Rapture Fiction and the Evangelical Crisis

You might be surprised to see CEP reviewing a book on fiction, let alone a book on the rapture, but we find ourselves in a situation where many of our people are reading this fictional series by Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye. There is a hunger in the church for information about the Second Coming of Jesus, and they are going to whatever sources that are providing it, even if it is not accurate. Gribben has written a book that is very helpful in dealing with the content of what is in the current fictional series, both for the professional as well as they person reading these works. This book is not an attack on dispensationalism. Instead, it deals with the three main flaws in how the books cover conversion, the church, and the Christian life. Since 1995, this series (and others) has sold over 60 million copies, and has produced movies/DVDs as well.

One reason this book should be read in the PCA is that Gribben gives a good background to the whole dispensational position and how it has evolved over almost 200 years.

The chapter I really enjoyed was what he called “The Origin of Rapture Fiction.” I did not know that such works have been around since the early 20th century. Gribben goes into detail how each era these works reflected the political situation, finding a different “antichrist” and “mark of the beast” in the current day.

Gribben gives many examples of how the books give a very watered down presentation of the Gospel in the ways people are brought to “conversion.” The importance of the church is greatly distorted in that many pastors are “left behind” only to discover too late that they never really understood the Gospel until now (true in many churches, but not in all as implied). People who come to conversion during this period find they fellowship with other “tribulation saints” rather than with a church. “Rapture fictions underplay the significance of the church, its continuing status as the Body of Christ, and the importance of its means of grace, both in the ‘church age’ and in the tribulation.” (86) This distorted ecclesiology is evident from the poor understanding of the Christian life. These novels celebrate the individual as individuals instead of seeing every convert as part of the Body of Christ. The books celebrate the wisdom of men rather than the Scripture. The novels stake their reputation and credibility of Scripture on the accuracy of the authors’ predictions. “This is a gross manipulation of truth.” (93)

“If this modern evangelicalism has lost sight of the contents of the gospel, is unsure about the purpose of the church, has no appreciation of the significance of the sacraments, can imagine a life of faith without God’s law or suffering under Christ’s cross, it is an evangelicalism unworthy of the name. More seriously, it is an evangelicalism unworthy of the Savior. That is the tragedy of Left Behind – and the devastating consequence of the wider evangelical crisis.” (108-109)

What is clear is that Christians are reading these books en mass. It is hard enough to read historical fiction and be able to discern what is historical and what is fiction. It is even harder for believers to read Rapture Fiction and be able to discern truth from fiction.

The Church of Jesus Christ has a great future to look forward to in the New Heaven and New Earth, yet so little time seems to be spent teaching about this future. What is evident from the sales of these books is that people are hungry to know what lies ahead, and knowing what lies ahead should lead us to living life now under the authority of our Lord. We need to be teaching our people to discern truth from error/fiction. Here is an area of great need and concern. This book can help.

Charles Dunahoo pastored churches in Georgia and Alabama before being called to his present position as Coordinator for the PCA of Christian Education and Publications (CEP).

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