This is an extended version of part of a lecture I gave on Revelation today. I thought it was old news, but apparently it is not, if student reaction is any indicator.
Problems with the Left Behind Series
- This series is not really fiction but a combination of theology and “proleptic documentary,” like an advance DVD, because it sees biblical “prophecy” as “history written in advance” (Left Behind, p. 214). The correspondence between the books and the commentary by LaHayve and Jenkins (Revelation Unveiled) is revealing, but not surprising.
- It treats the Bible as a puzzle to be pieced together into a script about the future, with various texts from various books taken out of context and linked to current or expected current events. The method has sometimes been called biblical “hopscotch,” and the result is a patchwork quilt with scenes from Revelation as the most prominent and thematic aspect of the quilt.
- It claims to be literal but is not or is only selectively so. A better description would be correlative (as opposed to literal or analogical).
- It misunderstands the nature and function of both prophetic and apocalyptic literature, and it grossly misinterprets certain key texts. Prophetic is not merely predictive, and apocalyptic is heavily symbolic. It is more like a series of political cartoons than a documentary.
- It finds aspects of the second coming that are not in the Bible—e.g., two comings of Jesus, a rapture in Revelation.
- It imposes a foreign, 19th-century theological, interpretive construct onto the ancient biblical texts: dispensationalism.
- It assumes that we are on the brink of the rapture and tribulation, and that is really all that matters.
- It misunderstands the NT references to the “end times.” For the NT, the “end times” is the period between the two comings.
- It reduces the gospel to “God and Jesus and the Rapture and the Glorious Appearing,” amounting to an unhealthy preoccupation with the details about events surrounding Christ’s second coming.
- It reduces the reason for conversion primarily to fear.
- It reduces discipleship to (a) faith in Jesus’ death in order to avoid being left behind or destroyed, (b) evangelizing others so they won’t be left behind or destroyed; (c) correlating “Bible prophecy” with current events; and (d) preparing to die or kill for the gospel/kingdom.
- It is escapist and therefore has no ongoing ethic of life between the times, between the first and second comings. There is no compulsion to love one’s neighbor: to practice deeds of mercy, work for peace and justice, etc. Contrast the hope of imminent return and ethic in 1 Thessalonians, which actually has an ethic for life in the hope of the second coming.
- It is inherently militaristic. Anything resembling “pacifism,” international cooperation, or disarmament is satanic, and believers are called to participate in a literal war that is guaranteed victory by the return of a conquering Jesus. Christian heroes join this Jesus, carrying and using Uzis and the like.
- It is inherently anti-Catholic. The only good, saved Catholics are those who are basically Protestant.
- It fails to see the church as empire’s alternative rather than its chaplain or its warmaking opponent.
- It privileges the state of Israel in an uncritical way.
- It is suspicious of anything like the work of the United Nations.
- It sees wars in the Middle East as part of God’s plan, in effect, therefore, as a good, a desideratum.
- It is uncritically pro-America.
- It inculcates a survivalist and crusader mentality into the minds of its readers.
An alternative approach to Revelation will be posted later.