Left Behind?

#3 in Q & A Series

Question: “Do you believe the Left Behind series is based on our western culture which is generally free from persecution toward Christians? The series implies God will shield Christians from trials and persecutions, whereas Christian history and modern history are filled with examples of horrible persecution, even unto death.”

The Left Behind series are novels, fictitious prose. Fictitious means it’s not real, it’s imaginary. Prose means it is written using ordinary language.

Obviously, the arts can communicate powerful messages, which is what this series of novels has done. Many who were uninterested in God or had no interest in the end times came to Christ or became interested in biblical eschatology (the study of the end times) by reading the Left Behind series. Others who had never read the Bible gained new interest and began reading it. Many began attending home Bible studies or churches.

Here is my view. When evaluating the work of other Christians, I use a chart of three concentric circles with four characteristics on the outside of the circles.

The center circle is labeled “absolutes”. Absolutes are the unchanging foundations of our faith. These are the truths specifically articulated in the Scriptures that have not changed throughout the centuries, will not change as time passes, and remain the same regardless of cultural or political trends.

The second circle surrounds the first and is labeled “interpretations”. An interpretation is an explanation and application of the Scripture. We usually are interpreting when we read a passage and say, “this means . . . ” Bible scholars have developed a thoughtful process for us to determine reasonable interpretations from Scripture. Every responsible Bible teacher, from a home group leader to the most influential Christian leader, has a responsibility to teach credible interpretations from Scripture.

The third concentric circle is labeled “deductions”. A deduction is a conclusion we create from a variety of sources. Our deductions may come from our experience combined with our personal study of Scripture. Or they may come from listening to or reading the work of another who takes a selection of Scriptures, compares them and puts them together, and comes to what seems to be a logical conclusion. That’s a deduction.

Deductions have a greater capacity of being incorrect than interpretations, and interpretations have a greater potential of being wrong than absolutes, because absolutes are never wrong.

But that’s not all. On the outer edges of these three circles, are subjective opinions, personal preferences, feelings, and cultural norms. If we are not consciously aware of these differences, we might make the grave error of forming judgments about someone who teaches their deductions, which might differ from ours, even though we both believe Jesus Christ is Lord and that the blood of Christ was shed for the remission of our sins, which are absolutes.

As teachers, if we are not aware of the absolutes we believe in contrast to our interpretations and deductions, we will confuse our listeners because they might not be able to differentiate between the absolutes, which are 100% correct, and our interpretations, which actually might change as we grow in understanding.

Most eschatology being promoted in the American church today is a combination of deductions and cultural norms. Sadly, we often teach deductions and cultural norms with the same authority that we teach the absolutes. This weakens our credibility. For example, if we take Scriptures from Daniel, add Scriptures from Ezekiel, put them together with material from Matthew and Revelation, and then change the meaning of the words by saying, “this stands for . . .” or “this is a symbol for . . . “, we could be teaching pure fantasy.

I have met both Tim LaHaye and Larry Jenkins. Both seem to be wonderful men of God. Both wrote the Left Behind series believing it would be beneficial to others. They both value the absolutes of Scripture, and include many of them in their novels about the end times. Thus, we should read the series as it was intended: entertainment with a biblical theme, based on deductions from the Bible, which include subjective opinions and cultural norms.

So what are some of the positive benefits of the Left Behind Series?

It teaches some powerful absolutes.

It teaches respected interpretations.

The deductions it draws are clearly deductions.

The cultural norms, feelings, subjective opinions and personal preferences are the creative license of the authors as in all novels.

Therefore, trust the absolutes, consider interpretations, and take deductions with a grain of salt. As for subjective opinions, personal preferences, feelings, and cultural norms, take them for what they are, but never confuse them with absolutes. Let’s keep the main thing the main thing.

I would be curious to hear your thoughts on this. You are welcome to comment below.

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22 thoughts on “Left Behind?

  1. Jesus is returning soon. People in authority positions better get ready and start teaching revelations. People will be judged for what they have been taught.

  2. micah Smith says:

    Thanks for the clarity, Ted. This morning I read Luke 21 as a devotional. Along with your clear teaching method, I capture three absolutes from Jesus’ message concerning the last days; Don’t panic, be prepared, preach the Gospel to all nations.

  3. Mike Mullins says:

    Pastor Ted, your book, “Primary Purpose”, was one of the best I have ever read about the church’s need to think correctly concerning our place in the world. In regard to this blog the only thing I would have wanted you to add was the graphic (that you had in your book) showing the circles and how they operate; maybe not everyone is as dense as I am, but the graphic really brought it home to me. Thanks for sharing!

    Pastor Mike Mullins, Albuquerque, New Mexico

  4. You hit the nail on the head! There are so many good Christians teachers and authors, holding different perspectives (pre, mid, post, and even no rapture). The truth is Jesus will return. If your in relationship with him, the rest will take care of itself. To think Christians will be kept from harm? Tell that the believers in Syria today.

  5. tom wallek says:

    This eschatology would be absolute heresy in the historical church. It’s sad that so many are led astray by it. It affects American Christians world view and politics. And persuades many to adopt violence and war as the will of God in American politics. Jesus weeps.

  6. The book of Revelation was most likely written to address things happening during the time of the author in regards to the Roman Empire. It likely is NOT written to prophesy the end of the world, but rather written in code to escape the wrath of the Romans, as it predicted their doom.

  7. Pastor Ted…what you say is so true. We have the entire series and really enjoyed listening to them. Also, had the Bible handy and looked different passages up. I too have meet Mr. Jenkins, and, he is such a great man. I know you have a lot of respect for him also. I love living in Iowa! Black dirt, that is bringing us a great harvest from our garden. However, we sorely need some rain!!! If not by the week end the farmers corn crops are all gone. Some have already been claimed by the drought. Please ask people to pray for the Midwest to get some life living, loving water, that only the Lord can bring. Hope you again when we come home. I do love our little country Four Square Calvary Church! Pastor Dave is such a good man, he loves the church and its sheep. He reminds me of you! :) Give your family all my love and blessings. I am going to see if I can get a few churches in town to hopefully bring the Thorn to Iowa! Pastor and I have talked about it a little bit but, that is as far as it has gone. I need to pray more about it and see what God has to say! Thank you for posting this question and also, reading your answer. :)

  8. Pat Windel says:

    Thank you for writing on this subject. I will share it with many. Apart from the Left Behind series, we need to be aware of the truths you pointed out, with all Christian literature!

  9. Eddie Smith says:

    Good word, Bro. Ted. I once knew someone who wouldn’t buy soft drinks in cans because beer was sold in cans. He apparently overlooked that beer was also served in bottles. :)

    I remember when Henry Kissenger was absolutely the anti-Christ and the bar code was absolutely the mark of the beast.

    Now we know that the implanted micr-chip is the mark of the beast…uhh…don’t we?

    Most recently I read that seedless grapes and watermelons prove that these are the end times, for their being seedless means they cannot reproduce. What!?

    My “preacher-daddy” once told me, “Son, the longer I know Him, the simpler the whole thing is.” At 71, after 53 years in ministry, I now understand what he meant. It’s all about a Person! When I see him is of no concern to me. THAT I WILL see him means everything to me!

    • Jim and Jan Pentlin says:

      I understand your position regarding “The Left Behind Series”. I enjoyed the books immensely but didn’t take them as Gospel. From what I understand from my studies, I do believe, however, that our precious Lord and Bridegroom will come and whisk us away before the Great Tribulation. I ask you now, if you are a bridegroom, are you going to sit by and observe your beloved bride be tortured, or are you going to step in and take her out of harms way? Our Lord loves us with a White Hot Love, much more so than any mortal bridegroom could possibly love his bride. The believers during the Trib. are those who “come from the great tribulation” Those who come to believe, After the rapture. Not the Bride of Christ, but the guests of the Bridegroom.
      But, what does it matter who believes what, as long as they are not saying “Thus says the Lord” unless He actually has said it. All that really matters is, Do we believe that Jesus is the Christ, The only begotten Son of God, did He die for our sins and was He raised up from the dead and is now seated at the Father’s right hand. This is what matters in truth.
      The rest is in the Father’s hands, He knows what He’s doing and we just need to trust in Him, and like a child at Christmas, wait with anticipation for Him to call us Home. Come Lord Jesus, Come.

      • Lon Dean says:

        With all do respect, we can’t create doctrine based upon assumptions such as “no bridegroom would want to watch his bride suffer” but upon scripture. I will however say this about your statement…our loving Bridegroom has watched his beloved be martyred and tortured throughout history. Can you find anywhere in scripture where God removed his followers from trials & suffering? Quite the opposite actually, Joseph went through the pit & prison, Daniel through the lions den, the furnace fire for the three Hebrew children, Noah went through the flood, martyrdom for most of the disciples and the cross for Jesus!
        We shall meet Jesus in the air when He returns. He never promised any secret meetings but that when He returned every eye would see Him.

      • Kim Mathis t says:

        Right on!!!

  10. Lon Dean says:

    Sorry, all “due” respect. typo

  11. Angela Wilkerson says:

    This was a great post Pastor:) I have the entire series and it is a definitely a good read. I do know it’s fiction but you made a very good point of taking the morals of the book and possibly applying them to your life, kinda like The Chronicles of Narnia. There is so much symbolism but not everyone will get the same interpretation. It depends if they are believers or not. Like it says in the Bible “Those with ears let him hear and those with eyes let them see” (paraphrased) again, I love how you explained in detail each level of Christian fiction.

  12. Justin Farr says:

    Hey great take! My wife just released her first novel (literally just a couple days ago) and we’ve been discussing some of these very things. We’ve been curious as to what peoples reactions would be to the creative license taken when writing about ‘end times’ events and what’s happening in Heaven as they prepare for what’s in our future. Thanks for the insight!

  13. Steven Todd says:

    Good word Ted! As you and I were both fully ‘immersed’ in the eschatological ‘fever’ of 30 years ago, I wrote in my blog recently, that one of the motivations for me to pursue further seminary / academic study was the silliness of some of our assumptions, the way we put ‘deductions’ into the ‘absolutes’ column! http://blog.steventodd.org/?p=110

  14. Kevin Davis says:

    Very good breakdown of the Left Behind series, I will incorporate it into my explanations when spreading The Word…many people see the deductions of these books and are turned off by it…but the scriptures are in the most part presented in the prose and are encouraging to people to study the Bible…I read this all and they certainly lit a fire under my tail-bone to stop being a lethargic Christian and be an active one.

  15. John says:

    The left behind series is based on faulty assumptions.
    Who wants to get involved in continuous “circular ” discussions and arguments? I personally reject any format for Bible prophecy discussion which fosters non-productive efforts. It is important however to understand why circular arguments have become widespread. Circular arguments happen because: 1) those holding the various views about the timing of the coming are many times unaware of the assumptions upon which their views are based. For instance; four of the views concerning the timing of “The Coming” in relation to the tribulation period (the pre-tribulational, partial, mid-tribulational, and pre-wrath) are based on the same two assumptions. Can you name those two assumptions? Those two assumptions are (“The tribulation period is for Israel and not the church; therefore the church must be removed before the tribulation.”) 2) These hidden (unrealized) assumptions cause “blind spots” in our interpretive process which many times result in “proof texting ” rather than following sound biblical study rules.
    This author has had no takes when challenging pastors or laymen for scriptural proof (which states clearly, linquistically, contextually that the coming will be anything but post-tribulational.

  16. Linda Kay Wallace says:

    Dear Pastor Ted,
    You continue to be a breath of fresh air to the Christian world. So glad to read something sane about this series. The conclusions the reader is brought to have bothered me for years. Yes, Jesus Christ is absolutely coming again, but Christians have a whole lot of influence as to just how bad and how soon the persecution will be. Love absolutely does overcome fear which includes prejudice, whether it be towards race, economic status…or imperfect Christians. Thank you for jarring me loose from my silence.

  17. Kim Mathis t says:

    Well said, I enjoyed the article!

  18. Vadim says:

    This concept of rapture is well received by Western Church but ask Christians in Asia or Africa about it. They’re experiencing tribulations already. They don’t believe in rapture and explanations like “Jesus wouldn’t allow His beloved Bride to go through suffering” have no meaning to them coz they experience suffering already. This idea of a privileged rank of those who will be taken up to heaven is not historical either. It’s only 200-something years old. It’s not Biblical. It’s built on one misquoted text and countless assumptions. But we can read many times about the second coming of Jesus and this is something the Church has always been waiting for. Let us be prepared for this.

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