Thinking Out Loud

October 6, 2014

Left Behind as Object of Mockery

Filed under: books, theology — Tags: , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:11 am

Cats Watching the Rapture - from Rapture Pet Care

Somewhere over the weekend, a series of eschatological fiction books became an object of ridicule online. In a way, the op-ed sentiment was always there: Stories based on a premise that took hold with the American Christian populace in the 1940s and ’50s, but a premise that serious Bible scholars never embraced. “Rapture? What rapture?”

But then the movie remake scored only 2% on the movie review analysis site Rotten Tomatoes.  Suddenly the book and movie franchise became fair game both for those within and outside the camp. Ed Stetzer tweeted:

Headed to with a bag of clothes. While the movie is playing, Kaitlyn and I plan to spread them out on seats.

Apparently that sentiment caught on because by Sunday the anonymous owner of twitter account Chet Churchpain tweeted,

Played a rapture prank by leaving clothes in my pew and leaving during prayer, but forgot spare clothes.

Hid in closet until everyone left.

with a follow up:

Still missing my wallet and my good crocs.

Greg Boyd joined in the frivolity on Sunday:

I believe in “Left Behind”! If someone strikes you “on the RIGHT cheek,” turn “the OTHER cheek,” which would of course be your LEFT behind.

In a much longer than 140-character post at CT a reviewer wrote:

I was ready to be upset about this movie, is what I’m saying—upset at a movie based on books that I felt totally mischaracterized my faith, books whose central characters were trumpeted as the saints of the new world but who constantly failed to live out anything marginally resembling real Christianity.

I was ready to be upset because the Left Behind books were not Christian.

They talked about Christianity, sometimes. But, at their core, they were political thrillers, featuring characters directly transposed from better Tom Clancy narratives—still violent, hostile, and un-reflecting, they just prayed a little more and took communion sometimes. (This may be unfair to Clancy.)

I was ready to be upset at this new movie because certainly it would have all those same faults. But it doesn’t. It has many, many faults, and almost no positives, but purporting to be Christian while not actually being Christian is not one of them.

I will bold this next point so that readers now searching desperately for the vanished comments section can take note: Left Behind is not a Christian Movie, whatever Christian Moviecould even possibly mean.

adding parenthetically at the end:

We tried to give the film zero stars, but our tech system won’t allow it.

So where did Left Behind get left behind with some Christians?

A popular version has it that the rapture idea began with a young girl who stood up and gave a word of prophecy at a revival meeting in the UK in the 19th century, perhaps either the 1860s or 1870s. The idea represents a mash-up of Jesus words in Matthew (“one will be taken and one left behind”) and Paul’s words to the Thessalonians (“…will be caught up to meet Him in the air.”)

In various places in scripture however we see that being the one “taken” is not always a good thing, and the parable of the bridesmaids shows us that when the guests go out to meet the bridegroom, it is them, not the groom, who does the 180-degree turn.  (See this article at CT.) his idea of rapture, or more specifically non-rapture, is tied closely to teachings about ‘New Earth,’ which for many stands in contrast to an ‘up there’ view of heaven

It’s also important to note that the rapture doctrine did not travel well across the pond. Christians in the United States did not accept the idea well until the aforementioned post-war period.

Furthermore Skye Jethani articulates this issue well in his book Futureville, explaining that this is really an example of letting the culture dictate theology; that the doctrine is born out of philosophy of escapism, a post-WWII desire to exit the planet and all its evils. He shares this also around the 26-minute mark of the Phil Vischer Podcast episode 15.

Of course some people are willing to loyally defend the brand and attack those who don’t:

  My fellow Christians, you can disregard any reviews of the by the pro-homosexual or pro-Palestinian

Nothing keeps the water muddy on any particular issue like parachuting another issue (or two in this case) into the discussion.

My wife thinks that what we’re seeing is simply the outpouring of criticism that takes place whenever something is successful. Big churches are targets. Top authors are targets. But in this case, the movie’s poor critical showing has intersected with the place where rapture doctrine is slowly falling out of favor among even strident Evangelicals.

So this weekend everybody gets to join in the fun.

Rapture? No we were just kidding, that isn’t gonna happen.


  1. I grew up on pre-trib rapture doctrine. I love it…it comforts me. Can I prove it or defend it? No. Can I get in line with the cheesy Left Behind books and movies? No. But I really, really want it to be true. What could be better than, just at the climax of ISIS beheading every non-islamic citizen and 10 powerful nations aligning themselves together to destroy Israel, for Christians to find themselves suddenly with Christ! Safe. Sound. Saved. This is not an issue I would make my ‘hill to die on”. I have already told my sons that we can hope in the pre-trib but prepare ourselves for post-trib. I wish the Bible was clear on this but it isn’t. I am to watch for Christ to return without the benefit of a time agenda.

    Comment by yokedwithhim — October 6, 2014 @ 12:47 pm

    • Still, you might enjoy reading some books which challenge that view. Skye’s book Futureville was mentioned above. I actually read it twice since getting it earlier this year. There’s also a book End Time Delusions by Steve Wohlberg which makes the anti-rapture case.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — October 6, 2014 @ 8:15 pm

      • The point that got lost in my initial response is that I can no longer support the pre-trib doctrine that I cut my teeth on. I cannot say for sure that it is wrong…I want it to be right. I have read articles that make valid cases for tossing the rapture idea out the window altogether. But I love the whole idea…even though I cannot prove it to be true in the least.

        Comment by yokedwithhim — October 6, 2014 @ 10:46 pm

      • No, that came through. You want it to be true.

        Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — October 6, 2014 @ 10:54 pm

  2. My wife dragged me to see this movie TODAY! I have never been a pre-tribulation Rapture adherent, but she wanted to see it. So, alas, I went.

    It was actually a good movie. Good, not great. It was entertaining, and hands down the most non-churchy christian themed movie I have ever seen. There were no theology lessons and very little Bible in the movie. The non-Christians characters asked great questions. My favorite line in the entire movie was when one of those left behind characters asks the pastor who got left behind: “Why should I believe anything you say? Even YOU don’t believe what you say!”

    Comment by Jim — October 6, 2014 @ 7:06 pm

    • Taking rapture doctrine as a given for a moment, there are probably a lot of pastors like that out there. Where I live the chaplain of the large, county-owned seniors home is not a believer. When the residents look for hope as they face the prospect of the afterlife, he tells them, “Don’t worry about it.”

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — October 6, 2014 @ 8:16 pm

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