Creeping fundamentalism

Jane Lampman of The Christian Science Monitor writes today about what she calls "rapturist" theology, and she clearly grasps most of the subtexts as Christians debate how Jesus will return to Earth. Inevitably, she describes most Christians who expect a pre-Tribulation rapture -- in which Jesus rescues believers from looming plagues of Old Testament proportions -- as fundamentalists, though she grants that "the interest in end-times prophecy has spread beyond their circles."

Premillennialists' other flaw is -- wait for it -- literalism. Lampman writes that Barbara Rossing of the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago and other critics aim to "demonstrate that [premillennial theology] is a modern literalist interpretation based on selective passages taken out of context."

The real issue is whether Revelation ought to be considered prophecy applying to contemporary world events, prophecy already fulfilled centuries ago or, as apocalyptic literature, never intended as prophecy.

Christians who care about end-times thinking could tell any reporter that there are four contending views, including amillennialism. But for Christians who consider Revelation prophetic, reading strictly as poetic language is not an option. They may be guilty of category confusion, but literalism is not the primary culprit.

Lampman does an admirable job of showing that premillennial theology leads some Christians deeper into their faith, rather than into abandoning a world they consider doomed. She first offers this adjective-laden and imprecise introduction:

Barbara White, a Jewish African-American mortician from Buffalo, N.Y., was "saved" at age 7 by a pastor "who was heavy on the rapture." It shapes her whole life.

"The priority is time -- every day I cram five days into that day because of the sense of urgency," she says. "I feel I have to love every day, encourage someone every day." She has also become pastor of an interdenominational church.

Lampman could have filled out her coverage with quotes from the Center for Millennial Studies. Because she writes that premillennial thought has "been avidly promoted by televangelists and on Christian radio for decades," she might have pointed out that not even all TV evangelists embrace a "rapturist" understanding. Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network, for example, affirms the rapture without the trappings of premillennialism. Ah, but isn't Pat Robertson a grand champion fundamentalist, if not (in one fundy-bashing joke) the Antichrist? It's enough to make your head hurt.

And she cites this example of how premillennialists are supposedly exerting an influence on the foreign policy of President Bush:

When President Bush started to call on Israel to pull the military back from Jenin refugee camp in 2002, they helped mobilize 100,000 e-mails to the White House; the president never said another word in public.

Who would have thought that email packed such a political wallop? If this is a movement closing in on raw political power, amillennialists have nothing to worry about.

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