Rapture fiction and the Evangelical crisis
Evangelical Press, 2006, Pbk., 144p., ISBN-13: 978 0 85234 610 5
If you are going to allow your prejudices to run away with you, don’t read this review, and don’t touch the book either! The wonderful thing is that the author, in dealing with one of the most controversial subjects in the whole of evangelical debate, does not allow his to get out of control either.
The subject is the occasional novelisations of the period leading up to the second coming of Christ. Most famously in recent times is the Left Behind series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins written in thirteen volumes between 1995 and 2005. Also singled out for study is the pioneer series of this kind of literature by Sidney Watson, in three volumes from 1913 to 1916, which are now entertaining for the inaccurate predictions of future history, although it would be unfair to blame the author for that since it was not what he was trying to do. It also covers a raft of lesser-known works, some of which I had not read.
There is no doubt that the dispensationalist teachings of post-millennialism lend themselves to this sort of treatment and can make a good read. If you doubt this, try the books. The trouble starts with the uncharitable and very unchristian attitudes that mar debate between the proponents of these views among themselves and also the advocates of the rival views, pre-millenialism and a-millennialism. Much heat but very little light is generated by the fierce quarrels among the holders of the various views. The virtue of this book is that although the author is personally committed to a-millennialism (the view that there will be no warnings at all of the return of Christ and that the Bible makes no detailed prophecies about future history), he acknowledges a personal debt to the godliness and Biblical learning of many men who held contrary beliefs. Crawford Gribben refuses to get involved in the debate about whether the particular views about Christ’s return are right or wrong.
His problem with the literature in general, and the Left Behind series in particular, is that the writers have actually watered down the gospel message into a sort of easy believism that is a caricature of the true faith. He feels that this is a symptom of a weakening (he calls it a decay) of true biblical understanding of the message of salvation that is more general within the evangelical churches. He makes a compelling case, and if you like this kind of book and have enjoyed the Left Behind series, as I did, he is worth reading to get a rational critique unmarred by prejudices about exactly what the Bible says will happen and in what order, which are the more normal lines for attacks upon this type of work, and often polemical and uncharitably stated too.
His brief history of the dispensationalist views that underlie the books is also fascinating. The author has done a lot of study and not rushed into print because he was offended. The bibliography is worth having all by itself.
He has some other criticisms of the behaviour of some of the characters in the novels. I particularly agreed with him that it is extraordinary that they seem to think that it would be OK for a Christian to assassinate the Antichrist and to pray for the opportunity. I noticed it myself when reading the books. There is little evidence in the Bible that it is all right to assassinate anyone.
If you liked the books themselves, read this thought provoking work. You will learn a lot, whether you agree with him in the end or not.
Contributed by: Richard M. Waller, BD, MCLIP, ALBC, former CLIS Chairman, who works as Research and Development Officer for the Wigan Leisure and Culture Trust.