From The Cross in the End-Times
One of the classic contemporary questions for the modern-day Christian church to resolve as we approach the end-times is what methods combine purity with effectiveness in our evangelical outreach to the world? This is one of the central issues currently being tested, considered, and debated regarding quality versus quantity in the church growth movement.
In adopting the popular approach, in crafting a book series along the lines of a Ludlum, Follett, Clancy, Cussler, or DeMille adventure or spy novel, the Christian experience as portrayed in the Left Behind books often moves away from the uniquely biblical, supernatural storylines of total dependence upon God toward the more conventionally identifiable portrait of exceptional human capabilities and personalities winning the day. A hybrid compromise is thereby created.
Following the Left Behind model, one gets the sense that Peter and the other apostles in the New Testament would plot and plan all Thursday night to successfully carry out a daring Friday morning rescue of Jesus as He is being led to His hearing before Pilate, using cleverly deceptive disguises, counterfeit identifications, fast getaway horses, and a secure hideaway.
As captivating, thrilling, and engrossing as the Left Behind books are, the means-and-methods of the Left Behind main characters are too worldly conventional to fit comfortably within the actual pages of the book of Revelation tribulation storyline as it will probably unfold. This may seem on the surface like a minor distinction without much of a difference, but it really isn’t. The depth of the supernaturally creative participation of God in our lives, which makes genuine Christianity vastly different from all other human experience, lies at the very heart of Daniel’s seven-year tribulation prophecy.
To make them interesting and believable in an adventure novel setting, the main characters in Left Behind are too worldly accomplished, too worldly successful, too worldly talented to be numbered among the twelve apostles, the Old Testament prophets, or the other great characters of the Bible (Dt. 7:6-7). Like James Bond, Dirk Pitt, Jason Bourne, and Jack Ryan, these fictional Left Behind characters are larger-than-life in a worldly conventional sense.
To make them interesting and to capture our imagination, these Left Behind characters are a world-class airline pilot, the world’s best journalist, the world’s most knowledgeable Bible scholar, a Nobel prize-winning botanist, a beautifully attractive woman caught up in the snare of the Antichrist’s deceptively romantic allurement, the world’s most accomplished underground disguise artist, the world’s best computer experts, one of the world’s foremost black-marketers, and a brilliant and beautiful young woman in her twenties flawlessly managing an underground, world-wide food distribution co-operative.
Even though people like Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, Samuel, Daniel, Gideon, Esther and Mordecai, Nehemiah, Ezra, Peter, Paul, Philip, and Luke obviously have the innate potential to grow into their individual God-composed and guided callings, it is the supernatural aspects of their storylines that puts their eventual spiritual success and character growth beyond the reach of human accomplishment alone. The underlying purpose behind a biblical journey of faith cancels out self-reliance and self-sufficiency (Jud. 7:2). This is one of the main themes of the Bible and the demarcation line between the natural man and the spiritual man. The cross applied to our lives is the solvent that dissolves away sin, and opens up the way for God to supernaturally act in and through us.
What all of this is telling us is something we already know, if we have personal familiarity with a Spirit-led journey of faith. What this tells us is that human beings are incapable of composing divine storylines like God does as recorded in the Bible, or as He does in our Christian lives. The cross applied to our lives is inaccessible to human intellect apart from a God-inspired and composed journey of faith.
Human authors, even at the talent level of a Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, Leo Tolstoy, William Shakespeare, or in this case Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, all hit the glass ceiling of the limitations of human conventional thinking. I love the Left Behind books and movies. I have read all twelve volumes of the Left Behind series, cover-to-cover three times. I will probably read them again sometime in the near future. I love the adventure, the characters, and the way that various people come to salvation faith.
But the Left Behind books and movies unwittingly answer the important question raised earlier about the most effective way to reach the world with the gospel. Even when great writers attempt to popularize something that will be as supernatural as the end-times tribulation period occurring at the end of human redemptive history, the limitations of everyone’s ability to step into the large creative shoes of God and foresee the future in terms of God’s higher unconventional ways, are exposed.
We unquestionably have the creative license to write fictional Christian romances and tales composed around inspiring everyday experiences of God acting in our lives. Does this same literary license extend to the genre of end-times biblical prophecy? Have the writers of the Left Behind books crossed over the line of spiritual propriety in composing a complete depiction of the upcoming end-times, when God’s own revelation in scripture is purposely intended to be partial and incomplete? There is a difference between the creative license to use fiction to describe Christian everyday experience, such as John Bunyan used in The Pilgrim’s Progress, compared to the creative license of presuming to be able to extrapolate a particular eschatological viewpoint into a complete, partly fictionalized narrative of the entire biblical end-times scenario.
If the Left Behind construction of events is entirely accurate, then Lucifer is now fully informed as to what lies ahead. But if the Left Behind construction of events is not entirely accurate, why are we relying upon something for our end-times prophecy interpretation that is not truly definitive? Does the need to stretch the biblical end-times revelation with fiction in order to connect all of the dots to fit within the medium of the modern adventure novel format, excuse the necessity to morph this fiction into a hybrid mixture of unreal characters and storylines that are no longer purely biblical in nature? Is the initial concept of mixing end-times biblical prophecy with adventure novel fiction, because of the inherent serious nature of the subject matter, a misguided enterprise from the outset?
Would the creation of four or five competing 12-volume literary works representing the other eschatology viewpoints, enlisting writers of the quality of a Ludlum, Clancy, DeMille, Cussler, or Follett, and likewise utilizing an exciting and suspense-filled action adventure format, edify or detract from the biblical end-times prophecy discussion? This unquestionably would make for some additional, entertaining late-night and weekend reading. I would love to read Clive Cussler’s or Ken Follett’s account of Christians walking through walls or de-materializing like Philip (Acts 8:39) to escape from enemies, or pulling apples out of the thin air for food, according to the end-times interpretation of many Christians that God will supernaturally shelter His church in a wilderness type protective setting.
But would this fictional adventure novel approach result in a furtherance of Paul’s insightful self-revelation of the power-position of being worldly last as a servant in God’s gospel outreach to mankind (1 Corinthians 4:9)? Or would this approach result in a worldly diluted compromise of the supernatural, unimaginably higher activities of God during the upcoming tribulation, after the pattern already revealed in the works of God portrayed in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible?
Is the carefully premeditated and balanced extent of God’s revelation of upcoming end-times events God’s way of saying “hands-off” in this one area of inspired biblical revelation? Are we walking along the dangerous edge of a precipice when we attempt to promote a particular biblical ideology by using the literary device of the adventure novel to articulate our views? Do we want to leave Christian and non-Christian readers with the faith-based view of the Apostle Paul displaying the humility level that will produce genuine Holy Spirit power for Joel 2:28-29 type service, or do we want to leave readers with the entertaining but unrealistic fiction-based view of Christians jet-setting all over the planet to rescue one another in conformity to a high-energy, Clive Cussler style adventure novel? With all of the communication tools available to the modern Christian church, this is a question that all Christians will have to divide, separate, and answer for themselves.