Based on dispensationalist interpretation of prophecies in the Biblical books of Revelation, Daniel, Isaiah and Ezekiel, Left Behind tells the story of the end times, in which many have been "raptured," leaving the world shattered and chaotic. As people scramble for answers, a Romanian politician named Nicolae Jetty Carpathia rises to become secretary-general of the United Nations, promising to restore peace and stability to all nations. What most of the world does not realize is that Carpathia is actually the Antichrist foretold from the Bible. Coming to grips with the truth and becoming born-again Christians, Rayford Steele, his daughter Chloe, their pastor Bruce Barnes, and young journalist Cameron "Buck" Williams begin their quest as the Tribulation Force to help save the lost and prepare for the coming Tribulation, in which God will rain down judgment on the world for seven years.
In 1998, the first four books of the series held the top four slots in the New York Times best-seller list simultaneously, despite the fact that the New York Times ' best-seller list does not take Protestant bookstore sales into account. Book 10 debuted at number one on this list. Total sales for the series have surpassed 65 million copies. Seven titles in the adult series have reached #1 on the bestseller lists for the New York Times, USA Today, and Publishers Weekly.
One reason often cited for the books' popularity is the quick pacing and action. Michelle Goldberg has written that, "On one level, the attraction of the Left Behind books isn't that much different from that of, say, Tom Clancy or Stephen King. The plotting is brisk and the characterizations Manichean. People disappear and things blow up." The New York Times also compared the series to Clancy's works. But those views are not universally shared. Other reviewers have called the series "almost laughably tedious" and "fatuous and boring."
In 2007 the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA) recognized the Left Behind series at its CBA & ECPA Awards Celebration in Atlanta, Georgia with the ECPA Pinnacle Award. ECPA President Mark Kuyper said, "In many ways this series established Christian fiction as a significant category in publishing in general." Jerry Falwell said about the first book in the series: "In terms of its impact on Christianity, it's probably greater than that of any other book in modern times, outside the Bible."
The popularity of this series has spilled over beyond the Americas and the English-speaking world. It has been translated to many languages including Chinese and Japanese. There is, however, a protracted lag in translation; as of September 2005, the Chinese version of Book 11 is in pressand the Japanese version of Book 6 has been published.
In other areas, such as Europe—where dispensationalism is largely non-existent—the books have been far less successful.
LaHaye and Jenkins cite the influence of Russell S. Doughten, an Iowan film-maker who directed a series of four low-budget feature-length films in the 1970s and 1980s about the Rapture and Second Coming. The films' popularity among Christians have led to increased study and speculation as to the events described in the Book of Revelation.
Crawford Gribben has shown that there were successful rapture fiction novels as early as 1913, with some earlier works identified as dating from 1905. Of the former, Sydney Watson's Scarlet and Purple (1913), The Mark of the Beast (1915) and In the Twinkling of an Eye are cited as examples of the genre.
While writing that the series fulfills the norms of mass-market fiction, as mentioned above, magazine writer Michelle Goldberg characterized the books as an attack on Judaism and liberal secularism, and suggested that the near-future "end times" in which the books are set seem to reflect the actual worldview of millions of Americans, including many prominent conservative leaders.
The series has also been accused of plagiarizing. One website states that: "These similarities [with earlier novel 666] are noteworthy, I think, for a couple of reasons. The first has to do with Lahaye’s claim of originality for his series of books. In an interview in the March 28, 2000 issue of the Assembly of God magazine Pentecostal evangel, he insists that "Left Behind is the first fictional portrayal of events that are true to the literal interpretation of Bible prophecy. It was written for anyone who loves gripping fiction featuring believable characters, a dynamic plot that also weaves prophetic events in a fascinating story."
|This article contains weasel words: vague phrasing that often accompanies biased or unverifiable information. Such statements should be clarified or removed. (March 2009)|
Some premillennialists, while accepting many of the basic beliefs behind the series, describe problems with specific prophetical teachings in the Left Behind books. For instance, in The Mark, Chang Wong receives both the mark of the beast and the sealing of the Lord and he is later accepted into heaven, despite having the mark. In Desecration, the character's dual-marking was justified in the storyline. He was saved because he did not accept the mark of the beast; he was forced to receive it because he was involuntarily put to sleep and then given it. It was noted in one particular paragraph in the book Desecration, after hitting the "motherlode" as he called it, that Chang at one point attempted to mumble to his father that he was a "Believer" as he carried him into the room to receive his mark. This has led some readers to wonder how a Christian can have the mark of the beast and still be saved.
Along with some other rapture fiction novels, the Left Behind series demonstrates a specific understanding of the Gospel and the Christian life, one with which many have taken issue theologically. The books have not sold particularly well outside of the United States. Dispensationalism remains a minority view among theologians. For instance, amillennial and postmillennial Christians do not believe in the same timeline of the Second Coming as premillennialists, while preterist Christians do not interpret the Book of Revelation to predict future events at all. Brian McLaren of the Emergent Church compares the Left Behind series to The Da Vinci Code, and states, "What the Left Behind novels do, the way they twist scripture toward a certain theological and political end, I think [Dan Brown] is twisting scripture, just to other political ends." John Dart, writing in Christian Century, characterized the works as "beam me up theology".
Some practicing Christians, evangelical and otherwise, along with non-Christians have shown concern that the social perspectives promoted in the Left Behind series unduly sensationalize the death and destruction of masses of people. Harvey Cox, a professor of divinity at Harvard, says part of the appeal of the books lies in the "lip-licking anticipation of all the blood," and theologian Barbara Rossing, author of The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation, said the books glorify violence. Time magazine said "the nuclear frights of, say, Tom Clancy's The Sum of All Fears wouldn't fill a chapter in the Left Behind series. (Large chunks of several U.S. cities have been bombed to smithereens by page 110 of Book 3.)"
Paul Nuechterlein accused the authors of re-sacralizing violence, adding that "we human beings are the ones who put our faith in superior firepower. But in the Left Behind novels the darkness of that human, satanic violence is once again attributed to God." In that same book Jesus merely speaks and the bodies of his enemies are ripped open, forcing the Christians to drive carefully to avoid "hitting splayed and filleted bodies of men and women and horses."
The books are written from a standpoint of the Protestant-style view of Christianity. As a result some believe the books are anti-Catholic, noting that many Catholics were not raptured. and that the new pope establishes a false religion. While the fictional Pope, John XXIV, was raptured, he is described as having embraced some of the views of the "Father of Protestantism" Martin Luther and it is implied that he was raptured for this reason. His successor, Pope Peter II, becomes Pontifex Maximus of Enigma Babylon One World Faith, an amalgamation of all remaining world faiths and religions. Catholic Answers, details the series as anti-Catholic, while many other Catholics dispute these claims and state that the series is acceptable. On page 343 of Book 10, The Remnant, most of a Catholic church (including the priest and the catechism teacher) are raptured, similar to Tribulation Force's situation with their Protestant church: "He and some of his friends from childhood raced to their little Catholic church, where hardly anyone was left.". The co-author of the book, Jerry B. Jenkins, as well as LaHaye, stated that their books are not anti-Catholic and that they have many faithful Catholic readers and friends. According to LaHaye, "the books don’t suggest any particular theology, but try to introduce people to a more personal relationship with Jesus."