In the 1970s, Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth was the “no. 1 non-fiction best-seller of the decade” according to the New York Times. To summarize, the book interpreted current events through the lens of biblical “prophecy” and convinced a lot of people that they were living in the last generation and that the next big event would be “The Rapture” of the church, or in layman’s terms, all the Christians would magically disappear off the earth. There were elaborate gymnastics done with scripture to try to prove whether or not this would happen before, during, or after “The Great Tribulation,” or in layman’s terms, a seven year shit-storm of god’s wrath upon the earth. Yeah, that’s right, it was categorized as “non-fiction.”
Basically, we’re talking about one of the most horrifying and awesome apocalyptic movie pitches you’ve ever heard. 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow have nothing on this. For decades, Evangelical churches (the proud owners of these fun doctrines) were inundated with sermons, books, and classes detailing these shortly coming events. Predictions were made, people were converted, possessions were sold, predictions didn’t pan out, recalculations were done, more predictions were made, more people were converted, more lives were ruined, etc., etc.
In the mid-90s, the Left Behind series of books by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins began to be published. Wildly popular among Evangelicals, the books are a fictional account of what is considered to be real future events: beginning with the rapture and moving through (16 books and) the Great Tribulation all the way to earth’s final days. An unsuccessful movie attempt in 2000 with Kirk Cameron hasn’t thwarted Hollywood from making a more expensive version with Nicholas Cage that will be at a theater near you soon. And why not? There’s a built-in audience. Yes, there are still people all around you who believe these things and are waiting to disappear off the face of the earth.
Having been away from it for a number of years, I can now see it for what it is: an aberrational teaching, new on the scene, confined to a smaller part of Christianity, and in the end just a bunch of silliness. The problem is that the people in this bubble of Evangelicalism don’t see it that way. It’s a major teaching, possibly one of the more important teachings, or at least it used to be. Entire prophecy conferences and retreats have been devoted to this. I haven’t heard much about it lately (nor have I thought much about it) and I’ve been assuming that it’s dying out, that those who have spent years teaching it are thinking better of continuing to promote it and maybe even hoping it will disappear quietly into the night. Then Nick Cage comes along and I’m realizing it’s still a thing.
A quick Google search and you’ll find that Chuck Smith’s books about the rapture are still available. He’s the the one that taught me all about it decades ago. Of course, his book that said the rapture will happen by 1981 is no longer available. As Jason so aptly put it in our podcast below, “Maybe you haven’t miscalculated your math. Maybe you’ve miscalculated the fact that you should just shut the $%&# up.”