My Lasting Debt to the Left Behind Series

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A new Left Behind movie has hit the big screen! Or rather, it’s hit some American screens. There don’t appear to be any UK showings listed yet. Not even Nicholas Cage’s name has been enough to help this film bridge the Atlantic, which will either cause British Christians to mutter in annoyance, or breathe a sigh of relief.

All together: Inhale… exhale… and relax!

If this review at Christianity Today is anything to go by, the team who made Left Behind should brace themselves for scathing responses of apocalyptic proportions. I must admit, I don’t have a lot of sympathy for them, but since I can’t imagine they’re going to get a lot of critical affirmation heading their way in the coming weeks, I’d like to at least try to say one positive thing about the whole enterprise.

This is the best I can muster: I would like to express my gratitude to the authors of the Left Behind series of books, for it was the work of Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins that led me to develop a passion for theology and a practice of reading the Bible.

Somewhat circuitously.

As a teenage Christian, I read the Left Behind books voraciously. I devoured the adventures of Raymond Steele and chums, and their battles against stock-Eastern-European-stereotype antichrists. I worked in a Christian bookshop at weekends and so got to sneak reads of the books before they were released to the general public. I even got sent copies of the videos by the people at Cloud Ten Pictures, so I could watch the other movies that also never made it across the Atlantic!

I didn’t have many Christian friends of my age at the time, and I’d not read enough novels to realise that these really did stretch the definition of ‘literature’ to breaking point. And I assumed that since all the adults at our church were reading these books, and since Mr LaHaye was in fact a Dr LaHaye, he must really know his stuff and my mind was in safe hands. So I never questioned a thing! I’d not read Revelation, as I assumed it was too complex for me to understand anyway and was grateful for these novels that made such an abstruse book plain to a simpleton such as I.

I think I made it 10 novels through the series before I discovered that there was an accompanying book called Revelation Unveiled, which would show me the Biblical foundation for the stories, which I always assumed existed, but had never examined myself. So I purchased a copy (I bought it – I didn’t even sneak-read it at work!) and began reading.

And scratching my head.

And laughing.

And perhaps most importantly, for the first time I began properly reading the Bible.

And had I not done that – read the Bible that is – I perhaps would never have realised what a hokey, fatuous, laughable set of novels the Left Behind series really was, and what a twisted, baseless, sensationalist, unbiblical scare-mongering theology they promoted.

Years on, I now regularly read and teach the Bible; I have an M.A. in Biblical Studies; I’ve quit reading Christian fiction and started enjoying good novels; I’ve read a good number of the major commentaries on Revelation and taught a series on the book… I still don’t understand it all, but I’ve learnt enough that I’m no longer anticipating leaving my clothes in a puddle on the ground whilst I bid the world goodbye and good luck for its forthcoming seven-year-nightmare.

And I owe this life change to the authors of Left Behind.

Thank you LaHaye and Jenkins for teaching me the valuable lesson of questioning fiction… even best-selling fiction!

Thank you for setting me on the journey of (i) reading Left Behind, to (ii) reading the theology of Left Behind, to (iii) reading the Bible, to (iv) rejecting Left Behind, to (v) pursuing a life-long study of Scripture. I’m not sure I would have the passion to study and teach the Bible that I have today, where it not for you kick-starting the process.

And most of all… Thank you LaHaye and Jenkins for opening the door to an education, which means I can happily dismiss this latest film adaption without wasting a penny on it!

For that, I am truly grateful.

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