Thursday, April 12, 2007

Without a Trace...

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?


Secret Rapture said...
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Coutts said...

well said. we have a problem of eschatological misunderstanding in the chruch I'd say, and J&L have led the forray. trouble is how to counter their teaching without making errors on the other hand by pretending to know exactly how the end all shakes down?

i'll have to check out slacktivist.

Colin said...

Secret Rapture - ummmm....okay....I uhhhh. Well quite frankly I don't know what to say. Though I'm tempted to delete that particular comment I'll leave it up for kitsch value.

Coutts - Slacktivist rules! As for countering L&J I don't think we need to talk much about the end at all. Jesus himself didn't seem to know how it would all shake out, so why fuss right? What I do think we need to do is recover more sensible readings of the apocalyptic literature. This, in my mind, begins with an ability to read metaphor correctly. Thus my thesis. Cheers.

Secret Rapture said...
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Colin Toffelmire said...

FYI I have removed two comments from this post. This is not one of my usual habits, and I hope it isn't seen as an attempt to silence critique of any kind (indeed neither post was critical of me or my writing). One of these posts represented rhetoric that I would consider inflammatory, and as both posts stemmed from the same visitor and were related I felt deleting them both was the correct course of action. It is my hope that both posts were meant in jest, but even if that is the case the joke was in bad taste (and not very funny to boot). To my other readers, please continue to post as much as you like, I love the feedback and the likelihood of me deleting your post is very small.

Chris Heimsoth said...

As another you have hooked on slacktavist's left behind critiques, I find that much of the theology and mentality showing through these books is quite frightening to the state of the big "c" church. I think it points to some big errors in the way we have represented and taught faith as leaders. It makes me look more diligently that nothing I teach takes on a spirituality divorced from action and any impact in the world as a whole. If we as disciples of Christ don't reach out to the poor, hurt, unwanted and all the other uglyness out there, how can we think that we would truly be called Christ-like.

Oh, and on another note, I am truly curious as to what the comments were that you deleted. But that is probably just a hunger to indulge in some unhealthy gossip, so I don't really need to know I guess.

Chris Heimsoth said...
This comment has been removed by the author.