Christianity Today reports today that sadly,
Tim LaHaye, the best-selling author best known for the Left Behind series, “graduated to heaven” early this morning after suffering a stroke at age 90. His family announced the news of his passing at a San Diego hospital on his ministry Facebook page.
In my early days of Christianity, I read most of the Left Behind series. A lot of people did. Here is an article about the series from earlier in July, before Dr LaHaye’s passing.
A popular author who helped invigorate pop culture interest in Christian eschatology with the release of the first book in the “Left Behind” series 21 years ago is surprised by the novel’s monumental impact. … Years later, it not only continues to fly off bookshelves, it has been the impetus for at least four apocalyptic-themed Hollywood films.
It’s hard to imagine it’s been 21 years, even though I was not a Christian for 10 of those. The series referred to is a series of fiction books written from the point of view of non-believers living through the rapture, the rise of the antichrist, and the Tribulation. Though in the books, most of the main characters convert to Christianity subsequent to the Rapture. The books’ backdrop is Christian apocalyptic, unlike most of today’s apocalyptic books, TV shows, movies, and video games which present an apocalypse from a secular point of view. The “Left Behind” books present the real apocalypse, though sanitized and fictionalized.
The series contains 10 books written by Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye, which seek to illustrate according to the Bible, what the period known as the Tribulation (wrath of God) will be like. The authors novelized the Rapture and the subsequent Tribulation period and brings to life the reality of this overlooked and maligned section of eschatology, or ‘last things’.
I was and still am intrigued by the Rapture, the time when Jesus comes back in the air to snatch up all His believers from all parts of the globe, to take us to the New Jerusalem which is in heaven for the duration of the Tribulation. I’m fascinated by it and look forward to it eagerly. I hope I’m alive when it happens but if I’m dead, by no means will the living precede me. (1 Thessalonians 4:15). We believers will encounter various things in heaven while the 7-year Tribulation plays out on earth, such as giving an account to Jesus and our works either burned up or turned to gold and silver. (1 Corinthians 3:9-15). Then Jesus and His saints return to earth for His Second Coming, Jesus kills the last non-believers, (many of whom will be gathered at Armageddon), rescues Israel who is by now redeemed, and establishes his kingdom on earth which will last for 1000 years.
One thing I am grateful for is that the Left Behind series brought prophecy (last things, eschatology) to the forefront of Christianity. The series ignited interest in prophecy. Prophecy had been marginalized and dismissed as an unworthy sphere of Christian study and sadly, for a generation or two, pastors in seminaries were not taught it. This means that throughout the 70s and 80s and 90s many pastors in turn did not teach their sheep about last things, and generations of believers grew up not knowing about the most important topic in the Bible- Jesus’ return. His return is something Jesus spoke of more than any other. The longest discourse Jesus gave was about His return. (Matthew 24:1 – 25:46).
There is criticism of the Left Behind series. I looked into the criticism and it seems to be stemming from various quarters and for various reasons which I’ll enumerate:
Catholics and Orthodox: they do not like the book because they do not believe in the Rapture. They believe they (and not Protestants) will be gathered to Jesus when He returns at the Second Coming. There is no rapture, no two stage return. However, they don’t believe in the Jesus of the Bible either, so we can ignore their criticisms.
Postmillennialists: These are people who adhere to a segment of eschatology that believes the Second Coming WON’T happen before the establishment of the 1000 year kingdom (Revelation 20). The Left Behind authors hold to the Premillenial belief believe that Jesus will literally return to the earth before (pre) the millennium begins, because He is the One who sets up the kingdom. Because Jesus will return before the kingdom is established, we can dispense with the postmills’ criticisms. Post-rapture and no-rapture crowds have the same criticisms.
Eschatology-dissers: This is a term I made up just now, lol. But it’s based loosely on the concepts presented in the linked heading, which is the verse from 2 Peter 3:3 about the mockers and scoffers. What they are mocking and scoffing at specifically is prophecy of the Second Coming. The “dissers” I mention are a segment of theologians who condescend about all things last things. They believe it isn’t a worthy area of study. Some of that negativity surrounding prophecies have merit, and we’ve done that to ourselves. Decades of date-setters and false prophets claiming to have received personally delivered divine insights which fail time after time, as a result have jaded people and brought disrepute onto God’s glorious prophecies. Some of the criticism is that the Left Behind series “date-sets”, which it does not. The authors never set dates, they just novelize what the Bible says about what will happen in the future.
Others claim the authors engaged in “newspaper exegesis” which is to look at prophecy through current news and claim to have insights as to near term fulfillments. The authors never did that either. So we can ignore criticism of the series based on eschatology dissing, date-setting, and newspaper exegesis.
There are three things Paul consistently warned us not to be ignorant about:
1. Spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:1)
2. Satans’ schemes (2 Corinthians 2:11)
3. Last things (1 Thessalonians 4:13)
And what are three things that are giving the true Christians of the faith most trouble to defend right now? Those exact three.
With LaHaye’s passing, interest might again be aroused in the series of books. So if you are interested in the series, I have 3 caveats about it I’d share with you. First, I read the series when I was a babe in Christ. I didn’t detect any wrong theology at that time. But then again if I re-read the series now, I might. As always, be careful about fictionalized Christianity. It is true that eschatology especially seems to attract a weird crowd in these days since Left Behind opened the door.
Second, the Tribulation will be the most horrific time that will ever occur on the earth, and that is a promise from Jesus Himself from Matthew 24:21. It will be hell on earth, untold and unimaginable horrors, as God lets sin overtake the earth FULLY. However I found the books to be quite sanitized. If the authors sought to being terror to the heart in relating what it will be like to endure God’s wrath, they failed. They made it seem more like an adventure than a horror. More like an inconvenience than a monstrosity.
However, I acknowledge that the real horrors of the Tribulation really cannot be told. If they did, they’d be violently pornographic, so I understand the restraint to which the authors limited themselves. But just be aware that the Tribulation won’t really be like it is depicted in the books. It will be a gazillion times worse.
Third, please note that Tim LaHaye is an avowed anti-Calvinist. I don’t know if he was one before he wrote the books or became so anti-Calvinistic later. Calvinism is biblical, so its something to be aware of in the books. I can’t remember if there is a rejection of the Doctrines of Grace in the books or if there was an over-emphasis on free will. His anti-Calvinist stance might permeate the book to a great or a subtle degree. I don’t know, but be aware.
In the long run, I find the Bible the most helpful on understanding “last things” like the Rapture and Tribulation and Second Coming. Novelizations just can’t do the topic justice, so why dabble in it when the Bible is available? However, I understand wanting to be entertained in a clean, Christian way. My statement is one of opinion, and is not prescriptive in any way.
I don’t think the Left Behind books will do a reader devastating harm, but not a lot of good either. They WILL instill in you a picture of the Tribulation that just doesn’t measure up to how it will really be. Which is kind of harmful in itself, though no one can rightly picture what an earth full of sin & God’s anger will be like, completely.
If you want to read a quality, solid book on the Tribulation that will make your heart stop in fear (because it’s biblical, not because it’s sensationalized) read John MacArthur’s “Because The Time is Near” a quick explanation of the book of Revelation. Your heart will be in your throat and you’ll want to go out and witness to everyone you see, which is what prophecy is supposed to make us do, because, ‘the time is near’.
In the end, I AM grateful for LaHaye’s (and Jenkins’) work on the Left Behind series. If there are any terrible doctrinal issues with the books, let me know. Meanwhile, we mourn the passing of another soldier, and celebrate that fact that hopefully he is in fact safe and loved in heaven, his long years of labor suspended for a period of rest and refreshment at the Lord’s abode.