Not Afraid of the Antichrist: Why We Don’t Believe in a Pre-Tribulation Rapture. By Michael L. Brown and Craig S. Keener. Minneapolis: Chosen Books, 2019. 236 pages. Paper, $15.99.
Michael Brown is the founder and president of FIRE School of Ministry in Concord, North Carolina, and host of the daily radio program The Line of Fire. He is also a noted proponent of the Charismatic Movement and claims to speak in tongues (p. 43).
Craig Keener is a professor of Biblical Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky, the editor of the Bulletin for Biblical Research, and has served as president of the Evangelical Theological Society. He also claims to speak in tongues. In regard to the preTribulation Rapture, he says that those verses used to support it are taken out of context (p. 25).
Not Afraid of the Antichrist is divided into three parts: 1. Why many doubt ‘Left Behind’ theology; 2. What does the Bible say? (or, What the Bible says;) and 3. Implications for us today. Each part contains four chapters. It has endnotes but no bibliography.
Keener is known for his academic writing, but Not Afraid of the Antichrist is a different kind of work for him. Not only does he have a co-author, his style is very condescending. The style is not academic, as he acknowledges in the preface, and the 49 endnotes are indeed “few and far between” (p. 15). The book is “addressed to a wide audience” (p. 36) and is meant to “inspire” (p. 15).
Both Brown and Keener, in their “earliest days as believers” (p. 14), attended churches that taught a pre-tribulation Rapture. Although they are now “convinced that this teaching is not found in Scripture,” they “never divide from others over the subject” (p. 14). Yet, Christians who argue for it make “extra assumptions beyond what any passage says” (p. 23), “construct secondary arguments” (p. 36), and are “cult-like” because they “discount the clear testimony of hundreds of Scriptures because of a questionable system of interpretation” (pp. 187-88).
Keener gets to the crux of the issue in his introduction. Based on their reading of 1 Thess 4:17, the authors do believe in a Rapture. However, the question is “whether this catching up happens before or after the final time of Tribulation” (p. 24). They feel it simply isn’t fair that the last generation of Western believers escape the Tribulation when previous generations of Christians have suffered persecution in this life.
In the first section of Not Afraid of the Antichrist, the authors raise some questions about the pre-tribulation Rapture, explain why they left behind their “left behind” theology, explore views about the end times throughout church history, and reject dispensationalism. Section two examines support for a pre-tribulation Rapture in the OT, makes the case that the Rapture and the second coming are one and the same, evaluates some pre-tribulation arguments, and presents some post-Tribulational passages. Section three discusses the coming tribulation, tells us how to live in light of post-Tribulationalism and the return of Christ, and reminds us that even though we will face tribulation, we should “live in expectation of God’s promise for a renewed world where suffering and death will be no more” (p. 219).
The authors maintain that the doctrine of a pre-tribulation Rapture began with John Nelson Darby around 1830. Keener brings up the work of Dave MacPherson and his claim that Darby got his idea for it from Edward Irving who got it from Margaret MacDonald who got it in a vision. But then he acknowledges that MacDonald’s prophecy “sounds more post-Tribulational” (p. 61). So why bring it up?
But the guilt by association doesn’t stop there. We are told that “The Way International, a cult that denies Jesus’ deity, is preTribulational” (p. 63). Pre-Tribulationalism is termed “Left Behind” theology to identify it with the novels and movies of that name. Edgar Whisenant’s book 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988, which all serious pre-Tribulational advocates repudiated when it was published, even garners a mention.
In his chapter on OT support for a pre-Tribulational Rapture, Brown fails to mention Enoch as a type, a living man taken by God from earth to heaven who never dies. He views God protecting the children of Israel from the death of the firstborn as confirming “the post-Tribulation position, namely, that God can preserve His people here on the earth while He pours out His wrath on the very same earth” (p. 89). But the question is not about what God can do, but what God will do.
God can “multitask” (p. 98), says Brown. He can deal with “the Church and Israel at the same time” (p. 98) during the Tribulation period and the argument that the “time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jer. 30:7) is for Israel is “specious” (p. 98). So, which is it? Does God want the last generation of Western believers to experience tribulation or does he want to preserve them on earth while others experience tribulation? Brown’s “most decisive OT text in our discussion” is Isa 26:20-21 and the larger context of “the Apocalypse of Isaiah” in chapters 24–27 (p. 94). But here he equates Israel with all believers.
Chapter six of Not Afraid of the Antichrist tells us that “the idea that the Rapture and the Second Coming are two distinct events is contrary to the teaching of the Scriptures” (p. 101). Yet, even the authors believe that “there is one Second Coming, and it has different aspects to it” (p. 107). Much ado is made over the fact that the same Greek words (like parousia) “are used to describe two supposedly separate and quite different events” (p. 102). An appearing (epiphaneia) and a revealing (apokalupsis) “must be visible” (pp. 114-115), so these words can’t possibly refer to a pre-Tribulational “secret” Rapture. The authors believe that Christians are caught up to meet the Lord in the air, but then they descend to earth together with him as he “defeats his enemies and establishes His Kingdom on the earth” (p. 107).
The authors misrepresent pre-Tribulationism. Christ meeting believers in the clouds (1 Thess 4:17) is certainly an actual presence and arrival that is a visible appearing and revealing to believers. Regarding the Rapture in 1 Thessalonians 4, OT saints are not “in Christ” (1 Thess 4:16) and neither do they “sleep in Jesus” (1 Thess 4:14). Yet, in the post-Tribulational system, saints of all ages are raptured to meet Jesus as he returns to earth.
In the chapters on “evaluating some pre-Tribulational arguments” and “post-Tribulational passages,” the authors are hopelessly confused because they make no distinction between Israel and the Church and attempt to lump together Matthew 24 and 1 Thessalonians 4. The authors believe that “the view that Christians are raptured and thus resurrected before the Tribulation makes Biblical prophecy far more complex that it needs to be” (p. 29).
However, rejecting a pre-Tribulational Rapture and forcing all prophetic events together is what makes Biblical prophecy far more complex than it needs to be. Things that are different are not the same. The Rapture is not the second coming. The church has not replaced Israel. The Judgment Seat of Christ is not the White Throne Judgment.
Chapter 10 of the book, entitled, “How to Live in Light of Post-Tribulationalism,” reads instead like “How to Live in Light of Postmillennialism.” It closes with the statement that “the Gospel is spreading through the world at an ever-increasing pace, with the Sprit’s help, not without the Spirit’s help, and in the midst of great darkness and evil and apostasy, God’s light is shining brighter by the day” (p. 199). This chapter also contains some very dubious statistics on how many people are coming to faith today (pp. 196-98).
I note also that the authors believe that “Jesus’ true followers must persevere to the end” (p. 206).
I can only recommend Not Afraid of the Antichrist to seasoned and grounded pre-Tribulational pastors and teachers who need to see what opponents are currently saying. This is not a book that Craig Keener should be proud of.
Laurence M. Vance