Book review: Unraptured

Jul 22, 2019 by

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The first thing you notice when you pick up Unraptured: How End Times Theology Gets It Wrong, is that Rachel Held Evans wrote the foreword. Her recent death, and the hole that leaves in the Christian community, make her endorsement particularly poignant.

Unraptured

Unraptured

The first thing you notice when you start reading Unraptured is that it’s funny. Whether growing up a Christian in the 1990s, wooing his wife or unpacking the bizarre world of end- times prophecy, Zack Hunt writes with humor and humility. You’ll laugh out loud.

That said, his childhood faith was gloomy. Like many conservative Christians, he was convinced that if he didn’t believe and do the right things, God would send him to hell to suffer for eternity.

His fear caused him to embrace end-times theology as the definition of his Christian faith: a theology “driven by fear, focused on ‘me’ and the goal of personal salvation, and [the promise of] vengeance against our enemies at the end.”

End-times theology is complicated, fiercely argued, and at times, utterly bizarre. It is also, in part, biblical. Apocalyptic writings show up all over the Bible. Daniel in the Old Testament. Jesus and Paul in the New Testament.

And, of course, the Book of Revelation.

Many of these biblical passages are odd, if not downright freaky. (Demon locusts anyone? Bowls of the martyrs’ blood perhaps?)

Hunt obviously loves the Bible and knows it well. Unraptured is never about dismissing uncomfortable or confusing Bible verses. It is about understanding apocalyptic scripture differently, telling a truer story. A story built on love, not fear. A story lived in the present, not the future. A story that focuses on others instead of ourselves.

Hunt promotes the kingdom of God as now: “Revelation is as much about beginnings as it is about endings.”

“Salvation isn’t something that happens to us in the future, but rather something that God does through us in the present.”

“[Unraptured] is about what Christianity looks like when we stop focusing on trying to escape earth for heaven and start trying to bring heaven to earth.”

Early on, Hunt introduces us to Grandma Ruthie. She was not his actual grandma; she was his Sunday school teacher. “She loved and accepted you just as you were. . . . Simply existing was enough for Grandma Ruthie.”
Hunt doesn’t doubt that Grandma Ruthie believed in hell, but he never heard her talk about it. She had other things to teach.

Grandma Ruthie disappears from page 24 to 233, but her spirit presides throughout. Which do you emphasize: Acting in love in this present age? Or preparing for a future time?

The two aren’t mutually exclusive. But a church that prioritizes loving God’s creation now looks a lot different than a church focused on a future outcome.

You might have noticed I haven’t mentioned the rapture, or any other of the myriad theories of end-times theology. I haven’t used words like dispensation, millennialism, second coming and tribulation.

This is because Hunt doesn’t spend a great deal of time with them either. Obsessed with all these terms as a young man, Hunt now releases the rapture and the dispensations (neither of which is in the Bible). His book is about releasing the entire conversation of what will happen, when and to whom.

Unraptured argues that the end times are now. We are living in the apocalypse that has already come.

By which Hunt means Jesus’ resurrection: “Jesus had been raised from the dead, and because he had, the last days had begun.”

In this way, Hunt calls us to “apocalyptic” living. Here is where Hunt shows his Anabaptist colors.

Apocalyptic love is “self-sacrifice, putting others before ourselves, transforming enemies into friends, and service to the least of these.”

Apocalyptic imagination is communal. “We are saved together, and we are invited to usher in the kingdom of God on earth.”

Apocalyptic resistance rejects the beast and Babylon’s seductions. “It’s not the violent resistance of taking up arms . . . . It’s the subversive, nonviolent resistance of Christlike discipleship that’s shaped and defined by love.”

I was raised in an Anabaptist community and cannot remember being introduced to the rapture or premillennialism. Not until I left my home and interacted with other Christian traditions.

Two years ago, I sat through two separate, in-depth Bible studies on Revelation and Daniel. Both delved deep into end-times prophecy. I found the inventive cross referencing, pursuit of symbolism and general theorizing fascinating, but not in any practical way.

I’d like to shrug and say, “Hey, if it is important to your faith to literally identify the mark of the Beast and the abomination of desolation, have at it.”

But, as Hunt points out, there are consequences to an obsession with the end times. There are people, places and things directly affected.

The most obvious is Israel. Because it is widely believed that Israel must exist as a nation-state to bring about Jesus’ return, end-times theology “values prophecy over people,” Hunt says. “Fulfilling biblical prophecy is more important than the lives of Palestinians.”

There are other examples:

Because the world will end in fire and start over, climate change doesn’t matter.

Because Saddam Hussein was the Antichrist, bombing Iraq was God’s will.

Because Jesus will return as a warrior, the church can condone retribution and wrath.

Hunt has written a prophetic book. Not the kind that predicts the future. Rather, like the Old Testament proph­ets, one that calls the people of God to repentance and doing justice.

Sarah Kehrberg lives in Swannanoa, N.C., and attends Asheville Mennonite Church.


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