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Monday, July 12, 2004

A Look Behind

We've been exploring the latest trends in End Times witnessing here at the Dark Window and today we're going to go a little more mainstream and look at one of the most effective cash cows evangelistic tools in modern history: The Left Behind books.

I finally got around to reading the final latest installment in the Left Behind series (culminating with Jesus killing everybody who doesn't agree with him) and thought it might be fun to take a closer look at the authors (mainly because everybody else has already discussed the books).

In case you've been living under a rock, the Left Behind series is the mega-selling Bible prophecy sensation that follows the events on earth after the Rapture has taken place. For the unchurched among you (Frederick), the Rapture is a future event in which Christians and Republicans (according to prophecy guru Hal Lindsey, at least) will be instantly transported to heaven in order to escape the awful 7-year Great Tribulation that will engulf the earth.

In these miraculously bad books, we are introduced to a couple of Christian action-hero types: an airline pilot named Rayford Steele and a man the books refer to as "the Greatest Investigative Reporter of All-Time," Buck Williams. How two boys with such names grew up to be anything but porn stars is a mystery that the books does not address. After the Rapture happens (while Buck is flying in Rayford's plane), our two heroes get saved and start travelling all over the globe to fight the forces of the Antichrist (a guy named Nicolae J. Carpathia). Along the way they use a lot of hi-tech gadgets, visit several featureless locales, and speak to each other using only the most banal, wooden dialogue. (For an excellent summary of the first book in the Left Behind series, I point you to Fred over at slacktivist.)

The man who came up with the idea for the Left Behind series in the first place is Dr. Tim LaHaye.

Before turning to lucrative End Times fiction, Tim was the pastor of a giant church in San Diego and a regular on Paul Crouch's Trinity Broadcasting Network (a ministry devoted to Paul and his wife Jan which, coincidentally, runs a weekly television program based on the Kirk Cameron kit we discussed a few days ago). In his spare time, Tim also managed to found his very own college.

Based on the prominent role of airplanes, slutty flight attendants, and born-again pilots in the Left Behind novels, it should come as no surprise that one of the main offerings at Christian Heritage College is a degree in "aviation."

The degree program in Aviation is a combination of course work in Bible, Intercultural Studies, and Aviation. The program has been designed in an effort to structure a focused academic program for those seeking to pursue careers in missionary aviation.

I'm not entirely sure what "missionary aviation" means but if you loved Rayford Steele and want to be just like him (well, without having to lose your family in the Rapture first), this may very well be the course you've been looking for.

Tim's obsession with airplanes actually led to the idea of the book series, too.

Dr. Tim LaHaye conceived the idea of fictionalizing an account of the Rapture and the Tribulation while sitting on airplanes and watching the pilots. He would think to himself, "What if the Rapture occurred while flying on an airplane?"

Why would the rapture be flying on an airplane? I guess because it's cool like Tim.

Anyway, I decided to check out LaHaye's fairly surreal website. The first thing one sees upon visiting this site is an animated representation of what the Rapture will look like (with voiceover by Tim himself). I don't think words can adequately describe this so I'll just let you experience it for yourself.

One of the things I learned from the site is that Tim is the co-founder of an organization called the Pre-Trib Research Center.

The Pre-Trib Research Center is a "think tank" committed to the study, proclamation, teaching and defending of the Pretribulational Rapture (pre-70th week of Daniel) and related end-time prophecy.

I thought it was pretty funny that even they felt the need to put "think tank" in quotes.

We believe the Bible should be interpreted normally, as with any other piece of sane literature, by a consistently literal hermeneutic which recognizes the clear usage of speech figures.

Here are some of my faovrite phrases from that sentence: "interpreted normally," "sane literature," "consistently literal," and "clear usage of speech figures."

Tim's website also features a couple of reviews (I think he had trouble finding good ones). One in particular seemed to capture the entire essence of the series and the authors:

"The authors' style continues to be thoroughly captivating and keeps the reader glued to the book, wondering what will happen next. And it leaves the reader hungry for more."

Why do I think that review sums up the entire Left Behind series? Well, mainly because of who wrote it: "Christian Retailing."



Tune in next time as we'll study the life and times of Left Behind co-author Jerry B. Jenkins in our continuing look at Trends in End Times Witnessing.

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