Twenty years later I just checked … these books are still instructively bad.
The following was originally posted October 20, 2003.
Left Behind, pp. 4-5
Left Behind has been praised by some as an “evangelistic” book, but it’s not. Although the book does attempt to scare people into conversion, that is secondary. The authors’ real message for those they regard as unsaved is to thumb their nose and do a little victory dance. “You just wait until Jesus gets back and proves we were right and you were wrong. Then we’ll see who’s laughing at who.”
But the biggest reason this is not an “evangelistic” book is that it does not present the Christian gospel. It presents something else.
Rayford Steele bemoan’s his newly converted (and therefore newly sexually repugnant) wife’s “preoccupation with the end of the world, with the love of Jesus, with the salvation of souls.”
That is a disturbing listing of the content and priorities of L&J’s brand of Christianity. Even more disturbing is Irene Steele’s one-sentence summary of the gospel:
“Can you imagine, Rafe,” she exulted. “Jesus coming back to get us before we die?”
This is the crux of the matter. This is the Gospel According to Tim & Jerry. But it is not the gospel of Christianity.
Christians, in the words of the Nicene Creed, “look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” We believe, in the words of the Apostle’s Creed, in “the resurrection of the body.”
L&J are not interested in resurrection. Resurrection is something that happens to dead people, and L&J don’t want to die. Death scares them. And that, more than anything else, explains what rapture-mania is all about.
Christianity is about death and resurrection, not about the denial of death. Not about “Jesus coming back to get us before we die.”
This escapist fantasy of a gospel isn’t just bad theology. It’s cruel. Consider the poor souls clinging to this hope who get the big bad news from their doctor. Consider those who have lost a husband, wife, mother, father, daughter or son. Consider all those who have died and all those they have left behind.
Left Behind, pg. 6
Here we meet LaHaye and Jenkins’ second protagonist: Buck Williams.
I grew up in Jersey, so I’m a long-time admirer of Buck Williams. The man was a rebounding machine — dominating the NBA boards for a decade, pulling down more than 13,000 rebounds (No. 12 on the all-time list). Williams is still the Nets all-time leading scorer and rebounder. So who did they get for him in the trade with Portland? Freaking Sam Bowie. Great trade guys.
LaHaye and Jenkins, of course, don’t mean that Buck Williams. Like Bill Russell, he doesn’t appear in this book at all. Which makes sense, since this story takes place after God has already snatched away his team. The Almighty knows that offense wins headlines, but defense wins championships.
The Buck Williams of Left Behind is even more of a superstar. He’s a kind of journalistic James Bond. The Greatest Investigative Reporter of All Time.
Note that the dual authors have given us dual protagonists.
Rayford Steele — the virile, sexually obsessed but chaste hero pilot — seems to be Tim LaHaye’s fantasy wish-fulfillment stand-in. Cameron “Buck” Williams seems to represent the dream self of Jerry B. Jenkins. The aging hack ghostwriter of subculture genre fiction transforms himself into a world-famous, Pulitzer-winning, super-journalist admired by writers and desired by women everywhere.
(“Cameron” here evoking both journalist John Cameron Swayze and, oddly, Kirk Cameron, the former “Growing Pains” star who plays Buck in the movie version of Left Behind.)