A Word on the Left Behind Books

I have mixed feelings on the Left Behind series of books by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. There was a time when I certainly would have accepted much of what they proposed in the theology of the books, but I always read them as enjoyable novels.

When discovered the books while browsing a Christian bookstore. I picked up the first one, liked the back cover synopsis and made a decision buy the first 3. I started reading them and was hooked from the first pages. I found the stories original, enjoyable and engaging.

At that time of my life I have not given End Times much thought for many years and while I was very dubious about the literal turn of events, it didn’t bother me enough to affect my enjoyment of the books. One can read and enjoy a fantasy without it affecting real life after all.

Within weeks of me purchasing and starting to read the books, I was on the phone to a friend and he excitedly told me that he’d found the most enjoyable books he’d read in a long time and started extolling the virtues of their story telling and narrative. Before he even got to the point of telling me the name of the books or the subject matter, I interrupted him and told him he was talking about the Left Behind books. His dumbstruck silence at the other end was hilarious, yet is very illustrative of the impact my first encounter with these books had on me.

I gobbled up the books, eagerly welcoming each new one as it came out. I even bought the first three movie DVDs that came out.

Then the boredom set in, as the series progressed and got to book 10 or so my enthusiasm had waned, I continued to read the series because I wanted to know what happened, but the enjoyment and the pleasure had gone out of reading them. By the time I got to the last book, the reading of it was a mere formality, just to say I’d done it, there was very little of the original pleasure of the reading left and I found the ending all rather twee and ‘Hollywood’ in its perfect ending.

If I discovered the books now, I’m not so sure I’d read them. I certainly doubt I’ll ever read any of them again.

That’s not because I’ve changed my mind on my original opinion. I am sure if I read the first book again I’d enjoy it to the same degree, I think the series certainly lost its momentum and should have been several books shorter. Its almost as though huge profit was visualised when the popularity of the books was realised and so the latter half of the series stretched the story out. I have no idea on the truth of that but it certainly felt that way.  Now I discover that beyond the original 12 books that I read, there are now three prequels and another one added to the end, cynicism confirmed me thinks.

So yes I did enjoy reading the initial books, I enjoyed them very much. Yet looking back at them with the eyes of an Atheist I found myself being very cynical and sad. Cynical that its cashing in on a dubious theology that has caused hurt to many (see my previous post: https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2011/05/23/its-the-end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it/) and sad that the books have probably helped to reinforce that dubious theology into many and thereby (possibly) causing yet more hurt to those who now needlessly fear a Rapture that will never come.

Its the End of the World as We Know It

Given the publicity and internet talk of the last week, this seems as good a time as any to make a post about what in Christian circles is generally referred to as End Times.

Like the vast majority of people, the rapture prediction of Harold Camping did not have me fooled at all. Even as a rapture believing, literal thinking, fundamentalist; I would not have accepted that any person could know in advance the date of Jesus coming again, or any rapture event. After all, the Bible does say that no man can know the date. Plus the clues that Mr Camping followed to get that date, apparently exactly 7000 years after Noah’s Flood, are dubious to say the least.

Thinking back to my childhood and the literal indoctrination I received at mission school inZambia, I remember a surprising amount of End Time teaching. We were taught to live as though Christ would come again tomorrow and to live in expectation that we would live to see that day. The rapture scenario was assumed to be true, though biblical doctrine of it is a tad dubious.

On more than one occasion the assertion that we were ‘living in End Times’ was made. Despite my young age, this wasn’t so much scary, as exciting; imagine the privilege of being of one the glorious few who would actually get to witness the second coming with their own eyes rather than the more common, being raised from the dead!

Why the fear?

I read with great interest this post and the associated links; http://secularwings.wordpress.com/2011/05/13/what-happens-may-22/. Zoe touched on a subject that had not previously occurred to me. That Christians would fear judgement day. For me, confident from a young age in my assured salvation, judgement day was something to anticipate not fear. It was the day of reckoning for those who denied Christ, but for those to accept him, there was certain salvation and everlasting joy. Our sins would not be a barrier to salvation, so long as we still have the Holy Spirit in our lives, which I did from the day that I knelt down and prayed the prayer of conversion.

I certainly don’t want to mock or belittle anyone who had a fear of the day of Christ’s coming again. I guess our reaction depends on how we were taught. I was taught that being perfect and sinless was not a criteria, being saved was. The concept of having to account for our actions to a Holy King was taught but not swelled on, the emphasis was that those who denied Jesus would be the ones who had much to fear. Hence my confusion that Christians would be concerned about that day; yet it appears that many are, or have been.

Personally I put this down to confused teaching rather than Christians of uncertain foundation. If the preaching and teaching on the subject is such that it leaves Christians in fear of their eternal soul, then something is very wrong.

But what of the dubious theology behind the rapture?

I am not aware that any church I have regularly attended as an adult has had a minister or pastor who accepted the rapture as a viable biblical prophesies. Internet searches on the subject seem to indicate that our Christian cousins in theUSare far more pro the rapture than mainstream Christianity is in theUK. In fact I remember one very well liked pastor going out of his way to condemn the theology behind the Left Behind series of books.

Now I have to make it clear that I am by no means an expert on the book of Revelations and I certainly have no credentials that entitle me to talk with authority on the subject.

When one considers the End Times prophecies that are taken from the Bible, especially the last book; the reality of a rapture and prolonged period of judgement before Christ’s eventual return on bodily form, seems highly suspect. Its not at all like the first chapter of Genesis, where a literal reading leaves one in little doubt over what supposedly happened.

End Time theology and prophesy requires much interpretation and reading what different people say reveals a vast array of differences. About the only certainty is that no one can no for sure; which leave the previously mentioned Harold Camping in the unenviable position of being mocked and ridiculed by Atheists and Christians alike.

Personally, I was taught that the second coming and the rising up of all Christians into heaven was a single event, yet many seem to interpret them as two distinct events, the Rapture and the Glorious Appearing, each separated by varying amounts of time, depending on who you read.

Leave the End Times alone

If there is anything to learn from the sordid mess; its that prophesy and teaching on End Times should be left well alone.

Yet, that seems to be impossible; like a cloud of insects around a porch light on a dark night, Christians and crackpots seem incapable of avoiding the subject and each time the result is the same.