Left Behind and the Evangelical Crisis by Crawford Gribben

As the title implies Gribben has written a critique of evangelicalism as represented by the wildly popular fictional series Left Behind authored by Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye. Gribben’s conclusion is that the novels have poor theology of salvation, the church and the Christian life, even though being admittedly theologically sound much of the time.

Gribben correctly understands the Left Behind series to be drawn from a dispensational view of Scripture. As a result the author has much to say about dispensationalism—its history, proponents, critics, and distinctions. I believe he fairly represents dispensationalism, which is not particularly common for someone of Reformed persuasion. He deals with popular myths about dispensationalism and rightly distinguishes between theologians who espouse a carefully thought out system and extremists who practice “current event” theology and set dates for the return of Christ. He would place the Left Behind novels, along with most “rapture fiction” past and present, in the latter category.

While dispensationalism is the backdrop of “rapture fiction,” Gribben could have just as easily dealt with Arminianism. As a matter of fact, the theological issues that most disturb Gribben in today’s evangelicalism are not particular features of dispensational thought but of Arminian theology. John Nelson Darby (1800-1882) and the earlier framers of dispensationalism were all Calvinist. Today, adherents to dispensationalism can be found in Calvinist, Arminian and blended (elements of both) camps. Many evangelicals today would not know a Calvinist from a fruit fly—and wouldn’t care if they did. And this is one of the very issues Gribben laments. The lack of true scriptural understanding, along with a watered-down gospel (in the Left Behind series the Pope is raptured and Catholics are saved with no mention of them rejecting their Catholic soteriology), a “not quite sufficiently powerful God,” round out Gibben’s major concerns.

I believe that the author went too far, however, when he linked spin-off novels written by other men and espousing false doctrine to the Left Behind series. It is certainly not LaHaye’s and Jenkins’ fault that others are advocating baptism-regeneration, partial-rapture theories or works-righteousness. None of these views is taught in the Left Behind novels. That others, with different theology, are attempting to capitalize on their success can hardly be laid at the feet of LaHaye and Jenkins (e.g., Hanegraaff’s preterist novel is diametrically opposed to dispensationalism).

Other concerns found in Left Behind and the Evangelical Crisis include the nature of the church and the use (or lack thereof) of the sacraments. Here we find a truly distinctive dispensational vs. covenant issue. What is the church? The Left Behind authors and Gribben are clearly in disagreement. Mysticism and divine leading found in the novels disturb Gibben—as they should. Jenkins and LaHaye have moved beyond the bounds of Scripture in promotion of certain experiences (e.g., out-of-body experience; guidance sought and found apart from Scripture). But as Gribben rightly notes, unbiblical, mystical experiences are not uniquely a dispensational issue and are found in all branches of Christianity.

The book ends with a very helpful summary of the major alternatives to dispensationalism such as progressive dispensationalism, New Covenant, Reformed Baptist, and peadobaptist covenant theology.

As of the writing of this review Left Behind and the Evangelical Crisis was not yet published, but should be available the latter part of 2005.

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