The next chapter of the book by the United Methodist minister Martin Thielen (entitled What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian?) is entitled Bad People Will Be “Left Behind” and Then Fry in Hell. He subtitles this chapter “Left-behind rapture theology is neither a biblical nor a historical Christian belief and should be left behind by mainline and moderate evangelical Christians.”
In this chapter Thielen attacks two end-times’ doctrines: the doctrine of a secret rapture and the doctrine of eternal conscious punishment (ECP). He rejects the secret rapture doctrine, arguing it was invented by John Darby (I did my Ph.D. dissertation on Darby, and it’s difficult to prove that he “invented” it). I agree with Thielen that some who hold to the left-behind view have tended to not care about the environment or social issues. But that should not automatically eliminate the possibility that Jesus can return at any moment. There does seem to be some support in the Scriptures for the secret rapture view.
Concerning the fate of “the wicked” (those who die without faith in Christ), Thielen lists the three alternatives to ECP: universalism, after-death opportunities to repent, and annihilationism. I’ve examined each of these views extensively in my first book The Other Side of the Good News and find each lacks biblical support.
MY RESPONSE: Thielen says the ECP view is “fiercely debated” (but that’s also true with the doctrine of the Trinity, isn’t it?). He rejects the idea of eternal conscious punishment because it presents God as One who “ultimately loses” (if many are condemned) and that He is guilty of giving out “a highly disproportionate penalty.” If God’s ultimate goal is His own glory — and if human beings deserve God’s eternal wrath — then those who go to hell are evidence of man’s poor choice, not God’s poor planning. The disproportionate argument misses the point of the seriousness of sin against a holy God. Stealing from a stranger is bad. Robbing one’s mother is quite different. Rejecting the Son of God merits the worst possible punishment — banishment in hell separated from God and His redeemed people.
After examining the three “alternatives,” Thielen comes out as an agnostic about what will happen to the lost. Such agnosticism is not warranted by the Word of God. I appreciate the terror he felt as he watched the “Left Behind” movie as a teenager, but fear can sometimes lead people to trusting Christ! And suggesting that each of the three “alternatives” to hell have some biblical support and that we “simply have to trust God to do the right thing whatever that is” fails to take the Bible seriously.
Here’s one popular picture suggesting what might happen at the rapture.