The Rapture is When?

A Critique of The Rapture Question Answered Plain and Simple
by Robert Van Kampen

by Darrel Cline

Problems in Chapter One

In chapter one, on page 16, there are two statements which Van Kampen makes that are more indications of personality quirks that probably have more to do with the position he has taken than the texts with which he deals.

This is no small matter. The God of the Bible is infinite in every aspect of His being. Because this is true, it is no small task for Him to effectively communicate with us. Even for God, it is no easy thing to pour the understanding of the infinite into the finite minds of men. And this task is even more difficult because of the corruption of those finite minds that reveals itself in the quirks of the personalities of those who possess them. Understanding involves two realities that are held in tension. The first is what I will call "the big picture". The second is what I will call "the particular details". At any time the "big picture" is distorted in the mind of the hearer of the Word of God, there will be misunderstanding. Likewise, whenever the "particular details" are improperly grasped, there will be misunderstanding.

Therefore, since we are always liable to possess a distortion of the big picture by reason of our finitude and lack of omniscience (not to mention our on-going sinfulness), and since we are always liable to take the meaning of the details in a way unintended by God, there is always a large possibility that we will have a distorted grasp of God's meaning in the words He says. If this were not so, we would have no revelation from God about how absolutely necessary it is for the ministry of the Spirit of God to be actively involved in giving us understanding.

I have said this to lay a foundation for my explanation of my reaction to the two statements I find objectionable about Van Kampen's comments on page 16. The first of those comments is, "...it is no wonder that average Christians often throw up their hands, not knowing what to believe." By this statement, Van Kampen clearly reveals his attitude that he is not one of those "average Christians". This leads me to wonder where he would classify himself in respect to the rest of us.

The second statement also raises questions. He wrote, "Sad to say, many students and teachers of prophecy seem willing to adopt almost any method of interpretation that side-steps the obvious teaching of Scripture on this all-important matter." There are three things here. The first is his accusation of impropriety by many of those who disagree with him. The second is his perception of what is "obvious". The third is his statement that the timing of the Rapture is an "all-important matter".

So let us consider these three things. First, there is evidence in his own writings that Van Kampen has adopted a less than realistic method of interpretation himself. I will demonstrate this later. Suffice it to say at this point that Van Kampen's hermeneutic is a dismissal of reality and Scripture in favor of simplistic comparisons of various Scriptures pulled out of their own contexts (a serious charge, I admit, but one the truth of which I will attempt to show later). Should we then do as he has done and accuse him of impropriety because of the view he has taken that is the result of the flawed hermeneutic he has opted to use? Or should we give him some slack and simply recognize that he, like the rest of us, is "in transit" and that his views of what the Bible says will grow more accurate as he grows more mature in Christ?

Second, we have already addressed the issue of what is "obvious" in response to his preface materials. "Obvious" is in the eyes of the beholder. One can elevate the evil of his opponents' motives and methods if he can accuse them of rejecting the "obvious", but that is a valid accusation only if the conclusions are really "obvious". If the "clarity" really existed at the level Van Kampen claims it does, there would be no reason for his labors in writing such extensive arguments.

What is "obvious" to him after an extended study and grappling with the words of Scripture is only so because of the extended study and grappling. The "obvious" does not require extended study and serious grappling with the details. To accuse others of missing the "obvious" when, in fact, it only became "obvious" to him after a long period of time and an extended and detailed search is something less than equitable. And, to accuse others of missing the "obvious" after they have read his writings and pondered the question of the accuracy of his thinking smacks of thinking that he has made the "obvious" more "obvious" so that those who don't agree with his conclusions are simply being obtuse. Frankly, if the timing of the Rapture was all that "obvious" we wouldn't have so much divergence of understanding within the family of God among people who genuinely love our Lord Jesus Christ. The only way his statement of the "obvious" can stand is if the vast multitudes of those of us who disagree with his arguments are deliberately wicked and willing to reject the illuminating ministry of the Spirit. He can make (has made) that accusation, but it makes more of a statement about his own personality and its quirks than it does about those who disagree with him.

And thirdly what is so "all-important" about the issue of the timing of the Rapture? There are two issues here. The first concerns the teaching that the Rapture is imminent (it could happen at any time; it will happen before the initiation of the seventieth week of Daniel). According to this teaching, the timing of the Rapture is non-existent. The whole point of the idea of imminency is that we do not know the time and, therefore, we must live like it could be today. So, for the sake of argument, let's briefly assume this position is true and ask this question: how important is the timing? That depends upon how important Jesus' concept of imminency is. If Jesus was feeding His disciples a line at the end of Matthew 24 about how the absence of a sense of potential immediacy (imminency) results in carnal living, neither Jesus' sense of imminency is important, nor is the idea of the imminency of the Rapture. But, if Jesus was really telling the truth -- that there is something in us that fosters carelessness if we say "My Lord tarries" -- then the importance of an untimed Rapture increases.

The second issue here is the fact that the Rapture has been taught that it is untimed (imminent) for a long time to many people. If that is a lie, those people will be caught off guard when the time of great testing comes upon the earth if they happen to be alive when that time comes, but otherwise they will have mistakenly eagerly looked for the Son until the day they died. They will have gotten up each morning saying "Maybe today!" and lived in the light of that hope, and gone to bed each evening thinking "Maybe in my sleep!". Now, it cannot be that they will be spiritually injured by eagerly looking for Him each day, just mildly disappointed each evening that it wasn't "today". But what about their being spiritually injured if they actually are a part of the terminal generation?

We would not want them to be blind-sided, especially if it will cause spiritual injury. Therefore the timing of the Rapture takes on some significance if imminence is a delusion, but not so much as Van Kampen might think.

How so?

In this manner. Believers who are eagerly looking for the coming glory of our great God and Savior, according to the teaching of Paul and John, are people who are walking with Him in the light and not shunning whatever cost that walk forces upon them in this world (they are not masochisticly looking for suffering, but they do not sidestep it when it does come). This kind of people will not be significantly affected if the seventieth week catches them off-guard. It will be a surprise if they have been erroneously taught they will escape it, but it will not undo them precisely because they are living for Him, not for their own escape. Make no mistake about it, the doctrine of the Rapture has its escapist elements, but its impact is not escapist if Jesus meant what He said in the texts that establish His understanding of the psychological significance of believing in imminence. The primary significance of imminence, according to Jesus, is armor against the temptation to slothfulness and unfaithfulness, not escape from difficulties. Thus, those who hold a pre-trib Rapture as an escapist doctrine are not really walking in the light; they are simply looking for an escape from the price of living in this world. They do not awake in the morning saying "Maybe today!" They do not go to bed at night thinking "Maybe in my sleep!" Instead, they carnally live thinking nothing really bad is going to happen to them because Jesus promised an escape from the tribulation to come. Those people will be significantly surprised if the pre-trib Rapture they hope for doesn't deliver them, but they will not be spiritually injured because they are not living for Christ anyway. You can't damage people who are already twisting the meaning of Scripture to suit themselves! So, the drumbeat of danger that Van Kampen is thumping out is more illusion than reality.

Then there are also these facts. Though it magnifies the importance of the crusade upon which Van Kampen has launched himself to claim that the timing of the Rapture is all-important, the timing of the Rapture, if it is not imminent, is not an "all-important matter." It is true that if the Rapture is not going to happen before the period of great tribulation, those who have been taught that it is will be confused if they are alive when that period begins -- and it is important to reduce that confusion because of the doctrine of the imminence of the seventieth week. And, it is true that if the Rapture really is imminent, but people are dissuaded from believing that by Van Kampen so that they lose their sense of eager expectation and faithfulness, that needs to be corrected (Van Kampen has apparently not considered how his doctrine undercuts our eager anticipation of the Coming Son).

But, those issues are not in the same camp as the "all-important" ones. If the Rapture is not imminent it is really nothing more than the teaching of resurrection (which has been a foundational truth, known for centuries) coupled with a teaching of the instantaneous transformation of the terminal generation (a mystery addition to the end-time resurrection doctrine accomplished by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:51). Though those truths have great value, the timing of them does not travel in the circles of the "all-important". The Word of God reveals the "all-important matters" to be the issues that have to do with man's condition in sin, God's willingness to provide redemption, the cruciality of the development of faith, hope, and love in man, and the lingering issues of man's daily loyalty to the Creator Who made him. If the timing of the Rapture is pre-Wrath it has little to do with any of these truly all-important issues. If the Rapture is not imminent, it's timing is an encouraging truth to know -- a part of the details of the revelation of our God so that we may understand Him better -- but it isn't even as important for my understanding as the truth that I might drop dead at any time. In fact, if the timing of the Rapture is not imminent, it takes its place alongside the biblical teaching that Elijah is coming before Christ does; a doctrine that is helpful to know but hardly crucial to the way I live my life unless and until I see the abomination of desolation and realize that I am actually in the Great Tribulation. At that point the doctrine will take on special significance, but until then, it does not have that special significance.

Since, according to Van Kampen, the Rapture isn't going to take place until well into the latter stages of the seventieth week, the Rapture has no real impact upon my choices today since I am not in the seventieth week. Its impact is even further removed from my daily life by the following probabilities: 1) it is more likely that I will die before I will be raptured if it isn't going to happen until late in the seventieth week of Daniel; 2) it is even more likely that I will die than be raptured if it is going to happen after the persecution by the Antichrist because I have every intention of loving Jesus by the grace of God in spite of the pressures of men--so I will probably be martyred and not be raptured; and 3) it is more likely that I will succumb to the temptations to live carelessly if I buy into Van Kampen's theory of the tarrying of my Lord than it is that I will live faithfully since my Lord said that if I think He is tarrying I will slide into casual living. The truth of the matter is that if I consider that Jesus may appear today, my wayward heart is kept under the dominion of the Spirit, and if I consider that He may not appear for a long time yet, my wayward heart has far more pull than I need. There is, indeed, something important about the timing of the Rapture, but Van Kampen's theory will undercut it severely for anyone who buys into it. Van Kampen's theory will actually make the timing of the Rapture not only not "all-important" but not even as important as the prophecy of the coming of Elijah.

Conclusions from Page 16

What the two statements made on this page reveal is that Van Kampen thinks he has found a dangerous theological novelty from which he needs to protect the "average Christians" who have been duped by less than sincere teachers of prophecy. And they reveal that he is adept at trying to make his views "crucial to life". Since his view is not crucial to life and because the danger is greater if we believe him [My Lord tarries...] than if we do not, his view may actually be a result of certain personality quirks that may have more influence in his understanding of the texts than the words in those texts. That remains to be seen, but the possibility is a given because of what he has revealed about himself in his words.

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