensationalism”

November 10, 2007

Gribben concludes his book with an appendix called “Alternatives to Dispensationalism.” It is of course very true that there are other alternatives to a dispensational view of the Scriptures. Yet, does Gribben effectively understand dispensationalism so as to offer helpful alternatives to the movement?

He first notes that we must all acknowledge dispensational distinctives, in that he means that there are different epochs in redemption history that we need to note. Even the staunch opponent to dispensationalism notes the differences in 2 dispensations; namely the Old and New Testament. But because of this, we note that therefore this is not necessarily a distinctive of dispensationalism. We refer then to the sine qua non of dispensationalism. The major hallmarks of dispensationalism is a distinction between Israel and the Church, a literal hermeneutic, and viewing God’s main purpose in history as that of pursuing His glory. But Gribben does note these things later.

He looks briefly at the systematization of dispensationalism by Darby and the revision of the 1967 Scofield Bible. He then notes the change toward Progressive Dispensationalism and the work of Bock and Blaising and others. He notes the change on the view of Israel in this movment and the question of whether they are truly dispensationalists any longer.

He then explains the arrival of New Covenant Theology and the distinction between it and Reformed Baptist Covenant Theology and their emphasis on either the first or the second London Baptist Confession of Faith. He then looks at Reformed Paedo-Baptist theology and finally notes that any disagreement between the various movements should be done with grace. He finally notes that one does not have to be a dispensationalist to be a premillennialist.

It is not Gribben’s intention to go in-depth on the different positions but simply to say there are different positions outside of dispensationalism. In that I agree. I may quibble about the differences and how he views the importance of some of the non-dispensational distinctives but overall, Gribben traces the differences fairly well. It would have been nicer if this section was longer and more in-depth.

Overall, Gribben’s book is absolutely tremendous. As a dispensationalist I feel it is important to look at the popular mainstream approach to our theology and note the problems and work to fix them and to focus our eyes on the true gospel! Evangelicalism has issues. We are a movement without true theological moorings. We must heed Gribben’s call to faithfulness to the Scriptures and to the Gospel of Jesus Christ! Whether you are a dispensationalist, a progressive, a New Covenant Theologian, or a covenant theologian, you need to read this book! Could not be recommended any higher!


A Review of “Rapture Fiction and the Evangelical Crisis” by Crawford Gribben – Chapter 7 – “Eschatology and Evangelical Renewal”

October 20, 2007

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Now, I suppose when you promise to review a book every Saturday until you are finished you should probably do that! Now, considering it has been almost 5 months since I started reviewing my friend Crawford’s book, Rapture Fiction and the Evangelical Crisis, I should probably get to finishing it! So, without further ado, here is chapter 7! Next week, I will try to review the final part of the book, the Appendix and give my summary conclusions.

Gribben starts off with a discussion about the generally pessimistic outlook of Rapture Fiction. He notes that instead of just thinking that this time between the two comings of Christ we have very real positive requirements of the church. “Our duties as we wait for the Lord from heaven, include the constant pursuit of the reformation of the church, its doctrine and practice, and the constant pursuit of increasing purity in the Christan life” (p. 112). He is right. For far too long have we of the dispensational premillennial persuasion just simply stuck our heads in the sand as we wait for the Rapture instead of actively following the Lord’s commands for us now between Christ’s comings!

He notes a blessing of the eschatological framework of the Rapture Fiction is that of the “now” and “not yet” in that we look toward the Blessed Hope of the Lord’s return. While we have wonderful blessings now, we must still look forward to and yearn for the culmination of God’s redemptive plan. We have communion with the saints in heaven as we look forward to enjoying what they enjoy now.

This fellowship of the saints should influence how we live together as believers here in the “now.” Everything we do in the life of the church should reflect the wonderful “now” blessings but should look forward to the even better “not yet” things to come. Therefore things like the Lord’s Supper should reflect that wonderful time of Christ’s return.

But, we live in a fallen world where we are in a constant battle as believers. We cannot live in the future “not yet” when we are not there yet. We must live in the “now” as we deal with a sin cursed world and try to achieve holiness. “So the fallen world will one day be renewed. In the meantime, Christians should be busy, for the fallen word is the sphere of our activity” (p. 114).

All believers are going home even though things here on earth seem grim. There is a wonderful future awaiting for us should we reach death or the Lord’s return. We must constantly think and reflect on the blessed hope to come. This is the strength of Gribben’s book. It is not necessarily the eschatological position of the Rapture Fiction which is wrong, it is an incorrect emphasis on it to the neglect of the here and now. While we live for the future, we live in the now. Any eschatological position that reminds us to live here and now as we pursue holiness yet keep our minds on the blessed hope of the Lord’s return is good. While Evangelicalism is in a theological crisis, it is not the doctrine of eschatology that is the cause. In light of the Lord’s return though, we should be focusing on continued reform in the church as we seek to honour God in the life of the church.

This is perhaps Gribben’s strongest chapter. I would recommend the book (and it is well worth the price) for this simple chapter alone. We all, no matter what eschatological position, must remember that we live in the hear and now not in the future, but we should not neglect the future either. It gives us hope and causes us to persevere in the here and now.

Next week, I will review Gribben’s appendix where he actually deals with issues of differing eschatological framework’s. So far, a hearty endorsement for this book. It should remind us all about the theological anemia in the church today and why continued theological reformation is needed.


A Review of “Rapture Fiction and the Evangelical Crisis” by Crawford Gribben – Chapter 6 – “The Bible and the Future of Humanity”

May 28, 2007

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Continuing on with Gribben’s book, Rapture Fiction and the Evangelical Crisis, we begin a new chapter focusing on what essentially the Scripture teaches about the second coming of Christ. Gribben starts off on a very positive note by writing, “Whatever the problems we might see in Left Behind, or in rapture fiction more generally, the novels are right about this — Jesus Christ is coming back” (p. 98).

Gribben sees in the church today as failing to live in the light of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. He mentions postmillennialism and preterism as contributing to this problem. Our failure to think that the Second Coming is imminent has left Christians living in sin and immorality and not living with hope.

He notes a number of issues of why Christians fail to think about prophecy including fear of the end, and fear of creating dissension. Gribben is right to note that instead we should have a profound desire to study the end times and no what to expect and to live in light of that!

He also rightly notes that eschatology should prompt unbelievers to have a desire to repent and turn to Christ! Knowing what the Scriptures say regarding the truth of what will happen in the end should motivate us to share the gospel and to motivate unbelievers to embrace it. Truly, there will be a place for us in the future, but it will depend on who’s side we stand.

Overall, I have nothing to disagree with Gribben on in this chapter (what a surprise eh Crawford?). Eschatology should motivate believers to perseverance and hope and good works and to share the gospel with a lost and dying world. Our focus is not on eschatology for eschatology’s sake, but for the sake of God and the gospel. Truly we have failed in our insipid evangelicalism. And this is what the Left Behind series reflects. The problems are not necessarily with their eschatological schema, but with their failure to understand the true nature and requirements of the gospel.

In light of our individualistic, salad bar Christianity today, whatever eschatological position we hold to we should remember that Christ is coming back, and that we should live in holiness for Him motivated to share the true gospel with the rest of the world in light of this fact.


A Review of “Rapture Fiction and the Evangelical Crisis” by Crawford Gribben – Chapter 5 – “Left Behind, the Church and the Christian Life”

April 30, 2007

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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.


A Review of “Rapture Fiction and the Evangelical Crisis” by Crawford Gribben – Chapter 4 – “Left Behind and the Gospel”

March 31, 2007

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Gribben starts off this chapter with a fresh reminder that the Gospel is of utmost importance. The Scriptures remind us of the importance of maintaining the purity of the Gospel. It is because of this that Gribben is rightly concerned about what kind of Gospel is being taught in current Rapture fiction especially the Left Behind series.

Gribben graciously reminds us of where the authors of Left Behind came from. Both Jenkins and LaHaye started off tremendous. Their ministries and writings were focused on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Even in the intention of the series the author’s focus is clearly evangelistic. So Gribben posts the question of whether since God is blessing this series, he should be judging its presentation of the Christian faith.

Gribben notes that the Left Behind series gets it right in a number of places. The morality inherent in the series is not just a reflection of evangelicalism but is derived from the Scriptures themselves. There is a genuine desire in the series as well to see a spiritual change in America. They recognize the mariginal status of true Christianity. Even though perhaps more than are warranted are taken in the rapture (on Rayford’s flight when the rapture occurs, one hundred people are missing) there is still the focus that people are born in sin and separated from God. Salvation is the gift of God and not of works.

If the series gets all of this right, where does it go wrong? Gribben note a number of issues that are reflective of the thinking of American evangelicalism at large. One thing he notes is the disappearance of all babies and pre-teenage children in the rapture. The presupposition is all those who cannot understand the Gospel will be raptured. Gribben notes there is some biblical support for the idea. Yet, Gribben is cautious here. He rightly condemns the idea of an “age of accountability”; that those under some arbitrary age are somehow automatically saved. Scripture does not say this. Gribben is correct to write, “If all children under the age of twelve are save, they are saved because God has applied to them the benefits of his Son’s death” (p. 69). This is exactly right. While we cannot fully understand the mysteries of God, from what the Scriptures teach us about original sin and salvation, the only reason babies and little children are saved is because God applied the atoning work of Christ to them as well (for a good look into this issue see Ronald H. Nash, When a Baby Dies: Answers to Comfort Grieving Parents [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999]).

Gribben also comments on the failure to explain some key concepts to the process of salvation. The series rightly reiterates the Scriptural teaching that God wants all to be saved but never explains why the sovereign God of the universe does not actually save all. Of course, this delves into issues of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility which are outside of the scope of this review, yet it is something that needed to be clarified. Is God impotent or what? Clearly, the series does not present God as being truly sovereign. He sits idly by and allows humanity to decide whether or not they will “let God bless them.” According to the series God is a careless absentee monarch who has given responsibility to govern this world to his enemy.  Gribben is right to note that this is dangerous and presents a faulty view of God.

The sinner’s prayer is another problematic issue in the Left Behind series. Gribben notes that “The meaning of spiritual death is never fully considered in the series. If ‘there is none that seeketh after God’ (Rom. 3:11), and God cannot seek after individuals, then there is no basis for their reconciliation. If individuals are ‘dead’ to God, and he is unable to press his attentions upon them, it is impossible that anyone should be saved. But, in the novels, reconciliation is possible and frequently attained through characters’ use of the ‘Sinner’s Prayer'” (p. 71).

To so-called belief that a simple prayer guarantees one’s salvation is reflective of a theologically weak evangelicalism. It is popularly employed by many evangelists. “Just pray this prayer and you will be saved.” Just because it is popular does not make it right, says Gribben (p. 72).  Gribben hits the mark dead on in this extended quote.

“Across the world, evangelical churches are filled with people who believe that they are Christians on the basis of a prayer they once prayed. But the Bible never teaches us that we are saved through a prayer. Neither do the apostles ever instruct their hearers that praying a prayer with these specified components will guarantee salvation. This emphasis on the Sinner’s Prayer is perhaps one of the most concerning aspects of the novels’ presentation of the gospel, for we are saved by faith, not the utterance of a prayer, and it is only too possible that the mechanistic idea of salvation the novels develop will encourage people without saving faith to believe they have been saved because they have recited a set form of words. The Sinner’s Prayer is a myth that has made possible the corruption of the modern evangelical church, channeling many who have never known the saving grace of God into membership of his churches” (p. 72-73).

This is a problem in all of modern evangelicalism. The prayer becomes the object of faith instead of Jesus Christ being the object of faith. The series presents salvation as being too easy; as having no commitment and necessary fruitful works.

Another issue in the series is that of free will and a second chance after the rapture. Gribben is right to note that this is an incredibly debated area of dispensational thought. In fact, in my own ministries I have heard statements that none will be saved after the rapture, or that there will be only one chance for salvation, etc. Most scholarly dispensationalists would admit that there are opportunities for salvation after the rapture just as before but that the requirement is still faith in Jesus Christ. Even stranger is how the series starts to abandon its views on free will and argues that free will disappears and that people will not be able to choose or deny Christ.

Gribben notes that even scarier is the equation of baptism with salvation. In the first installment in another series based on the Left Behind series, Apocalypse Dawn, it is argued that baptism is like resurrection. It is not symbolic of faith in Christ but is equivalent to life in Christ. This is dangerous and opposed to the teaching of Scripture.

Gribben is right. There are some things about the rapture fiction genre which are good yet there is much to be concerned over. The nature of the true Gospel is at stake here! I personally read most of the Left Behind series back when I was in high school and had never really thought about what was really being said but instead was caught up in the movement of the story. Gribben has opened my eyes to the danger of corrupting the Gospel in any way. As I continue to study the Word, theology, and culture, I am scared for the future of Christianity. May many read this call to return to a pure Gospel!


A Review of “Rapture Fiction and the Evangelical Crisis” by Crawford Gribben – Chapter 3 – “The Origins of Rapture Fiction”

March 4, 2007

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Gribben continues his look at popular “rapture fiction” in chapter 3 titled, “The Origins of Rapture Fiction.” In this fascinating chapter, Gribben introduces us to the genre of rapture fiction and traces its themes, placing the current bestseller phenomenon of the Left Behind series and its derivatives, in the same stream. Gribben here begins to hint at the doctrinal weakness of the Gospel in this modern rapture fiction.

Gribben begins by reminding us of the popular Hal Lindsey and his modern dispensational interpretative scheme by interpreting prophecies not literally, but with a modern touch. Locusts become helicopters. Riders on horseback with swords become tanks. This is the Dispensationalism that most people are familiar with. It is the sensational Dispensationalism of the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. Unfortunately, this is the worst form of Dispensationalism not taken by the movement’s best scholars. I remember myself sitting in a class in seminary on the Book of Revelation with the professor saying, “yes, if the Bible said the blood rises to the bridle of the horse, then that is what happens!” He never thought for a second these horses were tanks!

Gribben reminds us that Lindsey did not begin the popular dispensational approach. He introduces us to Sydney Watson who did not originate the genre but was perhaps the most popular of early rapture fiction writers. Gribben shows us the themes of Watson’s work. The main idea is simply the world is falling deeper and deeper into immorality (a hallmark of Premillennial eschatology) and that the only solution for problems like urbanization, and the growing ecumenical movement and higher criticism in the church.

These themes continue in modern rapture fiction. Things have had to be adjusted over time (for example the fall of the USSR and the end of the cold war forced writers to no longer view Russia as the apocalyptic enemy but rogue states joined together in a new world order) but the idea that the faithless are left behind remains the same.

One major aspect that Gribben notes that has changed is the view of Roman Catholicism. For instance, when talking about Watson’s works he writes, “Naturally, Roman Catholicism is vilified, and those ‘ultra-Protestants’ who resist her claims are patriots as well as puritans” (p. 47). The change comes rather abruptly in the modern rapture fiction. Gribben writes,

“The novel’s presentation of Catholicism has often been criticized, but observers have consistently failed to appreciate the watershed in evangelical opinion that these novels represent. Historically, evangelical exegetes have either identified the Pope as the Antichrist or have predicted that Roman Catholicism would be central in the end-times persecution of true believers. Left Behind challenges these assumptions, echoing a major re-thinking of evangelical attitudes to Catholicism” (p. 52).

Gribben traces other strange developments in the spin-offs of the Left Behind series. For instance, there is question about Mel Odom’s Apocalypse Dawn where either he advocates a partial rapture or that people can lose their salvation. Either of these are theological changes from what modern Dispensationalism would adhere.

Gribben in concluding this chapter is right to note that the modern rapture fiction’s focus is on developing an empire. With spin offs in movies, toys, etc., it is clear that disaster fiction always sells whether it is secular or Christian. Even worse than this, Gribben notes that these books sell because “evangelicals have lost the capacity to judge whether the novels’ theological presuppositions are actually true” (p. 61).

Gribben’s survey of the rapture fiction genre is excellent. It places the modern rapture fiction in the older stream of the genre but shows some disturbing new theological changes. Modern rapture fiction is not representative of what mainstream Dispensationalism believes. Gribben is right on when simply he says evangelicals will buy anything and cannot discern right from wrong any longer when it comes to theological truth. For instance, the believe that the Pope is raptured amongst the faithful is difficult to swallow based on Roman Catholicism’s inherent opposition to the freedom of faith alone in Jesus Christ.

I am anxious to continue reading and interacting with this fascinating book. While I continue to adhere to a form of Dispensationalism I am horrified by Gribben’s revelations of the core theological problems related to the nature of the Gospel in these books. I continue to encourage all evangelical pastors and laymen to carefully read this book as a helpful treatment for the error of modern rapture fiction.


A Review of "Rapture Fiction and the Evangelical Crisis" by Crawford Gribben – Chapter 2 – "The Origins of the Secret Rapture"

February 17, 2007

Gribben, in chapter 2, begins to present for us the historical backdrop for a belief in a “secret rapture.” I am finding more and more that Gribben is an extremely faithful historian who works hard to prevent his biases from influencing his historical narrative. I think my sole concern in this chapter is the designation of “secret” rapture!

Gribben presents for us the history of the adoption of a pre-tribulational rapture in the life of the church. Gribben traces its mainstream adoption of the doctrine to John Nelson Darby and the Plymouth Brethren. He discounts the repeated negative assertions that it was originally developed in the ecstatic utterance of Margaret Macdonald, but instead, brings a newer twist (at least to this reviewer), of an origin in a French Roman Catholic sect! Gribben though rightly acknowledges that when and where a doctrine develops is not really the issue but simply if one faithfully derives that doctrine from the Word of God. He may disagree with the theology of a “secret” rapture, but still is honest in this assertion.

He argues against those (including the generally good Systematic Theologian, Robert Reymond), who continue to misunderstand dispensationalism despite the arguments of its best theologians. Gribben cites Charles Ryrie and his groundbreaking Dispensationalism Today as representative of those who continue to oppose those who label dispensationalism as a movement that teaches more than one way of salvation. My one question is, why do those who interact with dispensationalism always interact with Ryrie’s original 1965 edition (which Gribben notes is older) and does not reference his updated 1995 edition? If Ryrie is one of dispensationalism’s best theologians should we not be following even his most up-to-date work?

Gribben’s history of the “secret” rapture is fascinating. The political origins, which most certainly seem right, of the rapture doctrine really force those of us who adhere to a pre-tribulational rapture to argue for our doctrine from a purely exegetical and theological approach. If one is looking for a more detailed look at the history of dispensationalism especially as it was developed by Darby check out, Larry V. Crutchfield, The Origins of Dispensationalism: The Darby Factor (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1992).

Gribben concludes the chapter dealing with the qualms that some of evangelicalism’s heavy hitters make about the so-called anti-intellectual nature of Fundamentalism’s pre-tribulatinal, premillennial theology. Of course, any fringe group in any movement can be charged with anti-intellectualism. Truly, Fundamentalism as a whole, in its key theological leaders and schools, was hardly anti-intellectual. They simply were not as involved socially as those who are complaining about them. This thinking on the part of the Fundamentalists was surely influenced by their eschatology, but not solely. Regardless, Gribben is right to note that the major problem in modern evangelicalism is not the pre-tribulational, premillennial theology of many, but the weak view of the gospel!

Gribben is an excellent writer who makes history incredibly interesting. I am looking forward to continue reading this book. It has been encouraging to see Gribben, who does not take the position I hold, treat the position with respect. And I continue to agree that the view of the gospel presented in the “Left Behind” theology and modern evangelicalism, requires a tremendous reappraisal!

I continue to recommend this book to those engaged on all sides of the “dispensational” debate, to those engaged in the ministry, but even more so, those in the pews who are reading these bestselling “Rapture Fictions.”