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:
#LeftBehindMovie 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 Movie”could 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:
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.