Last fall I did a series of reviews I entitled, “Books every Christian would be better off NOT reading.” For the most part, I didn’t write full reviews of these books because most of them I haven’t read, nor, to be honest, do I intend to. My observations and warnings were based on excerpts and other reviews I’ve read. The first book I discussed in that series was Left Behind by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. Well, here it is, 20 years after Left Behind was published and my curiosity finally got the better of me; I actually read the first book, and now I have some of my own observations and concerns to point out.
Let me just begin by explaining one thing: I personally hold to an amillennial view regarding the end times. That’s right – I don’t believe in a secret rapture followed by a seven-year tribulation period. (At the end I will make some book recommendations on this topic.) So I admit I have a bit of a problem with the entire premise of the book. However, eschatological views aside, there are other concerns I have with the book, and again, this is only with regard to the first one. Now before someone jumps in and says I’m taking a work of fiction too seriously, I will say that I feel it’s important to consider the intent of the writers as well as the way it has been received by many readers. While the story itself is fictional, the writers clearly used the story to share their beliefs and to convey a message, and I believe their theology strongly influences the books. Likewise, although it’s fiction and purely speculative, many people take the books very seriously and believe them to accurately depict what will actually take place should the Rapture happen as they expect it to.
To provide a little review or overview if you haven’t read it: The Rapture takes place in Chapter One and is first described from the perspective of an airline pilot while in flight. From this point on, the story follows several characters as they come to grips with the truth that Christians have been taken, and they’ve “missed the boat.” Several theories are offered as explanations for the mysterious disappearance of thousands of souls, but the Rapture theory soon proves to be fact. (SPOILER ALERT for anyone who hasn’t read Left Behind and may not want basic elements of the story revealed; however I don’t give away too much detail in the review that follows.)
Regarding the disappearances, one person comments to another, “Have you noticed it seems to have struck the innocents? Everyone we know who’s gone is either a child or a very nice person.” We’re also informed, “Morgues also reported corpse disappearances.” Unborn babies suddenly vanish from their mothers’ wombs, and the Pope is included among those who are raptured. Now besides the doubtfulness of the Pope being raptured, another real problem I have here is the implied theological view that everyone is born in a state of innocency, and that all children (age cut-off, uncertain) automatically qualify for heaven. One of the main characters, a pastor named Barnes who is left behind from the Rapture explains, “Up to a certain age, which is probably different for each individual, we believe God will not hold a child accountable for a decision that must be made with heart and mind, fully cognizant of the ramifications.”
This is simply unbiblical. The scriptures teach clearly that all men are born in sin, which they inherited from Daddy Adam, and that there is no one righteous (Romans 3). Man is born spiritually dead, so salvation is and must be the work of God, not of man. The first chapter of Ephesians explains that Christ loved his elect before the foundation of the world and came to die and redeem these particular people for Himself . This then may apply to SOME infants and children, but not all by any stretch of the imagination.
Pastor Barnes explains, “This is God’s final effort to get the attention of every person who has ignored or rejected him. He is allowing now a vast period of trial and tribulation to come to you who remain.” This is another statement that is not founded on scripture, nor characteristic of the all-sovereign God of the Bible. How weak this makes God sound! This is another main problem I have with this view. Additionally, as one reviewer observed, the idea that many will be saved after the Rapture seems to go against what we are told in II Thessalonians 2:9-12:
The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
If this is to be interpreted as referring to the Antichrist who will come to power after the Rapture, it certainly doesn’t sound hopeful for those who are left behind, does it? See also II Thess. 1:7-10.
I noticed that once the main characters in Left Behind embrace the Rapture theory as truth, these individuals decide to become Christians, but it’s primarily out of fear and regret, not out of a sense of their own sinful state and need for Christ. They realize they missed their first chance, and they don’t want to be left out the next time Christ returns. But it is very forced and contrived, brought about by the persuasive arguments of men rather than the convicting work of the Holy Spirit who convinces men of their sin and changes their hearts.
Barnes tells Rayford, the airline pilot, and his daughter Chloe, “There is no doubt in my mind that we have witnessed the Rapture. My biggest fear, once I realized the truth, was that there was no more hope for me. I had missed it, I had been a phony…We realize how stupid we were, but those of us in this church…are now as zealous as we can be.”
This is Rayford’s response: “If you’re right, and I’ve already told Chloe that I think I see this now, we need to know how it works. How does a person get from one situation to the other? Obviously we were not saved from being left… So how do we become true Christians?” A little later we’re told,
Rayford was nearly ready to make a commitment. But he had never rushed into anything in his life. And while he didn’t put this on the same scale as dealing with a salesman, he needed time to think, a cooling-off period. He was analytical, and while this suddenly made a world of sense to him and he didn’t doubt at all Barnes’s theory of the disappearance, he would not act immediately.
A journalist named Buck deals with the same intellectual struggle regarding “making a decision” to become a Christian. He tells Barnes, “I just have to warn you, I’m not an easy sell. All this is interesting and sounds more plausible than ever, but it’s just not me to jump into something.”
He had feared Barnes was about to pop the question, pushing him to pray the prayer both Rayford and Chloe had talked about. He accepted that that would be part of it, that it would signal the transaction and start his relationship with God, someone he had never before really spoken to. But he wasn’t ready. At least he didn’t think he was. And he would not be pushed.
So does Buck come to faith in Christ? Apparently, but it’s not as a result of coming face-to-face with Jesus or of confronting his own sinfulness. It’s only after witnessing a shocking scene in a private press conference of the Antichrist guy in action that he decides to join Team Jesus.
Another thing I noticed and take issue with in the story is the fact that once the characters become Christians, their focus is not on pleasing and obeying God, learning more about Christ, or holy living. It becomes all about self-preservation. Notice Pastor Barnes’ advice to new believers:
Bible prophecy is history written in advance. I urge you to find books on this subject or find people who may have been experts in this area but who for some reason did not receive Christ before and were left behind. Study so you’ll know what is coming and you can be prepared.
He doesn’t tell them to dig into the Scriptures and ask the Holy Spirit to be their teacher. He doesn’t encourage them to study the doctrine of God, or to learn more about how God wants believers to live for Him. Of course these people can’t seek out godly, Christian men who are mature in the faith to learn from because they’re all gone! So they’re going to have to resort to lost men who happen to be knowledgeable scholars. Yet the Bible tells us that the wisdom of man is foolishness.
Another goal of these new believers is to identify the Antichrist and fight against him. The main characters form a sort of task force to rise up against the Antichrist, who in this series is more than merely a political figure who stands against God; he is evil incarnate with virtually supernatural abilities to control people’s minds.
Pastor Barnes announces to his friends,
I’ve been praying about sort of an inner circle of people who want to do more than just survive. It’s one thing to hide in here, studying, figuring out what’s going on so we can keep from being deceived…But doesn’t part of you want to jump into the battle?…When it becomes obvious who the Antichrist is, the false prophet, the evil, counterfeit religion, we’ll have to oppose them, speak out against them. We would be targeted.
He goes on to explain that when the time comes when everyone is required to take the sign of the beast, they would have to refuse. But from what I’ve read, this group of believers doesn’t merely speak out against false teachers. Motivated by vengeance and anger, they take up arms and use them. They use what they feel is a religious war to justify lying, deception, cheating, and killing. Remember: the Christians of the first century church lived in horrendous, godless times under antichrist political rulers. But nowhere in Scripture do we see the apostles instructing them to take up arms and rise against Nero, for example. Rather, they were exhorted to preach Christ, to serve one another, and to live holy and quiet lives to God’s glory.
Other bad doctrine is scattered throughout the books as well. For example, in his attempt to explain to his daughter why bad things happen, Rayford tells her, “We live in a fallen world. God left control of it pretty much to Satan.” To which she replies, “Oh, brother. Do you wonder why I walked out?” I wouldn’t blame her! If these people believe in a God who is no longer in control of what happens on earth, then why in the world are they placing their faith in him and following him?? Apparently in Book Four, another main character makes this statement: “Eons ago, God the Father conceded control of earth’s weather to Satan himself, the prince and power of the air.” This directly contradicts the teachings of Scripture where it’s clear that God controls all aspects of nature. See for example: Gen. 7:4, Gen.8:1, Ex.9:18, Ex. 10: 13,19, Deut. 11:14, I Sam 12:17-18, Job 37:6, Ps. 107:25, Amos 4:7, Matt. 8:26-27. And that’s just getting warmed up.
At one point in the story, one character thinks, “It already seemed as if he were living in a science fiction thriller.” That’s exactly what Left Behind is, so unless you can read it keeping that in mind, I will say it again: Christians are better off skipping the Left Behind series. The book certainly did nothing to convince me of the pre-tribulation rapture position; personally, I felt it made a mockery of Christian beliefs. If you’re interested in reading more serious books that deal biblically with the subject of eschatology, consider these:
- Momentous Event by W. J. Grier
- A Case for Amillennialism: Understanding the End Times by Kim Riddlebarger
- The Millennium by Lorraine Boettner
- Last Days Madness: Obsession of the Modern Church by Gary DeMar
- More Than Conquerors by William Hendriksen
Related ArticlesDisclaimer: While some of the sites below do a decent job in my opinion of pointing out concerns regarding the Left Behind series, I don’t necessarily endorse all of their views on other topics.
- Left Behind website (www.leftbehind.com)
- Left Behind book review (www.rapidnet.com/)
- The Left Behind Series: Description and Critique (ljohns.ambs.edu)
- Left Behind: the Movie (thetheologynerd.com)
- A Defense of Amillennialism (www.prca.org)
- An Introduction to Reformed Amillennialism (www.graceonlinelibrary.org)
- Sermon series on eschatology (www.sermonaudio.com)