1. Introduction

Why do Christians disagree on Left Behind post 1 of 20

(the post formerly known as http://oldmaid.jallman.net/entry.php?id=1 )

(originally posted October 29, 2005)

Welcome to my notes on the topic “Why do Christians disagree on the Left Behind novels.”

Snooze alert: It’s long. It’s very long. It’s bring-your-toothbrush-you-will-be-here-tomorrow long. But I hope it will be worth the trip. You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You’ll toss your cookies. Or if you don’t, I didn’t do it right.

Contents

• Introduction (includes brief mention of additional sources/resources)

• Meet our five critics

• The genealogy of the church: Early Christianity; Denominations in Europe; Denominations in the States

• Terminology: Terms we will not use ; Eschatological groupings; Behavioral groupings; Interdenominational groupings; and a Bonus round: Commonalities all groups have whether they affirm it, deny it, or don’t know it exists

• Translation: Where the five critics dispute the translations behind Left Behind

• Applied theology: Collective Book Review as critics look inward toward the novels

• A side trek into the “real” Beam-me-up realm (gender roles redux)

• Applied theology II(a): Critics and readings look outward toward the world: The love (on L.B.’s influence on relationships with God and man)

• Applied theology II(b): The land (on why L.B. is fascinated with Israel, Jews, and [Orthodox] Judaism)

• Applied theology II(c): The life (on earthly suffering and heavenly possibilities)

• Applied theology II(d): The future (on the fate of the earth, and what comes after L.B)

• And now for a word from the historicists

• Does it matter?

• Bonus materials, all added after conclusion of main body. Write-up for Volume 1, in which all earth’s children and selected adults vanish.

• Bonus materials. Write-up for Volume 2, in which the major characters cope with the end of the world by joining a church, getting married, and having children.

• Bonus materials. Write-up for Volume 11, in which almost everybody dies.

• Bonus materials. Write-up for Volume 16, in which resurrected saints and righteous mortals live side by side on earth for 1,000 years.

• Series spoilers & discussion post. Leftover stuff. But it includes a reading list.

Introduction

I became acquainted with Left Behind in 1997 when someone (literally) shoved volume one in my face. As I have not always found that particular person to be trustworthy, I decided to do some research and think about it.

I was already familiar with the basic sales pitch (only the specific title was new to me), so I set out to find a Christian response from the other side. I discovered that balanced information on the topic simply could not be found, in my corner of the planet at least. This does not mean that intelligent rebuttals never existed. Rather, the apologists for the other side were not getting their message out to the public. Perhaps they still are not, or you the Gentle Browser would be reading their words instead of mine. (It took me five years to find anything by anybody, after all.)

In 2002 I found John Dart’s article “Beam Me Up Theology: The Debate over Left Behind” and its sidebar “Left Behind: It’s a Good Thing” (published in The Christian Century magazine, issue September 25th through October 8th, 2002, pages 8-9).

In 2004 I found another article by Jason Byassee titled “En-Raptured: What’s Behind Left Behind” (published in The Christian Century, issue April 20th, 2004, pages 18-22). Byassee wrote a combined book review of Amy Johnson Frykholm’s Rapture Culture : “Left Behind” in Evangelical America and Barbara R. Rossing’s The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation.

And then in 2003 I was trying to find a traffic report on the car radio and heard this instead:

{click} (Billy Ray Cyrus) “Don’t tell my heart, my achy breaky heart— ”

{click} (speaker) “Stocks rose until they fell—”

{click} (Sonny & Cher) “Babe! I got you babe! I got you babe!”

{click} (speaker #1) “But what makes me angry is those Left Behind books aimed at children. I don’t think that’s right. I don’t like that.”

(speaker #2) “Well that’s all the time we have today. I want to thank our guest Carl Olson, who spent an entire hour discussing his book Will Catholics Be Left Behind. Now we’re going to a dozen commercials without giving you ordering information or telling you if/when we will ever re-air this interview or even identifying this station.”

Obviously this last was not a direct quote, but it was a typical experience of blink-and-miss-it.

Also typical is the omnipresence of persons whose opinions I already know, say, when I am tired and just want to find some sitcom reruns so I can go to sleep. (Now these are direct quotes.)

{click} (excited voiceover) “But wait! There’s more! Order now and we’ll throw in absolutely free this set of stainless steel—”

{click} (Jack Van Impe) “—Catholic books, I have about 150 of them, and they all reject what one of their own Jesuit priests invented, and I have to tell you preterism is the biggest load of baloney that was ever—”

{click} (sexy voiceover) “—made with strips of whole white chicken and smothered in our tangy barbecue sauce—”

{click} (Rexella Van Impe) “And that’s all the time we have for today.”

(Your exhausted host thinking at 2 in the morning) “Hmm, Rexella wasn’t wearing glasses on the other channel.”

Such is life in the eschatology business … never off-duty. Perhaps in your town this information is more balanced. Not in mine. The individuals who question the Left Behind novels are not famous, and their books don’t appear in the bargain bin at Super Duper Giant Mart.

Okay, so material exists. How does that help me?

It is one thing for John Dart to report that in 2001 the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) overwhelmingly passed a resolution declaring that the theology of Left Behind “is not in accord with our Reformed understanding” of the New Testament book of Revelation.

It is another thing, that I should actually hear about this resolution. (Or find it.)

It is one thing for Dart to add that in 2000 the then-president of the Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod) wrote a critical analysis of the “very serious errors” in Left Behind. As of 2000 this rebuttal had been posted on the denomination’s website.

It is another thing, that I should actually hear about that either. (Or find it.)

It is one thing for Dart to list several Christian scholars who challenged Left Behind—scholars such as:

• A.L. Barry (said former president of the Missouri Synod Lutherans who wrote the article for the denomination’s website). Quoted as saying the novels are “filled with very serious errors about what the Bible really teaches.”

• Ben Witherington III (evangelical scholar and prolific author of New Testament studies, from Asbury Theological Seminary). The first critic I ever heard to describe rapturism as the “Beam Me Up” belief—but not the last. No, not the last, at all.

• Bill Hull (Samford University research professor and former dean of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary). Quoted as saying that the novels promote “a minority view” of the end times and “perpetuate a massive misunderstanding of scripture.”

• N.T. Wright (British scholar and nemesis of the liberal “Jesus Seminar”). Notes that the popularity of the novels “appears puzzling, even bizarre” on his side of the Atlantic.

• Robert C. Tannehill (of Methodist Theological School in Ohio). The only critic in Dart’s article who might concede that the phrase “one will be taken and one will be left” could possibly be good for those “taken”—but Tannehill disagrees that either those “taken” of those “left” are promised any escape from tribulation.

• Danny Aiken (president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary). “Agrees with the books’ general theology but is concerned about liberties the authors take with scripture.”

• Christopher M. Tuckett (British scholar) who lines up with the majority of Dart’s sources/interviewees who say that “to be taken” is the fate to be avoided, not to be desired. Christians must prepare lest they be taken.

Dart reveals that both N.T. Wright and Ben Witherington III previously were interviewed by the magazine Bible Review. (Wright was featured in the August 2001 issue and Witherington in the August 2002 issue.)

So again, it is one thing—a large thing, don’t think I’m not grateful!—for Dart and Byassee to produce names of authors and (by extension) a lead to the books they may have written, that is, if anyone can learn the names of their books.

It is one thing for the magazine Bible Review to publish articles disputing the Left Behind position on (apparently) an annual basis.

It is another thing, that I should ever hear about any of it.

At about this time I finally discovered that Amazon.Com is good for more than just overplayed radio commercials. I dialed up their entry for Will Catholics Be Left Behind and what did I find?

A Listmania! link by Amazon.Com customer “labarum, Anglican Christian” and his list of “Great Books to Debunk ‘Left Behind’”. My compliments to “labarum.” (And how did he find this stuff?)

So now I had a list of books: eight suggested by “labarum,” two suggested by Jason Byassee, and the many as-yet-unknown-to-me books that John Dart’s interviewees may or may not have written. Of Dart’s interviewees the only one I could connect to a published work was the book Jesus, Paul and the End of the World by evangelical scholar Ben Witherington III. (I never did learn the titles of the Bible Review articles.) Additionally, in the credits of Rossing’s book she listed a Christine LeMoignan, author of Following the Lamb: A Reading of Revelation for the New Millennium. This book had been available for four years before I ever heard of it. (Even as I write this, Amazon.com has yet to post a single customer review.)

Problem solved, right? Wrong. It is one thing to know that the books exist. It is another thing, that I should ever get my hands on them.

It occurred to me that if I purchased all the books, I would spend enough money to be unable to pay my electric bill … for several months. (Some of us be po’.)

Surely I could read them at the library for free. I visited one of the largest libraries in the state, which in turn is part of one of the largest borrowing cooperatives in the tri-state area. This library had over 80 listings for the Left Behind series and the tie-in series aimed at children (the books that had so aggravated Carl Olson). The library owned these titles in print and in an assortment of audio formats. They owned multiple copies of most listings. They even had the Kirk Cameron film.

How many rebuttal books did this library own? One.

Libraries pride themselves on impartiality and balanced collections. In this subject there was no balance, or even an awareness of the imbalance. The staffers responsible for the Religion section sincerely had no idea what I was talking about.

I requested a list of titles. Request after request went unfilled. This book was old and out-of-print. That book had no reviews; nobody in the cooperative would buy an unrated book. “The topic is too obscure and we can’t spend money on books that only one person will read.” (At this I silently retorted, “How can 80 listings be an ‘obscure’ topic?”) One of my requests made it all the way to the Library of Congress. The L/C owned a book; when asked to lend it they said No. But I was welcome to read it in-house if I ever traveled hundreds of miles to see it.

These notes are compiled from the few titles I did get my hands on.

If you wish to purchase any of the books that you now know do exist—bring a lot of money.

If you wish to look up the Presbyterian Church’s 2001 resolution against the Left Behind series, or the 2000 Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod) critique of the series, on the internet or in person—good luck. (And let the rest of us know where to find them, will you?)

If you wish to read the magazine articles published in the Bible Review (August 2001) or Bible Review (August 2002) or The Christian Century (Sept. 25th – Oct. 8th, 2002) or The Christian Century (April 20th, 2004)—you have two choices. You can try to find a facility that has not yet discarded its old periodicals. Alternately, both articles are sold on Amazon.Com as electronic documents. (See previous discussion about “bring money”—not that the articles are expensive. It’s the computer that goes with it!)

But at least you have some idea of what you might like to read. That is more material than I had to work with, eight years ago.

So, I will introduce our five critics. We will trace the “genealogy” of the Christian church concluding with the arrival of rapturism. We will identify and define the assorted camps within Christianity that express an interest in this topic. Then your host (that’s me) will step back from the narrative and allow the five critics to tell their findings, starting with their belief in what the original Hebrew and Greek scriptures really said. After that our five critics will comment upon how Left Behind affects the people who read it. The five critics will receive comparable time, to the best of your host’s ability; however the reader should know that one author may be concentrated here, another there, each according to topic/focus.

Next stop: Meet our five critics

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Author: The_Old_Maid_of_Potluck

Author of Potluck2point0: The resource formerly known as http://oldmaid.jallman.net (a.k.a. My humongous [technical term] study of "What's behind 'Left Behind'").