(The post formerly known as http://oldmaid.jallman.net/entry.php?id=2 )
In alphabetical order by author, the five books of our study are as follows.
Name: Rapture: The End-Times Error that Leaves the Bible Behind
Author: David Currie
Book orientation (denomination): Roman Catholic
(eschatological stance): preterist and amillennial
Author’s Background: Grew up rapturist. Became pastor and/or missionary. Reasoned his way out of rapturism and into Catholicism.
Estimation of reading level: Completed high school and up. Younger students feeling ambitious can give it a try.
Unique features of this book (major): Currie begins with some 15-20 true stories of rapturists who changed their lives and the lives of those around them out of loyalty to the rapturist belief system. What follows is the most detailed preterist interpretation of Revelation of the Apocalypse to be written in many years. Currie employs over 1,300 references to scripture, the early Church fathers and their contemporaries among secular historians. In addition to the massive text on Revelation this book features chapters on Daniel, the Olivet Discourse, various Epistles, and the book of Zechariah.
Unique features of this book (side excursions): Currie seems to have had a few encounters with the 7th Day Adventists and takes some pages to address their concerns. Adventists strenuously reject the first-century decision to worship on Sundays instead of on the Jewish Shabbat as required by the Ten Commandments. In response Currie produces a prophecy in Zechariah 14 that, he says, authorizes this change. According to Currie’s interpretation of Zech. 14, after Messiah comes most of the Jewish holidays will cease to be observed as they have served their purpose. However Zech. 14:16-19 prophesies that the Festival of Booths (sometimes translated the Festival of Tabernacles) will continue to be celebrated. What day does Torah declare to be the day of rest during the Feast of Booths? It is on the first day of the week, on Sunday. (See Lev. 23:33-36.) Therefore according to Currie, Jews worship on Shabbat as a testimony that they are waiting for Messiah. Christians worship on Sunday as a testimony that they believe Jesus is that Messiah. Your host does not know if Adventists have heard this response, and if so, what their response may be.
Personal observations: This is a brick of a book. A total of 528 pages and printed on heavy bond, this book could hold open a door … which metaphorically speaking it was clearly intended to do. Don’t let the size scare you. It’s very readable and user-friendly, with short paragraphs and clear labels. Although Currie occasionally roots for the home team he is not obnoxious about it. The open-minded non-Catholic, or possibly non-Christian, should be able to read most of it without having their sensibilities squiffed too badly.
Name: Rapture Culture: “Left Behind” in Evangelical America
Author: Amy Johnson Frykholm
Book orientation (field of study): academic and feminist.
(denomination): Honestly? I don’t know. Byassee states Frykholm was largely nonreligious when she researched her book. However not too long ago I noticed a cover article, written by Frykholm, in the March 8th (2005) issue of The Christian Century. In “Soul Food: Why Fasting Makes Sense” she describes herself as “a lifelong Protestant, at various times attending Presbyterian, Baptist and Methodist churches and eventually an Episcopalian church.” Now I have no idea what to call her. We only know that her research must have begun no later than the year 2000 and a lot can happen in five years.
Author’s Background: Grew up in rapturist and evangelical environments but was unable to reconcile them with her childhood passion for feminist biblical scholarship. After “distancing” herself from the church to pursue her studies, Frykholm became a university professor. In time she reconnected with a beloved aunt and uncle who happened to be rapturist. In this context Frykholm was introduced to Left Behind by relatives she trusted. She decided to learn more about the people who read the series. Today the author teaches Literature, Cultural Studies, and Religion at Colorado Mountain College.
Estimation of reading level: Completed high school and up, younger readers at the top of their grade level.
Unique features of this book: From page 7: “I spent three years interviewing readers and visiting readers’ churches, homes, Bible studies and Sunday school classes. I conducted a qualitative study of 35 in-depth personal interviews—each one lasting between one and three hours. If they were part of a religious body, I also attended readers’ churches and visited Sunday school classes, often more than once. Because Left Behind was an increasingly important part of popular culture during this time, I had no trouble identifying several readers through colleagues and friends with whom to begin my project. Once I had identified a small group of willing participants, I employed what cultural anthropology calls the ‘snowball method,’ allowing these readers to lead me to other readers. In this way, I interviewed evangelical and non-evangelical readers, believers in the rapture, and those who did not believe. I interviewed Mormons, Catholics, Baptists, Presbyterians, agnostics and others with less definable labels. These interview took place over three years, predominantly in the [American] Southeast, but also in the Northeast and Colorado.”
Personal observations: A book reviewer from the Washington Post’s “Book World” (reprinted on the Amazon.Com review page) considers Frykholm to be rather behind the news as regarding rapturist involvement in world events. (It is true that early rapturists did not even vote. They said it was worldly. Obviously that has changed. The reviewer argues that Frykholm treats Left Behind as rapturism’s first foray into American culture.) Frykholm portrays nearly all her interviewees as intelligent, funny, warm and welcoming people. Her sympathy for the readers accentuates her discomfort toward the novels and the message. A feminist approach to the fictional characters is unique. Also unique is an exploration of how the introduction of the Left Behind novels into the interviewees’ households reinforced or damaged family dynamics. One demographic Frykholm did not interview is the Divorced-Men-with-Children demographic. TOM was threatened with “struck by lightning” by the first person who tried to press Left Behind upon me—which seemed all the more pushy as TOM had not even said No yet. Frykholm had no intention to force specific demographics, and that is her right. But every time (yes, it happened with several people) that someone has implored the divine to electrocute TOM’s left behind (and right behind too), presumably until one is Graveyard D. Dead, it has always been one of the Divorced-Men-with-Children club. These men do not know each other. At least one other person TOM knows has experienced the same high-pressure tactics for the same reason. One had hoped Frykholm could answer a question as to whether there is something in Left Behind that speaks to this demographic.
Name: Will Catholics Be Left Behind
Author: Carl Olson
Book orientation (denomination): Orthodox Catholic (eschatological stance): preterist and amillennial
Author’s Background: Grew up rapturist. Became pastor and/or missionary. Reasoned his way out of rapturism and into Catholicism.
Estimation of reading level: Completed high school, some college helpful.
Unique features of this book: A lengthy narrative describes dozens of individuals and movements and places them within a historical narrative. Quotes are included on almost every page. Footnotes are so extensive that Olson simply adds them to the bottom of each page so that the reader will not have to turn to the back of the book every three or four paragraphs. Olson concludes with a summary of end-times theology as preached by a variety of Catholic apologists and theologians. This book may experience increased sales as readers learn that one of Olson’s sources was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now known as Pope Benedict XVI.
Personal observations: An Amazon.Com customer of Eastern Orthodox extraction praised this book but had one complaint. S/he admitted to having “a very small amount of knowledge on the prevalent Catholic eschatological outlook.” This reader wished that the book had been “several chapters” longer. Another reader (a nonrapturist evangelical) found Olson’s reasoning solid but disliked Olson’s ad hominen attacks on rapturist teachers and preachers such as Darby, Scofield, LaHaye, Lindsey, and John Hagee. (I too noticed the “warts-and-all” approach.) Additionally Olson has a tendency to phrase topics in the form of a question. (He does not do it as often as would a rabbi, but it packs a punch when he does.) These two techniques make Olson’s book more “call-and-response” than Currie’s book. Although Olson’s book and Currie’s book total an impressive 926 pages there is relatively little overlap between them. A reader curious about Catholic theology would do well to read both. Olson “roots for the home team” louder and more often, though it comes from a premise that he is defending the home team from an organized assault. Some readers complained that they wish the footnotes and quotes had been collected in the back of the book, but TOM disagrees. There are so many quotes that it is like getting two books in one. Many are too piercing to be relegated to an appendix.
Name: A Case for Amillennialism
Author: Dr. Kim Riddlebarger
Book orientation (denomination): Dutch Reformed by way of the Reformed Church in America (eschatological stance): amillennialism without preterism
Author’s Background: Author grew up rapturist. Reasoned his way out of rapturism and into the Reformed Churches. Now a pastor at Christ Reformed Church in Anaheim, California.
Estimation of reading level: Some college suggested.
Unique features of this book: A precise, detailed, and exceptionally dense apology for the Amillennial interpretation of the end times. The author is fluent in classical Hebrew and Koine Greek, and it shows. Although the book only mentions the Left Behind series in passing, it challenges every foundational point of rapturist teaching. Also responds to Postmillennialism, Preterism and Progressive Dispensationalism.
Unique features of this book (side excursions): The exegesis on Romans 11 is a must-read for Riddlebarger’s position on the fate of Israel. Riddlebarger thinks there is a prophecy that foresees a mass conversion of Jews to Christianity in the near future, but without said Jews being browbeaten into it during a sadistic period of tribulation as rapturists believe. Riddlebarger admits his is a minority position among non-rapturists but he believes it is supportable in scripture. Riddlebarger also lays the groundwork for future rebuttals to Progressive Dispensationalism, the new-school movement that may or may not arise in rapturist churches when Left Behind passion subsides.
Personal observations: If Currie and Olson are a multi-course meal, this book is pound cake, sixteen eggs, a pound of eggs in this cake. This book is dense. What the other two amillennialists do in 400 and 500 pages, Riddlebarger compresses into 246 pages, plus 25 pages of endnotes. An index would have been helpful. Focus is almost exclusively on the New Testament. Polite but firm and utterly relentless. Not a flashy book, and not one you can read with a radio or television blaring in the background.
Name: The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation
Author: Barbara R. Rossing
Book orientation (denomination): Evangelical Lutheran (eschatological stance): amillennialist and idealist
Author’s Background: Was never a rapturist. Is an Evangelical Lutheran pastor and professor of divinity at Duke University.
Estimation of reading level (comprehension level): Ages 13 and up (self-control level): Screamers are advised to go to their Special Place of Tremendous Courage and Calmness. Rossing has strong opinions and does not hesitate to name names. This may tempt call-and-response from readers who have not steeled themselves in advance. (Example: An irate reader dialed up the Amazon.Com feedback page for Rossing’s book, where s/he posted angry comments and a list of televangelist Jack Van Impe’s own “naming of names” sequence … quite an impressive list, actually. Of course Amazon.Com deleted that reader’s feedback before I could take notes on it. Blink-and-miss-it.)
Unique features of this book (major): Rossing is a fire-breathing proponent of the Social Gospel behavioral school of Christianity. Her great love is the environment and the vulnerable people mistreated with it. She rages against man’s tendency to treat the earth as (in Bill Bryson’s excellent phrase) “a business in liquidation—everything must go!” (Or as two irate Amazon.Com customers retorted, “If you’re one of those gun-totin’, arrogant, environmentally unfriendly dispensationalists, you might look elsewhere” and “Unless you want to listen to an environmentalist tell you God won’t kill animals, do yourself a favor and don’t read this book.”) Rossing argues that rapturists have got it backwards. She believes that “God so loved the world” that we received Immanuel (“God with us”)—that the Incarnation is a “rapture in reverse.” The return of Jesus would be the day God makes a home with us.
Unique features of this book (side excursions): It’s readable! Like the U.S. tax code, most eschatology books are allegedly written at the 8th Grade Reading Level. In reality the compilers of these Very Important Publications sometimes arrange “easy” words in a hard order. The reader can read the sentence aloud but without comprehension … until you wave your arms wildly and wail, “What does that mean?! What the flying weasels in tutus does that mean?!” No one will have that problem with this book. The readers who wave and wail will do so because they do understand it.
Personal observations: Rossing’s book reminds one of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a splash of hot sauce: “comfort food” that bites back! She makes no secret of the fact that this is an angry book. Her critics complain that since she was never a rapturist she makes no effort to soften her tone. As a result a sincere follower could get zinged along with the rapturist preachers and public figures who are Rossing’s declared targets. As mentioned, some passages of the book also will anger people who agree with her. (There the sensation would be, “They said WHAT?! They did WHAT?!”) Whether the book is too short is purely subjective. The only chapter that discusses what the Bible says in its original Koine Greek is found in the Epilogue. (Offended readers might never get that far.)
Next stop: The “genealogy” of the church (a history of denominations)