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.

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March 5, 2009

Purpose Driven Life, Left Behind, The Shack: Ultimately, Were They Printed For Christians?

the-shack-spanishI am starting to question whether certain books, having penetrated the mainstream book market, were ever truly meant for Christians to read themselves; especially considering that all we do is dissect them to death.   Here’s how I put it recently in a comment on Tim Challies‘ blog:

When certain “Christian” titles strike a nerve in mainstream culture, like Shack, Purpose-Driven and Left Behind; I start to wonder if they were really written for “us.” They do however, become easy targets for critique, analysis and even spin-off books which do both. If someone finds Christ in these books and is intent on discerning their next steps through fellowship and Bible study and prayer; then, later on, we can do the mid-course corrections that will center their doctrine.

I have read, seen and heard so many interviews with author Wm. Paul Young; and I have heard so many stories from satisfied readers that I feel in terms of the “big picture,” this book has done more good than harm. The greatest potential for harm comes when the book becomes a vehicle for division within the body; a springboard for pro-Calvinist or anti-Calvinist sentiments; when in fact the heart of the book is about how God meets us in the middle of the tragedies of life, what lead character Mack calls “the great sadness.”

Another great sadness would be to miss all that, and get so focused on the book’s alleged theological shortcomings that we miss the sound of the angels rejoicing in heaven over souls being saved. I’ll take a flawed Shack over similar efforts that never break out of the Christian reading ghetto; or efforts that never happen at all.

I’ve just reached a point where I’ve had it with all the analysis.   Purpose Driven Life is not perfect, The Shack‘s attempt to capture the heart of a loving God has lots of rough theological edges, and the Left Behind series is…well…

But I’ve heard of people being saved through reading the LaHaye/Jenkins series, and one story of Ashley Smith’s witness after reading PDL would justify  the book’s entire print run, and the Wm. Paul Young book is producing story after story of people finding faith.

Meanwhile, the Evangelical community is constantly bickering.   Enough already.   You win.   God is not a woman.    Oh yeah, and strictly speaking, God is not a man.

…and all the other debates and arguments also.

Pictured:  The Shack Spanish edition.  The book is currently available or being translated into 23 languages.

One Link – 3 Different Things To See at Mars Hill Grand Rapids
rob_bell Sermon posts at Rob Bell’s church only stay up for a dozen weeks, so time is running out quickly to catch three great moments in time at this church in Michigan. First go to the site linked here.   Then check out

  • February 8th –  The church celebrates a ten year anniversary where they celebrate the world wide influence this church is having.
  • February 15th – Rob Bell announces a coming tour in support of his book, Drops Like Stars, releasing in April, that will take him across the U.S., to Canada, and to the U.K.; and then introduces guest speaker Jeff Manion, who has pastored in Grand Rapids for 25 years who preaches on how the love of Christ needs to manifest itself in very down-to-earth, practical situations.
  • March 1st – Rob teaches on how our culture is in denial when it comes to death — I know, not a grabber of a subject — and begins a 6-week teaching from the book of Lamentations.   Not your average sermon, but a really good one.

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