The year was 1988. I was 11 years old and my younger brother Paul was 7 years old. Our family was visiting my aunt who lived in what we called at the time the "boondocks" of Missouri (a Missouri term meaning "in the middle of nowhere"). With the nearest neighbor being a mile away, "the middle of nowhere" is exactly what it felt like the day my brother and I were in a nearby field. As we were talking and minding our business, something out of the ordinary happened that we still haven't been able to explain to this day. From seemingly out of nowhere, we heard a piercing trumpet blast.
For most young children, this would have been an insignificant incident, but for my brother and I it meant the end of the world as we knew it. It just so happened that the day we heard the trumpet blast was the exact day the 'Rapture of the Church' was predicted to happen by the author of the booklet "88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Happen in 1988."
For those unfamiliar with the Left Behind series, the rapture is the event that millions of evangelical Christians who follow the dispensational interpretation of scripture believe can happen at any time without a moment's notice. In the rapture, Jesus snatches Christians away from the earth to take them to heaven while leaving the rest of the world to suffer the horrors of the seven-year tribulation.
As children of the charismatic movement, we knew full well the verse in the Bible that says, "In the twinkling of an eye, the trumpet will sound and the dead will be raised incorruptible" (I Corinthians 15: 52). The day we heard the trumpet blast, my brother and I fully expected that the moment after we blinked our eyes we would be in heaven. After blinking hard a few times, we both looked at each other with the same horrified expression on our faces. "Oh no! We've been left behind!" we thought. Immediately we ran inside my aunt's house and discovered that our parents and our cousins and aunts and uncles were still standing. For the rest of the day we were thinking to ourselves that not only had we been left behind, but our entire family had been left behind as well. As I went to bed that night, I remember racking my brain trying to figure out what my entire family could have done so wrong to suffer such an awful fate.
Neither my brother nor I were fully convinced that the rapture had not taken place until the next day when the family decided to visit a nearby church. To our relief, we were happy to see a church filled with Bible believing Christians worshiping the Lord together. We figured that all these Christians could not have been left behind, especially not the pastor. As our family worshiped the Lord together that day, I was inwardly thanking God that I wasn't going to have to take the mark of the beast or swim in a river of blood any time soon. The relief quickly turned to disappointment when I realized that I still had to go to school the next day.
As innocent as this story is, I've told it for a reason. An evangelical Christian may read this story and reminisce about the wonders of child-like faith, but a secular American reading this story is likely to have a different reaction. For millions of secular Americans, the Left Behind theology promoted by TBN, the 700 Club, and bestselling prophesy pundits is not only delusional, but also dangerous. In their reasoning, if millions of Americans believe this doctrine, and these same Americans are the most powerful voting block in the country, why would people who believe the world is heading for an apocalyptic meltdown care about global warming or protecting the rain forest? To further complicate matters in the minds of secular Americans, the leading advocates of the rapture theory are also the most vocal advocates for neo-conservative politics, which, in their minds, is the belief that America should back Israel unconditionally, wage pre-emptive wars to establish pro-Western democracies, and give little to no regard to what the U.N. has to say about it.
As unfounded as many of the theocracy accusations from the far-left are, American evangelicals, especially those raised on Left Behind theology, are facing some tough questions right now, and will face many more in the future. American evangelicals are still the most vocal supporters of the Iraq war, a war that is a quagmire in the eyes of many, and it seems that hardly a day goes by without a TV preacher calling for war with Iran. To make matters worse, these same T.V. preachers also raise millions of dollars to finance Jewish settlements in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, giving little to no consideration to the fact that the people they are displacing might actually be human beings with families to feed.
Never mind the fact that both sides of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict have committed atrocities against each other beyond anything we in our fast food, mall shopping, church hopping American culture can conceive of. Never mind the fact that Jesus said, "Blessed are the peacemakers" and yet, when Israel was blasting the Lebanese to smithereens in 2006, preachers were calling it a "miracle of God" despite the fact that the war actually strengthened Hezbollah's presence in the region. The same could be said about the Gaza raid last December. The more "evangelical" a person was, the more likely they were to adopt a "take the gloves off" approach to the situation. To top it off, according to the Left Behind theology, if someone comes along with a solution to stop Jews and Palestinians from slaughtering each other, according to the same interpretation of scripture, that person has to be the devil (the antichrist to be exact)!
All of a sudden, a cute little story about a boy thinking he has missed the rapture isn't so cute anymore. If millions of others hold to the same beliefs, it could lead to a self-fulfilling premature apocalypse ... at least that's how the "other" side sees it. The question I am asking is this: As evangelical Christians devoted to the truth of the scriptures, what do we do when we come across interpretations that seem to have dangerous consequences for humanity if everyone were to believe them? Or how about when high profile evangelicals make statements to the media that we wish would have never been said? Do we get angry at the minister for making us look like bufoons, or do we start questioning the theological underpinnings that produced the statement?
It's been about a year since I abandoned Left Behind theology, but for a long time before that, I was deeply troubled by the moral implications of my own theology, yet still clung to it because I hadn't found the right biblical keys to allow me to abandon this particular system with intellectual honesty. I suppose there are many my age that find themselves in the same boat, if not in this issue, then on another. You read the Bible a certain way and you find a certain doctrine morally troubling (like eternal hell for example), but you can't abandon the doctrine because by doing so you feel that you are placing human reason above biblical authority. What do you do when your conscience conflicts with your faith?
The question of conscience conflicting with faith is one that a lot of us younger evangelicals -- and a few older ones as well -- are struggling with right now. As a non-official representative of 30-year-old evangelicals, I would like to ask those older and more mature in the faith to pray for us younger evangelicals. Pray that God will guide us as we look to the scriptures and formulate new wine skins for the 21st century. Trust me. We're going to need all the prayer we can get.
Aaron D. Taylor is an author and a missionary. As the founder of Great Commission Society, Aaron has traveled the world many times over preaching the gospel and encouraging national pastors in their faith. Aaron is also the author of Alone with a Jihadist: A Biblical Response to Holy War. To learn more about Aaron, go to his Web site at http://www.aarondtaylor.com.