Sunday, January 31, 2021
Thirty years ago, I asked a young defense attorney if he had ever won an acquittal for a defendant he knew without doubt to be guilty. He gave me an easy yes, and explained that he had prepared a believable but bogus line of defense, a misleading argument that the jury had naively fallen for. As a result, his guilty-as-sin client was wrongly ruled innocent and walked off as free as can be. The attorney had won his case; but justice was not served. Justice did not have its way that day. To my befuddled bewilderment, the young defense attorney was upfront about what happened, and yet completely unbothered. He felt no need to justify what he had done. He took a matter-of-fact and nonchalant attitude about it all. I probably should not have been as surprised as I was. Like the hoodwinked jury, I was rather naïve.
If I had to squeeze a somewhat positive takeaway from my bewildering conversation with the young attorney, it would be this: Well-presented arguments matter, matter a lot.
Regrettably, a wrong-headed and yet well-presented argument can win out against a better argument presented poorly. Falsehood can have its way if it is presented more persuasively than truth. Truth ought to prevail, to be sure and absolutely so. But how it is presented might matter quite a bit more, at least in the short term.
Why is that, though? The simple reason why the presentation of an arguable claim can matter as much as the truthfulness of its content is because people are often naïve and gullible. Yes, that was a wordy sentence. Sorry. But think it through. How something is presented can matter as much or even more than whether it is true; and that it is because people are gullible.
Most people will buy a lousy idea if it is spun persuasively enough, and if others they respect fall for it. Consider that an important axiom that you can pocket and revisit. Know as well that it explains a massive amount of foolishness that routinely plays out around you. A lot of people have been inoculated against the truth because they have heard persuasive or pervasive lies. That was well-worded, so I will repeat it: A lot of people have been inoculated against the truth because they have heard persuasive or pervasive lies. Yes, I ought to give you some examples. And yes, I need to explain why I am pointing this out to you.
As for why I am pointing this out to you, I intend to argue against a first-rate and very influential theologian, whom I will refer to as the Right Reverend. I hope to persuade you that the Right Reverend is quite wrong on something quite big. He once presented a persuasive correction of a controversial biblical doctrine known as the Rapture. And his persuasive correction has become pervasive. Succinctly stated, the Right Reverend says there will be no Rapture. But I mean to correct his correction. Although the Right Reverend is right about a lot, here he is wrong. There will be a Rapture. It is a doctrine that can be established biblically. And we are supposed to expect it.
But before I get into the nitty-gritty of my arguments for the Rapture, I want to talk about the influence of the Right Reverend. Over a dozen years ago, I went to a local church where a very popular young pastor referred pejoratively to the Rapture as “Evacuation Theology.” The very popular young pastor insisted that God has no intentions of evacuating us Christians out of the world, but instead intends to return to this world and make Heaven and Earth one — one habitation for God and the Redeemed of Humanity.
Fancy Phrase here: The very popular young pastor was right in what he affirmed, but wrong in what he denied. And that is another important axiom to pocket: A lot of pundits are right in what they affirm and wrong in what they deny. How was he right? The popular young pastor was right when he affirmed that God intends to return (Christ) to this world and make Heaven and Earth one habitation for Himself and the Redeemed of Humanity. True, that. But the popular young pastor was wrong when he denied that God will evacuate the Church. On the contrary, according to scripture God will evacuate the Church, albeit for just a little while.
The message I heard from the popular young pastor had the fingerprints of the Right Reverend. It is very, very likely that the popular young pastor came to his disparaging views of the Rapture — “Evacuation Theology” — either directly or indirectly from the Right Reverend. If I had to bet, I would bet that the popular young pastor read the voluminous and eloquent writings of the Right Reverend in seminary, just like me. Indeed, the Right Reverend is prolific, and one of today’s best-selling Christian writers. The Right Reverend’s name is N.T. Wright, more casually known as Tom Wright. He is a brilliant and important writer. But he is wrong about the Rapture. I need to do more than assert that, though. I need to explain why Wright is wrong and I am right. Did you catch the pun there?
Allow me to make a caveat here, though: I hardly think of N.T. Wright as a dangerous heretic. Much to the contrary, I think of N.T. Wright as a profoundly important, orthodox interpreter and theologian. He deserves his status as one of the most important living Christian thinkers. But the Right Reverend Wright does get this one very important point very wrong.
Since Jesus warned his listeners to be vigilant and ready for the eventuality of his appearance and the rapture/the evacuation that will accompany his appearance, it matters much that we affirm its reality (see Luke 17:20-37, which will be one of my key scriptural references). Jesus urged his followers to be ready upon his appearance to immediately and absolutely abandon everything near and dear. Like Noah’s family and Lot’s family — evacuees, in both cases — his followers need to be ready and willing to leave when the time comes. Jesus puts the onus on his followers to be ready, watchful, and willing to leave when the time comes and he appears. This all makes sense if the rapture involves an urgent angelic summons of those who are ready to go. However, it does not make sense if there is no rapture.
But beating N.T. Wright in a debate about the reality of the Rapture will take a lot more than just a few sloppy paragraphs. I have a negative task and a positive task in front of me. The negative task is to debunk his frankly persuasive arguments. The positive task is to more firmly establish my own arguments. Honestly, I might not convince my readers and listeners. But I am going to try, if only because I really do believe the rapture will happen, and could happen relatively soon. For now, though, I just want my readers to be introduced to what the issue is and whom I arguing against.