Periodical Reviews -- By: Anonymous
BSac 161:644 (Oct 2004) p. 491
By The Faculty and Library Staff of
Dallas Theological Seminary
Robert D. Ibach, Editor
“Rapture Fictions and the Changing Evangelical Condition,” Crawford Gribben, Literature and Theology 18 (March 2004): 77-94.
Gribben, research fellow in the Centre for Irish-Scottish Studies at Trinity College Dublin, evaluates the impact of the Left Behind series on popular American evangelicalism. He discusses how cultural fluctuations affect the way evangelicals interpret Scripture and current events. This is important because evangelicals affirm that the Bible is the final authority on doctrine, and they decry culturally influenced interpretations.
To prove his point he discusses authors of the “rapture fiction” genre of the past century, including Sidney Watson (a British writer from early in the twentieth century), Hal Lindsey (famed author of The Late Great Planet Earth), Frederick Tatford (former director of the UK Atomic Energy Authority), and Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. In a lightly polemical reply to popular American evangelicalism as represented by the LaHaye-Jenkins series, Gribben equates the changing evangelical condition with the adjustments made in the plots and characters in rapture fictions across decades of political and religious development. Thus Sydney Watson’s pre-World War I rapture fiction presented apocalyptic symbols that corresponded to his era; Hal Lindsey’s cold-war apocalyptic novel is an example of refashioning the symbols to Soviet-dominated powers; and the Left Behind series that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union required further “re-casting of prophetic expectations.” Yet the acceptance of dispensationalism, the pretribulational rapture, the seven-year Tribulation, and the millennial reign of Christ remains intact. These works center on the time approaching the rapture and the Tribulation period that follows. However, being a very narrow genre, readers, Gribben says, who have read one apocalyptic thriller have read them all. That alone, he suggests, calls for future authors of this genre to be more creative and original. Gribben does draw helpful comparisons and contrasts between all the books in this genre. Certain key figures are borrowed nearly wholesale from earlier works, while basic plot schemes remain the same. He also notes the significant shift in popular evangelical sentiment toward the pope—he gets raptured along with entire Catholic congregations! However, earlier works in this the genre vilified the pontiff and Catholicism in general.
Since all the authors’ symbols are closely associated with their current politico-economic conditions, they have to be refashioned once a popular
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