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Things I Never Heard in Fundamentalism — The End (8)


During a series on Christ’s parables, we hit eschatology twice. You know eschatology — that big bugaboo that really defines conservative Evangelicalism in the 20th century.

I was born and bred a dispensationalist. Those charts lined the Sunday School classrooms. We had all the  MacArthur and Chafer books at home. Ryrie was a regular author among my college texts. We BJU grads joke that former executive VP Bob Wood’s usual (but still fictional) 3-point outline was:

  1. Turn or Burn
  2. Singe or Cringe
  3. Shake or Bake

Prophecy sermons were a sometimes-favorite (depending on which current event was worrisome). Van Impe lived up the road from us. At age six, I laid awake all night panicking that the USSR was going to attack the US because our Whirly-Bird teacher claimed it would happen any day. A Thief in the Night terrorized my dear brother too.

I threw away my dispensationalism, however, in a truck stop trash can somewhere between here and Missouri two years ago. We had been reading LaHaye’s Left Behind series in the car. This is our cheap version of audio books — I read books out loud to Grant while he drives.

The Left Behind books were some of our favorites. Not because we thought of them as terrific literature (I always joked that they are about in the same intellectual strata as The Munsters), but because I did a goooood Antichrist impression. My Carpathia voice was da bomb!

Really. The books are dumb. Really, really dumb. The female characters are all two-dimensional, all the “good guy” conservative Evangelicals are rich and tech-savvy Hummer-owners (puhleeeze!), and every ethnic stereotype gets exploited. Yawn!

But the end infuriated me. Christ has returned. He’s standing right there fellowshipping with the Tribulation Saints. He’s right there in front of them. And what does LaHaye have the characters do? They whisper to each other and say, “I wonder what he’s going to do next?” and they scurry off to their commentaries to find out.

I. am. not. kidding.

It was a light-bulb moment for me. The Word Himself is completely present in the flesh, and the protagonists want to know his next move? They run off to the 10th generation copy (a commentary) to find out?! What?

It all hit me. Dispensationalism is more about knowing the future before anyone else does. The rune-casting within the hyper-literal hermeneutic makes the few who can figure out the mystery significant. No preacher gets voted off in Dispensationalist Survivor! Knowing-it-all is the highest virtue. That’s why LaHaye’s fictional ending makes sense within the dispie ethic: Sure, sure — we’re relieved the battle is over, Jesus. Thanks bunches! But we just want to have a leg-up on these Sign-of-the-Beast-wearing bullies you used to pounce on us. Give us a minute here while we look up your return in Walvoord’s index. Let’s see, let’s see . . .  page 34. I wonder what 7 + 3.5 + 365 + 10.5 + pi equals? . . . Rayford, get the Strong’s, would ya? . . .  Where’d I put my Scofield?”

Finally seeing it as more about knowing than loving, more for the few than the many, more about the being right than being kind, more about the charts than the Sermon on the Mount, more about men than Jesus, I literally chucked the last novel in the can along with Gavin’s stinky diaper. I was done.

But I still get a sick lump in the pit of my gut when the usual dispie Texts come up in a sermon series. I feel the threat coming — the one that kept me up all night after Whirly-Birds. That I’m not ready, that I’m not good enough, that I’m going to be Left Behind. “I wish we’d all been ready. . . .”


But that’s not what he said. That sermon about usual end-times Parable of the Ten Virgins ended this way:

What keeps this from being a Turn-or-Burn message? Because that’s the way this would normally be preached. . . . I am not saying, “Because Jesus is coming back, go get right.” You know, it’s not a threat. That’s how it’s usually preached. “Jesus is coming back, and so you’d better get right. Jesus is coming back, and so you’d better shape up.  Jesus is coming back, so you’d better. . . .” It’s not a threat. Jesus’s return is not a threat. It’s a blessing! It’s something that we should take and say, “Oh God, hasten the day! Hasten the day!! When our faith should be made sight and our prayers should be made praise. Lord, hasten that day!” It’s not a Turn-or-Burn message because I’m not saying, “Go get cleaned up.” I’m not saying, “Go buy oil.” I’m saying, “Go find Christ. Go find Christ! Go find the Groom. Go find a relationship with the Groom.” So that whenever He returns, you can say, “I was waiting. I was waiting for you!”

What? The Ending doesn’t make me want to crawl under a rock? You’re not going to try to guilt me into a particular culturally safe kind of behavior?

Fundamentalism (i.e. dispensationalism. I still don’t see much difference) really gets it all backwards. They make love a duty instead of a joy. They make a blessing into a threat. They make Christ’s finest sermon irrelevant for the Church Age. They turn a relationship into a religion.

A blessing and a comfort! Wow!! It really is the Good News!

13 thoughts on “Things I Never Heard in Fundamentalism — The End (8)

  1. I confess, I sang along. It brought back terrible memories of The Burning Hell. You can find it on youtube. Watching that movied (at the tender age of 7) was the first time I was saved. I’ll never forget it.

    Honestly, though, I am eager for the day you have just described. I’m slowly crawling out from underneath that rock.

    When you can stomach it, look up the burning hell.

  2. Not to undermine the awesomeness of your post with levity…

    But have you seen the movie “Cold Comfort Farm”? Hi-larious. (If you like sort of dark, British humor.) There’s a scene from the (fiction) Church of the Quivering Brethren that came to mind when I read the 3point outline. LOL. You’ve got to see that movie.

  3. Walter mentioned the same movie over on FB. I cannot WAIT to watch it. We already watched the whole Left Behind series and the Van Impe movies. And of course, the Thief in the Night. I love/hate them. They are wonderfully terrible.

    Can’t wait for this one either.

  4. My husband and I were at BJ during the time you were there… a lifetime ago. We are so thankful for the grace that has freed us from so many fear based beliefs!

    I read the first few LB books, couldn’t bring myself to continue :-). The thing that saddens my heart is that the focus of dispensational thought is not on Christ, that he plays a very minor supporting role in the story. So many messages are preached and He is not even mentioned. You are right, his glory is tarnished and his purpose is made small.

    I am also so thankful that the fear and trepidation that I felt as a child when I thought of the second coming, have been omitted from my own children’s nightmares! He is victorious and welcoming!
    Many Blessings!

  5. I really don’t like those Thief in the Night movies. Although I am not sure where I stand on the different views of eschatology in general, I agree that Christ’s return shouldn’t be a cause for fear. I love the long quote from the sermon.

  6. Thief in the Night terrorized me too. They showed it to us in Christian school. I hate that movie. LOVE the sermon quote though.

  7. You made it farther through Left Behind than I did! The last time I tried to read one of the books was around the time I left fundamentalism, and I couldn’t stomach finishing the book (from what I remember I was towards the end of the series). One of the things I love most about being outside of fundamentalism is that eschatology is not seen as an issue to separate over. People may hold very strong convictions over their personal position, but have a lot of charity for those of differing opinions.

    As for fear, it is indeed a VERY powerful, driving force in fundamentalism – in teachings on eschatology, altar calls, etc. I’m curious why that is the case.

  8. Another thought on Left Behind: I think it is a series where the underlying theology and gnostic-like thirst for knowing are what drives the sales, not necessarily the story itself (or, for that matter, the quality of the storywriting!). I would also argue the same about the immensely popular DaVinci Code, which I thought was a pretty bland story and not very well written.

  9. wow- you always put into words things in fundamentalism that never quite sat right with me….just to hear I’m not the only one that would cringe with the “shadow of a doubt question” given at the altar call portion of every service…again, thanks:)

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  11. It is so good to hear others’ personal stories of ‘how’ they left behind them, the left behind books’. Such religious RUBBISH! I don’t like to think about it, but, how many youngsters, who were scared into the kingdom’ by the ridiculous’thief in the night’ movies,and others as scary, actually remained in the journey as believers? Jesus never preached as ‘a merchant of fear’, nor as ‘a guilt monger’! He just didn’t! It was at a point where I was ‘trying’ to read and get into the awful book # two of this eschatological left behind religious dribble, that I closed the book, hadn’t read more than two or three chapters, and out loud I said to myslf, “I renounce this., This is ‘not’ the truth, this is ‘not’ christianity or the Goospel, ‘not’ what I believe anymore. I do not believe this anymore!” Not that long after, I heard Carl Olsen’s conversion story from Fundy land to Catholic land, and I can’t thank God enough for this man’s beautiful conversion story, shared on EWTN in 2008. Carl mentioned the name John Darby, and “Darbyism.” And that it was ‘this’ man who had been the one who had actually ‘made’ this dispie nonsense so popular. Also that Carl had written a book entitled “Will Catholics Be left Behind?” which I bought and read at a later date. The day after I heard who the religious nincompoop ignoramus was who had ( made this so popular as he wasn’t the first man to dream it up ) concoted this ridiculous “theological fiction”( in his vain imagination and arrogant mind ) about the pre trib dispie pre mill rapture gobbledy gook nonsense, I looked this Darby guy up on the Internet, read about the man, and I believe ‘that’ was the Grace moment where, the Holy Spirit really set my mind ‘free’ from what I had already ‘renounced’ at an earlier time. And I remember how I felt so ‘free’ in my mind, such joy and such peace, so free in my thinking, mind- -set and belief system. This healing of my mind really opened my life up for God to strenghthen my intellect and will in a very healing and good way. Remembering that I had been negatively influenced by this garbage for over 25 or 26 years, as an adult, the healthy spiritual renewing of my mind had been being undermined somewhat by this faulty thinking about eschatology. “Be careful how you think! Your life is shaped by your thoughts.” “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” Proverbs, Good News Version. “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” Hosea, KJV. After reading up on Darby, and Darbyism on the internet,I was really ‘hungry’ for the scriptural and historic-orthodox truth, to learn what ‘this’ said and spoke about and had been teaching consistently throughout the history of historic christianity .I have found Carl Olsen’s book, two others: “Rapture: End Times Error That Leaves the Bible Behind.” by David. B. Currie, and “The Rapture Trap”, by Paul Thigpen, to be so well written and so readable. I have a 6 C.D set by David Currie which I have yet to listen to: “Rapture: Ruse or reality”,the subject of which he calls the ‘rapture’ a deceitful doctrine. I am so happy for all of you who have been able to ‘dare’ to challenge how other people told you how to think, so that you could truly begin to think for yourself, and make your own choices about believing things which be true. The truth about eschatolgy sets you free. The stuff we have all left behind us, could not possibly set us free, because it was ‘not’ the truth. Paul Thigpen calls the Left Behind series, ‘spiritual poison.’ Pretty strong words from a man who left fundy land long ago. Thanks so much for posting the article, Camille, and the responses to it. I have enjoyed readin these. This has been anotherspecial Grace moment for me,another celebration of my freedom from this ‘past’ mental bondage. Thank you all for your responses being a part of it. It’s so good to be free and believe on the real Jesus, the Jesus who came, not to guilt trip us, or control us by fear and anxiety, but to love us and set us free to be who the Father created us to be. And everybody says amen! Barbara

  12. “They make love a duty instead of a joy.”

    Exactly. EXACTLY. In every sense, in every part of life.

    My husband’s parents (an IFB pastor and wife) say things about their family members like “We don’t like them, but we love them because we have to.” (These members are usually not IFB) I can’t get over that. I can’t get over that sex is often taught as “a woman’s DUTY to her husband” instead of as a gift.

    And you’re exactly right. The End is going to be amazing. Fantastic. We’ll be united with our Groom forever. Even so, come Lord Jesus! (And I’m a dispensationalist :P)

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