Every now and then I read some "brain candy." It's probably a good idea to do so, and I should probably do more of it than I do. Because there's a movie coming out soon and we seem to be having a lot of end times fever in the country where I live, I thought it would be a good idea to get around to reading Left Behind by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. The series rose to popularity almost 18 years ago. Though I've heard a lot about the books, mostly negative, I've not read one before.
My review is not mostly negative. It is entirely negative. I've never been enamored of either Jenkins' or LaHaye's writing, though I've seen their work dating back into the early 1980's. Both seem rather mechanical and occasionally chatty, though not in the same engaging way I'd hope to run into at a party. I had hoped that in the execution of a novel the style would be better. However, the dialog was wooden and almost all the characters expressed themselves in the same way as each other.
The plot seems to be an excuse to lay out some alarmist eschatology. The main characters are an airline pilot and a reporter who are in flight when the rapture of the church happens. Unlike the rapture described in the Bible, this is a secret rapture which does not take everybody. There is no great trumpet sounding. Not every eye sees, not every knee bows, and not every tongue confesses Christ. Rather, those people who are really dedicated Christians, as well as the unborn and children below their teen years, regardless of their creed or lack thereof, are taken away. Everyone else is left. A few people figure out why they were left behind and many of those people are brought to repentance, getting a second chance to believe in Jesus even though he has already gathered the Church to himself. The theological point of view indicates that there will be a secret and partial rapture of the Church followed by a literal seven year period of punishment which will then be followed by a literal thousand year reign of Christ. This view is a relatively recent development in Christian history, which has traditionally viewed the entire time since the coming of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 as both the millennium and the time of tribulation, the "seven" and the "thousand" both referring to completion rather than to a specific time limit.
As the book progresses, we find that God is working supernaturally to restore Israel to a position of world dominance, that the preaching of Jesus will draw many to faith while detractors of the gospel will be struck down, and that the United Nations will be taken over by one charismatic individual who will be able to take over all political entities in the world by promises of peace and disarmament.
There is little to inspire confidence in the theological views of LaHaye and Jenkins. The distinction between "real" Christians and "false" Christians seems to be entirely a matter of their obedience to God's Law, or, rather, their obedience to manmade legalistic additions to God's Law. For instance, the unbelievers drink alcohol, the believers drink water. There seems to be little place for grace, little place for repentance, and little interest in living a life of love and service to the neighbor rather than living as an overt evangelist. The plot is not compelling. Characters are poorly developed at best. There is very little genuine depth of emotion or thought evident. All in all, I can't imagine deciding to read another of the series.
What about the upcoming film? I'll probably go to it with some young people, as I know they will be curious and there's a big case of "end times fever" in this nation. Yet we'll have to pull the theology apart and point out that the coming of Christ at the end of the age will be to gather all people to himself, then to sort them. It will be obvious to everybody. And Jesus will not judge his people based on their behaviors. There is no such thing as a "dedicated" or "not dedicated" believer on Jesus. Either you believe or you don't. Different people show their faith in different ways. We cannot expect the kind of shallow world painted in this book.