L.B.: The Nonattenders

L.B.: The Nonattenders November 12, 2005

Left Behind, pp. 172 – 174

Tucked into the parody of a spy novel that is Chapter 10 is a brief visit back with Rayford Steele. This is an oddly placed, somewhat jarring insertion. Had the story of Buck's adventure in London actually achieved some kind of narrative flow, this would have interrupted it.

The abrupt switches between the Rayford and Buck storylines seem to be simply chronological. LaHaye and Jenkins have Buck arrive in London and make a phone call on Saturday morning, so they feel the need, just then, to revisit Rayford and the phone call he is making on that same Saturday morning. It's as though the characters were Parcheesi pieces that the authors were trying to move around the board at the same pace. You get the sense that these shifts in point of view and storyline weren't so much written in this order as they were cut-and-pasted at a later point into this chronological scheme. Aside from a few TV-style expository flashbacks in the opening chapter, the book follows this straight-ahead chronology fairly strictly.

That's a legitimate choice by the authors, but I wonder if it was a choice or if they just think this is the way stories must be told: start-to-finish, with chronology the only factor governing what follows next. I wonder if students of Jerry Jenkins' Christian Writer's Guild are encouraged to consider that narrative shifts such as these might also be made in the service of character or theme and not only of a strictly chronological plot.

In any case, Saturday morning finds Rayford Steele on the phone with Bruce Barnes, the visitation pastor at New Hope Village Church. The Rev. Barnes has been left behind. He's an ordained minister in an evangelical church — a premillennial dispensationalist evangelical church that regards rapture-mania as an article of faith — and yet he is left behind.

It turns out to be rather useful to have a character like Bruce around. He went to "Bible College" (evangelical PMDs do not attend seminary — unless it's Dallas, which is really just a Bible College putting on airs) and studied the End Times, so unlike Buck and Rayford, he is familiar with all the alleged prophecies that will be fulfilled in the coming chapters and sequels. When we meet Bruce Barnes, he is weighed down with sadness. This is mainly because he was rejected by God and left behind for being a faker. But this sadness may also arise from his recognition that, as the only Bible College alumnus left on earth, he's going to get saddled with all the exposition.

In the following chapter, we'll read Bruce's story in detail. This story gives the authors an opportunity to clarify the central distinction at the heart of the book: the difference between Real, True Christians and false ones.

Chapter 11 is thus a very important chapter for L&J. This is the chapter they want readers to photocopy to give to their unsaved friends. This is the chapter they would point to for people like me and — if you've been reading along thus far here — you. It begins their answer to the question that the rich young ruler asked Jesus: "What must I do to be saved?" (Rest assured, they do not answer, as Jesus did, "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.")

Rayford introduces himself on the phone as "the husband of a former parishioner." Bruce remembers meeting him earlier, and he is familiar with the Steele family:

"By former parishioner, I assume you're telling me that Irene is no longer with us?"

"That's right, and our son."

"Ray Jr., wasn't it?"


"You also had an older daughter, did you not, a nonattender?"

Chloe and her father are God-damned nonattenders, so Bruce isn't surprised that they have been left behind. Apparently, attendance counts toward our final grade. Chloe is a "nonattender," and therefore is doomed. But Bruce, an attender, is also doomed. We can thus surmise that church attendance is a necessary, but not sufficient, element in being an RTC. As we get into Chapter 11, we will see that there are many such elements for L&J, and we'll consider whether these many elements are compatible with the sola fides of justification by faith.

"How do you account for the fact that you are still here?" Rayford finally asks the apostate reverend.

"Mr. Steele," Barnes says, "there is only one explanation for that, and I would prefer to discuss it with you in person."

That discussion is theologically significant, as L&J begin drawing bright lines between the RTCs and the ersatz believers like me and Bruce. But these theological distinctions occur within the larger context of this story: the "tribulation" in which all those left behind receive the torment and judgment they richly deserve.

L&J believe that the rain has already started, and they genuinely desire to persuade as many others as they can to join them on the ark. (There's plenty of room, since this time they won't have to give a damn about the animals.) But they're also excited about the flood they believe is coming. They're quivering with anticipation, watching the headlines for confirmation that things are getting worse just as Noah watched the skies for the gathering clouds.

This eagerness, this enthusiasm for apocalypse, is theologically malodorous, but it is also politically dangerous. Here again are L&J and their 50 million readers cheering for entropy, celebrating calamity, wars and rumors of war as the confirmation of their desires, and railing against peace and progress as setbacks to this consumation for which they devoutly wish. They believe that things must fall apart and the center must not hold, because even now the beast is slouching toward Jerusalem.

They want this to happen. And, whenever they can, they vote for it.

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