Let’s define success. The Left Behind series, written by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins has now sold over 60 million copies. There are 11 sequels to the original novel, and three prequels. The series has also spawned a children’s series with nearly 40 different titles.
And what may be a first for a piece of fiction, many of the readers of the series believe that the books are not fiction at all.
LaHaye and Jenkins have taken a form of end-time theology known as dispensationalism, and filled in the blanks with characters, countries, politics and plots from our world. They have given an ethnicity to the dreaded Antichrist, and described in excruciating detail exactly how it is that this evil figure will deceive the whole world and persuade world leaders to give him ultimate power.
And many readers read the books as if they were biblical commentary rather than works of fiction. These readers believe that the details that LaHaye and Jenkins have made up are actual events that will unfold at the end of time.
This means there are millions of people who are making decisions about the world, about politics and the economy, based on an imaginary story line that is supposedly based on the Bible.
But one writer is taking issue with this belief. Elizabeth Palmberg, associate editor for Sojourner’s magazine has written a scathing article charging that LaHaye and Jenkins have actually distorted biblical teaching in an effort to promote a political agenda.
Describing the story line of the Left Behind series as a “creep-show,” Palmberg actually goes to the biblical text, primarily the book of Revelation, to demonstrate how the two writers have mangled the Scriptural message.
Let’s take the Antichrist for an example. In the novels, this enemy of God comes to power by promising global disarmament, peace and an end to extreme poverty. The story line in the Left Behind series characterizes these ideas as “lies” that allow the Antichrist to fool unwitting world leaders who in turn put the dreaded fiend in charge of everything.
Of course, what’s the underlying message? Global disarmament, peace and an end to extreme poverty are just the sort of ideas we must be careful about. Anyone promoting such notions could be in league with the Antichrist.
Just for the record, as Palmberg points out, the Antichrist in the book of Revelation is not portrayed as a man of peace. His power is overtly military. Meanwhile, Christians are instructed to have faith and endure.
In fact, that theme is very prominent in the book of Revelation. Palmberg cites at least 11 instances in which believers are instructed to have faith and endure unjust suffering, even unto death.
The conclusion Palmberg reaches is not very flattering to LaHaye and Jenkins. She accuses the two writers of not actually discerning the signs of the times, but of using a popular end-time scenario to advance a right-wing political agenda.
“Concern for one’s neighbor,” Palmberg writes, “is just a blind to impose the ultimate, repressive, godless big government on the globe…. Same goes for concern for the poor; the only people in the Left Behind series who voice any concern for them are the Antichrist and one of his equally evil backers.”
This is an important and persuasive essay. Serious students of the Bible will want to take a look.
The entire article is available on the Sojourner’s Web site.
James L. Evans is pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.