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The End…Is Near: Don Thompson’s Apocalyptic Nightmare

November 27, 2007

If it seems like this blog is plowing along, that’s because it is. It’s the end of the semester, and I’m in an apocalyptic mood, not because I have a bunch of term papers due, but because I’m teaching my least favorite book of the New Testament, the Revelation. One member of my Sunday School class has referred to this book as “John’s bad dream.” I am wont to agree with her.

To celebrate, I watched Don Thompson’s infamous low-budget drama A Thief in the Night (1972). This film is one of the original evangelical apocalyptic “thrillers”; it’s even more stilted and heavy handed than their predecessors, the Left Behind series. I remember being shown this film while in junior high, and I have to say that the only reason I remember it is because it scared me!

The plot is simple. One morning a woman wakes up and realizes that she has been “left behind” and that her husband has been taken up in the rapture. The film backtracks from that moment to establish the plight of the main characters. Some reject Christ and rapture doctrine, while others embrace it wholly and look forward for the time when they will leave this earth in “the twinkling of an eye,” as it’s phrased in the New Testament.

There’s been some good scholarly discussion that treats A Thief in the Night as a cultural artifact of the 1970s Jesus movement. For those interested, Amy Johnson Frykholm’s Rapture Culture: Left Behind in Evangelical America provides a great history of the way evangelicalism has used rapture theology as an belief-centered insider/outsider agenda. Then there’s HeatherHendershot’s Shaking the World For Jesus: Media and Conservative Evangelical Culture, an insightful analysis of how evangelistic faith becomes the marketing impetus of Christian kitsch.

As I re-read the Revelation and consider how its images have been deployed in recent times, I continue to scratch my head. I wonder why more Christians don’t reject the Revelation, or at least admit how problematic it has been in our culture.

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3 Comments
  1. Guess what? Your blog is amazing! I can’t remember when was the last time i’ve overcome such a good blog that almost all articles/posts were interesting and wouldn’t regret spending my time reading it. I hope you will keep up the great work you are doing here and i can enjoy my everyday read at your blog.

  2. Ian permalink

    When you say, “reject the Revelation” are you referring to the pre-tribulation doctrine, the use of fear as a means of evangelism, or the book of Revelation (all interpretations aside) as part of our Christian tradition? I’m no theologian, but I have always enjoyed John’s wisdom and candor, especially in the first few chapters of this book.

    Thanks for the blog. Keep up the good work.
    ~Ian

  3. Ian… I agree…the first few chapters of the Revelation, specifically the series of prophetic (in the true sense of the word) warnings to the seven churches are especially important to faith communities today.

    Certainly, we should reject the way that evangelicalism has used the Revelation as a mechanism of fear, but I also think we should critically evaluate the disproportionate weight that the Revelation has held in the energies modern Christians expend interpreting the Bible.

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