By admin | March 25, 2009
Recently, I obtained a copy of Crawford Gribben’s new book Writing the Rapture: Prophecy Fiction in Evangelical America (Oxford: OUP, 2009). It is one of the most important books I have read in a while, and is definitely worth buying and digesting carefully. Dr. Gribben brings together unique qualifications, and produces an authoritative appraisal of the ‘genre’ (he uses this term guardedly) of ‘Prophecy Fiction’. Crawford is both a trained professor of English literature and a well-versed theologian, thus he is able to analyze these works both as literature and as theological polemic. He was raised in an evangelical culture sympathetic to the views promoted in the books he examines, and understands the ins and outs of the theological agendas present in them, while he has the eagle eye of a literary critic, able also to discern the mode by which these ideas are presented. The end result is an authoritative study, well worth the time invested by the reader.
The book is a chronological examination of prophecy fiction, tracing its roots to D.L. Moody’s influence at the end of the 19th century, and noting all of the major (and several minor) novels produced up through the notorious Left Behind series. Largely (though not exclusively) the product of Dispensationalism, these novels popularized a novel (!) theological system, so much so that it has become almost part of the fabric, not just of evangelical culture, but popular American culture as well. The sales figures are staggering, especially when one understands the apparent penetration of some of these works into popular culture.
Some of the insights gleaned and documented in the book are startling. The intersection between right-wing politics and Dispensationalism is fascinating–an alternate subtitle might be ‘Righting the Rapture.’ I did not realize the anti-semitic nature of some forms of Dispensationalism–an important point since some present-day Dispensationalists falsely charge those who disagree with them with ‘supersessionism,’ a view they link with anti-semitism. Likewise I did not realize how diverse are the details of eschatology (and of many other loci of the encyclopedia of theology) promoted within the various novels. While some cause me to scratch my head and say ‘huh?,’ others promote downright heretical doctrines.The use of the novel as polemic has been a source of false and occasionally dangerous teaching. The authors of the many books profiled understood an important point: doctrine may be communicated easily through racy novels. But sadly, seldom or never was sound doctrine promoted. Dr. Gribben’s book becomes a cautionary tale.
For many reasons, this book deserves wide circulation. It was not intended as an exposé, but it serves that purpose well. From Joseph Burroughs’ Titan, Son of Saturn (1905) through Tim Lahaye and Jerry Jenkins’ Left Behind series, wise pastors will realize that readers must be cautioned against false doctrine. Because books like these are widely accessible and written popularly for mass consumption, their people may be influenced by what they read, and adopt teachings in stark contrast to both the Scriptures and their Confessions of Faith. These books are not benign; in most cases they do not edify believers. They sow seeds of error and heresy. Do you know what your people are reading?
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