Highlights from a recent article by Catherine Rolfsenon, a Vancouver-based writer with a Master's degree in Religion and Modernity, on the popular Left Behind series of books and movies.
[Left Behind: World at War] is a recent release in an ever-expanding Christian apocalyptic media market beginning to impact the mainstream and raising more than a few eyebrows. It is a spin-off of the wildly popular Left Behind book series masterminded by American fundamentalist preacher Tim LaHaye. This month, the fourteenth Left Behind title debuted at number six on the New York Times best sellers list, adding to a reported collective sales total of over 62 million copies for LaHaye and co-author Jerry Jenkins.
The Left Behind book series is a fictional portrayal of the end of days happening in our time, not as the result of disease or terrorism, but at the hand of God. It all begins with The Rapture: a much-anticipated event when born-again Christians vanish from Earth, bound for heavenly rewards. They leave behind unbelievers to battle the tribulations of war, famine and disease, not to mention the Antichrist, until Jesus eventually returns to straighten things out.
[In the books] renegade Christians scrambles to spread the gospel truth to the world while heroically defying the Antichrist (who is easily identified as a cosmopolitan, European, pro-choice, pro-environment former UN secretary-general).
[I]t is impossible to explain the Left Behind books without delving into their theology. LaHaye's vision stems from a highly debated method of scriptural interpretation known as premillennial dispensationalism. This belief system maintains that the Bible (and particularly its last and most apocalyptic book, Revelation) holds an encoded timeline for the end of the world as we know it and the return of Jesus Christ to usher in a millennial kingdom on Earth.
"The next thing that is scheduled, so to speak, to happen is what we call the catching away of all believers. Sometimes people call that the Rapture," explains Gordon Conner, Pastor of the Greater Vancouver Baptist Church. . . . "Then ushers in [the seven-year Tribulation]. . . . [T]here will be a world government established. . . . There will be the workings of a one-world religion, and during the last part, [the Antichrist] will try to establish himself as the object of worship, as being God. At the end of the tribulation period, at the end of those seven years, the Lord Jesus returns and sets foot upon the earth," explains Conner. "There will be a battle that takes place. Satan is destroyed. This Antichrist individual is also destroyed. The Devil is cast into a bottomless pit for a thousand years. That enters into a period of time called the millennium, which we believe is a literal thousand-year reign."
Darrell Johnson, a professor at Vancouver's Regent College, has written his own book on Revelation.
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Johnson, an American citizen, says, "It concerns me that it shapes American foreign policy more than we want to admit."
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LaHaye claims the idea [to write novels] came through divine inspiration. Whatever its genesis, the results have been phenomenal, tapping into a previously latent market for apocalyptic Christian fiction. The series has engendered many spin-offs including a kids series in which child protagonists "find faith and fight the evil forces that threaten their lives," a military series written from the perspective of an end-of-days battlefield, and a forthcoming video game which promises to provide "Christians and non-Christians alike with opportunities to consider matters of eternal importance through the thought provoking content in our games."
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LaHaye eagerly seeks to expand the Left Behind series' reach beyond its evangelical base: its website urges fans to "share their experience with someone they know" and boasts that readers include Catholics, mainline churchgoers and atheists.