Next month, Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins come out with their twelfth book in the Left Behind series. In case you’ve been left behind in the gold dust of this 100 million dollar annual phenomenon, the Left Behind saga is a Christian fiction series depicting life after the second return of Jesus.
The series begins with a cataclysmic event called the rapture in which every Christian is taken to heaven at some very inopportune times, setting in motion calamity on a global scale.
As a fiction work, the Left Behind series tries to be more theological mind candy than exegetical fact and, to their credit, LaHaye and Jenkins steer clear of the date setting mistakes of previous prophets like Edgar Whisnant who wrote the popular book, 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Could be in 1988.
Unless my editors correct me on this one, I don’t think Jesus came in 1988. If he did, I take comfort in the fact that he “left behind” Jenkins and LaHaye — and me. Of course, according to one reader, I’m just the type that might be left behind. In the absence of a 1988 exodus, Whisenant told the Religious New Service, “I guess God doesn’t always do things the way man thinks he will.”
No kidding. Hey Edgar, did you think of that before you cashed the royalty checks or after?
The problem I have with these sort of books is that they try to scare people into heaven. They’re a bit like the commercial airline pilot, who earlier this month, used his usual greeting banter to urge people to get to know God. Unsure of what might happen, shocked passengers reached for cell phones until the flight crew assured them that the pilot had not been cleared for a crash landing in heaven.
The fear experienced by those passengers is the same type that began the Left Behind series with an airline missing its pilot. During an interview earlier this month on CBS 60 Minutes, LaHaye said he sees a purpose in the fear America sensed after 9/11. “Suddenly, our false sense of security was shaken. And we’re vulnerable. And that fear can lead many people to Christ. When Jesus shouts from heaven, there are going to be millions of people taken to heaven, and there will be millions of people who are “Left Behind”.”
Scary stuff. And it seems like every ten years or so some preacher whose attendance is waning or author, whose sales are diving, will scour the Bible and peruse the news until they assemble a hybrid of faith, fantasy and facts. In an effort to scare folks into the Kingdom of God, dire predictions are made and calendars are marked.
The whole thing has the air of that irreverent bumper sticker that proclaimed, “The good news is that Jesus is coming back, the bad news is he’s pi… — well, let’s just say, perturbed. ”
As someone from Christian roots and traditions, my faith is not rooted in fear of a god who went AWOL when a crooked court strung his son up on a cross – it can’t be based on a god whose coming back someday looking for payback. My faith has to be based on the continual presence of God who establishes his presence in the heart of every believer who truly seeks the Kingdom of God.
While fear can sometimes be a doorway to faith, it can never be a foundation. If faith is not love-based, it will never be life changing or life affirming.
If you want to read these fearful books for fun — the way some read Tom Clancy – enjoy yourself. But don’t read them for faith. For faith, I turn to a proven sources, like 2 Timothy 1:7 which says it all – “For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”