Somewhere over the North Atlantic, aboard a Boeing
Hattie Durham’s knees buckled as she tried to
speak, and her voice came in a whiny squeal.
"People are missing," she managed in a whisper,
burying her head in his chest.
Captain Rayford Steele took her shoulders and
tried to push her back, but she fought to stay close. "What do you
She was sobbing now, her body out of control.
"A whole bunch of people, just gone!"
"Hattie, this is a big plane. They’ve wandered
to the lavs or—"
The senior flight attendant pulled his head
down so she could speak directly into his ear. Despite her weeping, she was
plainly fighting to make herself understood. "I’ve been everywhere. I’m telling
you, dozens of people are missing."
"Hattie, it’s still dark. We’ll find—"
"I’m not crazy! See for yourself! All over the
plane, people have disappeared."
"It’s a joke. They’re hiding, trying
"Ray! Their shoes, their socks, their clothes,
everything was left behind. These people are gone!"
o begins "the end of the world as we know it" in
the aptly titled Left Behind, a novel whose main characters witness
the global disappearance of millions of true believers, then band together to
search for answers amid the cataclysmic events that follow. Authors Tim LaHaye
and Jerry B. Jenkins have based their fictional account of the earth’s last
days and a string of sequels on their interpretation of biblical prophecy.
That’s right—biblical prophecy. And not since Hal Lindsay’s Late
Great Planet Earth has the subject created such a stir.
In past years, the end times prophecies rarely have
been discussed outside the conservative Christian community, often relegated to
Bible studies or prophecy "conferences" where enthusiasts share evidence of the
approaching return of Christ. Some of these have seemed biblically solid;
others have resulted in outlandish predictions published in supermarket
tabloids. But the silence of the mainstream media on the subject has been
LaHaye and Jenkins, however, have captured the
imagination of millions with their fictional version of the Apocalypse,
thrusting themselves and Bible prophecy into the spotlight of American culture.
With seven books published (of the 12 planned) and more than 16,000,000 copies
sold, the public’s interest in the end times is suddenly hard to ignore.
The Indwelling (book seven) hit number one on The New York
Times bestseller list, selling more than two million hardcover copies
within weeks of its release. Book eight, The Mark, is expected to sell
even more when it hits the street in November.
Fifty percent of the books’ sales are outside the
traditional Christian book marketplace. Left Behind and its sequels
have made their way into Wal-Mart and other mass merchandisers, plus Barnes
& Noble, Borders and Chapters—even airport bookstores, rare venues for
evangelical Christian books.
The leftbehind.com website receives 50,000 daily visitors looking for
updates on future titles, author information and book-related, online chats.
Some 250,000 fans also receive an electronic newsletter.
And if all that were not enough, principal filming
has been completed for a $17 million Left Behind movie adaptation
starring "Growing Pains" Kirk Cameron and Clarence Gilyard of "Walker, Texas
Ranger." In an unusual move, the February big screen debut will be preceded by
an October video release.
Another cousin, Carol, told Claudia to bug off. "I’m just as good a
Christian as you are and don’t you forget it!"
As one might expect, Claudia’s relationship with Carol was somewhat strained
for several years. But Claudia prayed, and the two visited each other often and
talked by phone.
Years later, when Carol’s daughter became a Christian, the ice began to
thaw. Carol didn’t seem so put off by the subject of Christian faith, and many
conversations about the Lord ensued.
After reading the novel Left Behind in 1999, Claudia decided to
send copies to several friends and relatives, including Carol. It wasn’t long
before she got a phone call.
"I read the book," Carol announced. "Surely you must know what it’s done to
"What do you mean?" Claudia was caught off guard.
"I realized I was going to be left behind!"
That thought so terrified Carol that as soon as she finished reading the
book (a Sunday), Carol drove to a small nearby community church. At the close
of the service, she walked to the front and told the pastor, "I understand I’ll
be left behind if the Lord comes, and I don’t want to be!"
Later Carol told Claudia, "I know the salvation available to me through
Christ was really revealed to me in that book. Thank you for that gift."
Predictably, such commercial success has attracted
considerable media attention, but the series’ biblical premise has garnered
additional headlines. The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Los
Angeles Times, USA Today, People and Entertainment Weekly have
given significant ink to Jenkins and LaHaye plus their views on Christian faith
and the return of Christ. The authors also have given scores of radio and TV
interviews, including an appearance on "Larry King Live."
Not all media coverage of Left Behind and
its authors has been positive. One webzine critic suggests that the books’ tone
lacks any real compassion for non-Christians. Reviewer Michael Joseph Gross
wrote in The Atlantic Monthly: "The books also tempt their audience to
feel a self-satisfied derision toward those who don’t share their views." The
bottom line, however, is that the lid is off the box; people everywhere are
talking about the end times—the news media, millions of readers, and quite
likely some of your friends and neighbors.
Dan Barlow, Tyndale Publishing House’s director of
marketing, says people may be drawn to the books purely by curiosity, because
everyone seems to be talking about them. "But the very act of reading such a
book may imply, ‘Hey, talk to me about this!’ Reading Left Behind will leave many wondering what the Bible says
about the future."
Rounding out the official Left Behind
product offering are audio books, music CDs—including the movie soundtrack—and
a juvenile book series, Left Behind: The Kids. Other
publishers have been quick to produce apocalyptic novels, videos and even
On mission Christians are faced with a
cultural phenomenon that is inextricably linked to the Bible. How can we turn
coffee break chatter about a hot best-seller into meaningful conversations
about Christ? How can we help our church make the most of this opportunity?
Be prepared. Even if reading the
books doesn’t interest you, find out a little about them. Don’t feel obligated
to promote the books (or video, movie or other products), but ignoring them
effectively relegates you to the cultural sidelines.
Be creative. Offer to organize
activities for your church—a youth group viewing of the Left Behind
video with plenty of popcorn; an adult reading group to discuss the series; an
evening Q & A for families with publicity throughout the community.
Encourage members to bring guests who are hooked on the series, and be mindful
that non-churched attendees may have concerns and questions. Be ready with
plans for a forum, even a debate. Be open about the fact that differing
opinions abound within Christendom. But be clear that your church is there for
help, and your pastor is there for leadership.
Be focused. Prophecy is a
complicated subject where "rabbit trails" abound. Avoid getting sidetracked on
trivia or speculation. The goal is not to get people to agree with a particular
future scenario, but rather to introduce them to the One who guarantees the
Be Bible-centered. Fiction can be
entertaining, intriguing—even thought-provoking. But when it comes to your
friend’s search for truth, there is no substitute for God’s Word. Guide the
discussion toward what the Bible says—about the condition of humankind, about
reconciliation with God, about hope for the future.
Be realistic. Left Behind
may raise questions about Bible prophecy you aren’t equipped to answer. Invite
your friend to church where more information is available, where explanations
may be more thorough than you can provide, and where she can rub shoulders with
other Christians. Ask your pastor or another church leader to assist you in
addressing key concerns.
David E. Horton is the author of the Boys
Life Adventure Bible Storybook, among other titles.
A Southern Baptist Convention entity supported by the Cooperative Program and theAnnie Armstrong Easter Offering® ©Copyright 2013 North American Mission Board, SBC