(The post formerly known as http://oldmaid.jallman.net/entry.php?id=28 )
(Added February 2007)
Left Behind: Tribulation Force discussion topics
Discussion topic: Early in the series—before the authors begin to count down the years, months, and days until the tribulation ends—the novels rarely specify the month or season, and only occasionally is the reader given the specific day (Monday, Tuesday, etc.). Readers who completed the series and its spin-off novels have suggested that the Rapture happened in late February. This means that, unless the characters observe Lent, Easter would be the first post-Rapture Christian holiday (“holy day”) observed in the New Hope Village Church. Based on what you know of the characters, describe the Easter service they observed.
Related: Volume 2 spans slightly more than 19 1/2 months. (The bulk of the book spans less than a week. The storyline then jumps ahead 18 months, followed by a jump of six weeks between the double wedding and the last page of the book.) Choose any other holiday, birthday, or anniversary, and speculate how the characters observed those occasions.
Discussion topic: Bruce claims that Carpathia can unite all religions in the world by “making deals.” (Presumably these “deals” would include incorporating Baha’i, by the way.) Bruce is not surprised that a villain with the power of mass hypnosis can mesmerize a room of world religious leaders. However, at this point in the series, Carpathia cannot seduce people all over the world. How, exactly, would “deals” work? Peter Mathews gives us some hints (pages 275-76, 401-402) by waving the “heretic” and “excommunication” stick. But is there something else going on? We learn that two popes teach two strange doctrines, and one billion followers have no discernible reaction. A handful of Muslim leaders allow Carpathia to move one of their most sacred shrines to another city, and another billion people have no discernible reaction. If the people are so docile or uninterested, why was there a need for “deals”? To what extent are real people “sheeple”? Are only other people sheeple, or can a false teaching get too close to us too? Why do you think so few of the novel’s faceless crowds speak up when confronted by a strange teaching?
Related: Do you believe that people who believe differently than you are just as sincere in their beliefs as you are? Why or why not? How do we joyfully bring the good news of Jesus Christ to people who are satisfied where they are?
Related: In John 17:21-23 Jesus repeatedly prays that His followers would be one. What testimony does our division present to the world? How can we heal the rift between different groups of people called Christians?
Discussion topic: This is not intended as a trick question, but the novel gives several possible answers. What does the term “holy ground” mean to you? On page 277 it is assumed that a shrine and its rock foundation can be picked up, packed up, and moved to New Babylon, without this activity interfering with any perceived holiness of either the departing object (the Dome) or of the to-be-constructed object (the Jewish Temple). How deep does “holy ground” go? Is it portable? Is it temporary? Is it where a building is (Dome, Temple)? Is it where an eyewitness encounter is (page 346)? Is it where prayer is (pages 240-41)? Is it where the body of believers is (pages 402-403)? Is it where God is? (God is everywhere.) Several characters describe “holy ground” experiences or understandings; discuss an example of your choice.
Discussion topic: Buck and Carpathia compare Buck to Clark Kent and Superman. Critics claim that Left Behind occasionally suffers from Official Comic Book Mad Scientist Syndrome. The term does not refer to “ordinary people serving an extraordinary God” characters like Bruce Barnes. Bruce was left behind because he withheld the tithe and went to the movies when people thought he was visiting the shut-ins. (Oh, and he was unsaved. If he had encountered one shut-in for whom “smiling at them” wouldn’t help—if Bruce met one person who was dying hard—would Bruce have been exposed as a fraud sooner? Discuss.) Out of such unpromising material the novels raise up a world evangelist, after the magnitude of Billy Graham (although their messages differ: Graham preaches primarily about Christ, Bruce Barnes primarily about the other guy). But there is Biblical precedent for such transformations. We call it Pentecost. And it gives the rest of us mortals hope.
The term also is distinct from the Official Comic Book Oracle (after the eponymous Oracle, the second career of the retired Batgirl). A super-genius “super-hacker,” the Oracle will never be mistaken for the commoners who are arrested by the police cyber-crimes units every day. If Buck wants to build an anti-GC website, this is the superhero he needs to hire. Again, there is Biblical precedent. Both the Bible (David, Jeremiah, Jesus, etc.) and the Left Behind series (Donny Moore, Chang Wong, Naomi Tiberias) introduce many child prodigies who use their gifts for God.
No, the true and Official Comic Book Mad Scientist is a particular category of super-genius, the sole possessor of secret knowledge that can “rule, change, or destroy the world.” The candidate most cited is Chaim Rosenzweig. People become distracted by debating what he invented—fertilizer? compost? water?—or debating whether desert is merely dry farmland (cf. The 1930s Dust Bowl) or a distinct ecosystem. They debate whether the Nobel Prize Committee grants awards for secret inventions that cannot be duplicated in a lab, given identical techniques and materials; or whether the surplus of Israeli grain would depress prices and thus bankrupt the American farmer; or why agriculture made Israel more wealthy than its oil-based neighbors when this has not happened to, say, the Louisiana Purchase states. People get distracted by Chaim. In doing so, they neglect a serious concern with the portrayal of fictional Israel, which is this: Why would the fictional Israel deputize Chaim to negotiate a peace treaty on their behalf? Consider: in our world, many people helped to invent the nuke, but the name of Robert Oppenheimer often is listed first. Would the States have deputized Oppenheimer, and only Oppenheimer, to negotiate a treaty between the States and the rest of the planet? If the States would not do it, why would fictional Israel do it?
The other cited candidate is Tsion Ben Judah. Why would fictional Israel deputize one man to decide whom fictional Israel will recognize as Messiah? Even Herod the Great was competent enough to summon all the religious experts available before he asked that question (Luke 2:4-6). Like Herod, Carpathia expects a political rival. So when Carpathia hears Tsion endorse Jesus as Messiah, Carpathia relaxes. (He thinks he can defeat that candidate and was expecting “real” trouble from another direction.) Actually, Carpathia (page 393) is the only one who recognizes the conflict of interest built into Tsion’s solitary position: there are no checks and balances to stop Tsion from declaring himself Messiah, and thus, king. If Tsion is the only person qualified to endorse a king, would that make him the only person qualified to be king? Alternately, if Tsion names someone else, would the government of national Israel feel pressured to resign in favor of the Davidic heir? Would this person owe Tsion-the-kingmaker in some way? Why or why not?
Do these portrayals of fictional Israel and fictional Jewish individuals influence your perception of the real one(s)? How much of our perceptions are shaped by what we read, as opposed to whom we meet and get to know?
Related: The novels portray Tsion as a genius (albeit the kind of genius who “only” needed three years to endorse Jesus). But his is the genius of the “number-crunching believer:” he states his case as a matter of statistics, probabilities. Tsion’s speech lays the groundwork for a theme that dominates the rest of the series: proof. Many rapturists argue that “faith” as we know it will cease during the tribulation, partly because of the abundance of proof in the form of divine retribution. (There can be unforeseen outcomes: the Israelites saw the proof of ten plagues and manna for 40 years, and they actually regressed! In the end, most of those who experienced the miraculous deliverance from Egypt were not permitted to finish the journey, including Moses. This means that the time Moishe spends at the Western Wall denouncing the Third Temple is the first time that Moses has been in the Promised Land, ever. He seems displeased.)
Many Christians would say that we have not enough proof to be sure, but too much proof to ignore. It takes a leap of faith. “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). “For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). The Christian does not disrespect proof; rather, it has to be asked to what extent does real faith “need” proof. Where do you stand on the nature of faith and the place of proof in our faith walk?
Discussion topic: In Volume 1, Rayford and Hattie “had spent time together, chatting for hours over drinks or dinner, sometimes with coworkers, sometimes not. He had not returned so much as one brush of a finger, but his eyes had held her gaze, and he could only assume his smile had made its point” (Vol. 1, page 2). Hattie reminds Rayford that, “You used to encourage me to request your flights and sometimes with checked with me to make sure I had done it” (Vol. 1, page 277). Rayford made the decisions, such as they were, of their relationship, such as it was. Although he now considers these actions to be sinful, he also believes that “his sin has been dealt with” (Vol. 1, page 299).
Now, in volume 2, Hattie is in a position of power over Rayford. She causes trouble for him at work then calls it a practical joke. Hattie “stalks” Rayford’s daughter to re-direct Rayford’s career. “You and your new boss have invaded my job and my family, and I seem powerless to do anything about it,” complains Rayford, who has no idea where this behavior is coming from (page 281). Yet Rayford used to direct Hattie where and when to go to work, for his private convenience.
Do Hattie and Rayford illustrate the Biblical law of “sowing and reaping”? How much of the tension between Hattie and Rayford in Volume 2 is a case of reaping what they have sown in Volume 1?
Discussion topic: Readers perceive a difference in status and accomplishments between Bruce, Buck, or Rayford on the one hand, and Chloe on the other hand. As a result, readers describe wildly disparate understandings of Chloe.
Critics argue that the resourceful character in Volume 1, who traveled alone cross-country during a planetary disaster, seemed to be more mature, almost a different person from the Chloe of Volume 2. This version of Chloe obsesses over Buck like a “schoolgirl” (page 49) and cries over him until her face stays red for the rest of the day (page 172). (Chloe admits she is “getting a little sick of [herself]” [page 38].)
Next, critics argue that Chloe does nothing of note in 18 months. She drops out of school. (We never do learn her major). She marries a celebrity, and she gets a job at her church—but those things glorify her, not necessarily God. At that, say such critics, Chloe could only get a “pity job” at her mother’s church.
This does not mean that a church job of “study research, preparation, teaching … and eventually Sunday school” (pages 159-60) is a pity job. Rather, it is a crucial job, which is why Chloe is a questionable candidate. Surely an adult with “five semesters on the dean’s list” has a reasonable chance to be hired in at least an hourly or part-time position. But Chloe was unable to secure any other job at all.
It turns out that Chloe has no familiarity with office equipment, or the internet, or e-mail (page 262). Buck has to use the computer in Raymie’s bedroom to explain what e-mail is and what it does. (She does get better [page 430]. In Chloe’s defense, her father and boyfriend have never heard of call waiting.)
Chloe also displays questionable social skills. She makes faces behind Amanda’s back (page 409), asks “what planet [Amanda] is from,” and generally makes “a creep” of herself (page 412). Chloe picks fights with church members in public (page 175). She tries to bring her pastor into the fight by insisting that he preach on “morals and sex” as a rebuke to Buck (pages 175-6). Finally, we rarely, if ever, see Chloe working, so we have no way to ascertain whether she is any good at it. (Again, in Chloe’s defense the audience has yet to read any of Buck’s articles; we are merely informed that he is very good.)
Given that the New Hope Village Church soon grows larger than it was before the Rapture (page 400), it is debatable that Chloe is the best candidate for the job. (Indeed, some readers thought Loretta was the church secretary in Volume 1, chapter 11, because Loretta positioned herself at a desk outside Bruce’s office. What happened?) This is what critics mean when they call Chloe’s church job a pity job. The implication is that she does not have what it takes to get hired in the real world. Why, then, would Bruce Barnes want to hire her? (On pages 204-5 and 235-6, Chloe wonders if Bruce hired her because he is secretly in love with her. He didn’t, and he isn’t.) And it is consistent with a theme (of favoritism? lowered standards? instant gratification? discuss) in the novels: that babes-in-faith like Rayford, Buck, and Chloe obtain important positions in their church, an honor that was never extended to Irene despite years of faithful service.
Additionally, Chloe believes that returning to college is “pointless” (page 31) simply because the world is ending. Yet she does not consider it pointless to pursue romantic love, marriage, and employment/money when the world is ending. Doesn’t the world end for other people every day? Consider: your grandparent decides to return to school in his or her eighties. Your grandparent might die before graduation. But how old will your grandparent be if he or she lives, and doesn’t pursue the diploma or degree? The same age. Consider: a terminally ill teenager decides to devote his or her remaining strength toward the goal of graduating with the rest of the senior class. Graduation will not prolong this student’s life. But the student wants to do this. Is that pointless? It is true that Carpathia eventually seizes the schools. But he does not own them yet. Should Chloe need a better reason to drop out of school than “the world is ending”? Should Chloe have gone back to college—if only for a little while—to witness to her unsaved friends?
Chloe has changed her residence, her job (from student to church aid), and her circle of acquaintances. She has changed her mindset from independent adult to “boomerang” dependent, a change which paralyzes Rayford as much as it does Chloe. (Rayford wants to sell the house—Irene [over]personalized it and it is too large—but he would have to sell it out from under his daughter. Indeed, Chloe never looks for an apartment until Rayford sells the house 18 months later [page 406].) Chloe has restructured her life primarily around her convenience. She need not pay rent, have a social life, or even meet a nonbeliever for weeks or months at a time. How can Chloe witness to nonbelievers if she never meets any?
Altogether, critics argue that Chloe loses the confidence, courage, and perceptiveness that, they claim, she demonstrated in Volume 1. They argue that Chloe’s faith has made her childish, rather than child-like. How would you respond to these assertions?
Discussion topic: For an alternate interpretation, George Robinson’s Essential Torah reminds us that not all the Patriarchs were superstars. The patriarch Isaac (Yitzhak) is portrayed as one who is acted upon (by father, older brother, household servants, wife, and children) rather than one who acts. Even the near-sacrifice of Isaac may have happened when Isaac was an adult. (Robinson places his age at 37 years. Compare Genesis 21:5, 23:1, 24:67, 25:7, 25:17, 25:20 for the known ages of other family members.) If Robinson is correct, and Isaac was an adult during the events of Gen. 22:1-19 , then the old man Abraham might not have been able to tie Isaac to the altar without Isaac’s meek cooperation.
Isaac was noted for only two accomplishments all his own. One, he brought up a child in the Covenant. Two, he reopened his father’s wells. (This is a vital legacy in a desert culture. See Gen. 26:15, 19-22, 25, 32-33.) But it was enough. Chloe Steele Williams also will have two accomplishments. She will bring up her son in the faith. She will “reopen the wells” when she inherits Ken Ritz’s “International Commodity Cooperative” (“the Co-op”) to bring food to the believers. In Volume 5 (page 346), Rayford calls her “a lifesaver to millions of believers.” Surely that too is enough. She just needs more time.
As to Chloe’s decision to return home, Rayford makes plain on page 142 that he doesn’t need the money. In the real world, after the day that changed the world, didn’t many people “cocoon” with their loved ones to heal, to examine their lives and make changes? Surely Chloe can do the same.
As to Chloe’s maturity, the man who wants to marry her calls her “mature … more than mature. Magnetic … She understood, empathized. She could give advice and feedback without saying a word. There was a comfort zone around her, a feeling of safety” (page 157). Buck believes God has sent this vision of Chloe to strengthen Buck against Carpathia’s own magnetic influence.
Does Chloe’s situation echo Isaac’s situation? Perhaps other people decide whom these two individuals should marry. Perhaps other members of their family serve God with an eye toward personal gain. Perhaps other members of their family make allies and enemies in their globe-trotting travels, manipulate people, misrepresent themselves for profit and strategy, go outside the marriage, or simply lie, cheat, and steal. Maybe Isaac and Chloe are the normal ones, and it’s their family that needs to be watched. Maybe Chloe, like Isaac, has not been called to be powerful, rich, or famous, but to be faithful. How would you respond to these comparisons?
Related: Reread the book of Ruth. Ruth loses her home and most of her family, converts, marries a rich man, lives happily ever after, and we never hear from her again, not even in the roll call of faith in Hebrews 11. But if she was happy, and Boaz, Naomi, and God were happy, isn’t that enough? Compare the fictional Chloe to Ruth.
Discussion topic: Archbishop Peter Mathews is the first (and one of the only) characters in the series to mention baptism in any way, shape, or form. He states that he performed many infant baptisms (page 54). (Christians who believe in infant baptism do it to claim this child for God, trusting to grace to give the child strong roots in faith. Other Christians prefer “age of accountability” baptisms; they too trust to grace to bring the child to God, in this case, through the preparatory work of prevenient grace.) Peter Mathews cannot articulate what baptism and/or child salvation mean to him, other than an assertion that the children he baptized are “in Christ and with God.” He supposes that God took every child on earth “to protect the innocents,” but he cannot explain why, exactly, they need protection from an earth that allegedly has been cleansed.
Mathews’ comment about the children needing protection, and the news of Hattie’s baby, revive reader interest in a topic from Volume 1: the fate of children. Rapturists are not all in agreement that Left Behind’s portrayal of the Rapture is supportable in this area.
Many rapturists argue that the Rapture of all children is unbiblical. Their interpretation is this: the child of believers probably would not be left orphaned but would be raptured for the sake of its saved parents (cf. Acts 2:39 and 16:31, 1 Cor. 7:14). The children of nonbelievers would be left behind. The unsaved child and unsaved parent enter the tribulation together, as has happened throughout history, including during historical judgments. (Thus a particularly heart-rending reason to get saved: out of love for one’s children.) The fact that a child dies in a historical judgment would not necessarily mean that the child has come under condemnation. (The alternative would be to believe that babies are born saved, or even conceived saved, then at some point in childhood they become un-saved and are stripped of eternal life.)
What then happens to the child of the nonbeliever? The child who dies during the tribulation (or at any other time) is “safe in the arms of Jesus.” That is, the Jesus who blessed (not-yet-saved) children in Matthew 19:13-15, Mark 10:13-16, and so forth, would do it again. It is believed that God’s mercy accepts the child—after its death, not before death, not in a Rapture. A frequently cited example is Noah’s flood. Should we believe that the children who so perished are under God’s wrath? Even if children were, um, detoured along the way to heaven, would not Jesus retrieve them in the Harrowing of Hell?
To summarize, many rapturists believe in infant salvation after death, but not infant Rapture. They state that Left Behind should not have rescued the children of nonbelievers, but should have left them in the world. By this standard, the non-Rapture of Hattie’s unborn baby is more internally consistent than is the Rapture of babies of other nonbelievers in Volume 1. Discuss this interpretation, and the interpretation presented by the novels, and your own interpretation if neither of the above.
Discussion topic: In the last pages of Volume 2, it has been 19 to 20 months since Irene Steele and all children experienced a bodily assumption into heaven. According to the authors, the world continues with a mild curiosity that resembles indifference. Carpathia takes this one step further: he proposes that the missing children are dead. (He never uses the word “dead.” He claims that their “electromagnetism” was “not strong enough to resist” a subatomic anomaly of physics. Essentially, he is comparing “electromagnetism” to an immune-system response.) The world continues to function even though the “official” news story is that over 1 billion children are perished.
Now, in Volume 2, Hattie is having the first (known) baby. (There may be other children that the authors declined to introduce to the audience.) Do you think that the world would have recovered from the loss of all earth’s children by now? Do you think it would ever recover? How do you think the fictional world reacted when the first known pregnancy was confirmed? The Bible dedicates hundreds of verses to parents and children, and to bereaved parents, and to bereaved children. In contrast, why do you think the authors so rarely mention children?
Discussion topic: In Volume 2, Rayford is the only practicing parent. Irene prayed for her family. Rayford’s first prayer is for Chloe. He continues to pray for her and is involved in her life. But there are concerns about his involvement.
Example: Rayford “sound[s] as frustrated with [Chloe]” as Buck is, therefore Rayford encourages a man they met not quite three weeks ago to come to the house … and have an argument with his daughter in her nightclothes in the middle of the night (pages 177-196).
Example: Rayford does this because his mother told him that was the way to handle Irene when she broke up with him; this is called “putting the ball in her court.” (See page 178.)
Example: When Buck admits that he is going to take a tack of discussion that might sound “condescending, even parental, [but] I don’t mean it to be,” Chloe takes it badly. She sits “stiffly, as if expecting a reprimand,” and says, “Pardon me? I’m not allowed to speak?” Buck insists he didn’t mean it that way. Now Chloe really yells. Rayford listens to the fight and “silently cheers” for Buck over his daughter (pages 191-92).
Example: On pages 247-48 Rayford implies that he can handle Chloe’s stalker. But on page 286 Rayford implies that he cannot tell the difference between a suitor and a stalker. (“[Chloe] is almost twenty-one. It’s time she was pursued.”) Rayford’s anger toward Hattie includes a tone of exasperation that the person who is “pursuing” his daughter is ineligible to marry his daughter, and thusly, has wasted all their time.
Example: Rayford’s exasperation includes a note of concern, or even disapproval, that his daughter is still single at the advanced age of 20 years. (The reader will recall that Irene was a college sophomore, or second-year student, when she married Rayford. See Vol. 1, page 143.) Eighteen months after Rayford comments on Chloe’s age, he reminds her that if Buck would “get on the ball” and marry her, Chloe could go live with her husband instead of with him (page 400).
Alternately, in every instance, Rayford’s intentions could be good; it would be his words that were poorly chosen. Some people simply have difficulty expressing themselves. Discuss the Steele family dynamics as individuals, as a group, and in light of Christian living.
Related: Consider that David, who wrote timeless prayers, is never known to have prayed for his family. (2 Samuel 12:16-23 is the only recorded exception.) David, who wrote timeless psalms for his God, his people, and himself, never wrote a known psalm for his family. David responded to his family’s behavior with strong emotions, but he did not otherwise participate in their lives. Compare the still-learning Rayford to: 1. David; and, then, 2. a better father, like Mary’s husband Joseph, or another Biblical role-model parent of your choice.
Discussion topic: More is left out of the double wedding than, well, the wedding. More is left out of it that the fact that Buck is the only character who can list five things he likes about the person he is marrying. What is left out is that nobody is invited. Rayford and Chloe have no friends. Amanda “hates” her new job in the garment industry (page 420), and has lost contact with her old executive friends; she too invites no one. Buck does not invite his “small-minded” family of phony Christians (page 439). No one in New Hope Village Church is invited. Even Loretta is not included. The characters never state their reasons for the secrecy, though protecting their identities from the villains is a possibility. (The Steeles, at least, negate that possibility when Rayford and Amanda move to New Babylon, introduce themselves to the Antichrist, and correct Hattie when she gets Amanda’s name wrong.) Do you agree with the decision to marry in secret? To what extent is a Christian marriage the business of the Christian congregation?
Discussion topic: Bruce Barnes is mistaken. Paul devotes all of 1 Corinthians 7 to the topics of marriage and celibacy, including in times of tribulation. (In particular see verses 8-9, 26, and 28.) Westerners have not experienced much tribulation lately; perhaps this is why they focus on Paul’s personal preference for celibacy. They think that Paul is saying, “Well, at least marriage is better than losing your eternal soul for the sin of lust.” This is hardly a flattering endorsement of marriage! But that is not quite what Paul is saying.
Sometimes people forget that Paul-the-Christian was once Saul, the persecutor of Christians (1 Cor. 15:9, Phil. 3:6, Gal. 1:13-14, Acts 9:2-3, 14). In particular, people downplay Acts 26:11. (Perhaps it is because of the way that two words are rendered in various translations.) Saul threatened Christians with death (Acts 9:1), took Christians to their deaths, (Acts 22:4-5), consented to their deaths (Acts 7:58—8:1), and voted for their deaths (Acts 26:10-11). And when Saul broke into homes and arrested everyone he found there, how convenient it must have been to capture married couples and families in one house, together. So much easier than hunting down celibates who were scattered all over the world.
It has been argued that the book of Acts exaggerated. Specifically, it is argued that Saul could not have kidnapped and eliminated Christians, by reason that it was illegal for non-Romans to do so before the year 64. Proponents of this position argue that Saul’s “persecution” of Christians was limited to overwhelming them in public debates. (See in particular Gary Wills’ What Paul Meant.) Nevertheless, some Christians did undergo persecution unto death in both Paul’s day and Saul’s day, legal or not. (Even Wills admits that Christians were betrayed by neighbors.) Paul knew exactly how vulnerable married couples and families could be. Modern readers might forget, but Paul never could. He was trying to protect believers from people like himself.
In Volume 2, there is no evidence that Rayford Steele married Amanda White out of lust, or that Buck Williams married Chloe Steele out of lust. Why then did they proceed? Why do you think Bruce Barnes says that Scripture is silent on this subject?
Discussion topic: Volume 2 is filled with decisions and choices. The already-affluent Rayford, Bruce, and Buck obtain promotions and earn financial profit from the post-Rapture situation. Is that appropriate? Chloe drops out of college and severs contact with her friends; is that smart? Amanda never wonders whether it is wise to marry the Antichrist’s personal pilot. Bruce spends his congregation’s money building a secret shelter, then leaves his flock to build their own (i.e., they have to pay twice). Buck lies to President Fitzhugh, declines to witness Christ to him, and declines to tell him that the revolt will be fatal and futile, in fulfillment of a prophecy that Fitzhugh does not know. Although both Fitzhugh and Carpathia warn Rayford and/or Buck to get out of NYC, Buck never warns his old NYC colleagues, neighbors, or friends (if any) to flee for their lives. Chloe and Buck claim that their age difference would be an obstacle in ordinary times but decide it is unimportant during the last days. Rayford and Buck refuse to take jobs as Carpathia’s employees, even saying No to their pastor. Chloe persuades both of them to take the jobs, to spy on Carpathia—and to accept money, food, identification, and privileges from his hand.
None of the characters consult the Bible for advice about these decisions. Even when Rayford seeks the Bible’s advice on marriage, neither Bruce nor Rayford open a Bible to find their answer. Bruce assumes that, if he does not know of appropriate verses, there must not be any appropriate verses. Choose a topic—for example: does the Bible authorize Christians to spy on the Antichrist, to form an organized resistance (or even a disorganized one), or to work for him—and look for an answer in the Bible. Compare your answer to the decisions made by the characters.
Discussion topic: Readers disagree as to whether Amanda should have been left behind. On the one hand, readers suggest she should have been left because of who she is, relative to God and Christ; on the other hand, readers suggest she should have been welcomed into heaven because of who God is, who Christ is, relative to us.
Readers who believe Amanda should have been left behind compare it to the immigration process. An immigrant might enter a new country, grow up in it, forget the culture of his country of origin, and think of himself as belonging to the country where he lives. But if he never undergoes the legal naturalization process, he will live and die a non-citizen. If he takes the classes, pays the fees, and swears the oath, then he becomes a citizen. By these standards, Amanda did well to call herself unsaved and to humbly retrace the process to become a heavenly citizen.
Readers who believe Amanda should have been Raptured inquire if the declaration of faith (whether “the sinner’s prayer,” a creed, etc.) should be the result of faith, not its activation. That is, should she not have been undergoing at least some spiritual transformation before she could say the words and mean what she said? When is a confession of faith truly Biblical, versus, say, turning “say the magic words” into a recipe or spell? Romans 10:9-11 speaks of the believer confessing with the mouth—but it also speaks of the convert believing in the heart. Moreover, Romans 10:17 says that “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Wouldn’t this suggest that faith comes first and confession confirms that the person becomes aware of what faith, grace, Christ, God have done for him? Is “being saved” a legalistic process, with documentation, milestones, and measurements, or is amazing grace a little more ineffable than that?
Baptism is an act of obedience. (Compare to Gal. 3:27, Mark 1:4-5, 8-9, Acts 8:12-13, 36-38.) It also is part of the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20), and, as such, should have satisfied debate as to a sufficient act of faith and/or oath of allegiance. There is no record that Amanda was ever baptized in any of the three churches of her attendance. Meanwhile, Irene Steele was Raptured—that is, she experienced bodily assumption into heaven—yet there is no record that she was ever baptized either.
Amanda missed the Rapture by only a few hours. She never said she was uninterested, only that she “wasn’t ready.” Many Biblical individuals who implored Jesus to depart from them because they felt unworthy or unready obtained Jesus’ blessing anyway. (See Luke 5:8, Luke 7:6-7.) Also, Bible verses such as Matthew 10:40-41, Mark 9:41, Luke 5:20 have been offered to suggest that, since Jesus often comes to us through our companions, then when Amanda welcomed Irene, Amanda welcomed Christ.
Therefore, when Jesus came for the believers, was Amanda “not saved enough” by Jesus’ standards, or by the authors’ standards? Discuss the non-Rapture of Amanda White Steele.
Discussion topic: Amanda’s encounter with Irene may illustrate the proverb, “You may be the only Bible that some people ever read.” Did Amanda “read” the same Bible (i.e. Irene) that Rayford and Chloe did? How does witnessing to family and acquaintances compare to the act of witnessing to strangers? What is in the “Bible” that people “read” when they look at you?.
(Spoilers will appear in a separate post.</I)