Editors' note: We selected David S. Bernstein to serve as our resident Rapture expert, on account of his having seen all three Kirk Cameron Left Behind series film adaptations.
HE'S GOT A DATE Radio evangelist Harold Camping pinned the Rapture to May 21, 2011.
WHAT EXACTLY IS THE RAPTURE?
According to dispensationalist theology, all saved Christians born again in Jesus will be removed — "raptured" — from Earth to heaven, as part of the complicated sequence of End Times events. Heaven, by the way, turns out to be a waiting room where the saved hang out until Jesus establishes his Millennial Kingdom on Earth.
IS THIS BASED ON THE TEACHINGS OF JESUS?
No. Dispensationalism was invented in the 1820s–'30s by a guy named John Nelson Darby — right around the same time Joseph Smith invented Mormonism and Hans Christian Andersen invented the Little Mermaid.
ARE DISPENSATIONALISTS ALL IN AGREEMENT ABOUT THE RAPTURE COMING THIS SATURDAY?
Far from it. The May 21, 2011, date is based on the calculations of Harold Camping, who runs the Family Radio broadcasting network. Mainstream dispensationalists believe the Rapture is imminent, but not necessarily this week.
HOW MANY PEOPLE WILL BE RAPTURED, AND HOW MANY LEFT BEHIND?
Camping says that 200 million of the world's 6.7 billion people will be raptured. The more mainstream Left Behind novels, by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, estimate "half a billion or more" get raptured. Either way, it's bad news for toddlers, even though most dispensationalists say that children too young to be held responsible get automatic rapture — there are more than 600 million children age four and under in the world, so clearly some tots are in trouble — they won't make the cut.
HOW WILL IT HAPPEN? DOES RAPTURING TAKE A LONG TIME?
It's instantaneous — one moment they're right in front of you, the next moment they'll be gone. There will be no Star Trek beam-me-up sound-and-light effects.
IF I GET RAPTURED, DO I GET TO TAKE ANYTHING WITH ME?
No. Not even the clothes you were wearing, which will be left where you were standing at that moment — considerately, according to Left Behind, Jesus will fold and stack them, leaving them "in a neat pile."
WHO GETS RAPTURED? HOW CAN I TELL IF I'M GOING TO BE RAPTURED?
It's very simple, and entirely internal: if you've given yourself over to Jesus, you're in. Only you can know if you've truly accepted Jesus into your heart.
WHAT IF I'M NOT 100-PERCENT SURE ABOUT JESUS, BUT I GO TO CHURCH AND LIVE A GOOD LIFE? WILL I GET RAPTURED?
No. Let me put it this way: it's not good enough to sing along when Carrie Underwood comes on the car radio; you have to actually let Jesus take the wheel.
BUT WON'T JESUS KNOW THAT I'VE BEEN A GOOD PERSON?
You're confusing him with Santa Claus. The Jesus of dispensationalism (let's call him Rapture Jesus) is not interested in whether you've been naughty or nice — since we are all grievous sinners — only if you've been born again.
SO RAPISTS AND MURDERERS WHO ARE BORN AGAIN GO TO THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN, BUT GOOD PEOPLE WHO DON'T BELIEVE IN JESUS GO TO HELL?