a shaky foundation indeed
Reading Time: 9 minutes (Rémi Jacquaint.) Put a house right on top of that!
Reading Time: 9 minutes

Hi and welcome back! Recently, I ran across a group I’ve somehow never heard of: the Pre-Trib Research Center. They’ve been around for many years, just truckin’ along in their little nook in Liberty University. And y’all, they are pure, unfiltered wingnut goodness. Today, let me show you their shaky foundation beliefs.

a shaky foundation indeed
(Rémi Jacquaint.) Put a house right on top of that!

Pre-Trib: A Quick Lesson in Endtimes Theology.

As always, nothing presented here is monolithic or universally believed (which is one of the strikes against Christianity).

Evangelicals tend to buy into a quirky interpretation of the Bible they call “literalist” and “inerrant.” These terms mean, respectively, that everything in the Bible is literally true and that it is also completely without errors or faults. They tend to behave in ways that suggest that they truly believe neither, but those are their stated beliefs.

As part of this package of beliefs, evangelicals think that their god will end the world — soon. (It’s always Any Day Now™.) They call this world-ending process the Endtimes. Much of Endtimes theology (eschatology) comes from the Bible’s Book of Daniel, especially its “70 weeks” vision. Evangelicals take that vision literally and inerrantly, except where it’s obviously metaphorical (1 week = 1000 years), except that stuff is also literal and inerrant.

Endtimes enthusiasts create their most ambitious diagrams from Daniel’s “70 Weeks.”

“Daniel’s 70 Weeks”

They also collect diagrams and self-published books like baseball cards, argue endlessly about their quirky takes on the topic, and most tellingly of all, do their best to shoehorn every single current news headline into this-or-that “prophecy” in the Bible. Many of them genuinely believe that they can pinpoint the date of the Rapture through this activity. If they can build a convincing case for their predicted date, they can get a lot of attention from their fellow evangelicals — and often money too.

It’s a risk-free endeavor. Evangelicals never remember false predictions, nor care that one got made. When the date comes and goes, Endtimes wingnuts just make a new prediction using new current-events headlines — often revising their previous printed predictions on the fly.

However, nothing in reality supports any of these predictions.

Worse, the Bible expressly runs counter to the very idea of setting a predicted date in the first place.

(Long ago, a Christian friend blew my mind by saying he was a pan-Trib believer. Whatever happened, he’d keep doing what was right. It’d all pan out!)

The Events of the Endtimes.

Endtimes belief involves four major events:

  • Tribulation: 7 years of intense persecution of TRUE CHRISTIANS™.
  • Rapture: the magic whisking-away of TRUE CHRISTIANS™ to Heaven.
  • Armageddon: the final world war to end all world wars
  • Judgment Day: the final judgment of everyone who’s ever lived, with the judge (their god) sending TRUE CHRISTIANS™ to Heaven — and everyone else to Hell.

The exact order of these events is very much up for debate, especially the placement of the Rapture in the timeline. A pre-Trib Christian believes that the Rapture occurs before the 7 years of Tribulation. A post-Trib Christian believes it’ll happen after Tribulation. There’s also mid-Trib Christians who think it’ll happen midway through the 7 years.

All of these Christians have their own sets of Bible verses to support their interpretation and think the other ones are totally wrong. But none of them can convince the others of their viewpoint.

I’ve noticed that post-Trib Christians treat pre-Tribs like weenies who can’t handle the idea of a little persecution. As well, pre-Trib enthusiasts tend to be the most conspiracy-theory-oriented of all the Endtimes believers — and the most agitated by disagreement.

So pre-Trib Christians are a bunch of conspiracy-theory-addled evangelicals who are very, very into the idea of a pre-Trib Rapture and want all other Christians to buy into this view. They collect headlines, shoehorn them into Bible verses containing prophecies. They’re also happy to reach for any verses that could conceivably be pounded into a prophecy shape. Then, they make a bold prediction about exactly when the Rapture will totally happen.

Everyone, Meet the Pre-Trib Research Center.

And the Pre-Trib Research Center does all that stuff on a professional basis.

In 1990, Marvin Rosenthal published a book called The Pre-Wrath Rapture of the Church. In this book, Rosenthal convincingly argued that John Nelson Darby (an evangelical preacher from the early 1800s) had created the pre-Trib Rapture belief around 1830, and it wasn’t actually supported by the Bible at all. Rosenthal’s book was apparently well-received by the evangelical community. Its popularity and solid-sounding arguments rattled the heck out of pre-Trib Christians.

In 1991, one of those pre-Trib Christians, Tim LaHaye, decided to fight this view. The next year, he published a pre-Trib book of his own, No Fear of the Storm. It derived in great part from the writings of Darby and his like-minded contemporaries. Also in 1992, LaHaye and Thomas Ice held a big three-day meeting dedicated to arguing for a pre-Trib Rapture. The next year, in 1993, they decided to make the group permanent, renaming it the Pre-Trib Research Center.

LaHaye died in 2016, so now it’s Thomas Ice’s baby. And he relentlessly argues his position.

I’m not sure when these guys moved to the campus of Liberty University, or to what extent Liberty bankrolls them. They keep the Liberty name completely out of their mouths. But La Wiki tells us that they are, indeed, located there, and much of their extensive article archive has a liberty.edu address.

The Foundational Beliefs of the Pre-Trib Research Center.

On homepage of the Pre-Trib Research Center, we find their three reasons for doing what they do. They call these “practical implications that flow from rapture teaching.” Emphases theirs:

  • Pretribulationism leads to godly living in an unholy age.
  • This New Testament teaching promotes a strong emphasis upon evangelism of the lost.
  • When believers come to understand this eternal perspective, it leads to a zeal for worldwide missions.

They didn’t originally list reasons at all, incidentally. The Wayback Machine has captured archives of their home page going back to 2003. They added the reasons around mid-2018. Some time later, the reasons migrated downpage to where they are today. I guess nobody thought they needed to list reasons before that.

These reasons represent the operational beliefs of this group.

To put it more plainly: these guys believe that pre-Tribulation beliefs lead to more correct behavior, an increase in evangelism, and greater “zeal for worldwide missions,” which appears to mean both greater support for such missionary efforts, and more pre-Trib believers choosing to be foreign-serving missionaries themselves.

And amazingly enough, these beliefs are completely testable, unlike those of a lot of other stated beliefs in Christianity. 

They could easily check out the criminal offenses/incarceration rates of pre-Trib believers and the scandal rates of various kinds of Christians, evaluate their respective levels of evangelistic behavior, and rate the varying levels of support various Endtimes believers give to worldwide missions. 

They just don’t.

In Their Dreams, They Are Free Indeed.

Not surprisingly, the Pre-Trib Research Center folks don’t want to test any of their testable beliefs! I went over their entire article archive (relink). I found not one single article there that actually tested any of their three reasons. Instead, they just take it as read that these benefits, indeed, come automagically with buy-in with pre-Trib beliefs.

And what church leader wouldn’t like to get those benefits? Am I right?

Considering their oh-so-serious stance as Big Srs-Bzniss Endtimes Scholars, it’s funny that they don’t ever actually offer any evidence for these three reasons. They don’t even offer PIDOOMA evidence.

What I’m forced to conclude is that these three “practical implications” are the ones that the Pre-Trib Research Center really wishes were theirs. They like to think of themselves as the ones scared straight by the threat of an any-day-now Rapture. As the ones who will escape the horrific Tribulation through the Jesus Power inherent to their superior doctrinal beliefs. As the ones who frantically rush through the streets of all the world screeching about the imminent doom about to befall humanity Any Day Now™, and how the only escape comes through TRUE CHRISTIAN™ beliefs like theirs.

And most of all, as the ones whose beliefs will keep them strong and faithful to the very end when all the other ickie post-Trib Christians fall away in the Endtimes, for Jesus Reasons.

In their dreams, they are free indeed.

The Shaky Foundation.

I’m not even saying that the three operational beliefs of the Pre-Trib Research Center are 100% wrong all the time. We’ve all seen (or worse, been) the evangelical operating under the axe of an impending Rapture prediction. I’ve definitely been that wingnut. For at least temporary periods, all three are probably true to some extent among pre-Trib believers for at least the time that they’re under the axe.

When there’s an active and looming prediction in operation, pre-Trib wingnuts get particularly wingnutty. They’re panicking about their loved ones’ fates, they’re selling their houses to buy billboards warning about the doom they imagine is coming soon, and they’re making enormous pests of themselves constantly. This mindset is the one that convinces a pre-Trib wingnut to sell everything they own to go become foreign missionaries in countries most evangelicals haven’t even ever heard of.

My own Pentecostal church bought into the “88 Reasons” Rapture scare — they were definitely a pre-Trib church. While a deadline loomed, my church went into overdrive. People panicked about missing the Rapture if they just couldn’t get ahold of their friends by phone, or if they lost track of a family member while out grocery shopping. They worried every moment about repenting for every imagined error they ever made. As well, they made themselves ten times the pest they usually were to everyone around them, and especially to their family members.

But after the predicted date came and went, we were all too exhausted to keep up that momentum. People who’d converted out of fear of being left behind drifted back out again — my church retained perhaps only a couple of those converts. We’d already spent all the financial resources we could on evangelism, so we pulled back there too. As for the missionary zeal, that also ebbed for the same reasons: exhaustion of all resources.

People don’t cope well with that level of 24/7 stress. Eventually, something must give. So these “practical implications” don’t last, ever, if they materialize at all.

When (Pre-Trib) Prophecy Fails.

As well, even if a pre-Trib Rapture believer avoids the pitfalls of a stated date for the big event, they have to creep up on it constantly.

Indeed, I saw a number of articles in the Pre-Trib Research Center’s archives concerning the retooling of previously-held Endtimes beliefs. For example, they’ve had to deal with a popular one about the creation of the state of Israel being a bigtime precursor event. When Israel became its own country in 1948, a lot of Endtimes believers thought for sure that the Rapture would occur within a certain number of years. (In 1988, obviously, the creator of the “88 Reasons” scare decided that time was 40 years. OMG THAT’S THIS YEAR, WHO’D HAVE THOUGHT?) Now, 70 years later, they’re struggling against that long-established canonical interpretation.

To maintain momentum, pre-Trib believers have to be constantly kept under the axe. When the axe swings and misses, their leaders then have to deal with disappointment and figure out how to retool their predictions to keep believers’ butts in pews (BIPs being a measure of Christian dominance).

They always do figure out a way, but every time they lose members and must attract more to replace them and keep growing. But to those disillusioned with these constant failed predictions, and to those who always thought these folks were ridiculous anyway, the credibility levels of Endtimes believers drops lower and lower and lower with every single new failure.

Argument from Beneficial “Practical Implications.”

I also don’t agree that the perceived benefits that come from embracing any belief actually indicate the level of correctness of the belief itself. Even if Christians derived those named “practical implications” from belief in a pre-Trib Rapture, that wouldn’t make a pre-Trib Rapture the correct belief according to their magical gamebook.

Millions of Christians hold competing views, or don’t care about the Endtimes at all. They still maintain belief through their lifetimes. That fact speaks to the sheer superfluity of pre-Trib beliefs. Endtimes beliefs are just not necessary to the practice of Christianity.

In fact, in 2010 Pew Research ran a survey that found that less than half of their responding Christians thought that Jesus was “definitely” or “probably” gonna return to Earth within the next 40 years (meaning, within their lifetimes for most of these folks). The full survey is interesting — when Pew asked about Jesus’ return along with a list of other possibilities for the next 40 years, 41% of respondents chose Jesus’ return as a likely possibility.

Obviously, White evangelicals in Pew’s survey were a bit more likely than overall Christians to think Jesus’ return was “probably” imminent (58% vs. 41%), and less likely to think it “probably” wouldn’t happen (25% vs. 46%). Less-educated Southern White evangelicals were way more likely to buy in as well. But still, 58% buy-in doesn’t speak well at all of the cosmic necessity or correctness of the beliefs involved.

Moreover, if someone holds Endtimes beliefs in general and pre-Trib Rapture beliefs in particular, that doesn’t mean that person will maintain belief for life. Plenty of ex-Christians were once fervent pre-Trib believers. Ya know. Like me.

The Takeaway.

Ultimately, pre-Trib beliefs are neither necessary to belief nor do they effectively hold doubters in the pews. That means that whatever this group is doing, it’s just wasting resources that its supporters could be spending elsewhere for better impact. This waste leads to a bigger-picture exhaustion, just as its adherents experience in the short-term and smaller-scale.

Evangelicals are on borrowed time by now. They long ago passed the tipping point where they could still reverse their decline. Now they’re well into the endgame of world religions. Every dollar evangelicals waste is a dollar they can’t put to better use. But the Pre-Trib Research Center is busy arguing with their ideological enemies and making evangelicals as a whole look worse and worse — to anyone who even knows they exist, at least!

That’s all good news for the rest of us. Whatever the Pre-Trib Research Center is doing, these guys are not helping evangelicals. And that means nothing but good for humanity.

NEXT UP: Why a foundation of reality works better for many people than one based in fantasy.

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ROLL TO DISBELIEVE "Captain Cassidy" is Cassidy McGillicuddy, a Gen Xer and ex-Pentecostal. (The title is metaphorical.) She writes about the intersection of psychology, belief, popular culture, science,...