Are Americans more enraptured with the Rapture than ever? Seth Rogen's 2013 apocalypse comedy, This Is the End, poked fun at the concept, while the cinematic "reboot" of Left Behind, starring Nicolas Cage, takes it seriously. The bleak HBO drama The Leftovers, developed by Damon Lindelof (co-creator of Lost), explores what life would be like for those left behind after a Rapture-esque event.

The Rapture is a relatively recent idea in church history, as well as a minor theme in Scripture: Many Bible scholars argue that it's not there at all, while descendants of 19th-century dispensationalists see it in passages like 1 Thessalonians 4:15–17; 1 Corinthians 15:51–55; and John 14:2–3. But it has become a fixture in U.S. pop culture, showing up unexpectedly like a thief in the night.

Big-Budget Destruction

Pop apocalyptic—the larger genre of disaster movies and end-of-the-world scenarios—has been a big business for a long time. It flourished after World War II and during the cold war. Just as Amish romances have provided an evangelical-friendly niche within the larger genre of romance novels, Rapture media allowed Christians to carve out a space within the larger (and quite profitable) genre of apocalyptic. Whereas Amish romance provides a "safer alternative" to bodice-rippers, however, Christian Rapture fare often seems more intent on upping the terror factor than providing toned-down, family-friendly fun.

Take the 1941 evangelistic film The Rapture, produced by Charles Octavia Baptista. In 11 minutes, the film chillingly depicts the chaos to be wrought on earth when the Rapture occurs. The narrator predicts that "speeding trains will plunge unsuspecting ...

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