A Review of “Rapture Fiction and the Evangelical Crisis” by Crawford Gribben – Chapter 4 – “Left Behind and the Gospel”

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Gribben starts off this chapter with a fresh reminder that the Gospel is of utmost importance. The Scriptures remind us of the importance of maintaining the purity of the Gospel. It is because of this that Gribben is rightly concerned about what kind of Gospel is being taught in current Rapture fiction especially the Left Behind series.

Gribben graciously reminds us of where the authors of Left Behind came from. Both Jenkins and LaHaye started off tremendous. Their ministries and writings were focused on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Even in the intention of the series the author’s focus is clearly evangelistic. So Gribben posts the question of whether since God is blessing this series, he should be judging its presentation of the Christian faith.

Gribben notes that the Left Behind series gets it right in a number of places. The morality inherent in the series is not just a reflection of evangelicalism but is derived from the Scriptures themselves. There is a genuine desire in the series as well to see a spiritual change in America. They recognize the mariginal status of true Christianity. Even though perhaps more than are warranted are taken in the rapture (on Rayford’s flight when the rapture occurs, one hundred people are missing) there is still the focus that people are born in sin and separated from God. Salvation is the gift of God and not of works.

If the series gets all of this right, where does it go wrong? Gribben note a number of issues that are reflective of the thinking of American evangelicalism at large. One thing he notes is the disappearance of all babies and pre-teenage children in the rapture. The presupposition is all those who cannot understand the Gospel will be raptured. Gribben notes there is some biblical support for the idea. Yet, Gribben is cautious here. He rightly condemns the idea of an “age of accountability”; that those under some arbitrary age are somehow automatically saved. Scripture does not say this. Gribben is correct to write, “If all children under the age of twelve are save, they are saved because God has applied to them the benefits of his Son’s death” (p. 69). This is exactly right. While we cannot fully understand the mysteries of God, from what the Scriptures teach us about original sin and salvation, the only reason babies and little children are saved is because God applied the atoning work of Christ to them as well (for a good look into this issue see Ronald H. Nash, When a Baby Dies: Answers to Comfort Grieving Parents [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999]).

Gribben also comments on the failure to explain some key concepts to the process of salvation. The series rightly reiterates the Scriptural teaching that God wants all to be saved but never explains why the sovereign God of the universe does not actually save all. Of course, this delves into issues of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility which are outside of the scope of this review, yet it is something that needed to be clarified. Is God impotent or what? Clearly, the series does not present God as being truly sovereign. He sits idly by and allows humanity to decide whether or not they will “let God bless them.” According to the series God is a careless absentee monarch who has given responsibility to govern this world to his enemy.  Gribben is right to note that this is dangerous and presents a faulty view of God.

The sinner’s prayer is another problematic issue in the Left Behind series. Gribben notes that “The meaning of spiritual death is never fully considered in the series. If ‘there is none that seeketh after God’ (Rom. 3:11), and God cannot seek after individuals, then there is no basis for their reconciliation. If individuals are ‘dead’ to God, and he is unable to press his attentions upon them, it is impossible that anyone should be saved. But, in the novels, reconciliation is possible and frequently attained through characters’ use of the ‘Sinner’s Prayer'” (p. 71).

To so-called belief that a simple prayer guarantees one’s salvation is reflective of a theologically weak evangelicalism. It is popularly employed by many evangelists. “Just pray this prayer and you will be saved.” Just because it is popular does not make it right, says Gribben (p. 72).  Gribben hits the mark dead on in this extended quote.

“Across the world, evangelical churches are filled with people who believe that they are Christians on the basis of a prayer they once prayed. But the Bible never teaches us that we are saved through a prayer. Neither do the apostles ever instruct their hearers that praying a prayer with these specified components will guarantee salvation. This emphasis on the Sinner’s Prayer is perhaps one of the most concerning aspects of the novels’ presentation of the gospel, for we are saved by faith, not the utterance of a prayer, and it is only too possible that the mechanistic idea of salvation the novels develop will encourage people without saving faith to believe they have been saved because they have recited a set form of words. The Sinner’s Prayer is a myth that has made possible the corruption of the modern evangelical church, channeling many who have never known the saving grace of God into membership of his churches” (p. 72-73).

This is a problem in all of modern evangelicalism. The prayer becomes the object of faith instead of Jesus Christ being the object of faith. The series presents salvation as being too easy; as having no commitment and necessary fruitful works.

Another issue in the series is that of free will and a second chance after the rapture. Gribben is right to note that this is an incredibly debated area of dispensational thought. In fact, in my own ministries I have heard statements that none will be saved after the rapture, or that there will be only one chance for salvation, etc. Most scholarly dispensationalists would admit that there are opportunities for salvation after the rapture just as before but that the requirement is still faith in Jesus Christ. Even stranger is how the series starts to abandon its views on free will and argues that free will disappears and that people will not be able to choose or deny Christ.

Gribben notes that even scarier is the equation of baptism with salvation. In the first installment in another series based on the Left Behind series, Apocalypse Dawn, it is argued that baptism is like resurrection. It is not symbolic of faith in Christ but is equivalent to life in Christ. This is dangerous and opposed to the teaching of Scripture.

Gribben is right. There are some things about the rapture fiction genre which are good yet there is much to be concerned over. The nature of the true Gospel is at stake here! I personally read most of the Left Behind series back when I was in high school and had never really thought about what was really being said but instead was caught up in the movement of the story. Gribben has opened my eyes to the danger of corrupting the Gospel in any way. As I continue to study the Word, theology, and culture, I am scared for the future of Christianity. May many read this call to return to a pure Gospel!

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2 Responses to A Review of “Rapture Fiction and the Evangelical Crisis” by Crawford Gribben – Chapter 4 – “Left Behind and the Gospel”

  1. Bob Starks says:

    Dear Sir,
    Mr. Gribben’s writings, which you discuss, have come to me in a very timely manner. Just last night my wife and I were watching the Glenn Beck program on CNN and he devoted an hour to interviewing Tim LaHaye and two other gentlemen.

    I have always been opposed to, or in disagreement with the focus of the Left Behind series, which I feel is a great disservice to Christians.

    As it turns out my wife and I have had a very devisive and heated discussion on many of the topics you brought up in this review. For one, the Sinner’s Prayer is one such topic that has always raised red flags for me.

    My wife has agreed to read your fine article and I just want to thank you for writing it.

    Bob Starks

  2. allenmickle says:

    Mr. Starks,

    I appreciate your kind comments about my review of Dr. Gribben’s book. I would of course suggest you read the book yourself. It is a fine treatment of the issues.

    I am committed to a dispensational approach to Scripture yet I too find the vapid theology of salvation in the Left Behind books troubling. This is not an accurate reflection of true dispensationalism.

    I hope that these posts have been helpful to you and will be helpful to others. Again, let me recommend you read Dr. Gribben’s book as well.

    God bless!

    Allen Mickle

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