Review of Left Behind

Like the Slacktivist, I have been working on reviews for each of the books in the wildly popular Left Behind series.  Unlike the Slacktivist, my reviews are not page-by-page and should be 10 pages each at the most.

(The Slacktivist took about 5 years just to do the first book!)

I am not trying to imitate him–in fact, I came up with the idea before I knew about the Slacktivist’s ambitious undertaking.

I already disagreed with the theology of the books, but had never read them.  So when I began reading damning reviews of the video game Left Behind: Eternal Forces, reviews which took the books into account and not just the game itself, I had no idea what to make of them.  Were the books really promoting the deaths of anyone who was not an Evangelical Christian?

For my own edification and for others, I decided to read through the series which I had been avoiding.

Here is my first review, posted on my website (I believe) last fall:

Left Behind by Tim LaHaye & Jerry Jenkins, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., ISBN 0842329129, available practically anywhere Christian books are sold:

Check out this page-by-page review by Slacktivist.

Slacktivist skewers the entire book, from its lack of reality, to the twisted sense of morality of the main characters, to the porn-star-like names of the main characters (Buck, Steele, Hattie the Hottie), to the way the characters’ actions do not fit their descriptions, to the way women are portrayed, to the terrible writing and unintentional humor.

(And Slacktivist is an Evangelical Christian, so you’re not dealing with a Christian-hating atheist.  😉  )

The Slacktivist sums things up quite well in the September 19, 2008 entry:

Left Behind fails as a novel for many, many reasons, but all of its other faults — the odious lack of empathy it holds up as a moral example, its blasphemous celebration of self-centeredness masquerading as Christianity, its perverse misogyny, its plodding pace, its wooden dialogue, it fetishistic obsession with telephones, its nonexistent characterization, its use and misuse of cliches, its irrelevant tangents, deplorable politics, confused theology, unintentional hilarities, hideous sentences, contempt for craft, factual mistakes, continuity errors … its squandering of every interesting premise and its overwhelming, relentless and mind-numbing dullness — all of these seem to be failures of the sort that one might encounter in any other Very, Very Bad book hastily foisted off onto the public without a second glance.

Any one of those faults, on its own, would have been enough to earn Left Behind a place on the Worst Books of 1995 list. The presence of all of those faults — in a single book and in such concentrated form — is more than enough to secure its place on a list of the Worst Books of All Time.

Yet the book’s signature failure is something far simpler. Left Behind disproves the very thing it sets out to prove. It presents an inadvertent but irrefutable case for the unreality and impossibility of all of the events that Tim LaHaye claims are prophesied to occur at any moment.

If you want an in-depth description and review of the book and its characters, you should be able to Google it, check Wikipedia or Amazon, or read the Slacktivist’s review.  For example, here‘s one.  So I won’t go into that here, and will just add my own impressions.

The movie version of the book has been held up for ridicule as well, but when I watched, I couldn’t help noting that it was much better than the book.

As LaHaye describes his inspiration for Left Behind:

I was flying across the country to a prophecy conference, and this handsome 40-ish airline pilot stepped out of the cabin and he started flirting with the chief stewardess in the galley there.

I looked down and noticed that he had a wedding ring on, and I looked at her finger and she didn’t have one on. I got to thinking, ‘Oh, these people are pretty friendly.’ And then I got to thinking … What if the Rapture took place?

Okay, so apparently, in his circles, married people don’t flirt unless they want to go steppin’ out.  But flirting with someone is not even on the same plane as sleeping with/having an affair with her.  It’s a way to pass the time and have fun, especially going through the normal day-to-day drudgery of work.

Unless this pilot was, say, running his hand along the thigh of the stewardess, he was probably not in danger of being “left behind” just for flirting with her.  LaHaye should see the people I’ve worked with, the people I hang around with, the people in the SCA….

On p. 29, Rayford compares the destruction and logistical nightmare of the post-Rapture to an L-train disaster in Chicago.  We can now add 9-11 to that.

On p. 98, we see good ol’ American temperance in action as Irene treats alcohol as inherently evil and badgers her “unsaved” husband into hiding “any hard stuff if he had to have it in the house at all.”  Yet even Jesus drank wine.

And no, it was not grape juice: Grapes on the vine already have yeast which causes fermentation as soon as they are crushed.  In order to make grape juice, that Welch guy had to invent a process to stop the fermentation.  He did that during the Temperance movement in the 19th century.  For more, see Is Wine from the Devil–or a Gift from God?

On p. 5, we learn that Rayford Steele’s wife Irene has a history of going through phases: Amway, Tupperware, aerobics.  Now she was newly converted to a church unlike her own which constantly preached salvation and the Rapture.  She had become “a full-fledged religious fanatic.”  Rayford didn’t like it.

Now that the Rapture has occurred, on p. 102 we read: “[Rayford] had to find out how they had missed everything Irene had been trying to tell them, why it had been so hard to accept and believe.”  Well, it’s especially hard to accept and believe what Irene tried to tell Rayford when only certain branches of Christendom believe in the Rapture.

P. 110: Buck says that if someone were to write a screenplay based on the sudden disappearance of millions of people, leaving their clothes behind, it would be laughed off.  Buck obviously never heard of the Rapture genre–including, of course, the movie Left Behind.

P. 126: All this death and destruction is really starting to get to me.  Why would God want a good thing like the Rapture to kill so many people, with no chance of redemption?

P. 128: “[Buck] thought about breathing a prayer of thanks, but somehow the world he was looking at didn’t show any other evidence of a benevolent Creator.”  Funny he should think that (see above comment).

On p. 148-9, Hattie calls Buck on the phone to vent over the way Rayford just acted toward her on the phone.  I look at that and see a normal, upset woman who needs to get her feelings out, and will feel better once she does.

However, Buck’s reaction offends me.  He acts like a kind, listening ear, but secretly he thinks, “How did he get into this lonely hearts club?  Didn’t she have any girlfriends to unload on?” and, “Maybe Hattie showed more depth and sense when she wasn’t under stress.  He hoped so.”

What the heck?????  What’s the matter with Buck?  He sounds so insensitive, judgmental and selfish.  Hattie needed someone to talk to, and he started rolling his eyes and thinking she lacked depth and sense??!!

Maybe she doesn’t have any girlfriends to “unload on.”  She’s a flight attendant, probably spending long hours at her job, making it hard to make female friends; the phone systems are flighty because of the Rapture; and it’s entirely possible her usual confidants have been Raptured.

On p. 174-5, we read:

“I know this will be like pouring petrol on a flame,” Alan began, “but I need to tell you this is a nasty business and that you want to stay as far away from it as you can.”

“Darn right you’re fanning my flame,” Buck said.

Woowoo!  Gay flirting in Left Behind!  I thought the authors were against that sort of thing….

Starting on page 195, we finally begin to discover what the authors consider a “true Christian” (the type who got Raptured), and why other Christians were “left behind.”

I already have a fundamental problem with the Rapture theory as being unbiblical and not in keeping with the Traditions of the Church.  But now I see that I also have trouble with the book’s criteria for who is Raptured and who would go to Hell if they died right now.

Basically, everybody left on the Earth who dies immediately after the Rapture would be condemned.  This includes the devout practitioners of other religions and people who loved their neighbor, but didn’t believe in the Christian God.

Other than Christians who have had a “born-again” experience–not a baby baptism, but a deliberate decision made once a person was old enough to truly understand it–only babies and children are Raptured.  Between pages 195 and 215, it’s made very clear that the only “true Christians” are the ones who have prayed the “sinner’s prayer.”

On pages 195-198, Bruce, a lifelong Christian who loved church, describes why he got left behind.  His explanation struck me as being very legalistic:

He didn’t tithe ten percent, he occasionally looked at porn, he didn’t read his Bible, he didn’t tell people about Christ, he refused to say his church said Jesus is the only way to God.

It said nothing about, did Bruce love God and his fellow man–the two commandments on which hang all the others.

On pages 199-203, Bruce’s description of salvation is the basic misunderstanding which is taught by Pietistic Evangelical theology: salvation as a legal transaction done at one moment in time when you say the “sinner’s prayer,” with no connection to baptism or communion, and very individualistic.

Pastor Vernon Billings’ tape, filmed before the Rapture to help those left behind, also goes into more detail on pages 209-216.  We find there references to salvation through grace alone, which is not biblical.

I got the impression that he felt those Raptured previously believed in a Rapture.  There is obvious “believer’s baptism” terminology which rejects baby baptism.

We also find the idea that salvation is solely based on a conscious decision for Christ, rather than being based on God’s judgment and our struggle for righteousness or willful rejection of it, in favor of wallowing in dark passions.

On p. 213, Billings says, “If you have not received Christ as your Savior, your soul is in jeopardy.”  On p. 215-216, Billings describes being “born again” or “born anew” as something that happens when you, as it is termed, give your life to Christ and ask forgiveness from sins.

He says that the Holy Spirit is then given to you.  He speaks of “assurance” of salvation.

Then on page 222, the remnants of the New Hope Church speak of forming a new church with no “true Christians” to help them.

Lutherans, Calvinists, Catholics and Orthodox all disagree with this, and therefore, unless they’ve had a “conversion experience,” they would be “left behind” as well.

I am not attacking a straw man: I grew up in Pietistic Fundamentalism, I have attended Pietistic Evangelical churches in my adulthood, and I know this is the way salvation is taught in many circles.  If you have not had this “conversion experience” and said the “sinner’s prayer,” despite being raised in the church, baptized, confirmed, communed, etc., you are not considered to be a “true Christian.”

I have seen this cause controversy and rancor among my friends, as the Pietistic Evangelicals pray for the salvation of Christian friends and are accused of keeping others out of leadership positions in Christian fellowship groups because the others don’t fit “their version of Christianity.”

I was raised believing that Catholics, Lutherans, Presbyterians, anyone who practiced baby baptism and never had a “conversion experience,” were not true Christians.  Some Evangelical publications say, “Some people have mistaken ideas about baptism/ the Lord’s Supper,” and then when they list these “mistaken” ideas, you see that they match the teachings of Catholicism and Orthodoxy.

(If one of these “mistaken” ideas is that the Eucharist is a sacrament–well, even the Nazarene church believes it’s a sacrament, so that’s fighting not only other Christian groups, but other Fundamentalists/Evangelicals as well.)

When my husband and I went to an Evangelical church, he got the strong feeling that others didn’t consider him “saved” because he had never had a “conversion experience,” even though he was raised in the Lutheran church and had always believed in its teachings.

People at this church, some former Lutherans, spoke of “witnessing” to Lutherans or Catholics to get them “saved.”  I see the teachings of this church, and others I once attended, reflected here in Left Behind.

Through studying Orthodoxy, I have discovered the truth of what the Church has taught about salvation since the beginning.  Yes, the Christian faith is to be personally lived, as faith without works is dead, James says.  “Faith alone” for salvation is not a biblical teaching; even the demons believe.

But the main emphasis in living out this faith is to love God and our fellow man.  Without love, we are nothing, Paul says.

What happens to non-Christians is up to God’s judgment; since love is the guide, it’s entirely possible that many non-Christians will be saved.  While there is no salvation outside the Church, we do not truly know who is in the Church.

It is said that people in the Church may not really be part of it, while people outside of it may be truly part of it, but will not know this until Judgment.

Willful rejection of the ways of God leads to Hell; if we let ourselves give in to hate, anger, murder, rape, greed, jealousy, selfishness, etc., we cause our own Hell.  The gates of Hell are said to be locked on the inside.  God does not put us there; we do.

Is it eternal?  I can’t really answer that, but if it is, it’s because we won’t let ourselves out, and prefer to wallow in our own dark passions.  Would a loving Buddhist or Muslim or Jew truly be condemned, or be judged to be an unknowing member of the Church?

Isn’t it possible that Christians can be condemned because in their hearts they do not truly love–that this is why Christ rejected many who said they knew Him?  That’s why I wanted to know if Bruce had no love in his heart, or was left behind just because he didn’t follow the legalistic rules.

We are “born again” in baptism.  This baptism is normally done with water, and joins us to the Church–rather than just being saved on our own, without being connected to the Church.

If the entire Church has just been removed from the earth, then who is there to properly administer this baptism and join new believers to the Church?  Apostolic Succession–or the transfer of Apostolic authority and the anointing of the Holy Spirit from the Apostles to their successors down through the ages–is lost, so who can properly administer the sacraments?

In baptism, we die and are resurrected with Christ–hence, “born again.”  Many churches believe this is how you receive the Holy Spirit as well; the Orthodox Church believes that happens separately in chrismation, or the anointing of oil, done after baptism.

Babies are baptized because, even while they do not understand what’s going on, their parents want them to receive the benefits and be washed clean of the stain of sin.

We are to be baptized only once; through Communion, the effects of baptism are renewed, even though we sin again and again.  Orthodox babies receive Communion so they can receive these benefits from the earliest age.

Salvation is a lifelong process, not something that can happen all at once with a legal transaction.  We must be ever-vigilant, because we do not know for sure if we will finally stumble, give up, and turn away from Christ before we reach the end.

We must cooperate with the Holy Spirit as He works to make us righteous.  But when we sin and repent of it, we know that Christ forgives us.

For more about Hell and salvation, see various sections here, the Orthodox Study Bible, and

1 and 2 Thessalonians, according to the Orthodox Study Bible, were specifically written to a church body which was spending too much time in date-setting and speculation over the Second Coming–in other words, to get people to stop doing what Vernon Billings was doing right before the Rapture, spending so much time on speculation.

All this Rapture and Tribulation preaching may make converts, but it strikes me as the wrong way to do it, using fear of punishment rather than the love of God and the desire to turn away from sinful passions.

P. 217: Buck finds out he’s got an interview with Nicolae, then hangs up the phone and–claps?  Why on earth did he clap?  I’ve never seen anybody react in such a way to a phone call, especially in a public place.  Maybe the phone should take a bow.

P. 220: Testify!  Bruce opens up the microphone at New Hope Village Church to “anyone who received Christ this morning and would like to confess it before us.  The Bible tells us to do that, to make known our decision and our stand.”

People line up and are still telling their stories at 2:00.  Roasts must be burning in the ovens.  A scene like this is very much a part of the Fundamentalist/Evangelical/Pentecostal branches of the church, but is mostly foreign to other branches.

On to Book Two!

[Fall 2008]