When we say what we don't mean: Left Behind and Christian (mis)communication

Andy Rau

Charles Higham
September 26, 2008

Something that comes to mind is "Facing the Giants." It's a well-done film, and I admire that, but it could send across the wrong message if one isn't careful. While not the point of the film, one could walk away with a sense of "Trust Jesus and your life will be great" kind of theology. It could lead to a health & prosperity teaching that it was never meant to say. I don't know if anyone else has seen that in the film, but it's something that I am cautious about.

September 26, 2008

When I watched Facing the Giants all I saw was the "Trust in Jesus and your life immediately becomes perfect" message. Frankly, it had my wife and I laughing by the end at how ridiculous it became. So yes, other people have seen that in this film.

September 27, 2008

Anything can be twisted anyway. Think of all the wrong interpretations of scripture we've seen over the years. Does that prove the bible is flawed? That maybe the writer (God) did something wrong in the way He wrote it?

I am no supporter of the theory put forth by LaHaye and Jenkins, but they have the right to print anything they want. It is up to the reader to be discerning, "study to show thyself approved. . ." and all that.

What a waste of a man's time to spend all those years writing a critque of the books. It would have been time better spent showing others the love of Jesus. Maybe if we all spent more time doing that, instead of constant criticizing of each other, the world wouldn't view christianity as a hypocritical, marginalized religion.

September 27, 2008

I may be in the minority, but I read Mr. Clark's final post and found more sarcasm than persuasion.

Having read -- and enjoyed -- the entire Left Behind series, I will readily admit some questionable literary devices (such as having such a small group of primary characters end up in all sorts of locales and positions of influence throughout the series), but it's a novel, for crying out loud.

I also agree that some evangelistic-minded works can be a little simplistic. That, too, is not new, but people are working on that, I think.

The biggest problem here, however, seems to be people with a theological axe to grind. OK, if you don't agree with the idea of a pre-trib rapture with a literal seven-year tribulation, followed by a literal millenial kingdom, fine. Write your own novel/film to attempt entertainment and edification.

It is indeed easy for communication to be misunderstood. Some will likely misunderstand the intent of this post. But seeing the reaction of some people to Jesus' own earthly ministry shows me that it shouldn't stop people from trying to communicate spiritual truth in creative ways.

Or we could pretend it doesn't matter and just consume secular entertainment. Oh wait... a lot of people are dong that already...

September 27, 2008

I have read your comments and found them intriguing. I agree that Christians tend to speak, write, and otherwise communicate in a way that internally makes since to them. (The culture of America Christianity is festooned with idioms that only mean something to those within the culture, ie "ask Jesus into your heart".) Anytime a book or movie with a strong Christian theme is produced, Christians flock to it with an open mind, a similar worldview as the author/producer and the relief to have "safe" entertainment. Through the Holy Spirit's influence and training of Christians, we are quick to pick up on symbolism, phrases and tone changes that point to Christ and Christian symbols. (As a Christian, did you find yourself seeing every hint of a Christian symbol or nod towards Pilgrim’s Progress in Lord of the Rings?)

So in Left Behind, which takes prophetic books of the Bible and attempts to wrap them up in a fictional narrative, from a spiritual point of view I wouldn't expect non-christians to understand (1 Cor 1:18). Yet for the Christian, it helps put flesh on the subject of eschatology, which many Christians ignore or shy away from, and attempts to help us better understand God's word.

The media available to us is extremely limiting, particularly movies. By the time the story is told in all its fullness typically the budget is bleeding red and the movie's length is excessive, even by Lord-of-the-Ring standards. So editing and cutting commence, with the hope and prayer that the soul of the story isn't gutted in the name of time and money. So scenes that explore or explain a particular subject in more detail, but do not necessarily move the plot line, are usually the first to land on the cutting room floor.

Over the years, I have not been a particular fan of "Christian" movies, because as a genre the production quality lacked excellence. Facing the Giants was one of the first small budget Christian movies that appeared to strive for excellence. Though some of the storyline could be interpreted as "name it and claim it" theology, I don't honestly belief that was the original intent of the production team. If you watch the movie again, but with a critical eye, the plot line kind of snowballs in the last 20-30 minutes, which is typical of being out of time, money or both.

Even though Christian fiction, books or movies, is a flawed tool with limitations, that doesn’t eliminate its usefulness as a growth tool for Christians, ie why am I so intrigued with the “bad guys”, or an evangelistic tool the Holy Spirit can use to draw unbelievers to Christ (1 Cor 9:22). We, as Christians, do bear a great responsibility to accurately portray Christ in our words, deeds and media. (1 Cor 15:10-11)

September 28, 2008

While I've only seen small excerpts of the "LB" series, here we are years later and some guy has spent all this time writing a critique on a subject that really, in our daily walk with Jesus is irrelevent. What a waste of effort. We should live each day as if it were our last. If a doctor gave us 2 weeks to live how would we do it? Yet we have no guarantees that we'll live for another 5 minutes and here we are stressing about something that may be far in the future or even tomorrow. I understand the movies were entertaining and generated discussion and perhaps even a change in some peoples behaviour but I'd be asking - was the impact it had a lasting one or did the fear it created fade away? What was the authors intention?

September 28, 2008

There's no reason for bad books to exist. Period.

Christians that write them and rely on an audience of credulous co-religionists to complement them for their theological intentions deserve the revilement they get from others: when somebody launches a truly massive project devoted to critiquing their work, they should be GRATEFUL. Instead getting all sensitive and pretending that they are "offending the world" with truth, a bad author should take thoughtful criticism, no matter how harsh, to heart, and let others tell them where they've failed to communicate a cohesive message in a compelling narrative.

Left Behind sucked. This Present Darkness was cartoon-like and even worse; people went nuts for them because they liked having their favorite esoteric Bible verses (LB: Revelations, TPD: "powers and principalities") dramatized and in full-auto "God Mode", where all the real Christians are ultimately impervious to sin and the rest of the world can be explained solely in terms of God Is With The Good Guys, And The Good Guys Win.

Some flavors of Christianity are all about "The Good Guys Win" - since they've already cast themselves as The Good Guys, there's some consensus that God's going to fight their battles for them; presumably, God's going to pull the curtains back on reality and reveal to a world full of hedonists and revelers that the bored-and-boring Christian minority who've been praying and chattering quietly amongst themselves over pasta salads at their little church pot-lucks have really been fighting the most fantastic inter-dimensional battle against Evil ever - and every little thing these folks ever think or say will somehow bring about The End of The World.

Aside, of course, from being an incredible sop to the excitable, pulp fiction aspect of fundamentalist American Christianity, this message is completely unconvincing to just about everybody who isn't immersed in that culture. For a reality check, Evangelicals, ask yourself how weird Marian Apparitions sound to you. Pretty weird, huh? Kind of nauseatingly besides-the-point of your beliefs, huh? Well, when you're using spiritual warfare to titillate your youth groups and convince each other that so-and-so is "possessed", you sound just as weird to everybody else. Maybe weirder. Certainly, you sound "besides-the-point" of believing in Jesus.

And circling hands around everything on the Lifeway Bestseller section makes other aspects of Christianity, to an outsider, seem every bit as reactive, unreflected and insular.

There have been lots and lots of great Christian writers in the past, who are able to connect fluently with the culture and the times around them and give testimony to Christ. Evelyn Waugh comes to mind; Flannery O'Connor comes to mind. Lewis is a given, Tolkein's already been mentioned. In the end, they wrote well because they were good at writing, worked really hard, and learned, through fiction, how to make sense - not because they had the most 'Godly' message to share, bulleted and with the proper Bible citations in parentheses.

Christians have to stop writing awful books, producing bloodless movies, and writing terrible music. There is no "us" and "them", that Christians should have to look at themselves and accept a kind of cultural inferiority as the price of getting to go to Heaven when they die - honest talent's pretty evenly distributed, but Evangelical culture neuters its artists with it's sense of propriety, imagining that its serving God by grotesquely grafting its theologies over their eyes, ears, and antennae, cutting them off from any meaningful discernment of the world and of themselves. I think this repression is Pharisaical and a sin. It's certainly been a disaster so far, and in a generation or two with no change, the culture, having sapped its own vitality may be over completely.

September 29, 2008

The guy started writing this 4 years ago. his intention, obviously, has been to poke fun at the inconsistencies and bad theology behind a vastly popular work of Christian fiction that crested on a wave of hysteria for End Times predictions and armchair demonology to a level not seen in generations. In other words, bad as the books are, they were "important", and remain important, and have an effect on people in churches today. It's not a waste of time to examine them.

If you'd read the books when they first came out, you'd understand it better. If you think there's a chance you might outlive the next five minutes, consider hitting the library for 'em?

September 30, 2008

Thank you, thank you, thank you! Anything can be twisted anyway. Let's all say that again: Anything can be twisted anyway...

I honestly get tired of all the arguments against 'Western Christianity'. What is that anyway? Whatever it is, obviously we're doing it all wrong. Megachurches, best selling books, popular music, motion pictures in the name of Christian lifestyles...obviously Western Christianity is all wrong.

Nothing against Andy - but I do get tired of that term Western Christianity. It's the new buzz phrase to proclaim that there's something wrong - no one can really say what, but there's something wrong. I guess part of it is we're Christians and we can't relate to those who aren't 'in the know'. Phooey.

Generally speaking, the people I see spouting off about 'Western Christianity' are generally the same types that rage on about 'forward thinking' or 'progressive thinking'. Another buzz phrase used by people in the know - and the rest of us are left standing around wondering what the joke is.

So I guess now to be PC, I'm a Anglo-Scandinavian-American-Western-Christian.

I guess I'll just keep telling anyone who wants to hear about what Christ has done in my life. My life that for the past 16 months has included losing my job, seeing my wife lose her job, see our home foreclosed upon (we must move out by Dec 19th - Merry Christmas to us!). But through all of that I've seen our needs taken care of - in some miraculous ways. I've also seen others in more desperate condition than what my wife and I have faced. So I know where we could have been if it were not for the love of other 'Western Christians' who at one time were communicated the message of Christ and got it.

October 1, 2008

coolmom, I see what you mean--to a certain extent I actually agree that Slacktivist's critique of Left Behind is pretty over-the-top. LB is mainly meant to be a thriller novel and subjecting it to massive analysis probably misses the point. But... I think it's actually healthy every now and then to take a deep, critical look at the literature we produce and really ask ourselves what it's communicating. If Slacktivist's critique is over the top, it is at least partly a reaction to the general lack of critique that gets applied to much of what the church and the Christian publishing industry produces. An awful lot of Slacktivist's criticisms are plain and simple things that should have been caught by an editor or publisher and addressed before the book went to print.

So while no book could possibly withstand that level of analysis and criticism, I think the body of Christian literature would be better if more authors understood that their book should be able to withstand a higher degree of critical analysis.

October 1, 2008

As far as demonology and spiritual warfare goes, David said it best: their gods are wood, stone, metal, the work of men's hands, they are not real, they have no power, they are to be laughed at, not feared or worshiped. "Our God is in the heavens, he has done what he pleased."

There is no better summary than http://www.biblicalhorizons.co..., which asks "What is the means by which the demonic realm is vanquished? In a word: mockery. Satan’s great sin (and our great sin) is pride. Thus, to drive Satan from us we ridicule him. This is why the custom arose of portraying Satan in a ridiculous red suit with horns and a tail. Nobody thinks the devil really looks like this; the Bible teaches that he is the fallen Arch-Cherub. Rather, the idea is to ridicule him because he has lost the battle with Jesus and he no longer has power over us.

"Thus, the defeat of evil and of demonic powers is associated with Halloween. For this reason, Martin Luther posted his 95 challenges to the wicked practices of the Church to the bulletin board on the door of the Wittenberg chapel on Halloween. He picked his day with care, and ever since Halloween has also been Reformation Day.

"Similarly, on All Hallows’ Eve (Hallow-Even – Hallow-E’en – Halloween), the custom arose of mocking the demonic realm by dressing children in costumes. Because the power of Satan has been broken once and for all, our children can mock him by dressing up like ghosts, goblins, and witches. The fact that we can dress our children this way shows our supreme confidence in the utter defeat of Satan by Jesus Christ – we have NO FEAR!"

I occasionally saw one of the Left Behind books in a Greyhound station book kiosk, and after skimming a few pages decided not to buy any. Now that they are famous, and infamous, I'm glad I didn't. They too are worthy of ridicule. Indeed, I am not expecting any thing of the kind to happen, ever. The Lord moves in mysterious ways -- if it could all be reduced to a novel, it is not of God.

October 1, 2008

First isn't this fiction and not something directly from bible teaching? Well I've said it before, if you think it's real, then maybe it is. I read all of the series and thought they were well written as the fictions they are. If I want to know what God wants me and others to do, I will consult the one true book and with friends lovingly and with respect ask what I can do for him who sacrificed his all for me. I wouldn't go to a book of fiction to see who the true God is.

October 3, 2008

Perhaps the challenge many of us (Christians) face is rooted in our desire to have our imaginations stimulated.

While the experience of having God's word dramatized for us has created a niche market to 'commercialize faith', the inherent danger must cause us alarm. There is no greater authority by which God's Word and will are to be made clear...than God himself by his own Holy Spirit.

Many books are good. Only ONE is God...the Bible.

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