Commentary

“Late Great Planet Earth”

Dwight A. Moody 

Dwight A. Moody

 

You may know this phrase—Late Great Planet Earth—as the title of a book. It was written fifty years ago and sold more than 35 million copies. Which of course made a lot of money for the author (Hal Lindsey) and the publisher (Zondervan).

 

I was a buyer back then, being a college student immersed in religion and preparing for a career in ministry. The book and everything it represented was all the rage: politics and prophesy, scripture and secrets, public affairs, even world affairs—it was all bound up in this seemingly-seamless interpretation of what God was doing in the world.

 

After reading the book, I went to Israel and stayed almost a full year. I bought a Vespa scooter and traveled every mile and mountain of the land, much of which you cannot get to these days. Archeology, geography, geology, and theology: all wrapped into one year, overlaid by this veneer of end-of-the-world scenario. The reality there began the slow stripping of this fanciful ideology that has so gripped milllions of others. 

 

The thesis was this: since God had gathered his Chosen People (the Jews) back to the Promised Land and empowered them to defeat the Arabs (both Muslim and Christian) for control of the Land, it was clear that the end of the age (the Church Age, according to Dispensationalism and the Scofield Reference Bible) was at hand. At the right time, so very near, Jesus would appear and snatch out of the world all of the true Christians (as opposed to false or nominal Christians, which was generally understood to be anybody but Evangelicals). Then would commence a long period of trial and trouble on the earth led by the Anti-Christ.

 

This snatching was known as the Rapture and was popularized by a painting depicting a plane crashing into an urban landscape as the pilots were “snatched away” into heaven. Which, evidently, was a risk you took when you boarded a plane whose pilot was an Evangelical Christian. I don’t recall anybody really checking on that when they bought a ticket, or even how that might be done.

 

Hal Lindsey and his ghost writer Carole C. Carlson went on to write other books, such as The Liberation of Planet Earth and The Terminal Generation. They helped shaped the religious imagination of millions of people, including Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. Their 16 volumes of Left Behind novels were published between 1995 and 2007 and dominated the market, selling an estimated 50 million copies worldwide.

 

Four films, two video games, and several spin-off book series followed.

 

For many of us, this fanciful pre-occupation with the end of the world through an event known as the Rapture is dismissed as silly, a self-serving misinterpretation of the Bible. But for others, it became Christian orthodoxy, far more important than ancient creeds or modern confessions, more influential than Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Billy Graham and Martin Luther King, Jr. rolled into one—actually, more significant than the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit considered separately or together (which we call the Trinity).

 

It became THE ORTHODOXY and is the chief ideological component of the way the todays Evangelicals and Pentecostals look at the world and its immediate future. This is why moving the American Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem was so important; this is why holding up the Bible and laying hands on the President is so important; this is why declaring the United States as a Christian nation is so important.

 

This is also why social conditions that concern the rest of us seem not to phase these prophecy-formed faithful. Poverty, racism, and war never seem to shape either the religion or the politics of this tribe. They are not concerned about global warming, altered DNA, and the sordid history of native peoples, neither here nor anywhere. Nothing matters, except this not-too-secret scenario of the end of the age. This indifference puzzles the rest of us, but here it is—the explanation of what makes them see the world and the nation in the way they do.

 

There are songs that gather up this understanding of things. The secular version is the Creedence Clearwater Revival stomp “Bad Moon Rising”. The religious version is “I Wish We’d All Been Ready”, a track on the very first Christian rock album, released 51 years ago: “Upon This Rock”, by Larry Norman.

 

Hal Lindsey and Carole C. Carlson are old people now, having gotten wealthy on predictions that proved false. The rest of us, however, are the poorer for it. We are suffering through the worst year since the Depression and the World War, largely because those put in place to lead us and those out in places to follow are still distracted (and deluded) by a book published a half century ago.

 

(July 2020)

 

 

 

(June 2020)

 

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Commentary: Archives

Here is an archive of my new series of weekly columns, which began in the spring of 2018.  I welcome your feedback using the reader RESPONSE form at the bottom of every page of this web site.

Late Great Planet Earth

 

Walk Together Children 

The Color of Jesus

Lexington and Galveston 

Black Lives Matter

When Christians Ruled 

Lament and Longing 

The Pentecost We Need 

On Being A Christian in Brunswick 

Is This Man A Christian?

Ever the Twain Did Meet?

Remembering Ridgecrest

Science, State, & Stranger

He Did Not Have To Die

Moses, Jesus, and Brett 

In Honor of Pierce Gerety

The New Mission Field 

Pandemic: What It Ain’t

Is Your Church Ready?

Pandemics and Prayers 

Give Me the Ashes

The Color of Money 

All the Way to Rome

Turn Your Radio On!

Where’s Jesus?

Eulogizing Kobe

The Education of a White Man 

On Living with an Angel

On the Road Again

Signs of Hope 

What’s Right with Southern Religion?

What’s Wrong with Southern Religion?

The End of the World 

Partners in Persecution 

The Write and Wrong of C. S. Lewis 

Can the Supreme Court Save the Culture?

With Billy Barr on the Sawdust Trail

Can Singing Save America?

Cancer: Living, Daying, and Praying 

The Mystery of  Mister Trump 

One Biblical Story, Two Political Visions

Blowing in the Wind 

Will You Also Unsubscribe?

What Kind of Country Do Christian Nationalists Want?

That’s A Completely Crazy Position”

“Let It Go. Give It Up. Throw It Down.”

“I No Longer Identify As A Christian”

Graham, King, and the Two Americas

I Am So Very Sad

Running as a Pro-Jesus Democrat 

Celebrating America the Beautiful 

Surviving a Screen Sabbatical 

Moving the Statue of Liberty

Jesus Loves Obamacare 

Religious Freedom or Religious Confusion?

Praying for the President

And What Do You Do?

Saving the Catholic Church

A View From the Top 

Praying on a Three-Legged Stool 

Was Jesus a Christian?

Keeping My Religion in 2020

What Has Paris To Do With Jerusalem?

Getting Religion in 2020

Religion, Politics, and the 2020 Election 

Listening to the Preacher 

Making America Great Again

David, Goliath, and Donald Trump 

Southern Baptists and United Methodists 

The Practice of Exclusion 

Praying for Revival

From the East and the West

Forgetting the Past

Remembering Angela 

Loving Our Neighbor 

Preaching Us Together 

My Theory of Preaching 

Twice A Year

Helping Dr. Mohler 

Reading Thomas Merton

Meeting Kevin Cosby

When I Read the Book

Bohemian Rhapsody: An Encounter

A Future for Baptist Seminaries?

Fear in Politics and Religion

The First Muslim Seminary

Don’t Preach This Sermon

Read.Talk.Pray.Gossip.

The Lilly Endowment 

The Christian Tsunami

Their Words Seem Like Nonsense 

The Big House in the Middle 

The Judge, the Preacher,  and the Good Samaritan 

I’ll Pass on the Bottle 

A Week of Shame and Pride 

Sabbatical Grace 

Questions for Catholics 

Religious Liberty for All

Resurrection of Kristopher Hampton 

Death of Kristopher Hampton 

All About the Children 

I Pledge my Allegiance

Let’s Move the Statue of Liberty 

Some Preachers of Promise

Southern Baptist Need Pope Francis 

Mystery of the Trump Presidency 

Two Funerals: Graham and Cone 

On the Other Side of Oddville

Here are a few of the articles and stories from my book On the Other Side of Oddville. These were collected from my first series of columns, published by Mercer Press in 2002. You can order a copy by using the response from at the bottom of this page; $20 will cover the cost of the book and mailing. (Checks to Dwight A. Moody).