Professor: Say No to 'Left Behind' Theology

Rev. Barbara R. Rossing, author of The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation, questions the representation of Revelations in Left Behind Series.
( [email protected] ) Jan 25, 2007 09:37 AM EST

NEW YORK - At a time when society’s notion of apocalypse consists of catastrophic future events with explosions and demonic beings in the Armageddon, there is a need for Christians to say “no” to the fictional Left Behind version, the Rev. Barbara R. Rossing asserted at a national theological conference that ended Wednesday.

Rossing, a professor of New Testament at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago, is the author of The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation. She has lectured, preached, and published widely.

Left Behind: Eternal Forces, the new Christian video game based off of the best-selling book series, invites players to “command your forces through intense battles across a breathtaking authentic depiction of New York City,” noted Rossing on Tuesday at Trinity Institute’s 37th national theological conference. The three-day conference, themed “God’s Unfinished Future: Why It Matters Now,” began Monday at the Trinity Church in New York City with keynote speaker James Carroll leading the Eucharist and concluded Wednesday.

“Ads for the game online show gun-wielding soldiers marching here in New York City, helicopters floating overhead and people being killed all accompanied by the music of ‘Amazing Grace,’” Rossing noted.

“Is this how 'God's Unfinished Future' is about to end – right here in New York as ancient scriptures come to life?” the doctor of theology asked.

“No,” she replied, “I think this theology is nuts and that we must say ‘no’ to the 'Left Behind' fictional version.”

Rossing claims that the death of life, the end-times, is taking place now under a culture of excessive materialism which she identifies as the “disease of more.”

Rossing quoted at length an October 2005 column by Peggy Noonan, a Wall Street Journal columnist and former speech writer for President Ronald Reagan. The column, titled “A Separate Peace,” suggested that the world's people may be living at “the end of something.”

In the article, Noonan said that she and some friends were discussing the sheer number of things that parents buy for teenage girls – bags, earrings, and shoes. Some describe it as affluence, but Noonan said “it's also the fear that parents have that we are at the end of something and that they want their kids to have good memories.”

The columnist wrote of an unnoticed sense that the "wheels are coming off the trolley and the trolley is coming off the tracks and it won't be fixed anytime soon." She speculated that those who were not conscious of this sense just kept life moving, but those who realized that something was out of line, maintained the line of thinking of “I've got mine; you get yours.”

The violent story of Armageddon is “encroaching on a cavalier ‘use it or lose it’ activity,” Rossing explained. The text of militant prophecy stems from “people who do not care about peace.”

“It’s a story about how the planet wants to be decimated,” she added. "As Christians, that cannot be our message."

Having touched on the ecological and empirical trends of American culture today, Rossing asked stimulating questions and offered greater insight into the current state of the world.

She posed the question “What for us is the end of the world?”

In Latin, the word “apocalypse” means “an unveiling.” If “pulling back the curtain” reveals something, what curtain did Hurricane Katrina pull back? “Whether the accelerating melting of Greenland's ice, the war in Iraq, or 9/11 and its aftermath - how do we read these signs of the times?” she asked.

The theological conference made a case for reclaiming the Bible and explained the apocalypse as a diagnosis of the sickness of our world. Likening the Bible to a doctor, Rossing said it is “giving us a tough diagnosis right now" and "a vision for healing and hope.”

She explained that the ecological crisis is not framed so much in guilt or sin, but in finding others as well as ourselves to be resistant to sin – moreover to an illness which we need healing.

In her recent publication, Rossing asserted that today’s end–times writings look at prophecy that was invented less than two hundred years ago and, by now, is a dominant American view. The Bible does not provide a clear depiction of worldwide violence and disaster in the Middle East.

However, the Book of Revelation, she admonished, should not be shied away from. In fact, Revelation is a crucial text for helping us see God’s life in our world. Rossing said that the central message of the Book of Revelation is that "God's will is not to destroy our world but to heal it."