One of my favorite weekly reads, which you’ll fine on the links sidebar, is Fred Clarke over at Slacktivist. Most of Fred’s posts deal with politics and social justice, all delivered with a post-liberal Christian twist. The real gems on Slacktivist, however, are his weekly(ish) posts deconstructing the bestselling pseudo-novel Left Behind.
For those of you unfamiliar with Left Behind and its authors Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, this novel and its many sequels are fictional stories about a future in which the rapture has occurred and the Great Tribulation is in full swing. For those of you to whom that last sentence didn’t make any sense at all, don’t worry, just wander around Wikipedia for a little bit (starting here). Anyways, one of the major premises of Left Behind in particular and premillennial dispensationalism in general is the belief in an instantaneous and bodily disappearance of every faithful Christian on Earth seven years before the physical return of Christ (called the Rapture). This is one of the points in Left Behind that Fred rips on the most. Though he certainly takes theological issue with the Rapture, a lot of his complaints about Jenkins and LaHaye’s books are stylistic, especially when it comes to this miraculous vanishing. Let me give you a quick taste from his latest LB post:
Left Behind, pp. 259-261
This section of the book reads like a flashback, as though it were set years ago. Apart from the absence of Rayford Steele’s wife and son, nothing in this section seems like it could possibly have occurred after the Event. But it’s not a flashback:
Rayford pulled into his driveway with a sack of groceries on the seat beside him. …
Nothing unusual about any of that. And that, of course, is the problem — there’s nothing unusual about any of that.
Rayford buys gasoline and groceries and it’s all perfectly routine. The supermarket and the gas station are fully stocked and supplied and everything seems normally priced. No gas lines, no run on canned goods and bottled water. Not even the kinds of temporary shortages you might expect when snow is forecast. One might think that hundreds of rail and plane crashes one week ago might still be affecting supply lines. That the sudden disappearance of tens of thousands of workers from every step along the way — from field to shelf, from refinery to pump — might cause at least a hiccup in prices. That every worker at every stage is suddenly and inexplicably dealing with the loss of their children might also have some affect on the economy and the availability of goods. But no. Rayford is able to purchase everything he wants, at normal prices, and without delay (his errands, we are told, took only half an hour).
Fred is right of course, this represents some of the most mind-numbingly atrocious writing that the planet has ever seen (these guys make Dan Brown look Nobel worthy). But here’s my question about J+L’s rapture scenario. In any number of cases it would appear that nobody left on earth really seems to notice that all the Christians everywhere are gone. What does this say about J+L’s vision of the Church and its role in the world? For that matter what does it say about their general knowledge about the way the world really is?
I don’t know a whole lot about charity work, but I do know that if you took every single Christian out of the world in an instant a whole hell of a lot of people would go hungry, unsheltered and uneducated. You can rag on the Church all you like, but the fact remains that Christians represent a massive percentage of all the charitable work that goes on in the world today. We serve, we organize and we give. I don’t know if we do it more or less than any other community or group in the world, but I’ve gotta believe that we at least make up a noticeable percentage of what goes on in the world.
Which brings me to my point. Left Behind isn’t just a crappy book, it is dangerous and insidious. It’s authors don’t believe that the Church does anything to help the world because they don’t believe that the Church should do anything to help the world beyond pure proselytization. This is just one more example of the “saved from” theology I mentioned below.
Am I the only person who thinks its sad that Tim LaHaye’s and Jerry Jenkins’ Church is able to vanish from the world without a trace?