[In Our Time] The Rapture

The Rapture

26/09/2019 by BBC Radio 4

Web player: https://podplayer.net/?id=82236891
Episode: http://open.live.bbc.co.uk/mediaselector/6/redir/version/2.0/mediaset/audio-nondrm-download/proto/http/vpid/p07pbwks.mp3

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the ideas developed by the Anglican priest John Nelson Darby (1800-1882), drawn from his reading of scripture, in which Jesus would suddenly take His believers up into the air, and those left behind would suffer on Earth until He returned with His church to rule for a thousand years before Final Judgement. Some believers would look for signs that civilization was declining, such as wars and natural disasters, or for new Roman Empires that would harbour the Antichrist, and from these predict the time of the Rapture. Darby helped establish the Plymouth Brethren, and later his ideas were picked up in the Scofield Reference Bible (1909) and soon became influential, particularly in the USA.


Elizabeth Phillips
Research Fellow at the Margaret Beaufort Institute at the University of Cambridge and Honorary Fellow in the Department of Theology and Religion at Durham University

Crawford Gribben
Professor of Early Modern British History at Queen’s University Belfast


Nicholas Guyatt
Reader in North American History at the University of Cambridge

Producer: Simon Tillotson

Listen Date: early January 2020


  • There was a discussion of the USA as a free market for religion, and a centre of innovation and entrepreneurship for religion; which is why the Irish Derby’s ideas caught on much more over there than in his home country.
  • There were heavy overtones of Snow Crash in that entire discussion.
  • And I think it ties in to the episode on the Gordon riots as well as on the Irish potato famine with its discussion on how Protestants couldn’t bear to see Catholics no longer being persecuted.
  • The panel said that Derby was educated and erudite so shied away from recklessly seeing prophecy play out in current day events but his successors didn’t have any such compunction. I rolled my eyes a bit.
  • The discussion of how Mike Pence and similar believe in the Rapture but needn’t necessarily act on it had me rolling my eyes a bit less; and then I came up with a Wile E Coyote theory of religion, which I should probably put on my main blog.
  • I learned about the Great Reversal in Evangelicalism – or how American evangelicals went from being active in political life with e.g. abolitionism to completely withdrawn from it – or at least rejectionist about it – possibly thanks to Derby’s premillenial ideas.
  • Explanation of that point: Christians who believe the book of Revelation can believe either that Christ will return to earth at the end of a thousand years of peace (postmillennialism) or before it (premillenialism). The ones who believe he will return before have no incentive to bring about a thousand years of peace.
  • Another thing which is obvious when you think about it but which you don’t usually think about; and which this program made explicit: if you believe that the prophecies in the Bible are true, they can be prophecising either about things that happen in the New Testament (so, in a way, ticked off) or about things yet to come (Revelations). And so, we currently live in an era sandwiched between two eras that have been prophecised about; and there are no guiding prophecies about our own time. Whoops.
  • Also learned that in an attempt to take the entire Bible literally and ignore the contradictions, Derby ended up believing that God had separate destinies planned for Jews, Christians, and nonbelievers. Oh dear…
  • Considering the St Augustine episode and The Theory of Moral Sentiments got me thinking so much about pride and its ability to slip between virtue and vice, I wonder that Derby and whoever came after never had doubts about being too proud when it came to interpreting the word of God.


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