Government & Politics Mark Silk: Spiritual Politics Opinion Politics

Tim LaHaye’s real message

First volume of the Left Behind series
First volume of the Left Behind series

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First volume of the Left Behind series

I can’t claim to have read all the “Left Behind” novels of Tim LaHaye and co-author Jerry Jenkins, but I’ve read a few, and LaHaye’s death this week has got me to thinking once again about the meaning of the fabulously successful series.

For those of you who may not be among its legion of readers, let me simply say that LaHaye and Jenkins’ fictionalized version of the End Times could care less about the people who are taken away from Earth on the 21st page of the first volume. Instead, as is traditional in this genre of imaginative literature (and such a genre does exist), the focus is on those whom the Rapture has left in the lurch. What consumes the series is the struggle of a small band of heroes — the “Tribulation Force”—to combat the evil empire of Antichrist by creating a world-wide movement known as the Christian Collective.

Now, the whole idea of the Rapture is that the Christians get to avoid the miseries of Antichrist’s rule pending Christ’s return and Armageddon victory. So the series is theologically irregular to say the least. Call it an exercise in Premillennialist Purgatory. Really, though, behind the fanciful retelling of the Apocalypse is a vision of Christians (including, let it be said, quite a few Jewish converts) as a beleaguered but resourceful body of warrior pilgrims, working together to defeat the powers and principalities even as they work on their individual salvation.

In other words, the series, which began appearing in the middle of Bill Clinton’s presidency, is really a parable about waging guerrilla war against the Democrats who had somehow contrived to take the country away from the Republican likes of Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. This was in keeping with LaHaye’s prominent role (to say nothing of his wife Beverly’s) as a paladin of the religious right.

But even as Tim LaHaye has left us all behind, the politics have grown a lot more complicated. Not only are there evangelicals who consider Hillary Clinton to be Antichrist but there are also evangelicals who consider Donald Trump to be Antichrist. What is the Christian Collective to do? And who will write its story?

About the author

Mark Silk

Mark Silk is Professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College and director of the college's Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life. He is a Contributing Editor of the Religion News Service


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  • Our increasingly specialized society appears to have more than the historically average share of people whose lives are boring, and seem to them, meaningless. The hunter/gatherer, by contrast, has meaning, adventure, and companionship.. What does an information processing supervisor have? How about the apocalyptic adventure? Harry Potter for adults!
    This is an example of why I despair of reading the “mind” of the “public”, or trying to “lead” them. I mainly scheme to escape from their control, and the grip of their ignorance. Trump and Hillary. Need any more examples?

  • “How about the apocalyptic adventure? ”

    Spot on! A Christian version of Dune comes to mind as well.

  • LeHaye’s stories are only very minimally based on a highly flawed reading of the Bible that’s enjoyed by a certain, limited section of Christianity. But he made a lot of money creating a fiction of macho, violent religion. That’s his religion.

  • In point of fact, they spend the series doing nothing to fight the Antichrist because doing so would be pointless. Things must unfold exactly as LaHaye thinks they were prophesied. Heck, the ace reporter in the whole mess never sof much as writes an op ed revealing the truth he knows.

  • I think it’s a stretch to interpolate the notion that the series was about Christian disaffection with Bill Clinton’s electoral victory and his subsequent 8 year administration. The eschatological premise of the books are certainly questionable, but I believe Tim LaHaye genuinely intended to reach an audience with the hope that they would perhaps pick up a bible if they hadn’t before, and begin to examine it’s apocalyptic texts in pursuit of a clearer understanding of what the future might hold for humanity.

  • Except that revelations was addressed to the people and the times when it was written. And is in no way prophesy.

  • It is in the nature of prophetic and apocalyptic literature to have more than one purpose and fulfillment, the principle of repetition without redundancy. Revelation had a purpose and fulfillment in the 1st century, but will have a more complete fulfillment in the future. Even a preterist like Hank Hannegraf would acknowledge that. Given your philosophical perspective I wouldn’t expect you to embrace that view, nor do I denigrate you for it.

  • I’m not sure who you are referring to. Do you mean 21st century people? Which ones? Jews for Jesus?

  • No I’m referring to those who were scattered and dispersed in the 1st century at the destruction of the nation of Israel and the temple. Surely John was addressing fellow believers, not those among the Jewish people who rejected Jesus’ message.

  • I have compiled ALL the Scriptures that PROVE the truth about the Rapture!!!

    This file also contains a section PROVING Jesus as Messiah for all your Jewish friends as well. It explains in prophetic DETAIL the “seven years of tribulation” everyone seems to believe is coming. This
    “7 year trib” period is actually a twist on a prophecy proclaiming the FIRST arrival of Jesus as Messiah 2000 years ago. The devil “re-wrote” this prophecy to get the world to “think” they have plenty of time to get right with God once the millions of Christians are Raptured up. This I believe is to be the last “trick” played on mankind by the devil! The Bible plainly states that once the Christian leaves,THAT’S IT! It’s OVER for those left behind! NO seven years. NO three and a half years! NOT even seven “seconds” will be given to those that choose believe the “doctrines of devils” and “traditions of man” rather than the WORD OF GOD.

    You owe it to yourself to see ALL the Scriptures that explain the Rapture. ALL of them! Not just the ones your friends… preachers… pastors… or priests” feel you needed to see. ALL of them PROVE the facts about the Rapture in a simple to understand method. ALL of them prove the “other” Scriptures you have been given were taken OUT OF CONTEXT to get you to believe a lie.

    More than 75% of all Christians I meet are unaware of the Scriptural facts contained in this document about the Rapture. ALL were truly SHOCKED after reading it!

  • “ALL of them PROVE the facts about the Rapture in a simple to understand method.”
    Everything is simple to the simple minded.

  • And I thanks you. I will resist the impulse to bear false witness against my iPad, which does many strange things.

  • You’re certainly entitled to reject the declarations of Revelation, but “drug induced” fever dream. I’m disappointed. But perhaps that is merely a witticism a’ la John Cleese.

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