Articles from 2009

Left Behind: Tribulation Force Review–Part 3


Previous parts

On p. 67 of TF, it is made clear as day that not only are the Catholics left behind for not believing in Luther’s doctrines, but those who don’t believe in premillennial dispensationalism (the complicated, convoluted system of doctrine, only about 100 years old or so, which includes the Left Behind-version of the End Times) are left behind:

[The congregation of Bruce’s church] were drinking this in [Bruce’s interpretations of Revelations], and they wanted more and more.  Clearly Bruce had been in tune with what God was showing him.  He had said over and over that this was not new truth, that the commentaries he cited were decades old–

*snort*–Decades?  Oh, my gosh, you mean the commentaries were written in the 20th century?  So old!

–and that the doctrine of the end times was much, much older than that.

About 100 years old, yes.

But those who had relegated this kind of teaching to the literalists, the fundamentalists, the closed-minded evangelicals, had been left behind.

All of a sudden it was all right to take Scripture at its word!  If nothing else convinced people, losing so many to the Rapture finally reached them.

Na na na na na!  Don’t believe in a literalist interpretation of the Bible?  You’re left behind!  Believe the Church will have to go through the Tribulation and not get Raptured?  You’re left behind!  Don’t believe Revelations is meant to be taken literally?  You’re left behind!

It’s not enough to believe in Christ–You also have to believe the right doctrines!  Don’t agree with the evangelicals?  You’re left behind!  Don’t agree with our version of doctrine?  You’re so stupid it’ll take a Rapture to convince you!

On page 65, I started a tally of how many times the authors wrote “Buck was struck”:

On p. 65, “As Bruce plunged ahead, Buck was struck” (ooh, the double entendres!) “that the last speaker he had heard who was so captivating was Nicolae Carpathia” (that’s the Antichrist, the Beast, by the way).

On p. 110, “Buck was more struck with Steve’s appearance than with Carpathia’s.”  (It’s too easy to start with the slash humor here.)

Then on p. 342, “Buck was struck by their ragged robes” (those of the Two Witnesses, Eli and Moishe).

Meanwhile, I was struck (though that does not rhyme) with something else on p. 65: “Would [Bruce] tell this [church] body that he believed he knew who the Antichrist was?  In a way Buck hoped he would.  But that might be considered slander, to publicly finger someone as the archenemy of almighty God.”

That doesn’t stop people from doing so.  I’m aware of Popes, Mikhail Gorbachev and, now, Barack Obama being publicly fingered as the Antichrist.  There are probably many others as well.

On p. 79, Buck is actually considering being “just friends” with his potential love muffin Chloe because “Who pursues a relationship during the end of the world?”

Anyone who knows he/she only has 7 years left in which to follow his/her heart’s desire, that’s who!  Any red-blooded 30-year-old virgin who knows he only has 7 years left in which to have nookie, that’s who!

On p. 208, we have to wonder about the utter stupidity of Buck’s boss, who actually thinks that anything involving Israel, anything happening in the Holy Land, automatically goes in the Religion section of the newsweekly.

Would he put suicide bombings, the peace talks in Israel, or news analyses showing how Israel is at the root of so much conflict in the Middle East which now extends to the rest of the world–Would he put those things in the Religion section????

Being allied with Israel, right or wrong, is one reason why the terrorists hate us and plane-bomb our cities, because they hate Israel; does that belong in the Religion section?

On pages 275-279, we read about all the religious leaders of the world coming together, hammering out their differences, deciding to work together and promote a New Agey-view of religion (“Whether we believe God is a real person or merely a concept, God is in all and above all and around all.  God is in us.  God is us.  We are God”), deciding to believe in the basic goodness of mankind….

The Muslims agree to move the Dome of the Rock so the Jews can re-build their ancient Temple on the original site…. The nations have agreed to one currency, total disarmament (except for the UN’s cut) and peace….

Yeah.  Riiiiiiiiiight.  I see that happening in this universe.  This must be the universe in which Bill and Ted’s Excellent music puts an end to war and poverty, aligns the planets and brings them into universal harmony, etc. etc.

P. 280 has one of my favorite passages.  It’s fun to read this one out loud as if it were a passage from a bodice-ripping romance novel.  I have bolded the parts which especially deserve a husky voice and raised eyebrows:

Yet in his anxiety over meeting Carpathia face-to-face, [Rayford] did not want to look past the ordeal of confronting Hattie Durham.  Hattie was waiting when he stepped off the elevator. He had hoped to have a moment to get the lay of the land–

Would that be Hattie?

–to freshen up, to take a deep breath.  But there she stood in all her youthful beauty, more stunning than ever because of a tan and expensively tailored clothes on a frame that needed no help. 

Now switch from your porn-star voice to the voice of an Old-Time Religion, Bible-thumping, fire-and-brimstone preacher, complete with a drawled “eeeeeviiiiil”:

He did not expect what he saw, and he sensed evil in the place when a flash of longing for her briefly invaded his mind.  Rayford’s old nature immediately reminded him why she had distracted him during a wintry season of his marriage.

He prayed silently, thanking God for sparing him from having done something he would have regretted forever.

Is that your old nature in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?

Oh, yes, a beautiful woman inspiring a flash of longing, is a sign of evil in the place!

So, the sex drive disappears when you get saved?  The natural attraction of man to woman becomes part of the “old nature”?  How do you carry on the race that way?

To be continued….

My entire review is here.

Left Behind: Tribulation Force Review–Part 2

Part 1

On p. 53 is the ah-ha moment: Now we find out what LaHaye and Jenkins really think of other churches!  Check this out:

Most interesting to Buck was the interpretation of the event [Rapture] on the part of other churchmen.

A lot of Catholics were confused, because while many remained, some had disappeared–including the new pope, who had been installed just a few months before the vanishings.  He had stirred up controversy in the church with a new doctrine that seemed to coincide more with the “heresy” of Martin Luther than with the historic orthodoxy they were used to.

When the pope had disappeared, some Catholic scholars had concluded that this was indeed an act of God.  “Those who opposed the orthodox teaching of the Mother Church were winnowed out from among us,” Peter Cardinal Mathews of Cincinnati, a leading archbishop, had told Buck.

“The Scripture says that in the last days it will be as in the days of Noah.  And you’ll recall that in the days of Noah, the good people remained and the evil ones were washed away.”

“So,” Buck concluded, “the fact that we’re still here proves we’re the good guys?”

“I wouldn’t put it so crassly,” Archbishop Mathews had said, “but, yes, that’s my position.”

“What does that say about all the wonderful people who vanished?”  

Uh, Buck, what about all the wonderful people who were left behind, as one of your friends noted in the first book?

“That perhaps they were not so wonderful.”

“And the children and babies?”

The bishop had shifted uncomfortably.  “That I leave to God,” he said.  “I have to believe that perhaps he was protecting the innocents.”

“From what?”

“I’m not sure.  I don’t take the Apocrypha literally, but there are dire predictions of what might be yet to come.”

“So you would not relegate the vanished young ones to the winnowing of the evil?”

“No.  Many of the little ones who disappeared I baptized myself, so I know they are in Christ and with God.”

“And yet they are gone.”

“They are gone.”

“And we remain.”

“We should take great solace in that.”

“Few people take solace in it, Excellency.”

“I understand that.  This is a very difficult time.  I myself am grieving the loss of a sister and an aunt.  But they had left the church.”

“They had?”

“They opposed the teaching.  Wonderful women, most kind.  Most earnest, I must add.  But I fear they have been separated as chaff from wheat.  Yet those of us who remain should be confident in our standing with God as never before.”

Buck had been bold enough to ask the archbishop to comment on certain passages of Scripture, primarily Ephesians 2:8-9: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”

“Now you see,” the archbishop said, “this is precisely my point.  People have been taking verses like that out of context for centuries and trying to build doctrine on them.”

“But there are other passages just like those,” Buck said.

“I understand that, but, listen, you’re not Catholic, are you?”

“No, sir.”

“Well, see, you don’t understand the broad sweep of the historical church.”

“Excuse me, but explain to me why so many non-Catholics are still here, if your hypothesis is right.”

“God knows,” Archbishop Mathews had said.  “He knows hearts.  He knows more than we do.”

“That’s for sure,” Buck said.

Of course Buck left his personal comments and opinions out of the article, but he was able to work in the Scripture and the archbishop’s attempt to explain away the doctrine of grace.

WOW.  There are so many things wrong with that passage that it’s hard to know where to begin.  It’s supposed to shock us with how outrageously terrible the Catholic Church is.  Instead, it shocks us with how outrageously terrible this passage is:

You have an arrogant self-righteous condemnation of the Catholic church and the believers within it.  You have the Pope getting raptured not because he’s a man of God, but because he tried to bring in Protestant doctrines.

You have Catholics being raptured only because they’re too young to know the Catholic church is Evil, or because they are really Protestants in their hearts.  You have the guy in line to be the next Pope being portrayed as arrogantly and self-righteously condemning those who believe in Protestant doctrines.

And there’s more to come: The guy in line also drinks alcohol, even in the morning!  He rejects Christian doctrine in favor of joining with the Antichrist’s one-world religion!

Also note that we have no idea what the archbishop means by “Apocrypha,” or if it’s a good or bad thing that he doesn’t take it literally.  Does he mean the Deuterocanon, which is accepted by the Catholic and Orthodox Churches but not by the Protestants?  If so, wouldn’t he call them the Deuterocanon, since “Apocrypha” is derogatory?  Does he mean the many books which were rejected from the New Testament not just by the Protestants, but by the Catholic and Orthodox Churches as well?

But there’s more!  You have Buck, a brand-new believer who barely knows anything about the Bible yet, telling an archbishop what the Bible says.  What about other verses which support the importance of good works?

What about the possibility that Buck doesn’t know enough about Catholic theology to truly understand the Catholic church’s position on faith and works, and is merely parroting what he’s been taught by Bruce about the Catholic Church?

Protestant Fundamentalism is full of polemics against the Catholic Church: Catholics are seen as not really “saved”; Catholics are seen as “mistaken” about baptism and the Eucharist; some even go so far as to call the Catholic Church the “Whore of Babylon.”

I have been in Fundamentalist and Evangelical churches for most of my life, so I can tell you this is true, not just anti-Protestant propaganda.  This whole passage is a big “na na na na na” against the Catholic Church for not “really” being Christian.

We find more of this on p. 275, in which Mathews promotes a New Agey view of religion, and on p. 401.  The Archbishop is now Pontifex Maximus Peter, the Pope and head of the one-world religion.

Anyone who believes in the Bible as “the final authority for faith and practice,” anyone who does not go along with the one-world religion instead, is proclaimed a heretic.

Essentially, we see here the “Whore of Babylon” condemnation of the Catholic Church and the Pope.

Another writer goes into this here.

My entire review is here.

Left Behind: Tribulation Force Review–Part 1

Tribulation Force by Tim LaHaye & Jerry Jenkins, Tyndale House Publishers, ISBN 0842329218, available practically anywhere Christian books are sold:

As before, you can find plot summaries online, such as in the Amazon comments; one is here.

If you read the Slacktivist’s review of Left Behind, you’ll see that there are far too many phone calls.  Well, it’s the same in the next book.  In fact, we discover on page 5 why Buck’s new apartment is perfect for him: It has already-installed phones!  Oh, glee!  Then on page 10, we find Rayford using his car phone while driving.  Naughty Rafe!

And all for a conversation which is, plot- and character-wise, meaningless.  There is absolutely no reason why we need to listen in as Rayford and Buck discuss the time for the emergency core group meeting.  Like so many other phone conversations in these books, it would be far more efficient to just summarize it–or leave it out entirely.

Of course, it’s funny when Verna then says to Buck, “You’ll have your own phone soon enough.”  What more could Buck ask for?

Slacktivist also points out how the authors apparently have a very different concept of the characters than what they portray.

For example, Buck thinks he’s the Greatest Investigative Reporter of All Time (GIRAT), but we rarely see him actually write anything or investigate stories which are happening right in front of him.  When we do, and get some taste of his writing, it’s awful.  He thinks he has integrity, yet he makes a deal with the Antichrist, agreeing not to reveal the secrets he’s uncovered about Nicolae’s “friends.”

Also, Rayford congratulates himself for never having an affair with Hattie, and apparently we’re supposed to be impressed by how well he conducts himself with Hattie now–Yet in reality, he spent years playing with Hattie’s mind like a control freak, and now he dumps her and treats her like something he has to wipe off his shoe.

His wife Irene is treated as a saint by the authors, even though her conversion seems to have made her very annoying as she kept hounding her family about the Rapture.  Hattie is treated as a whore and a nasty person, even though we often end up rooting for her for standing up for herself.

On page 11 of TF, we find yet another example of Buck’s twisted view of himself, which is also the authors’ twisted view of Buck.  He’s just been demoted because somehow nobody remembers him being at a Very Important Meeting in the last book, and exiled to Chicago; his new boss is explaining his changed duties, while he acts very snotty with her, like some prima donna.  I found these sentences particularly funny:

He didn’t want to get into a shouting match with Verna.  But neither was he going to sit for long under the thumb of someone who didn’t belong in journalism, let alone in Lucinda Washington’s old chair and supervising him.

Funny, Buck, you just described Verna’s feelings about you!

On page 15, we’re apparently supposed to feel that Rayford is being persecuted for trying to convert people while on the job (which, by the way, is flying planes).  He obviously feels he’s done nothing wrong.

But hey, Rafe, dude, proselytizing on the job is generally considered a Bad Thing.  It annoys your co-workers, clients, passengers, customers, etc.  And if they don’t want to convert but you keep pushing, it turns into a hostile working environment for your co-workers.

Just imagine if you were working with someone of another religion or an atheist who wouldn’t leave you alone about converting, and kept trying to show you how your beliefs are wrong.  Would you think he was just exercising his freedom of religion, or would you be majorly ticked off?

On p. 21:

Buck didn’t know how to respond when Rayford Steele greeted him warmly.  He appreciated the warmth and openness of his three new friends, but something nagged at him and he held back a little.  He still wasn’t quite comfortable with this kind of affection.

Aww, not used to man-hugs, Buck?

And again on page 45: “This was something new for Buck, too, all this hugging, especially among men.”  Are you afraid of the man-hug, Buck?  You’d better see: How to Give a Great Man-to-Man Hug

P. 36 is just unbelievable.  The talking heads on news programs are all hailing the latest plan, to move the U.N. headquarters to the ruins of Babylon in Iraq.  One says,

If Carpathia is sincere about disarming the world and stockpiling the remaining 10 percent of the hardware, I’d rather he store it in the Middle East, in the shadow of Tehran, than on an island off New York City.  Besides, we can use the soon-to-be-abandoned U.N. building as a museum, honoring the most atrocious architecture this country has ever produced.

WHAT…THE…HECK?  (I’d use a stronger word except that I don’t swear.)  These books are obviously set not in our world, but in some alternate universe where the Middle East is like Alderaan (peaceful, no weapons) and New York City is a hotbed of terrorism.  (And what’s with the hating on the U.N.’s architecture?)

On p. 47, Bruce remarks about Hattie’s job as the Antichrist’s personal assistant, “I don’t imagine he chose her for her clerical skills.”

Poor Hattie gets so abused by the authors and by the “Christians” in this book.  I can tell you that we “assistants” (administrative, darkroom, secretarial, etc.) don’t appreciate being thought of as hired for our bodies instead of our professional abilities.

On p. 49, Buck called, but Chloe felt that talking to him would have seemed “too eager, too forward.”  What is this, the 50s?  Then on p. 61, in the midst of so many man-hugs going on around them, Chloe can’t bring herself to give Buck a soft, cuddly girl-hug?

On p. 53 is the ah-ha moment: Now we find out what LaHaye and Jenkins really think of other churches!–But we’ll leave that for next week.

My entire review is here.

Review of Left Behind

Like the Slacktivist, I have been working on reviews for each of the books in the wildly popular Left Behind series.  Unlike the Slacktivist, my reviews are not page-by-page and should be 10 pages each at the most.

(The Slacktivist took about 5 years just to do the first book!)

I am not trying to imitate him–in fact, I came up with the idea before I knew about the Slacktivist’s ambitious undertaking.

I already disagreed with the theology of the books, but had never read them.  So when I began reading damning reviews of the video game Left Behind: Eternal Forces, reviews which took the books into account and not just the game itself, I had no idea what to make of them.  Were the books really promoting the deaths of anyone who was not an Evangelical Christian?

For my own edification and for others, I decided to read through the series which I had been avoiding.

Here is my first review, posted on my website (I believe) last fall:

Left Behind by Tim LaHaye & Jerry Jenkins, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., ISBN 0842329129, available practically anywhere Christian books are sold:

Check out this page-by-page review by Slacktivist.

Slacktivist skewers the entire book, from its lack of reality, to the twisted sense of morality of the main characters, to the porn-star-like names of the main characters (Buck, Steele, Hattie the Hottie), to the way the characters’ actions do not fit their descriptions, to the way women are portrayed, to the terrible writing and unintentional humor.

(And Slacktivist is an Evangelical Christian, so you’re not dealing with a Christian-hating atheist.  😉  )

The Slacktivist sums things up quite well in the September 19, 2008 entry:

Left Behind fails as a novel for many, many reasons, but all of its other faults — the odious lack of empathy it holds up as a moral example, its blasphemous celebration of self-centeredness masquerading as Christianity, its perverse misogyny, its plodding pace, its wooden dialogue, it fetishistic obsession with telephones, its nonexistent characterization, its use and misuse of cliches, its irrelevant tangents, deplorable politics, confused theology, unintentional hilarities, hideous sentences, contempt for craft, factual mistakes, continuity errors … its squandering of every interesting premise and its overwhelming, relentless and mind-numbing dullness — all of these seem to be failures of the sort that one might encounter in any other Very, Very Bad book hastily foisted off onto the public without a second glance.

Any one of those faults, on its own, would have been enough to earn Left Behind a place on the Worst Books of 1995 list. The presence of all of those faults — in a single book and in such concentrated form — is more than enough to secure its place on a list of the Worst Books of All Time.

Yet the book’s signature failure is something far simpler. Left Behind disproves the very thing it sets out to prove. It presents an inadvertent but irrefutable case for the unreality and impossibility of all of the events that Tim LaHaye claims are prophesied to occur at any moment.

If you want an in-depth description and review of the book and its characters, you should be able to Google it, check Wikipedia or Amazon, or read the Slacktivist’s review.  For example, here‘s one.  So I won’t go into that here, and will just add my own impressions.

The movie version of the book has been held up for ridicule as well, but when I watched, I couldn’t help noting that it was much better than the book.

As LaHaye describes his inspiration for Left Behind:

I was flying across the country to a prophecy conference, and this handsome 40-ish airline pilot stepped out of the cabin and he started flirting with the chief stewardess in the galley there.

I looked down and noticed that he had a wedding ring on, and I looked at her finger and she didn’t have one on. I got to thinking, ‘Oh, these people are pretty friendly.’ And then I got to thinking … What if the Rapture took place?

Okay, so apparently, in his circles, married people don’t flirt unless they want to go steppin’ out.  But flirting with someone is not even on the same plane as sleeping with/having an affair with her.  It’s a way to pass the time and have fun, especially going through the normal day-to-day drudgery of work.

Unless this pilot was, say, running his hand along the thigh of the stewardess, he was probably not in danger of being “left behind” just for flirting with her.  LaHaye should see the people I’ve worked with, the people I hang around with, the people in the SCA….

On p. 29, Rayford compares the destruction and logistical nightmare of the post-Rapture to an L-train disaster in Chicago.  We can now add 9-11 to that.

On p. 98, we see good ol’ American temperance in action as Irene treats alcohol as inherently evil and badgers her “unsaved” husband into hiding “any hard stuff if he had to have it in the house at all.”  Yet even Jesus drank wine.

And no, it was not grape juice: Grapes on the vine already have yeast which causes fermentation as soon as they are crushed.  In order to make grape juice, that Welch guy had to invent a process to stop the fermentation.  He did that during the Temperance movement in the 19th century.  For more, see Is Wine from the Devil–or a Gift from God?

On p. 5, we learn that Rayford Steele’s wife Irene has a history of going through phases: Amway, Tupperware, aerobics.  Now she was newly converted to a church unlike her own which constantly preached salvation and the Rapture.  She had become “a full-fledged religious fanatic.”  Rayford didn’t like it.

Now that the Rapture has occurred, on p. 102 we read: “[Rayford] had to find out how they had missed everything Irene had been trying to tell them, why it had been so hard to accept and believe.”  Well, it’s especially hard to accept and believe what Irene tried to tell Rayford when only certain branches of Christendom believe in the Rapture.

P. 110: Buck says that if someone were to write a screenplay based on the sudden disappearance of millions of people, leaving their clothes behind, it would be laughed off.  Buck obviously never heard of the Rapture genre–including, of course, the movie Left Behind.

P. 126: All this death and destruction is really starting to get to me.  Why would God want a good thing like the Rapture to kill so many people, with no chance of redemption?

P. 128: “[Buck] thought about breathing a prayer of thanks, but somehow the world he was looking at didn’t show any other evidence of a benevolent Creator.”  Funny he should think that (see above comment).

On p. 148-9, Hattie calls Buck on the phone to vent over the way Rayford just acted toward her on the phone.  I look at that and see a normal, upset woman who needs to get her feelings out, and will feel better once she does.

However, Buck’s reaction offends me.  He acts like a kind, listening ear, but secretly he thinks, “How did he get into this lonely hearts club?  Didn’t she have any girlfriends to unload on?” and, “Maybe Hattie showed more depth and sense when she wasn’t under stress.  He hoped so.”

What the heck?????  What’s the matter with Buck?  He sounds so insensitive, judgmental and selfish.  Hattie needed someone to talk to, and he started rolling his eyes and thinking she lacked depth and sense??!!

Maybe she doesn’t have any girlfriends to “unload on.”  She’s a flight attendant, probably spending long hours at her job, making it hard to make female friends; the phone systems are flighty because of the Rapture; and it’s entirely possible her usual confidants have been Raptured.

On p. 174-5, we read:

“I know this will be like pouring petrol on a flame,” Alan began, “but I need to tell you this is a nasty business and that you want to stay as far away from it as you can.”

“Darn right you’re fanning my flame,” Buck said.

Woowoo!  Gay flirting in Left Behind!  I thought the authors were against that sort of thing….

Starting on page 195, we finally begin to discover what the authors consider a “true Christian” (the type who got Raptured), and why other Christians were “left behind.”

I already have a fundamental problem with the Rapture theory as being unbiblical and not in keeping with the Traditions of the Church.  But now I see that I also have trouble with the book’s criteria for who is Raptured and who would go to Hell if they died right now.

Basically, everybody left on the Earth who dies immediately after the Rapture would be condemned.  This includes the devout practitioners of other religions and people who loved their neighbor, but didn’t believe in the Christian God.

Other than Christians who have had a “born-again” experience–not a baby baptism, but a deliberate decision made once a person was old enough to truly understand it–only babies and children are Raptured.  Between pages 195 and 215, it’s made very clear that the only “true Christians” are the ones who have prayed the “sinner’s prayer.”

On pages 195-198, Bruce, a lifelong Christian who loved church, describes why he got left behind.  His explanation struck me as being very legalistic:

He didn’t tithe ten percent, he occasionally looked at porn, he didn’t read his Bible, he didn’t tell people about Christ, he refused to say his church said Jesus is the only way to God.

It said nothing about, did Bruce love God and his fellow man–the two commandments on which hang all the others.

On pages 199-203, Bruce’s description of salvation is the basic misunderstanding which is taught by Pietistic Evangelical theology: salvation as a legal transaction done at one moment in time when you say the “sinner’s prayer,” with no connection to baptism or communion, and very individualistic.

Pastor Vernon Billings’ tape, filmed before the Rapture to help those left behind, also goes into more detail on pages 209-216.  We find there references to salvation through grace alone, which is not biblical.

I got the impression that he felt those Raptured previously believed in a Rapture.  There is obvious “believer’s baptism” terminology which rejects baby baptism.

We also find the idea that salvation is solely based on a conscious decision for Christ, rather than being based on God’s judgment and our struggle for righteousness or willful rejection of it, in favor of wallowing in dark passions.

On p. 213, Billings says, “If you have not received Christ as your Savior, your soul is in jeopardy.”  On p. 215-216, Billings describes being “born again” or “born anew” as something that happens when you, as it is termed, give your life to Christ and ask forgiveness from sins.

He says that the Holy Spirit is then given to you.  He speaks of “assurance” of salvation.

Then on page 222, the remnants of the New Hope Church speak of forming a new church with no “true Christians” to help them.

Lutherans, Calvinists, Catholics and Orthodox all disagree with this, and therefore, unless they’ve had a “conversion experience,” they would be “left behind” as well.

I am not attacking a straw man: I grew up in Pietistic Fundamentalism, I have attended Pietistic Evangelical churches in my adulthood, and I know this is the way salvation is taught in many circles.  If you have not had this “conversion experience” and said the “sinner’s prayer,” despite being raised in the church, baptized, confirmed, communed, etc., you are not considered to be a “true Christian.”

I have seen this cause controversy and rancor among my friends, as the Pietistic Evangelicals pray for the salvation of Christian friends and are accused of keeping others out of leadership positions in Christian fellowship groups because the others don’t fit “their version of Christianity.”

I was raised believing that Catholics, Lutherans, Presbyterians, anyone who practiced baby baptism and never had a “conversion experience,” were not true Christians.  Some Evangelical publications say, “Some people have mistaken ideas about baptism/ the Lord’s Supper,” and then when they list these “mistaken” ideas, you see that they match the teachings of Catholicism and Orthodoxy.

(If one of these “mistaken” ideas is that the Eucharist is a sacrament–well, even the Nazarene church believes it’s a sacrament, so that’s fighting not only other Christian groups, but other Fundamentalists/Evangelicals as well.)

When my husband and I went to an Evangelical church, he got the strong feeling that others didn’t consider him “saved” because he had never had a “conversion experience,” even though he was raised in the Lutheran church and had always believed in its teachings.

People at this church, some former Lutherans, spoke of “witnessing” to Lutherans or Catholics to get them “saved.”  I see the teachings of this church, and others I once attended, reflected here in Left Behind.

Through studying Orthodoxy, I have discovered the truth of what the Church has taught about salvation since the beginning.  Yes, the Christian faith is to be personally lived, as faith without works is dead, James says.  “Faith alone” for salvation is not a biblical teaching; even the demons believe.

But the main emphasis in living out this faith is to love God and our fellow man.  Without love, we are nothing, Paul says.

What happens to non-Christians is up to God’s judgment; since love is the guide, it’s entirely possible that many non-Christians will be saved.  While there is no salvation outside the Church, we do not truly know who is in the Church.

It is said that people in the Church may not really be part of it, while people outside of it may be truly part of it, but will not know this until Judgment.

Willful rejection of the ways of God leads to Hell; if we let ourselves give in to hate, anger, murder, rape, greed, jealousy, selfishness, etc., we cause our own Hell.  The gates of Hell are said to be locked on the inside.  God does not put us there; we do.

Is it eternal?  I can’t really answer that, but if it is, it’s because we won’t let ourselves out, and prefer to wallow in our own dark passions.  Would a loving Buddhist or Muslim or Jew truly be condemned, or be judged to be an unknowing member of the Church?

Isn’t it possible that Christians can be condemned because in their hearts they do not truly love–that this is why Christ rejected many who said they knew Him?  That’s why I wanted to know if Bruce had no love in his heart, or was left behind just because he didn’t follow the legalistic rules.

We are “born again” in baptism.  This baptism is normally done with water, and joins us to the Church–rather than just being saved on our own, without being connected to the Church.

If the entire Church has just been removed from the earth, then who is there to properly administer this baptism and join new believers to the Church?  Apostolic Succession–or the transfer of Apostolic authority and the anointing of the Holy Spirit from the Apostles to their successors down through the ages–is lost, so who can properly administer the sacraments?

In baptism, we die and are resurrected with Christ–hence, “born again.”  Many churches believe this is how you receive the Holy Spirit as well; the Orthodox Church believes that happens separately in chrismation, or the anointing of oil, done after baptism.

Babies are baptized because, even while they do not understand what’s going on, their parents want them to receive the benefits and be washed clean of the stain of sin.

We are to be baptized only once; through Communion, the effects of baptism are renewed, even though we sin again and again.  Orthodox babies receive Communion so they can receive these benefits from the earliest age.

Salvation is a lifelong process, not something that can happen all at once with a legal transaction.  We must be ever-vigilant, because we do not know for sure if we will finally stumble, give up, and turn away from Christ before we reach the end.

We must cooperate with the Holy Spirit as He works to make us righteous.  But when we sin and repent of it, we know that Christ forgives us.

For more about Hell and salvation, see various sections here, the Orthodox Study Bible, and

1 and 2 Thessalonians, according to the Orthodox Study Bible, were specifically written to a church body which was spending too much time in date-setting and speculation over the Second Coming–in other words, to get people to stop doing what Vernon Billings was doing right before the Rapture, spending so much time on speculation.

All this Rapture and Tribulation preaching may make converts, but it strikes me as the wrong way to do it, using fear of punishment rather than the love of God and the desire to turn away from sinful passions.

P. 217: Buck finds out he’s got an interview with Nicolae, then hangs up the phone and–claps?  Why on earth did he clap?  I’ve never seen anybody react in such a way to a phone call, especially in a public place.  Maybe the phone should take a bow.

P. 220: Testify!  Bruce opens up the microphone at New Hope Village Church to “anyone who received Christ this morning and would like to confess it before us.  The Bible tells us to do that, to make known our decision and our stand.”

People line up and are still telling their stories at 2:00.  Roasts must be burning in the ovens.  A scene like this is very much a part of the Fundamentalist/Evangelical/Pentecostal branches of the church, but is mostly foreign to other branches.

On to Book Two!

[Fall 2008]


Nyssa’s Conversion Story–Or, how I discovered Holy Orthodoxy: Part 4

Parts 1, 2 and 3

I bought the Orthodox Study Bible (New Testament version) and began using the prayers in the back of the book.  I began practicing the sign of the Cross.

I left Evangelical forums which opposed everything even remotely Catholic, and joined an Orthodox forum to learn more.

I became more and more dissatisfied with contemporary worship services, megachurch practices and Protestant doctrines of all types–Charismatic, Evangelical, Baptist, Presbyterian, Lutheran.

I also learned that “River of Fire” is very controversial, though I e-mailed the guy who answers questions on the OCA site, and he said that the fires of Hell are metaphorical.  I also found this in catechisms here and the Orthodox Europe site.

On this and other things, I have to agree with a Lutheran blogger who wrote that it’s hard to pin down what exactly the Orthodox believe on many things, because you’ll read one thing and somebody will say, “No, that’s not true Orthodoxy.  Try this website instead.”

The more I study the Early Church Fathers and histories, the more convinced I become that the Orthodox faith has the pure faith of the Early Church–and that it’s the most loving of all denominations I’ve investigated.

With our local PCUSA church going into the megachurch “relevance” mindset, I just can’t stay there anymore.  There’s a huge crack in the denomination, formed over some 25 years of arguing, and a recent denominational decision has started a split.

Our local church could get silly at times in the services, with skits or people dressed as clowns or silly little movies done by people in the church, and often used Hollywood movie clips on PowerPoint to demonstrate points.  Usually the movie clips were not Christian, and had very little to do with the Bible.

Purpose-Driven Life and The Message Bible were praised and encouraged, but at the time I didn’t know where you could go to get away from such things.  To my dismay, the church had done “Forty Days of Purpose” (based on Purpose-Driven Life) in 2003 or 2004, shortly before we began attending in June 2004.

Adult Sunday School classes were based on such things as “praying the movies” (something about using Hollywood movies to inspire prayer–I don’t understand it) and other theologically iffy subjects.

Once, a newcomer led a class on End-Times prophecy.  The PCUSA is amillennialist, and the General Assembly once brought up a resolution for churches to make clear to their congregations that Left Behind books have poor theology.

However, I later heard from other church members that the class leader, who came from a fundamentalist background, taught the premillennial dispensationalism which is in the Left Behind books, rather than Presbyterian views on End-Times prophecy.

In September or October of 2006, when we were still going to the PCUSA church, the pastor announced that the 10:30 service would be “blended,” with contemporary and traditional worship.  I thought it already was blended, since we sang contemporary fluff along with the hymns.  But apparently, “blended” meant even more contemporary fluff and even fewer hymns.

I sang the songs along with everybody else, but I felt so–empty, strained.  I feared the songs did not please God because they did not fit a “proper” worship service–maybe a youth group meeting, but not a worship service.

I had only just read in the Old Testament God’s prescription for worship: complete with beautifully crafted artwork, rich clothing, and ceremony, far more like a Catholic Mass or Orthodox Divine Liturgy.

And sometimes the theology of the songs seemed wrong.  If you don’t know what these modern praise and worship songs are like, combine Evangelical theology, pop psychology, the motions of kids’ songs, trite lyrics, and formulaic, mass-produced pop music.

I looked over the books and class descriptions for adult Sunday School for the fall.  The books were from Willow Creek and other Evangelical sources; the topics included something about laughing your way to a good marriage.  Was this a Presbyterian church, or an Evangelical or non-denominational church in the tradition of Willow Creek and Saddleback?

Because of man-centered worship services, weight rooms, food courts, coffee shops, iffy theology and the fact that Purpose-Driven Life and Purpose-Driven Church were written by a megachurch pastor, I had a dim view of any church trying to imitate a megachurch.

One week, after the changes of fall 2006 in our PCUSA church, I had to stay home from church, indisposed as I often was in those days.  Cugan came home with notes about a sermon based on some passage in the Old Testament.  A new temple was being built and celebrated, but the old folks, who remembered the old temple, cried.

I saw it as the old folks being sad over the past and happy to see a new temple to replace what was lost.  The pastor interpreted it as showing that people get upset when changes are made, but changes still need to be made.

When I was able to go to church, the pastor praised the concept of making worship more “relevant.”

Another Sunday, when I was indisposed again, I recalled the sermon was something interesting, though I forgot what exactly, and asked Cugan to take notes.  It was, “What does it mean to be Reformed and Always Reforming?”  (This is a catchphrase of the PCUSA.)

I thought this meant, the PCUSA struck out the horrid section in the Westminster Confession about unelect babies who die being eternally condemned.  I thought it meant women being preachers.  I thought it meant constantly examining the Scriptures to make sure nothing has been misunderstood.  But apparently, now it means how you worship.

Cugan came home and reported some astonishing things.  The pastor passed out copies of the article “Surviving the Rapids of Change?” by Herb Miller and Lyle E. Schaller.  This article came from the January 2006 issue of The Parish Paper.

I don’t know much about this publication, but it’s a newsletter for pastors, published by the Conservative Mennonite Conference (source); the website is here.

Following are the pertinent points of “Surviving the Rapids of Change?”:

1) Mainline congregations with traditional services are shrinking; various congregations with modern services are thriving.

2) The American culture has moved from Producer-Driven to Consumer-Driven; people go wherever the church meets their needs.

3) There has been a shift from inherited allegiance to personal choice.  Children no longer stick with one job, one career, or their parents’ church.

4) The Baby Boomer culture is driving the modern worship/church trends.  (Eh, so they’re the ones to blame?)

5) Thriving congregations replace the organ with a band, replace the hymnal with PowerPoint praise music, replace missionary spending with building a relationship with a sister church in Poland or Peru, replace adult Sunday School with peer-led relational groups, and double their worship attendance within five years.  (By the way, all these fit my church.)

6) A church which doesn’t change despite a push for change from the younger generations, “continues its cherished traditions, with a gradual membership decline, a rising median-age of attendees, and a slide toward extinction in two or three decades.”

7) (The Conclusion.)  “Four sentences summarize the whole scenario: First, millions of Americans born and reared in a producer-driven culture view the current wave of consumerism as somewhere between a) betrayal and b) proof that the Devil is alive and at work in this world.

“Second, the most effective way to reach the generations born after 1960 is to be sensitive and responsive to their concerns.  Third, changes in procedures produce conflict.  Fourth, church leaders choose between a) allowing their congregations to sink and disappear and b) thoughtfully negotiating the rapids of change.”

On the front of the article was a Friar-Tuck-like figure praying, “Not my father, nor my mother, but it’s me, O Lord…looking for a place where my needs will be met!”

The church was already thriving and growing rapidly before this new relevance kick, yet starting in September or October of 2006, it seemed that the main point of every sermon–no matter the topic–was, “We must become relevant or we will die.  Relevance is a good thing!”

We also had a new worship leader.  (By the way, his enunciation was so poor that I had to stifle a smile whenever he spoke or sang.  Without the PowerPoint, I wouldn’t have a clue what he was singing.)  On November 5, 2006, right before leading a song, he went on about how relevance is important and, “If it weren’t for [relevant services/music], I wouldn’t be here [a Christian] now.”

After a series of “Dream Sessions,” in which congregational groups gave their “dreams” for the church (we missed going for some reason I forget), a PowerPoint presentation showed the results of the brainstorming.

Some ideas were fine: parent groups, SERRV (fair trade) store.  But there were also pictures of a pool, a weight room, a colisseum….I had to wonder if my church was trying to be a Willow Creek or Saddleback megachurch, with all sorts of fancy, expensive trappings that have nothing to do with the Gospel.  (I talk about this here.)

Then there was a series of sermons on following the dreams God gives you–hardly theological meat.

Because of some trouble with a fired secretary and questions about how the church was run, we now had deacons to help keep the congregation informed about what was going on, and to take care of the big congregation (about 600 people).  Our assigned deacon called and asked if we had any issues with the church, which they were doing with everybody.

Cugan wrote his own concerns in an e-mail: This church was starting to look a lot like the Evangelical Free Church, including the music, and Cugan was feeling wary, because he had felt spiritually abused by the Evangelical Free Church.  There was a push to do things for the church without much emphasis on healing a person’s own wounds first.  He feared that legalistic preaching on tithing would soon follow.

I thought the church was trying to be like the megachurches–not a good thing.  I also mentioned the End-Times class, and wondered what our church would do if the PCUSA finally split.  Some congregations had been going to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, but that was too Calvinist.

The liberal side was doing all sorts of outlandish things; we even had people who prayed to “Sophia” instead of “God the Father.”  When Cugan saw our pastor wearing a strange symbol which looked like an ankh, we couldn’t tell if she was joining the Sophia people (who also incorporate practices from other religions), or if this was a form of cross we’d never seen before.

Around this time, we were asked to be deacons.  That surprised me, considering what we had just written–and that neither of us had any sort of theological training.  Cugan had too much going on, and I was just about ready to escape to the Orthodox Church, so we turned them down.

By now, I came to the conclusion that the Lutheran church was the closest to correct of all the Protestant denominations.  Despite Luther’s shortcomings and coming up with new doctrines and basing doctrines on Augustine’s errors, I knew that the Catholic Church had allowed in all sorts of errors and corruptions which made the Reformation inevitable.

The other Protestant denominations seemed ever more schismatic; Lutherans kept many good things from Catholicism, while the other denominations kept coming up with all sorts of outlandish things, from the Puritans to the Charismatics.  If you disagreed, you split and formed your own denomination or synod.

But from what I now knew about Orthodoxy’s claims, even Lutheranism had its doctrinal problems, many of which were based on the errors of Catholicism.

I wavered between becoming Orthodox, staying where I was or becoming Lutheran with Cugan.  At first, Cugan promised to go with me wherever I decided to go.  But I could tell he didn’t want to become Orthodox, so I released him from his promise.

For a long time, I figured I could be Presbyterian with Orthodox theology, because the PCUSA allows such a huge diversity of beliefs among its members.  But what I heard in church kept grating more and more on my soul as I learned more and more about Orthodoxy.

And what about the liberal members?  Though for a while I was about ready to be liberal myself, I had discovered the errors in their doctrines.  (Some of them even wanted to ditch the creeds, the Virgin Birth, a literal interpretation of the Gospels, and other essentials of the faith.  The Bible was more a tool to prove points by twisting it however you liked.)

But the liberal side continuously fights the conservative Presbyterians, always chipping away at the rules in the Book of Order until one day they make the PCUSA completely liberal–whether by changing the doctrines, or by chasing out the conservatives.  (I’m not talking about political liberals; politics are another matter entirely.)

Then in November 2006, I read Bishop Kallistos Ware’s story of his conversion to Orthodoxy.  His concerns with the Anglican church were the same as mine with the PCUSA–answering questions I had, such as, is it okay to stay where I am, and should I become Catholic rather than Orthodox?

By the time I stepped into an Orthodox church in November 2006, I was finally ready to submit myself to the teachings of the Holy Apostolic and Orthodox Church.  I was exhausted.

The mere thought of going back to the PCUSA church the following Sunday, made my stomach twinge.  I was looking for the oldest, purest doctrine and practice, something I could trust; I found it here.  Here I also found holy worship, and a means to union with God.

Every day that passes, I feel more sure that Orthodoxy is the original faith of the Apostles–that I’ve finally found what I was looking for.  And that’s why I entered the catechumenate of the Greek Orthodox Church on December 2, 2006, and joined the Church on January 10, 2009.

By the way–Cugan has gone back to the Lutheran church and is happy again, as well.

Why I feel that St. Gregory of Nyssa, my patron saint, also led me to the Orthodox Church: 

First, “Nyssa” was one of my favorite characters on Dr. Who.  In high school, I began using the name as one of my many handles on a local Dr. Who-based BBS, the Panoptic Net.

I also happened across an article on St. Gregory of Nyssa while looking through an old Collier’s encyclopedia at my house, as I often did, and was surprised to discover “Nyssa” was a real place name, and that a saint was attached to the name.

I used “Nyssa” after high school/college as my main handle on BBS’s and Internet forums.  I also used it as my SCA name, though not officially because it was hard to document it to satisfy the heralds, even though I have found “Nyssa” is a real-life name that has been used in some cultures in a few variations–Scandinavian, Jewish, Greek.

I began looking into claims of universalists back in 2005 because some commentator in Presbyterians Today wrote that some people in the church are universalists.

I was intrigued, since for years I had been wondering if God truly would condemn, say, a religious Jew killed in the Holocaust, or a Muslim woman who was sweet and followed her religion and did her day-to-day stuff and took care of children just like I did, trusting that she would be saved.

Some people are truly evil and may not even want to change that, even if they have all eternity to do so.

But most people–Christians or not–are just trying to do the best they can with the knowledge they have.

In poking around universalist sites, I found St. Gregory of Nyssa and Origen most often referenced as universalists; I also checked out St. Gregory’s “On the Soul and Resurrection,” which was often cited.

One day, I began thinking it was time to join the church officially, after being an inquirer/catechumen for a couple of years.  That same time, a guy at church asked me when I was going to join, which almost seemed like a sign from God that it was indeed time.

I was not paying attention to what day it was when, soon after, I picked a date, and told my priest that I would be chrismated as Gregoriana, with St. Gregory of Nyssa as my patron saint.

After everything had been decided, I discovered that I was to be chrismated on St. Gregory of Nyssa’s name day, which happened to fall on a Divine Liturgy day that year, which makes me think St. Gregory was guiding me to choose that particular date.  It also gave yet another reason to think that St. Gregory had been guiding me all along to come to this church.

Update 3/25/14: I am still Orthodox, though my opinions on PCUSA theology have altered a bit: I have gone back to being more liberal on the homosexuality debate.

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