Saturday, October 31, 2009

Dark World: Huff and Puff

(The story begins here.)

The creature gagged as it inhaled, and Darren swiftly reached back, grabbed the chair behind him, and smashed it against the hairy head with all his might. The blow would have killed a man, but Darren was sure it would have had little or no effect on the thing until that moment, just as the shovel he had hurled like a spear into the back of its head had merely bounced off.

But now it bowed and sank to the floor, and the chair was still intact enough for another try, which Darren immediately used. Good thing Victor always insisted on buying the best quality!

The creature collapsed as Victor ran to the scene, shovel in hand.

“Is it unconscious?”

“I think so, but you’re the doctor.”

“Quite. I have a mind to rouse it with some smelling salts and batter it unconscious again with my shovel.”

“If I had a mind like that, I’d leave it on the shelf unused.”

“So I’ve noticed. Would you mind telling me what you did to the thing?”

“Of course. But let’s put him someplace secure; he might come to at an awkward moment.”

Dr. Fleming looked around. “Put it in the vault; that’s the only place I’m reasonably sure will hold it.”

They dragged the creature toward the massive door, and Darren was not surprised to find the weight of the burden diminishing as they went. By the time they had the door open, their captive was a man. “He’s a werewolf, you know.”

“Superstitious nonsense,” Dr. Fleming retorted. “Something like a werewolf, perhaps, but a scientific phenomenon all the same.”

“That strange pistol wasn’t yours; it was a kind of small shotgun, and its shot was silver. I ground the shot to a powder with one of your gadgets and blew the dust in its face as it inhaled. That’s why it was weak enough to subdue.”

“Clever and delusional. I note your pathetic religious ritual wasn’t so effective.”

“I think it was, just in a different way. I’ve encountered similar phenomena elsewhere, but this time I felt I wasn’t supposed to rely on a spiritual confrontation alone.”

“Your religion isn’t enough?”

“Your science isn’t enough. How do you explain the transformation? I assume he came here as a man; I know he changed from werewolf back to man as we carried him. I suspect the transformation was caused by a demon; without the demon’s power, he eventually reverted to his normal form. But subduing him required other means.”

“Namely chemistry: the silver provoked an allergic response or interfered with the transformation.”

“And its response to the exorcism?”

“Obviously the man is superstitious, which may explain a lot of this.”

“Including the transformation?”

“Perhaps. I know a doctor who believes in such things; he would no doubt find this man an interesting case.”

Darren scowled and inspected their prisoner. “He’s coming around. Maybe he’ll give us some answers you’ll accept.”

Next: Interview with the Werewolf

Dark World: Taking a Stand

(The story begins here.)

It took all Dr. Fleming’s strength to withstand the attack on his stronghold. He braced for another assault and wondered yet again what his arch-friend was up to. A thump and clang suggested an answer, and he thought the howl on the other side of the bookcase had a note of pain and surprise.

“That’s right, flea-bait,” Darren Christopher called. “I’m right back here without a bookcase to my name.”

The answering growl receded swiftly, and Victor peered cautiously from behind his barricade. The thing was standing almost fifteen feet from Darren, and it was clearly about to charge. Victor scooted out from cover, though he wasn’t sure what he could do to help. A shovel lay invitingly on the floor, and he picked it up, though he was sure it would be useless as a weapon and little comfort in digging a grave. If he could only get to the power cables!

He ran toward the massive generator, hoping that the creature wouldn’t notice, but also wishing it would notice enough to turn from Darren. What was the idiot’s problem? He had no weapon. A chair stood just behind him, but instead of wielding it, he faced the thing confidently, with his fists clenched as though for a boxing match. Dr. Fleming had admired Darren’s courage before, but courage without a plan is folly.

The creature paused to take another breath and howl. There was some kind of pattern there, but the doctor didn’t pause to analyze it. If it slowed the thing down, fine; he was in full sight of it now, and he didn’t want it to spot him until he had the cables in hand.

The creature charged Darren, and the doctor ran for the cables, dropping all attempt at stealth. His only chance to help his friend lay in getting a workable weapon—assuming that electrical force could succeed where kinetic force had failed.

“Come out of him in the name of Jesus!” Darren cried.

The commanding tone and sheer audacious stupidity of the order arrested the doctor’s progress, and he saw that the creature had been similarly affected. It was within arm’s reach of the man, but instead of attacking, it looked as though a giant hand had slapped it violently across the muzzle: it winced, its face averted.

Then it leered and turned back to Darren, who held his fist to his open mouth as if in terror and gasped.

The creature evidently liked the idea and took another breath, which the doctor knew would lead to another howl and his friend’s demise.

But Darren merely smiled, opened his clenched fist, and blew.

Next: Huff and Puff!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Dark World: Fresh Blood

(The story begins here.)

Darren Christopher’s placid amble changed to a breakneck dash without so much as a pause when he heard the gunshots. He had grown up around danger from savages and civilized men alike, and he seldom hesitated, even when he was puzzled. He was early for his usual argument with Victor, and he wondered who else the doctor might be shooting at.

The door was unlocked, which wasn’t unusual, but the sight of a barricade in a corner attacked by a large hairy animal was. The table where they traded insults and insights over tea was overturned, the doctor’s gun lay on the floor, and something like another gun was near it. An odd, shiny substance spilled out from the broken object.

He examined the doctor’s situation more closely as he collected a shovel from the tool rack near the door. The creature was clearly quite strong, but it seemed to be struggling somehow, as though injured. There was no sign of blood, so it presumably hadn’t been shot, but in any case it was making no headway against the doctor’s makeshift defense. The large metal bookcase had its back to the attacker, allowing the doctor to hold it by the shelves, Darren surmised. He only knew the doctor was there at all by his occasional outbursts and taunts.

“New patient, Victor?” he called.

“Darren! Thank G— Thank goodness you’re here!”

Darren smiled: even at such a moment, Victor wasn’t about to thank the God he despised. He bent down to take a closer look at the guns on the floor. “You dropped your gun. Did you really miss that many times?”

“Of course not! The thing’s invulnerable!”

“That sounds scientifically improbable,” Darren replied amiably. Strange as it seemed, this was beginning to make sense. He briefly considered confronting the creature, but a familiar nudge said no. “Have you considered a spiritual explanation?”

“Yes, but I doubt this is my fairy godmother. If you aren’t going to help me, why don’t you bore this thing senseless with your prattle?”

“I’m rather busy at the moment.” And he was: the strange gun had been bitten nearly through, and it told him all he needed to know. Almost. Where did the doctor keep that thing?

The creature took a deep breath and howled. It seemed to grow with the noise, and it assaulted the bookcase with renewed vigor, provoking more invective from the doctor.

“Darren! Try running the power cables to it! Maybe you can electrocute it.”

“I think I have a solution of my own,” Darren called back as he seized the device he wanted from a shelf. “But please stop screaming; it’s very distracting.” He set to work, but the creature nearly dislodged the bookcase on its next try. Its injury or handicap was gone, and so was Darren’s time.


Thursday, October 29, 2009

Dark World: By the Dark of the Moon

"You have five minutes to live, Doctor."

Dr. Victor Fleming regarded his visitor with almost as much amusement as annoyance. The mild demeanor of the young man betrayed a trace of unease, even fear. Was he truly a killer?

"Take my pistol, Doctor, I beg you. You can still save yourself."

"I prefer my own pistol. Whatever you try in...four minutes, I shall be quite prepared."

"Your pistol won't help. At least take mine, even if you don't intend to use it."

"Take a strange weapon? Whom will it end up killing?"

The man shifted uncomfortably. "It won't kill me; it will only make me harmless."

Dr. Fleming smiled. "My pistol shall achieve both purposes." The man squirmed slightly in answer, and the doctor continued, "If you are so sure of my danger, why did you come to me? And why don't you simply leave before this deadline?"

"I came because I thought you could help. But I knew you would need proof. And it's already too late for me to run away: it would return and kill you."

"What do you mean, 'it'? I thought you were the killer."

"No, I'll become the killer. I—" He broke off and shook his head wearily. "It's too late! Quick, take the gun! Take it, for God's sake! For your own sake!"

"I am my own God, so it makes no difference. Though I begin to think I should have brought a tranquilizer instead of a bullet, if this is merely a psychotic episode."

The man gave no answer. His head lolled back, and his eyes stared toward one of the high windows in the doctor's laboratory.

The outer darkness was giving way to the cold light of the rising full moon, and the inner darkness gave way to something even more terrible.

Dr. Fleming had followed the man's gaze, but a sense of movement from the corner of his eye drew him back to his visitor. "Spasms of the facial muscles," he muttered. "Evidently some kind of seizure. A sedative would have been a better idea, but if he grows violent, I can wing him and slow him down while I get the tranquilizer."

He stood up to get a better vantage point. A shot into the leg should be sufficient, and unless the man made a sudden turn—not impossible in a seizure—hitting the femoral artery was unlikely.

The spasms continued, and the doctor marveled at how they contorted the face. If he hadn't known better, he might have imagined that the nose was actually lengthening into a snout, and. . .

It was the hair that did it. No mere seizure could cause hair to grow on someone's face and hands, especially so rapidly. And the nose was definitely a snout. The teeth were long and sharp, and the eyes were beginning to focus—on him.

Dr. Fleming was well acquainted with his gun, and it had already changed target from legs to face. He fired as the thing opened its maw wide, and the creature's muzzle flinched slightly as the bullet bounced off it.

Part of the doctor's mind informed him that the bullet should have blown the muzzle off. Another, more useful part told him to grab the strange gun his visitor had offered, and his right hand emptied his own gun into the thing in hopes of gaining a few seconds while his left got within reach of the pistol.

A clawed hand reached the rejected weapon before the doctor could, and the creature leered with savage glee as it bit the object, crimping the barrel and partly breaking open the magazine.

The less useful part of the doctor's mind informed him that the creature was clearly intelligent as well as impervious to bullets, and the more useful part told him to run for his life.


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll vs Adaptations

I don't think there's a book more frequently mis-adapted for any medium than Frankenstein. Consider:

1. Frankenstein did not re-animate anything. He made up his creature from scratch. "No corpses were harmed in the making of this monster."

2. No lightning is mentioned, either, though he did have an impressive experience in his youth with a lightning bolt obliterating a tree.

3. He didn't live in Transylvania or some other exotic spot. Try Geneva.

4. Though the creature was self-educated, it read some fairly literate books (Sorrows of Young Werther was a mistake, though). The creature was a compelling speaker.

5. Since it wasn't sewn and bolted together from parts, it didn't have the stitches and such. It had yellowish skin with long, black hair.

6. Although it claims that it was initially good and only driven to cruelty by human rejection, it was fairly evil-tempered from the start.

7. (Minor spoiler) At the end of the story, the creature's still alive, though it promises to do away with itself. How sweet.

Still, I think the mis-adaptations of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde have done more damage, simply because I consider Stevenson's story superior (and not long-winded like Frankenstein). Though Frankenstein has its points, it meanders considerably and has several problems. For example, the whole Irish interlude seemed over the top: how did the monster pull off such a trick? Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, meanwhile, is fairly straightforward, especially given that it's told somewhat out of order: we see certain incidents that are known to Utterson the lawyer, and only afterward do we go back and see them from other viewpoints that explain them.

But the main problem is that the story is meant to be a kind of mystery. It loses a bit if you start out knowing the connection between Jekyll and Hyde. Also, Dr. Jekyll is often misrepresented as either someone trying to cure people (he wasn't) or simply a kind of drug addict (he wasn't really one of those, either). It's really a story about how one's evil side, once unleashed, will inevitably dominate and ruin one's life. There's a bit more to it than that, but that's the gist of it.

The gist of this post: read the original! Adaptations generally mess up a superior work.

You can get free audio books at LibriVox:
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

A New, Old Direction

I've been giving considerable thought to where this blog is going. I like doing book reviews, but I admit that I've become greatly disaffected with modern Christian fiction. G. K. Chesterton said, "The morality of a great writer is not the morality he teaches, but the morality he takes for granted." Despite the occasional preachments (often tepid) of Christian fiction writers, the morality they take for granted tends to be largely identical with that of less-radical secular writers. The theology is typically pretty scary too.

But what is the alternative? Modern secular writers don't even have the Christian veneer. So that leads me, as a rather conservative sort, into the past. It's true that earlier Christian writers were often rather clumsy in their handling of the faith, with two-dimensional plots and characters, but not always. And secular writers back then were often more "Christian" than some modern writers.

Join with this the fact that there are free e-books coming out from in particular, and free audio books from as well--so many that it would be useful to have a guide to them. Which of them is worth a look? I'll be reviewing them for you. Not all of them, of course: I don't have that much free time. But I can try to help you search through the pile.

Otherwise--I'll still do some theological studies, and I'll be publishing some fiction on the blog as well.

Next up: Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and the Evils of Adaptations.

Coming soon: the debut of Dark World, a serial about an atheistic scientist, his missionary friend, and the monsters and adventures they encounter in the 1930s. Horror, suspense, and witty badinage!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Quantum of Solace

Not the Bond movie; this has more to do with the original short story upon whose title the movie is based. The idea is that there is a bare minimum of solace or comfort required to keep going, to keep life bearable.

I would suggest that this applies to fiction as well. I doubt anyone wants a story where everyone is happy and life is wonderful all the time. But sometimes the reaction against the high-fructose sweetener plot leads to something equally emetic. I don't think I've ever actually encountered the totally wonderful bit in a book, not even in Pollyanna, which is actually an above-average story, better than the Disney version. I suspect that the Pollyanna defense is really just a poor excuse for putting syrup of ipecac in story form.

In any case, if you have enough negative elements, the story turns ugly. There's enough ugliness in the world without our adding to it; there is enough darkness without our dwelling on it. I would suggest that the negative elements in a Christian story be largely allusive: I already know what ugly looks like and would rather not spend page after page refreshing my memory. But if you can show me beauty, real beauty that isn't just photoshopped ugliness, that is an accomplishment. Or if you're going to stick something ugly in my face, at least do not do so at every turn. Like violence in splatter films, ugliness--be it moral or aesthetic--soon palls, and you have to increase the dosage to get the desired effect. That's called desensitization, and we have more than enough of that as well. In fact, this shows why, even from the standpoint of justifying darkness and ugliness, it's a bad idea.

Supposedly, highlighting such things is simply realistic. But courtesy of desensitization, the highlighting has to be more and more extreme to get the point across, taking us further and further away from that all-important "real life." I was surprised, for example, that no one seemed to notice the character flaws in the guys from League of Superheroes; I kept reading reviews that they were unrealistically good. Yet Tom is sarcastic, condescending, sanctimonious, proud, and a bit cowardly. Even Charlie tends to appease more than he should. But no one noticed these things. Why? Because they weren't exaggerated, and people only notice what's stuck in their face.

Do you call that Art? Then why is it Art to push exaggeration further and further and make reality harder and harder to spot?


Chawna Scroeder posted on the moral and spiritual side of this problem a while back, and I've found her analysis helpful; perhaps you will too.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

If Only You Knew 3: Weak points and conclusion

Time for the weak points ofMags Storey's If Only You Knew. I'll start with a theological matter that's a bit involved but that explains some quirks elsewhere.

Q & A? No way! One of the annoying features of the Gathering is that it has a question-and-answer format. This is a bad idea on several levels. For one thing, honest questions can generally be better addressed one on one or using a Web site. Doing it in public will lead to grandstanding and arguments. This is not how evangelism is done.

Worse yet, at one point they set up debates on topics such as abortion. Again, ill-conceived on several levels. Someone is going to wind up trying to defend something evil, and he'll probably be a new believer. It won't end well.

Let's look at an example involving abortion. The pro-life side was lazy, just assuming that everyone knew abortion was wrong. Now, it's true we should be able to explain why we believe what we believe. But the actions of the pro-abortion side were inexcusable:

The girl who was arguing the other side was a really quiet girl named Ronnie. She had done a lot of research. I mean a lot. She had even visited an abortion clinic and done interviews. She had looked up all types of Bible verses, including one in Ecclesiastes where Solomon says that no human being knows when an unborn baby gets a soul, and one in Exodus that says the punishment for killing a person is not the same as killing an unborn baby. Ronnie talked very slowly and very quietly, and you could tell people were listening. When she started talking about showing compassion to girls who had been raped, one of the other girls started to cry. (p. 68)

She later says that she doesn't believe that abortion's right, but “I think some issues are more complicated than some people want to believe sometimes.” (p. 68)

Let's consider this a bit.

1. Ronnie defends an action she considers wrong just to show that it's more complex than people think. But it's still wrong, and she's still defending it. And she's doing so before impressionable new believers and unbelievers.

2. Despite wanting to show people the complexity of the issue, she resorts to bad reasoning. The Bible passages given (Eccl 11:5 and Ex 21:22-25) do not say what the speaker (and by extension the author) claim. The verse in Ecclesiastes is a variant interpretation, and not a likely one; neither would it greatly affect the debate were it accurate. The passage in Exodus is irrelevant because it does not say that the baby dies, only that the mother gives birth prematurely, and even if the baby does die, (1) life for life is demanded or (2) one could argue that the death was unintentional and the case is like that in Num 35:22-25, only with a different procedure.

So we can see why debating such things is a very bad idea. But this attitude of doing evil that good may come of it and presenting complexity (even if spurious) does explain something about the book as a whole.

All Jerks, All the Time! I have to admit, I don't like the characters, except perhaps Kat. She's actually likable, and by an amazing coincidence, she doesn't appear to be a Christian. Everyone else is a jerk, and most of them have some kind of Danish prince complex as well. They got angst in their pants, and they wanna pose and brood and occasionally scream a lot. I found myself wondering how quite so many inmates managed to escape the asylum, but the Abortion Debate enlightened me: this is yet another case of showing complexity.

Now, it's true that Everyone Has Problems, and teens frequently haven't got a grip on the "quiet" part of leading lives of quiet desperation. This still strikes me as overblown. And it does bother me that the Christians seem to be more obnoxious than the unsaved. I sometimes think that's true, and if so, it likely involves the pressure of going against the flow. But I also generally leave the Evil Christian meme to the secular writers.

And where does this attempt at balance get us? As a Christian, I was sufficiently annoyed that I wouldn't have bothered finishing this had it not been assigned reading, so to speak. But if I had been unsaved, while I might have revelled in seeing the Christians portrayed as losers, when I reached the place where they inevitably started to play nice and take their meds, I'd probably have dropped it unfinished anyway.

Conclusion. The ending is good, and there are some good points made in the last several pages. But the first 80% of the story is troubling. If you're aware of the issues, you may find the story "mostly harmless." As for me, I will hope that the writer turns her considerable talents--for she is an excellent writer--to better stories in the future.

Enough heresy! Check out the actual CFRB tour:

Purchase If Only You Knew at
Barnes and Noble, Christianbook and Amazon.

Monday, October 5, 2009

If Only You Knew 2: Good points

Mags Storey's If Only You Knew has some worthwhile features; let's look at them.

Readability. Especially for the first half or so, it moves swiftly and easily. I admit that I started bogging down about a quarter of the way through, for reasons I'll explain tomorrow. But I tend to be unusual in such respects. Most readers probably will have no problems.

Humor. The main character is a klutz, and some of the others are also (from their own standpoints) unintentionally funny at times. The teen angst undercuts this a bit, especially toward the end, and it's hard to balance suspense and humor effectively. Still, there are funny bits throughout, and as usual, they make the more fraught moments bearable.

Characters. Mixed bag: granted their existence as defined, their actions are generally believable. That's good, because this is essentially character driven.

Ending. The ending is reasonably strong--there's a loose end with an obvious resolution, but that's fairly trivial. More important, there is a good message at the end.

Next time I'll look at some problem areas and present a conclusion.

But in the meantime, check out the actual CFRB tour:

Purchase If Only You Knew at
Barnes and Noble, Christianbook and Amazon.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

If Only You Knew 1: Intro

This will nearly be a first: CFRB is touring Mags Storey's If Only You Knew, and I am more or less tagging along. The buttons are there at the bottom, but I'm not on the tour proper, the better to mention a few issues freely. On with the show!

Jo has just graduated from high school and is spending the summer with her cousin Kat when she encounters an apocalyptic break-up scene between an apparently nice guy and the girlfriend from Hell. While she's taking this in, a total hunk nearly runs her over. Soon she falls off a pier, gets invited to a church group, and is sort-of quasi dating two guys, which is pretty impressive for someone who never really got much attention.

Oh, yes: she also sees a guy she had earlier witnessed being run over, and he's living large. Or anyway, he's living and large, and she starts meeting fun people she dubs "Motor-Oil-Guy" and "Red-Jacket."

They aren't superheroes.

Meanwhile, Kevin, the hunk, is a relatively new Christian attending The Gathering, which is a laid-back Christian encounter group for Seekers and maybe even some Hiders. Meanwhile Sam, the average guy with the psycho ex-girlfriend, hates God's guts and figures the feeling's mutual. Jo, of course, is caught in the middle.

Everyone has some kind of Dark Secret that involves Brooding Silence, Overwrought Outbursts, and Colliding Solipsisms that don't so much drive the plot as blast it forward like the Columbiad firing its giant bullet at the moon, and with perhaps similar results.

Are Motor-Oil-Guy and Red-Jacket out to kill Jo, or are they just really, really awkward around girls? Given the choice between Kevin and Sam, will Jo go with the bigger Dark Secret? Will Nate admit that he never was run over at all, but was just trying to bench-press his car while a friend changed the tire?

I'm not telling.

But in the meantime, check out the actual CFRB tour:

Purchase If Only You Knew at
Barnes and Noble, Christianbook and Amazon.

The Rapture: All or Nothing

I mentioned before that "prophetic fiction" of the Left Behind variety features sort-of Christians who didn't go in the Rapture but somehow go from spiritual couch potatoes to spiritual supermen just because the Antichrist is running around.

It wouldn't happen, of course. One of the things we learn from reading about the Exodus and the journey to the Promised Land is how quickly and easily real people go from declaring devotion to God after a miracle to chucking him for an idol. Human nature hasn't changed. Technically, there would be a lot of panic conversions, perhaps, but we're too adaptable for our own good, and the new "believers" would quickly settle down and cool down and even rationalize taking the Mark.

Still, the fact that this nonsense is regularly and vividly portrayed presents the equivalent of telling people they will have a second chance at salvation after they die. It's a damnable and damning doctrine, yet people who would never dream of committing the more obvious heresy still believe in the eschatological second chance.

Now, on one level this is simply another example of the humanism so common in evangelical Christianity: we confuse truth (a spiritual thing) with fact (an intellectual thing) and suppose that running into a Fact (zillions of people disappearing in the Rapture) will have the effect of a revealed Truth (turning people from sin to God).

It doesn't work. Paul said (2 Thes 2:9-12) that the Antichrist would bring a deluding influence that would suck in anyone who has received the love of the truth. (People who have received that love are saved.) It seems to me, then, that anyone who enters the Tribulation rejecting God is not at all likely to change his mind. Those saved during the Tribulation will therefore be those who had not been evangelized and thus had no chance to accept or reject Jesus.

But let's prove that there is no second chance. Look at Matt 25:1-12 (The Wise and Foolish Virgins). The fact that they're virgins means, in the imagery of the time, that they at least have a form of godliness: these are churchgoers. Yet the foolish virgins, who in effect miss the Rapture, get no second chance. They get their spiritual act together (buying the oil) only to find themselves locked out. In fact, they hear the thing you never want to hear from God: "I don't know you" (v. 12). So apparently Rayford Steele and his friends are actually damned. Oops.

But there's another side to this. It is harder to get Left Behind than a lot of pop eschatology wonks say: if you truly are saved, you go. Look at 1 Thes 5, where Paul talks about staying awake, which he contrasts with not paying attention spiritually. Sleepers party; the wakeful godly watch and pray. But then see what he says in v. 10: "[Jesus] died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him." That means that the party dudes, if they are truly saved at all to begin with, go too. (If they didn't, they'd be locked out like the foolish virgins.)

Wow! Party on, Dude!

Not so fast. John gives the consequence: And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming. (1 John 2:28) Apparently it's possible to be ashamed in the midst of the Rapture itself. That's a major buzzkill, and it will change any amount of partying and fun into horror and disgust. Serve God fully; it's easier in the long run.

Friday, October 2, 2009

The Proper Role of Prophecy

The annoying thing about prophecy is that it's generally all or nothing. Either you get practically no real teaching or you get way too much--and in the latter case, it's generally over-hyped and under-researched. It's a popcorn or even cotton-candy topic, and I can understand why less entertainment-driven churches shy away from it. But I think we can learn something really important by considering something basic and unifying that history has to teach us.

Have you noticed that there is generally an eschatological thrust to revivals and waves of evangelism? Seriously, look at the Bible, especially in Acts: how often is evangelism rooted in the idea of the Last Judgment? Pretty much always, at least when the gist of the message is presented. Was it an accident that Jonathan Edwards was best known for "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God"? (And yes, that's eschatological in focus.)

So eschatology matters.

But consider this: when eschatology is used for evangelism, it is what we may call "Common Eschatology"--the eschatology that is common to all truly Christian denominations. There's no reference to the Rapture or the Antichrist or the Millennium. The reference is simply to the Last Judgment: someday, whether we miss the Tribulation through Rapture or just death, or even if we go through it, we shall all stand before God and give account for our lives and deeds. The graveyards of the world are full of people who never encountered a literal Antichrist or Tribulation period, and it may be that we will be there ourselves someday without facing any of them. Comparatively few will come to the brink of the Tribulation, but everyone who has not turned to God shall die--and most Christians, too. So it's reasonable to pitch our sermons to the certainties of death and judgment.

What about the more Hollywood doctrines--the sort that go into making books and movies of the Left Behind variety? Well, I'd say it's more important to know God and the Scriptures than the doctrine. That won't happen, of course, and neither will the respectable alternative: just say that your denomination holds such-and-such a view, while others hold other views. If you have the guts and godliness, explain the other views without putting them down. (Yes, maybe you're right and they're wrong, but even then it's worth understanding them. And who knows? Maybe you're wrong after all!)

It's also worth noting that while prophecy of this sort was clearly taught to new believers, it doesn't seem to have been used in evangelism--only the Judgment was. The modern business of scaring people with the Rapture or Tribulation cannot be found in Scripture, and if you read the early Christian writers, they tended to reserve it for those already saved, not for evangelizing the unsaved. Coincidence?

Let's be honest: we like certain topics because they're titillating and sensational, not because they do any actual good. Discussions of prophecy should be limited to Christians, and they should be dealt with briefly (yet thoroughly), so we can spend more time on the more important issues, such as loving others and living holy lives.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Introduction to Eschatology: Views of the Rapture

I'll give these in the order of the Rapture, that is, pre-, mid-, prewrath, and post-. Note that the strengths and weaknesses, though obvious and typical, can be argued against by anyone with any wit.

Pre-trib View
The Tribulation is a seven-year period of divine wrath, during which God brings Israel back to Himself. As Christians are not appointed to wrath and as Israel is God’s focus, the Church cannot be here.
Strengths: The Rapture is unexpected and unpredictable; incentive for godly life.
Weaknesses: Produces fear of being left behind; indeed, devotion is based on fear, not love.

Mid-trib View
Oddly, mid-tribs often consider themselves pre-tribs—they just don’t think the Rapture is imminent. Instead, they suppose that the Antichrist must appear first by breaking his seven-year covenant (Dan. 9:27, 2 Thes 2:3). The Rapture follows, then the Tribulation proper—a three-and-half-year period of wrath much like the pre-tribs expect. (The first three and a half years of the covenant are considered too mild to be part of the Tribulation.) Thus mid-tribs believe in a pre-tribulational Rapture, but not an imminent one.
Strengths: Accounts for the frequent references to three-and-a-half-year periods in prophecy (Dan. 7:25, 9:27, 12:7, 11; Rev. 11:2, 3, 12:14, 13:5).
Weaknesses: Though trying to combine the strengths of pre-trib and post-trib views while minimizing their weaknesses, mid-tribulationism often seems to accomplish the opposite.

Prewrath View
Just as mid-tribs are technically pre-tribulational, prewraths are technically post-tribulational. Unfortunately, the prewrath view is rather complex. It divides the last seven years into “the Beginning of Sorrows” (Matt. 24:8—the first three and a half years and the first four Seals of Revelation), “the Great Tribulation” (Matt.24:21—the Fifth and Sixth Seals, followed by the Rapture), and the “Day of the Lord” (Luke 17:30–31--but compare Matt. 15:16–21--which extends from the Seventh Seal until the Second Coming). The Seals are taken to represent the wrath of man, the Trumpets the wrath of God on Jew and Gentile alike, and the Bowls the wrath of God against those who persecute the Jews, who have been saved following the Trumpets.
Strengths: Harmonizes the unexpectedness of the Rapture (Matt. 24:36, 42, 44) with the expectedness of the Rapture (1 Thes 5:4—the “thief” metaphor refers to unexpectedness).
Weaknesses: Complex; based on hairsplitting terminological distinctions that are hard to support.

Post-trib View
Post-tribs are the only premills who are not concerned with wrath. They generally suppose that God is a very good shot, who can strike all around us without hitting us (Psa. 91, especially vv. 7–8). Given that tribulation or oppression is said to be the lot of Christians (John 16:33; Acts 14:22; Col. 1:24; 1 Thes. 3:3–4), post-tribs see no reason why we should be spared the final period of tribulation, which probably will differ from that experienced today in communist and Muslim countries only in extent. There has always been tribulation, that is, persecution, but there have always been refuges from it as well, such as the New World once furnished. The final tribulation will lack such havens and be marked by extreme delusion among the ungodly.
Since post-tribs do not consider the Rapture an escape, they instead take it to represent the glorification and empowerment of believers, so that we may rise to meet our Lord as He returns. We shall then escort him to earth (this meeting and escort is the proper meaning of the word translated “meeting” in 1 Thes. 4:17), where he shall punish and destroy those who have taken the mark of the Beast.
Strengths: Probably the oldest view of the Rapture, and the least complicated.
Weaknesses: Predictability of the Second Coming/Rapture; lack of people to enter the Millennium.

Get to know your neighbors! You're going to spend eternity with these people, and it may turn out that some of them are right, not you.

And next up we'll consider the role of the Rapture and eschatology in general in preaching and teaching.
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