Tribulation Force–Left Behind Review

by Tim LaHaye & Jerry Jenkins, Tyndale House Publishers, ISBN 0842329218, available practically anywhere Christian books are sold:

As before, you can find plot summaries online, such as in the Amazon comments; one is here.

If you read the Slacktivist’s review of Left Behind, you’ll see that there are far too many phone calls.  Well, it’s the same in the next book.  In fact, we discover on page 5 why Buck’s new apartment is perfect for him: It has already-installed phones!  Oh, glee!  Then on page 10, we find Rayford using his car phone while driving.  Naughty Rafe!

And all for a conversation which is, plot- and character-wise, meaningless.  There is absolutely no reason why we need to listen in as Rayford and Buck discuss the time for the emergency core group meeting.  Like so many other phone conversations in these books, it would be far more efficient to just summarize it–or leave it out entirely.

Of course, it’s funny when Verna then says to Buck, “You’ll have your own phone soon enough.”  What more could Buck ask for?

Slacktivist also points out how the authors apparently have a very different concept of the characters than what they portray.

For example, Buck thinks he’s the Greatest Investigative Reporter of All Time (GIRAT), but we rarely see him actually write anything or investigate stories which are happening right in front of him.  When we do, and get some taste of his writing, it’s awful.  He thinks he has integrity, yet he makes a deal with the Antichrist, agreeing not to reveal the secrets he’s uncovered about Nicolae’s “friends.”

Also, Rayford congratulates himself for never having an affair with Hattie, and apparently we’re supposed to be impressed by how well he conducts himself with Hattie now–Yet in reality, he spent years playing with Hattie’s mind like a control freak, and now he dumps her and treats her like something he has to wipe off his shoe.

His wife Irene is treated as a saint by the authors, even though her conversion seems to have made her very annoying as she kept hounding her family about the Rapture.  Hattie is treated as a whore and a nasty person, even though we often end up rooting for her for standing up for herself.

On page 11 of TF, we find yet another example of Buck’s twisted view of himself, which is also the authors’ twisted view of Buck.  He’s just been demoted because somehow nobody remembers him being at a Very Important Meeting in the last book, and exiled to Chicago; his new boss is explaining his changed duties, while he acts very snotty with her, like some prima donna.  I found these sentences particularly funny:

He didn’t want to get into a shouting match with Verna.  But neither was he going to sit for long under the thumb of someone who didn’t belong in journalism, let alone in Lucinda Washington’s old chair and supervising him.

Funny, Buck, you just described Verna’s feelings about you!

On page 15, we’re apparently supposed to feel that Rayford is being persecuted for trying to convert people while on the job (which, by the way, is flying planes).  He obviously feels he’s done nothing wrong.

But hey, Rafe, dude, proselytizing on the job is generally considered a Bad Thing.  It annoys your co-workers, clients, passengers, customers, etc.  And if they don’t want to convert but you keep pushing, it turns into a hostile working environment for your co-workers.

Just imagine if you were working with someone of another religion or an atheist who wouldn’t leave you alone about converting, and kept trying to show you how your beliefs are wrong.  Would you think he was just exercising his freedom of religion, or would you be majorly ticked off?

On p. 21:

Buck didn’t know how to respond when Rayford Steele greeted him warmly.  He appreciated the warmth and openness of his three new friends, but something nagged at him and he held back a little.  He still wasn’t quite comfortable with this kind of affection.

Aww, not used to man-hugs, Buck?

And again on page 45: “This was something new for Buck, too, all this hugging, especially among men.”  Are you afraid of the man-hug, Buck?  You’d better see: How to Give a Great Man-to-Man Hug

P. 36 is just unbelievable.  The talking heads on news programs are all hailing the latest plan, to move the U.N. headquarters to the ruins of Babylon in Iraq.  One says,

If Carpathia is sincere about disarming the world and stockpiling the remaining 10 percent of the hardware, I’d rather he store it in the Middle East, in the shadow of Tehran, than on an island off New York City.  Besides, we can use the soon-to-be-abandoned U.N. building as a museum, honoring the most atrocious architecture this country has ever produced.

WHAT…THE…HECK?  (I’d use a stronger word except that I don’t swear.)  These books are obviously set not in our world, but in some alternate universe where the Middle East is like Alderaan (peaceful, no weapons) and New York City is a hotbed of terrorism.  (And what’s with the hating on the U.N.’s architecture?)

On p. 47, Bruce remarks about Hattie’s job as the Antichrist’s personal assistant, “I don’t imagine he chose her for her clerical skills.”

Poor Hattie gets so abused by the authors and by the “Christians” in this book.  I can tell you that we “assistants” (administrative, darkroom, secretarial, etc.) don’t appreciate being thought of as hired for our bodies instead of our professional abilities.

On p. 49, Buck called, but Chloe felt that talking to him would have seemed “too eager, too forward.”  What is this, the 50s?  Then on p. 61, in the midst of so many man-hugs going on around them, Chloe can’t bring herself to give Buck a soft, cuddly girl-hug?

On p. 53 is the ah-ha moment: Now we find out what LaHaye and Jenkins really think of other churches!  Check this out:

Most interesting to Buck was the interpretation of the event [Rapture] on the part of other churchmen.

A lot of Catholics were confused, because while many remained, some had disappeared–including the new pope, who had been installed just a few months before the vanishings.  He had stirred up controversy in the church with a new doctrine that seemed to coincide more with the “heresy” of Martin Luther than with the historic orthodoxy they were used to.

When the pope had disappeared, some Catholic scholars had concluded that this was indeed an act of God.  “Those who opposed the orthodox teaching of the Mother Church were winnowed out from among us,” Peter Cardinal Mathews of Cincinnati, a leading archbishop, had told Buck.

“The Scripture says that in the last days it will be as in the days of Noah.  And you’ll recall that in the days of Noah, the good people remained and the evil ones were washed away.”

“So,” Buck concluded, “the fact that we’re still here proves we’re the good guys?”

“I wouldn’t put it so crassly,” Archbishop Mathews had said, “but, yes, that’s my position.”

“What does that say about all the wonderful people who vanished?”  

Uh, Buck, what about all the wonderful people who were left behind, as one of your friends noted in the first book?

“That perhaps they were not so wonderful.”

“And the children and babies?”

The bishop had shifted uncomfortably.  “That I leave to God,” he said.  “I have to believe that perhaps he was protecting the innocents.”

“From what?”

“I’m not sure.  I don’t take the Apocrypha literally, but there are dire predictions of what might be yet to come.”

“So you would not relegate the vanished young ones to the winnowing of the evil?”

“No.  Many of the little ones who disappeared I baptized myself, so I know they are in Christ and with God.”

“And yet they are gone.”

“They are gone.”

“And we remain.”

“We should take great solace in that.”

“Few people take solace in it, Excellency.”

“I understand that.  This is a very difficult time.  I myself am grieving the loss of a sister and an aunt.  But they had left the church.”

“They had?”

“They opposed the teaching.  Wonderful women, most kind.  Most earnest, I must add.  But I fear they have been separated as chaff from wheat.  Yet those of us who remain should be confident in our standing with God as never before.”

Buck had been bold enough to ask the archbishop to comment on certain passages of Scripture, primarily Ephesians 2:8-9: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”

“Now you see,” the archbishop said, “this is precisely my point.  People have been taking verses like that out of context for centuries and trying to build doctrine on them.”

“But there are other passages just like those,” Buck said.

“I understand that, but, listen, you’re not Catholic, are you?”

“No, sir.”

“Well, see, you don’t understand the broad sweep of the historical church.”

“Excuse me, but explain to me why so many non-Catholics are still here, if your hypothesis is right.”

“God knows,” Archbishop Mathews had said.  “He knows hearts.  He knows more than we do.”

“That’s for sure,” Buck said.

Of course Buck left his personal comments and opinions out of the article, but he was able to work in the Scripture and the archbishop’s attempt to explain away the doctrine of grace.

WOW.  There are so many things wrong with that passage that it’s hard to know where to begin.  It’s supposed to shock us with how outrageously terrible the Catholic Church is.  Instead, it shocks us with how outrageously terrible this passage is:

You have an arrogant self-righteous condemnation of the Catholic church and the believers within it.  You have the Pope getting raptured not because he’s a man of God, but because he tried to bring in Protestant doctrines.

You have Catholics being raptured only because they’re too young to know the Catholic church is Evil, or because they are really Protestants in their hearts.  You have the guy in line to be the next Pope being portrayed as arrogantly and self-righteously condemning those who believe in Protestant doctrines.

And there’s more to come: The guy in line also drinks alcohol, even in the morning!  He rejects Christian doctrine in favor of joining with the Antichrist’s one-world religion!

Also note that we have no idea what the archbishop means by “Apocrypha,” or if it’s a good or bad thing that he doesn’t take it literally.  Does he mean the Deuterocanon, which is accepted by the Catholic and Orthodox Churches but not by the Protestants?  If so, wouldn’t he call them the Deuterocanon, since “Apocrypha” is derogatory?  Does he mean the many books which were rejected from the New Testament not just by the Protestants, but by the Catholic and Orthodox Churches as well?

But there’s more!  You have Buck, a brand-new believer who barely knows anything about the Bible yet, telling an archbishop what the Bible says.  What about other verses which support the importance of good works?

What about the possibility that Buck doesn’t know enough about Catholic theology to truly understand the Catholic church’s position on faith and works, and is merely parroting what he’s been taught by Bruce about the Catholic Church?

Protestant Fundamentalism is full of polemics against the Catholic Church: Catholics are seen as not really “saved”; Catholics are seen as “mistaken” about baptism and the Eucharist; some even go so far as to call the Catholic Church the “Whore of Babylon.”

I have been in Fundamentalist and Evangelical churches for most of my life, so I can tell you this is true, not just anti-Protestant propaganda.  This whole passage is a big “na na na na na” against the Catholic Church for not “really” being Christian.

We find more of this on p. 275, in which Mathews promotes a New Agey view of religion, and on p. 401.  The Archbishop is now Pontifex Maximus Peter, the Pope and head of the one-world religion.

Anyone who believes in the Bible as “the final authority for faith and practice,” anyone who does not go along with the one-world religion instead, is proclaimed a heretic.

Essentially, we see here the “Whore of Babylon” condemnation of the Catholic Church and the Pope.

Another writer goes into this here.

On p. 67 of TF, it is made clear as day that not only are the Catholics left behind for not believing in Luther’s doctrines, but those who don’t believe in premillennial dispensationalism (the complicated, convoluted system of doctrine, only about 100 years old or so, which includes the Left Behind-version of the End Times) are left behind:

[The congregation of Bruce’s church] were drinking this in [Bruce’s interpretations of Revelations], and they wanted more and more.  Clearly Bruce had been in tune with what God was showing him.  He had said over and over that this was not new truth, that the commentaries he cited were decades old–

*snort*–Decades?  Oh, my gosh, you mean the commentaries were written in the 20th century?  So old!

–and that the doctrine of the end times was much, much older than that.

About 100 years old, yes.

But those who had relegated this kind of teaching to the literalists, the fundamentalists, the closed-minded evangelicals, had been left behind.

All of a sudden it was all right to take Scripture at its word!  If nothing else convinced people, losing so many to the Rapture finally reached them.

Na na na na na!  Don’t believe in a literalist interpretation of the Bible?  You’re left behind!  Believe the Church will have to go through the Tribulation and not get Raptured?  You’re left behind!  Don’t believe Revelations is meant to be taken literally?  You’re left behind!

It’s not enough to believe in Christ–You also have to believe the right doctrines!  Don’t agree with the evangelicals?  You’re left behind!  Don’t agree with our version of doctrine?  You’re so stupid it’ll take a Rapture to convince you!

On page 65, I started a tally of how many times the authors wrote “Buck was struck”:

On p. 65, “As Bruce plunged ahead, Buck was struck” (ooh, the double entendres!) “that the last speaker he had heard who was so captivating was Nicolae Carpathia” (that’s the Antichrist, the Beast, by the way).

On p. 110, “Buck was more struck with Steve’s appearance than with Carpathia’s.”  (It’s too easy to start with the slash humor here.)

Then on p. 342, “Buck was struck by their ragged robes” (those of the Two Witnesses, Eli and Moishe).

Meanwhile, I was struck (though that does not rhyme) with something else on p. 65: “Would [Bruce] tell this [church] body that he believed he knew who the Antichrist was?  In a way Buck hoped he would.  But that might be considered slander, to publicly finger someone as the archenemy of almighty God.”

That doesn’t stop people from doing so.  I’m aware of Popes, Mikhail Gorbachev and, now, Barack Obama being publicly fingered as the Antichrist.  There are probably many others as well.

On p. 79, Buck is actually considering being “just friends” with his potential love muffin Chloe because “Who pursues a relationship during the end of the world?”

Anyone who knows he/she only has 7 years left in which to follow his/her heart’s desire, that’s who!  Any red-blooded 30-year-old virgin who knows he only has 7 years left in which to have nookie, that’s who!

On p. 208, we have to wonder about the utter stupidity of Buck’s boss, who actually thinks that anything involving Israel, anything happening in the Holy Land, automatically goes in the Religion section of the newsweekly.

Would he put suicide bombings, the peace talks in Israel, or news analyses showing how Israel is at the root of so much conflict in the Middle East which now extends to the rest of the world–Would he put those things in the Religion section????

Being allied with Israel, right or wrong, is one reason why the terrorists hate us and plane-bomb our cities, because they hate Israel; does that belong in the Religion section?

On pages 275-279, we read about all the religious leaders of the world coming together, hammering out their differences, deciding to work together and promote a New Agey-view of religion (“Whether we believe God is a real person or merely a concept, God is in all and above all and around all.  God is in us.  God is us.  We are God”), deciding to believe in the basic goodness of mankind….

The Muslims agree to move the Dome of the Rock so the Jews can re-build their ancient Temple on the original site…. The nations have agreed to one currency, total disarmament (except for the UN’s cut) and peace….

Yeah.  Riiiiiiiiiight.  I see that happening in this universe.  This must be the universe in which Bill and Ted’s Excellent music puts an end to war and poverty, aligns the planets and brings them into universal harmony, etc. etc.

P. 280 has one of my favorite passages.  It’s fun to read this one out loud as if it were a passage from a bodice-ripping romance novel.  I have bolded the parts which especially deserve a husky voice and raised eyebrows:

Yet in his anxiety over meeting Carpathia face-to-face, [Rayford] did not want to look past the ordeal of confronting Hattie Durham.  Hattie was waiting when he stepped off the elevator. He had hoped to have a moment to get the lay of the land–

Would that be Hattie?

–to freshen up, to take a deep breath.  But there she stood in all her youthful beauty, more stunning than ever because of a tan and expensively tailored clothes on a frame that needed no help. 

Now switch from your porn-star voice to the voice of an Old-Time Religion, Bible-thumping, fire-and-brimstone preacher, complete with a drawled “eeeeeviiiiil”:

He did not expect what he saw, and he sensed evil in the place when a flash of longing for her briefly invaded his mind.  Rayford’s old nature immediately reminded him why she had distracted him during a wintry season of his marriage.

He prayed silently, thanking God for sparing him from having done something he would have regretted forever.

Is that your old nature in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?

Oh, yes, a beautiful woman inspiring a flash of longing, is a sign of evil in the place!

So, the sex drive disappears when you get saved?  The natural attraction of man to woman becomes part of the “old nature”?  How do you carry on the race that way?

In chapter 18, on page 399 of a 450-page book, we suddenly jump 18 months past the events of the story we’ve just been reading.  It’s disconcerting, and seems rushed.

During these 18 months, Rayford meets and marries a woman we barely know a thing about, except for her conversion story, “impeccable taste in clothes” (p. 407) (which I suppose makes her a perfect woman), and that she–gasp!–wears furs (p. 418)!

Other than furs, we’re not real sure what it means to have “impeccable taste in clothes.”  Of course, the story makes no note of this, which is remarkable considering the bad press fur coats have gotten in recent decades.  Maybe the authors think only the liberal tree-hugging wackos would worry about that.

We know that she is a “handsome” woman.  Apparently, being in your mid-40s makes you too old to be called “beautiful” instead of “handsome,” a word generally reserved these days for men and elderly women.

Amanda comes out of nowhere.  Without really knowing this woman, it’s very hard for the reader to make any sort of real connection to her or Rayford’s summarized romance with her.  There is no sexual tension or passion driving the story.  We do not really care if he marries her or not, and we’re not sure he does, either.

On p. 408, Amanda says about her and her now-Raptured husband, “We had been in a dead church all our lives.”  What exactly do LaHaye and Jenkins mean by a “dead” church?  This is a very judgmental term which needs to be backed up with a description.  We have no way of knowing if this church was truly “dead,” or if it just didn’t follow a particular way of doing things.

For example, in the documentary Jesus Camp, a pre-teen girl named Rachael distinguishes a “living” church from a “dead” church by the way it worships, here (at 44:00).  A “dead” church–where God is not present–sits still, sings a few hymns, listens to a sermon and leaves.  A “living” church–“where God likes to go to”–is full of jumping and shouting and praising, not quiet.

Meanwhile, I would distinguish a “living” church from a “dead” church based on love of God and fellow man, not on worship styles, but I don’t presume to say which a church is.

One website includes in its list of signs of a “dead” church, “prayer books or recited prayers” as in most liturgical churches (Lutheran, Catholic, Orthodox, etc.), use of the NIV translation of the Bible, something called “Lordship Salvation” which supposedly ends up damning people to Hell, baptizing babies, and allowing Christian rock music, along with other signs which are far more legitimate.

In Left Behind, Rayford’s former church is described more as a social club than a church where the Bible is preached.  Of course, I’ve been to lively, Bible-believing churches which barely even cracked open a Bible during the sermon.  Meanwhile, in the Orthodox church, long passages of Scripture are read in every service.

So basically, we have different views of “dead” churches and don’t know which one applies to Amanda’s church, yet we’re supposed to just accept that her church was “dead” because she said so.

I find this paragraph on p. 409, spoken by Amanda, to be funny:

“Well, before I could get my little mind around the idea, I was the only one in my family who wasn’t saved.  To tell you the truth, the whole thing sounded a little white trashy to me.

I didn’t know I had a lot of pride.  Lost people never know that, do they?

Well, I pretended I was right there with my family, but they knew.  They kept encouraging me to go to this women’s Bible study, so finally I went.

I was just sure it was going to be more of the same–frumpy middle-aged women talking about being sinners saved by grace.”

“My little mind”?  “White trashy”?  And don’t forget “frumpy middle-aged women.”  How do we know that lost people never know they have a lot of pride?  I’m not sure I want to know this person.  Not only was she judgmental of the saved before getting saved, but now she’s judgmental of the lost after getting saved.

On p. 411, Irene is described in such a way that she might as well have been canonized as a saint: peace, gentleness, kindness, serenity, confident but humble, outgoing but not pushy or self-promoting….

Note she’s even called “not pushy.”  Yet in the previous book we read that she was pretty pushy about the Rapture, so pushy that she practically pushed Rayford into Hattie’s evil hottie old-nature arms.  We’ve all encountered such pushiness, and some of us have been guilty of it ourselves, to our later chagrin.

Chloe tells Amanda that she had always thought her mother Irene “a little too religious, too strict, too rigid,” only realizing after she left for college that she loved her mother because of how much she was loved by her.

This does not seem realistic.  Sure she’d love her mother, especially when she’s homesick.  But young people who consider their parents “too strict” and “too rigid” often end up rebelling, especially when they go away to college.

On p. 416, we are frustrated with the 30-year-old virgin Buck, who has wasted these last 18 months by casually “courting” Chloe.  It took him at least eight months before he even kissed Chloe or said he loved her.

Then–even though he knows they only have less than seven years to be married and have a family–he takes forever to propose.  He moves so slowly that we wonder if he has any real passion for Chloe, or just “greatly esteems” her (borrowing a phrase from Jane Austen).

Sure enough, he and Rayford are both the perfect Christian men, kissing their girlfriends but never even making out with them until they quickly pop rings on their fingers.

Meanwhile, Hattie the Whore is making babies with the Antichrist without even having the Evil Pope marry them first.  When Nicolae and Hattie announce this to Rayford and his new wife Amanda,

“I didn’t realize you were married,” Amanda said sweetly, and Rayford fought to keep his composure.  She knew full well they were not.

“Oh, we will be,” Hattie said, beaming.  “He’s going to make an honest woman of me yet.”

You see, Hattie’s a whore, so Amanda can make self-righteous comments, because the good guys take forever to even hold hands.  If your old nature keeps popping up, you must be evil.

Let’s forget how Jesus chastised the Pharisees for thinking they were better than the “sinners.”

All of a sudden, I really don’t like Amanda.

[Fall 2008]

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