Left Behind: Apollyon Review–Part 1

Apollyon  by Tim LaHaye & Jerry Jenkins, Tyndale House Publishers, ISBN 0-8423-2926-9, available practically anywhere Christian books are sold:

A plot summary is here.

Sorry, no “Buck was struck” tally for this book.  Surprisingly, I never saw it, not even once.

As usual, you can find reviews of this book on Amazon which describe the plot–such as it is.  Here I just record my impressions of various things that happen.

On page 20, Ken Ritz–yet another pilot who’s currently chatting with Rayford–says, “So, three pilots, a doc, and a rabbi–sounds like the start of a joke.  The only member without a specialty is your daughter, and she’s what I call the voice of reason.”

Er, yeah, she has no specialty because she dropped out of college after the Rapture!  I guess an education is superfluous now, even though she could’ve had seven years to use that education at a job or maybe have insights helpful for the Tribulation Force.

On page 23, we have a new character, Dr. Floyd Charles, who insists, “Call me anything you want except Floyd.”  In that case, can I call you Pink?

On page 29, Chloe, Buck and Tsion are speaking with Chaim Rosenzweig, the inventor of Israel’s famous formula for food production and wiping out hunger, dupe–er, friend–of Nicolae Carpathia, and all-around-decent-Jew except for that persistent refusal to convert to Christianity.

Chaim is not aware the Antichrist is the Antichrist, so he advocates for him, asking that Nicolae have a place on the program of Tsion’s Meeting of the Witnesses in Jerusalem.

This conference is meant to bring together the 144,000 Jewish converts to Christianity who have turned missionaries to the world.  Tsion is the speaker.  Chloe cries,

“A place on the program!  Impossible!  The stadium will be full of Jewish converts who are convinced Nicolae is Antichrist himself.”

Chaim condescendingly calls her “sweetheart,” smiles at her as if she’s a silly child, and says, “Nicolae Carpathia?  He seeks world peace, disarmament, global unity.”

Chloe responds, “My point exactly.”

Wait–Er–What?  What’s her point?  Is she saying that Carpathia is obviously the Antichrist because he seeks these things?  Since Christ himself preached peace, goodwill and compassion, does that mean that Christ is the Antichrist?

In the last book, we learned that Amanda, Rayford’s now dead wife, could have been a double agent working for the Antichrist.  I kept hoping and hoping that she truly was, because such an unexpected twist could spark suspenseful writing, the depth of Rayford’s feelings of betrayal, possibly even a breakdown–and oh, the eventual showdown between Rayford and the Antichrist would have been sweet.

But, wait, I forgot who was writing this book.  On page 36, we discover that the writers dropped the ball: Amanda was not a double agent, after all.  So much for added intrigue.

On page 43, our heroes [cough] arrive at the Meeting of the Witnesses.  As the stadium fills with participants, along with shouts and chants, Buck asks, “What are they saying?”  The response: “‘Hallelujah,’ and ‘Praise the Lord.’  And they’re spelling out the name of Jesus.”

Why do I suddenly have this vision in my head of thousands of Jewish Witnesses spelling out with their arms and singing, “It’s fun to stay at the J-E-S-U-S!”

The MC explains that Dr. Tsion Ben-Judah will “preach and teach for as long as he feels led.”  Oh, dear, settle in because it’s going to be a loooooong night.

On page 49, during Tsion’s sermon, he states that,

Jesus himself said he was the way, the truth, and the life, and that no man can come to the Father except through him.

This is our message to the nations.  This is our message to the desperate, the sick, the terrified, the bound.

By now there should be no doubt in anyone’s mind–even those who have chosen to live in opposition to God–that he is real and that a person is either for him or against him.

Tsion makes it very clear that “against him” means not being a Christian.  This is important to note, that non-Christians are considered to be “against God,” because later the lines will be drawn.

This contradicts the message I find again and again when researching Orthodoxy: that only God can say who will be found to be inside the Church, who outside.  It’s not just about whether or not you belong to a certain faith or denomination.

As the American Greek Orthodox Archbishop Demetrios wrote in his Reflections (page 3) in the September 2008 issue of the Orthodox Observer,

[I]t is appropriate to speak of a broad rather than narrow understanding of humanity as “God’s people” [in the theme of “Gathering God’s People to His Home”].

A broad interpretation of humanity without any exclusions, discriminations, or exceptions is entirely consistent with Christ’s parable of the Great Banquet in the Gospel of Luke, where the substance of our theme is vividly expressed.

In that parable, the householder…goes to the people on the streets and lanes, on the highways and the hedges, in other words, to those people who make their “homes” in the margins of society.  In this sense, “God’s home” is also identified in broad rather than narrow terms.

This passage from Luke is compelling of how God communicates directly to us that “His people” includes the entirety of humankind and that “His home” includes the entirety of our planet….

[This means] that our work is unlimited.  It means that our mission has no boundaries.  It means that we are called to gather every human being of every continent to God’s home.

The Archbishop also wrote on page 20 in April 2008,

Because God has given to the people the freedom of conscience, we do not cast judgment on the teachings of other religions nor upon those people who hold them.

We do insist however, that on this day of Holy Pascha we are invited to come to a closer understanding of the centrality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ to the Christian faith and its fundamental meaning for our lives as Orthodox Christians.

While Orthodoxy does believe that we are all tainted by sin and desperately need a Saviour, it rejects the doctrine of total depravity, or that even the good we do is evil until we are saved.

Orthodoxy sees “the divine image imprinted upon every person” (Encyclical, Archbishop Demetrios), distorted by sin, rather than destroyed by sin as some would say.  Actually, there is a distinction between the image of God (freedom, reason, creativity, etc.) and the likeness of God (being like God in character).

Because each person has the divine image, even sinners are precious to God.  We can cooperate with God’s grace in synergy if we so desire–in fact, though salvation is a free gift and only possible because of what Christ did for us, we must choose between good or evil, because God will not violate our free will.

God’s grace is not seen as irresistible, as in Calvinism: He knocks at the door, but we must open it.  (For a fuller treatment of this topic, see The Orthodox Church by Timothy Ware, p. 218-224.  Excerpts of the book are available here, but the most pertinent section is “Man, his creation, his vocation, his failure.”  Sometimes you can find it online, sometimes not.)

So how can we be “against God” unless we specifically choose to be?  How can we be “against God” simply because we chose the wrong religion in our limited human knowledge, or followed Catholic teachings instead of premillennial dispensationalism?

Tsion’s “us vs. them” theology runs counter to Orthodox theology, because it is based on total depravity.  The judgments in the Left Behind series, many of which do not discriminate between good and bad, Christian or non-Christian, may be seen as just in the doctrine of total depravity, because even the “good” are evil if they are not in the Church.  But this goes against Orthodox theology.

Christ clarifies that some who claimed to be his followers will find themselves shut out of Heaven, while the division of the sheep and the goats is based on how people treated each other in life.  Only God can judge who is for Him and who against.

This does not mean that Christianity is just one of many ways to go; rather, it means that if any non-Christians are saved, it’s because Christ died for us all and God’s mercy and grace extend wherever He wills.

An Orthodox Christian View of Non-Christian Religions
The Last Judgment–from An Online Orthodox Catechism

 

To be continued….

 

Left Behind: Soul Harvest Review–Part 7

 

Previous parts

On page 390 I got confused: Hattie, who was poisoned by the Antichrist, has lost her baby and is on her deathbed.  She doesn’t feel worthy of salvation by Christ, and says, “Just let me die.”  Chloe responds, “No!  You promised to be my baby’s godmother.”  Later on, Chloe says, “You’re my friend, and I want you for a sister.”

Sister?  Godmother?  I’m not sure how being a godmother makes you the mother’s “sister.”  If she means spiritual sister, wouldn’t that apply to a daughter of Chloe’s godmother?

And godmother–isn’t this verboten in the branch of Christianity represented by these books?  You get to be a godmother by being the sponsor at a baby’s baptism.  Tim LaHaye is a Baptist.  Baptists are opposed to baby baptism.  So how could Hattie be Chloe’s baby’s godmother (or Chloe’s sister, for that matter)?

To try to find an answer to this, I tried searching for Jerry Jenkins’ affiliation, but could not find it.  Still, premillennial dispensationalism tends to be doctrine among the branches of Christianity which reject baby baptism; the mainline churches which do practice baby baptism, tend to reject dispensationalism in favor of amillennialism or postmillennialism.  So Chloe’s comments about a godmother, make no sense to me.

When Chloe says, “I want you for a sister,” Hattie says, “I’m too old to be your sister.”  Oh, come on, Hattie–You’re less than ten years older than Chloe!  Siblings can easily be that far apart in age, even farther, in fact (my eldest brother is ten years older than I am).

Buck then whispers with “his lips near her ear”: “You want Jesus, don’t you?”  Come on, baby, you know you want Jesus!

On page 400, after hearing from Hattie that Nicolae had Bruce poisoned, Buck ponders murdering Nicolae.  Rayford also has such thoughts periodically, such as on page 416.  These violent thoughts are quite disturbing, especially when these are supposed to be born-again Christians who are taught by Christ to love their enemies.  I can only hope the characters will be properly chastened later.

Page 406 shows the problem inherent in any story which is supposed to represent the future: Tsion decides to run his computer on batteries during a storm, but remain connected to the phone lines.  What, no cable modem, DSL or wireless router?

On page 410, in the middle of a divinely ordained hailstorm, “plummeting tongues of fire” begin coming down, then showers of blood.  From the sky.  Not only does this scene (like many others) strain plausibility, but Rayford’s response to the blood is “a peace flooding his soul.”

But this show, this shower of fire and ice and blood, reminded him yet again that God is faithful.  He keeps his promises.  While our ways are not his ways and we can never understand him this side of heaven, Rayford was assured again that he was on the side of the army that had already won this war.

That’s an odd reaction to fire and blood showering down from the sky!  Does he feel no repulsion, or even concern for the people and animals who might get caught underneath the hail, fire and blood?  Also, what about understanding for why people still may not turn to the book’s version of God, since they don’t know what’s going on or why God is treating them this way?

Tsion’s reaction is, “Here comes the blood.”  (Cue Sammy Davis Jr.’s “Here comes the judge!“)  Then he shouts,

Praise the Lord God Almighty, maker of heaven and earth!  What you see before you is a picture of Isaiah 1:18: “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”

Eh?  For one, how did he connect the hailstorm with Isaiah 1:18, and for two, why is he praising for this?

More of the same is on page 417, when the news reports a massive comet on its way to a collision course with Earth.  This comet is expected to cause unknown devastation–possibly even split the earth in two.  And what is Rayford’s response?  “It’s happening!…This is going to be some ride!”

The comet finally hits, followed by a meteor called Wormwood.  (I guess that means LaHaye doesn’t follow the school of thought which says “Wormwood” refers to the Chernobyl disaster.)

We follow the edge-of-your-seat action as–Oh, wait, there is no edge-of-your-seat action, because the whole thing is summarized in about three pages tops.  Then a few pages later, the book ends.

There is suspense in the question, Was Amanda, Rayford’s new wife, a double agent for the Antichrist?  I keep hoping that she is, because it would provide a twist to make the books far more intriguing than they have been so far.

But in the hands of a better writer, we would have seen the comet’s devastation as it unfolded, and felt worn out from the tragedy as now Wormwood threatened the earth.  And the writer teaches other people how to write?

[August-November 2009]

Left Behind: Soul Harvest Review–Part 6

 

Previous parts

Now, finally, for a new post, now that Lent is over with and I’m not spending so much time in services.

On page 317, Tsion leads the group in a prayer:

Lord God Almighty, your Word tells us the angels rejoice with us over Ken Ritz.  We believe the prophecy of a great soul harvest [hence the name of the book], and we thank you that Ken is merely one of the first of many millions who will be swept into your kingdom over the next few years.  We know many will suffer and die at the hands of Antichrist, but their eternal fate is sealed.

We pray especially that our new brother develops a hunger for your Word, that he possesses the boldness of Christ in the face of persecution, and that he be used to bring others into the family.

And now may the God of peace himself sanctify us completely, and may our spirits, souls, and bodies be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  We believe that he who called us is faithful, who will also do it.  We pray in the matchless name of Jesus, the Messiah and our Redeemer.

Ken Ritz’s response: “Ken brushed tears from his cheeks, put his hat on, and pulled it down over his eyes.  ‘Hoo boy!  That’s what I call some prayin’!'”

OUCH.  So, apparently becoming a Christian also makes you corny.

Oh, and then Tsion goes to fetch “a dog-eared paperback book called How to Begin the Christian Life.”  So that’s where everybody is learning Christianese!  That explains, for example, Tsion’s above prayer, full of New Testament phrases heard countless times in prayers, by anyone who has spent years in Evangelical or Fundamentalist churches.  This from a guy who not long ago was Jewish.

On page 318, Tsion tells Ken, “I must clarify that the Scriptures do not refer to us who become believers after the Rapture as Christians.  We are referred to as tribulation saints.  But the truths of this book still apply.”

Setting aside the theological counterargument that the Scriptures don’t refer to a Rapture in the first place, let alone those who become believers afterwards–I never heard this one before.  I grew up hearing about the Rapture, but never heard that “Christian” only applies to pre-Rapture believers.

In fact, in these books I keep coming across new interpretations that I never heard of in all the years I believed in the Rapture.

This part freaked me out a bit: “Tsion, nearly a foot shorter than Ken, put an arm around his waist.  ‘As the new elder of this little band, allow me to welcome you to the Tribulation Force.  We now number six, and one-third of us are pilots.'”

Around his waist?  If Buck had trouble initially with man-hugs, why does Tsion think he can put his arm around another man’s waist without trouble?

And the part about pilots reminds me of the vampire Caleb Morley greeting all the Port Charles characters whom he has trapped behind bars: “Nice to see you, too, Doctor, and you, Doctor, Doctor, all you semi-doctors, friends of doctors, lovers of doctors, and well, just all the little people.”  (See here at 1:35.)

On page 323-4, Tsion states on his Internet blog,

Eons ago, God the Father conceded control of Earth’s weather to Satan himself, the prince and power of the air.  God allowed destruction and death by natural phenomena, yes, because of the fall of man.  And no doubt God at times intervened against such actions by the evil one because of the fervent prayers of his people.

What????  Where did Satan get this kind of power?  God is the author of creation; he put the natural forces into place for the order of the planet; He can overrule these natural forces wherever He wills.  I have read writers (such as John Piper) who go so far as to say that while Satan does not control the weather, if God does not stop destructive forces, then He is the cause of them.

But so far as I can find, Orthodox teaching does not agree with this, any more than it agrees that God is the cause of evil, as some Calvinists claim.  (You can also find more articles on this controversy here and here, from a Calvinist author.)

This article on the EWTN website shows that God is not the cause of evil, and

if men wish to rail against the fact that men die in earthquakes and other natural disasters, let them blame men. It was the moral evil of sin that brought the great physical evil of death into the world.

So that would mean that neither God nor Satan is responsible for the death and destruction caused by the weather, but the sin of man!

Tsion says that the very idea of a one-world government, currency or faith is from the pit of hell.  Really?  Why?

I can understand why a person would feel that way about a one-world faith that does not allow for individual religious convictions.  I wouldn’t want anyone telling me I have to be something other than an Orthodox Christian or Else.  We don’t have a one-world faith, but we do have national governments which try to impose one religion on everyone, and persecute the dissenters.

But one-world government and currency?  What on earth is specifically demonic about those?

While lamenting in his blog about the filth on the airwaves (now no longer kept in check by times or special channels because there are no more children to protect from it), Tsion notes that only five percent of TV programming is “as inoffensive as the news.”  Not only is there sex, but there is witchcraft and channels with real murders and torture 24 hours a day.

The very thought of the news being inoffensive is laughable, though I suppose, if you’re comparing it to 24-hour-XXX programming, it might seem inoffensive.  After all, it’s just about murder, wars, accidents, the occasional announcement from the Antichrist, bloody pictures from the latest bombing, that sort of thing, not graphic sex scenes.

Though I have a hard time believing that all anybody wants to see on TV is sex and violence.  American TV programming today is even looser than it was in 1998 when this book was published, but you still don’t see all-sex-and-torture all the time.  People still want plot, character, drama, intrigue, fantasy (as in fairy tales or vampires or ghosts, not sex), comedy.

Why would that change just because all the children are gone?  Why do the authors suppose that the Rapture would cause millions of people left behind to suddenly want to see live tortures and murders on television?

Do they really think there is no decency or goodness in anyone of other faiths (or no faith)?  What about the proponents of the global One-World Faith–wouldn’t they be against the very idea of a 24-hour torture channel?

Tsion then complains that the message in his blog would never be aired now, that soon it will probably be considered a crime against the state.  He writes, “Our message flies in the face of a one-world faith that denies belief in the one true God, a God of justice and judgment.”

Justice and judgment?  No, that’s “a God of love.”  Justice and judgment are necessary for the same reason we need to discipline our children, but we do that out of love.

Love is over all, not justice and judgment.  The authors seem here to have exposed their vision of God in a kind of Freudian slip: a god not of love but of striking down all those who oppose the beliefs of the (as Slacktivist terms it) Real True Christians.

On page 386, Bucks asks, “You take the predictions literally then?”  Tsion replies,

My dear brother, when the Bible is figurative, it sounds figurative.  When it says all the grass and one-third of all trees will be scorched, I cannot imagine what that might be symbolic for.

Um…okay.  I prefer to leave my determination of “literal” and “figurative” up to the Church, because it’s far too easy for each person to have a different idea of what “sounds figurative.”  And the Church seems to have determined that much of Revelations is figurative.  Oh, wait, that means Orthodox Christians will get Left Behind, doesn’t it?

To be continued….

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