The index, a feature on the Web site www.raptureready.com, is a measure of how quickly the world is careening toward the Second Coming of Christ. On a good day, it claims 15,000 hits.
"Rapture" is a word that some Christians use to describe the moment when, they believe, Jesus will call them home to heaven and the rest of the population will struggle on with only the Antichrist and the apocalypse to look forward to. The time between the rapture and the Second Coming is called the tribulation.
Interest in all of this is peaking these days, spurred on by the
apparent frequency and intensity of earthly disasters, last month's release of the third "Left Behind" movie and the prospect of a bird-flu pandemic.
Keepers of the Rapture Ready Web site are Terry James of Benton, Ark., and Todd Strandberg of Bellevue, Neb., two biblical prophecy devotees who have been polishing their concept since 1987.
James and Strandberg have come up with a list of 45 categories, from false Christs to inflation, famine and floods. Every few days, they assign each category a number from 1 to 6 to reflect its "intensity," according to recent news stories. They tally the numbers to come up with the rapture index, a number James calls "a speedometer that says how fast we're heading toward the tribulation."
On a recent day, the rapture index was at 159, well over what James and Strandberg call the "fasten your seat belt" mark of 145.
"It's been up around 159 for some time now," says James, who has written 15 books on biblical prophecy and fully expects the rapture to occur in his lifetime. So far, he's waited 63 years.
James knows that not all Christians see Scripture and the signs the same way he and Strandberg and the whole "Left Behind" crowd do. The Web site gets a lot of critical mail, and some of it is posted online.
"Some people get really hostile over anything on the site," James says. "To me, that shows the truth of what we're doing. ...We don't condemn anybody; we only point out what God says about sin in general."
Not all Christians have jumped on the rapture bandwagon. Many see it as a modern twisting of what they believe biblical prophecy really is--not so much predictive, as in telling what will happen in the future, as prescriptive, describing what happened in the past.
Barbara Rossing, a New Testament professor at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago, is familiar with the Web site but doesn't think it holds much appeal for Christians like her who have condemned the "Left Behind" series and argue that the rapture is not a biblical concept. She wrote "The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in The Book of Revelation" (Westview Press, $15, 222 pages).
"World events should be a wakeup call to us," Rossing says. "We should be thinking about what our calling is, as people of faith in the world today. We need to be thinking about how to connect the dots--not in an Antichrist-end-times kind of way--but in terms of how God is at work in the world for healing, for justice and for love."
James is familiar with the criticism and it doesn't shake his confidence in the rapture.
"I'm of the opinion that every Christian will go (in the rapture), regardless of the state of their walk with Jesus," he says. "We're all in God's family."