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Tuesday, May 10, 2005America's Religious Right - Saints or Subversives? The Pie in the Sky (Part 4 of 5)
Rev. Tim LaHaye thinks deep thoughts. Co-author of the best-selling Left Behind and Babylon Risingnovels, the 78-year-old evangelical probes the mind of God as revealed in Holy Scriptures.
Building on a theological twist that dates back to the 1830s, he deftly tells of the End Time, when the Lord raises born-again Christians bodily into the heavens. LaHaye and his fellow believers call this the Rapture, and find their biblical inspiration in Paul's first letter to the church at Thessalonica.
For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. ( I Thes. 4:16-17).
Thanks largely to LaHaye and a dedicated cadre of like-minded prophecy preachers, the mainstream of America's 80 million evangelicals now read Paul's words to mean something radically different from most earlier interpretations. In growing numbers, these born-again Christians fervently expect the Rapture to come within their lifetimes.
For believers, it doesn't get any better than this. They get their pie in the sky. They need not wait for the sweet bye and bye. And they never, ever have to die.
The belief - premillennial dispensationalism, to use the theological mouthful - has obvious appeal, and has fueled a quintessentially American messianic movement, the latest and possibly most powerful of our country's recurrent Christian revivals.
But the prophecy has a downside, which its adherents often fail to spell out fully.
As LaHaye reads the Holy Writ, the Rapture leads to the Great Tribulation, with floods and earthquakes, pestilence and epidemics, anarchy in the streets, and demonic battles against the one world government of the anti-Christ, whom he portrays in his novels as the Secretary General of the United Nations, a suave Romanian named Nicholae Carpathia. The forces of good finally defeat this Emperor of Evil in a famous victory at Armageddon, after which Jesus Christ returns to rule the earth.