Leaving Left Behind, Behind (or, a theology of honest criticism)

I don’t leave comments on social media a lot when it comes to hot button issues or cultural trends.

It’s not that I have no position, or don’t feel strongly enough about whatever new crisis is being spoken to. But honestly, I don’t think it adds to the discussion. At least not gracefully.

When I posted a blog a while back about Aronofsky’s Noah, it was my way of dealing with something that everyone was taking to social media to write angry rants about in my own way. I said something to the tune of Christian people should be better, even when we disagree with the way something was done or how we felt our faith was represented, belligerent, angsty Facebook rants are not the way to solve it. In fact, that only makes us look stupid. Like, “you’re really going to make some big-budget action flick your hill to die on?”

That said, another movie has been ‘taking the world by storm’ so to speak. It had a whopping critics score of 2% on RottenTomatoes.com. That movie is “Left Behind.”


I’m not going to do a review, because I have not seen this particular rendition of the movie (nor do I really intend to.) I did read the teen iteration of the novels and I did see the ones starring Kirk Cameron. (Yes, they are as abysmal as they sound.)

A lot of people have written about this movie, the old ones, and the books and pointed out how they are downright heretical from a reasoned, and even biblical perspective. I’ve read several of those posts and articles and, for the most part, I agree.

A pre-tribulation rapture theology is one that many people just assume that everyone sees when they crack open the book of Revelation. And, i’m sorry to inform you, but that is simply not the case for everyone.

I posit that pre-tribulation rapture is an idea born out of a very selfish Christian-ish idea that God would never let his church suffer. Oh, heaven forbid words like martyrdom and suffering ever become common language in American Christendom!

But that is not the point of this post. Sorry for chasing rabbits.

Back to what I said earlier about not leaving comments on controversial posts.

Well, I broke my own rule the other day and I did. The creator of the new Left Behind movie posted a status about his movie being attacked by sites like ChristianityToday and others as “not Christian.”

The implication is that the word “Jesus” is never used. There is never even  a realization of what the ‘why’. There is no portrayal of the Gospel. And, you know. I don’t fault them for that. Good movies ask lots of questions, but aren’t always so keen on shoving answers down your throat. And that is good. Good movies open the door for conversations about the subject matter.

So, cool. Not a problem, right? But something about the books and the movies bother me.

So I commented, against my better judgment. I didn’t lambaste the pre-trib rapture ideology, I didn’t really even say anything to the theology (or lack thereof) of the franchise itself. I simply stated that sometimes we worship ideas more than Jesus himself. And people need Jesus, not…this. Also, I think Nic Cage is the worst actor I’ve ever seen.

And, lo and behold, a lady told me I need to “read my Bible” and that I was a false prophet and a scoffer.

I wasn’t sure what to say to that.

It really just perplexes me that we are so quick to yell “read your Bible” at someone and not even think to do that ourselves. Is it possible that we’ve, for so long, just read our Bibles the way its been told to us, instead of actually looking into it ourselves?

(Author’s note: I am a Christian. I am a southern Baptist. I fall in line, for the most part, with the tenants of orthodox Christianity. I believe that the Bible is God’s word, written by men under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and applicable for all people. I believe that Jesus Christ is the only way to God, and so on and so forth.)

See, so many times, Christian culture has latched on to an idea simply because they’re told it’s “Christian.” They say “read your Bible” when what they really mean is “think back to all the sermons you’ve heard and Christian fiction you’ve read over the years and splice that with an ethnocentric view of the book of Revelation and then maybe you’ll come out on the right side of this argument.”

The issue for me is that we’ve taken to accepting someone else’s word for it, rather than studying scripture ourselves. We’ve fused American culture and easy-believism with Christian doctrine and made theology more about “the end times” than about Jesus himself.

As a guy named Chad Bailey says, “‘Are you ready?’ is not the right question. ‘Do you know Jesus?’ is. Let’s point people to Jesus, not away from hell.”

My prayer is that when Christians approach culture, lets not water down the powerful, life-giving message we are charged with to “Oh, man! Nicholas Cage is trying to understand why people are disappearing off his plane and the world is crazy and did aliens do this? Oh, yeah, here’s a pillow with the word “pray” on it and that one character is wearing a cross necklace. That’ll preach.”

Because many people have said Christ isn’t mentioned to help people spark conversations with unbelievers. Well, guess what…this movie was marketed to Christians. Christians who grew up in a cultural bubble. Christians who believe the best way to witness is to drag their non believing friends to a movie theater and have a come to Jesus meeting right there, instead of patiently being infused into that friend’s life and exemplifying Christ and sharing your struggles and where you find your hope (Jesus) openly with them.

This is not an attack on people who enjoyed the movie, and certainly not an attack on those who came to Christ after seeing it. If that is the case, then praise God! But saying it won people to Jesus as justification for poor art is like saying the Crusades were great because it produced Christians.

My prayer is that Christians will rise up to the challenge and make good art, quality art that attracts unbelievers not because it doesn’t talk about Jesus, but because it’s real. (An author whose blog I frequently read, Nate Fleming, wrote a blog on good Christian art over here. So check that out.)

Good Christian art is also art that doesn’t have to stifle the message of the Gospel to get people thinking. While it’s okay for a film not to have an altar call at the end of it (and probably better most of the time when it doesn’t,) Christians shouldn’t sacrifice their unique platform to be accepted. And just who is the target market here? Even that is very vague. (Which, judging by the scathing reviews both from Christian and non-Christian critics and the %2 score on Rotten tomatoes, we aren’t reaching the target audience.)

So, I say again: As Christians, we should be better. Jesus is the center of our message, the most attractive part of it, the one without whom our entire faith would fall apart.



6 thoughts on “Leaving Left Behind, Behind (or, a theology of honest criticism)”

  1. Right. I have heard a lot about the movie Calvary, but haven’t had a chance to see it. A friend of mine always says “Movies don’t get baptized, people do.”

    I think that’s true. We label certain things as “Christian” and sell it to the target market, but no matter how hard we try, those outside that market are alienated. In the end, the labels don’t matter.

    Thanks for your comment!

  2. Amen, brother! I agree with what you are saying. I myself am a writer, and I love seeing movies like this so that I can bite and chew everything I see and hear. May I say, I think many people have a lot of different ideas on entertainment. Some people I know think that it is wrong. some people I know will only watch things like “facing the giants”, “courageous”, and other (as you put it) bad Christian art. And some people don’t give a rip about anything, and just watch whatever. I think we need to have a good appreciation for art and creativity, because it is a great gift from God. But we need to have the right appreciation. This is why I think a lot of movies can be harmful, since people are not watching them for the right reason.

    These are some of the things that I ask my friends: Do you have a reason for watching this movie, say…the Hobbit? What is your reason? if it is simply to be entertained, make sure that you don’t just watch it and walk away. Talk about them.

    Something I struggled with in my teenage life was being unhappy with the way my life was. I watched things like Narnia and lord of the rings and other exciting films, and I envied the excitement and wondrous things that happened in those characters lives. I wanted my life to be something other than what God gave me. I think that this is the trouble with a lot of modern Films. People let themselves be swept away with so many things, when the most simple thing to do is realize why you are watching movies, what you get out of it, what you can learn from, and what to avoid.

    There are two severes: Stop watching movies, or watch all of them without a thought. Don’t fall into either of them.

    I also appreciate your points on the eschatological nature of the film. May i ask, what are your views? Do you delve into the pre trib, post trib, premillenium, ahmillinium, postmellenium views of scripture, or have you simply given up? I have sort of become neutral and asked God to help me understand, and i wonder if that is the right stance? To just give up understanding it? something in me says that it isn’t.

    Thanks again for your inspiring work-


    1. Thanks for your response, Sarah-Anna.

      I definitely think the battle over entertainment is certainly something to think about. I think Phillipians 4:8 is a good litmus test for what to watch or what not to watch.

      “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

      Behavior you flood your mind with is behavior you eventually repeat, whether on purpose or not. But I also think the answer is much deeper than “only watch family-friendly films.” Because even most of the Christian stuff our culture puts out says very dangerous things about God.

      ‘Facing the Giants’ for example makes it seem like everything is awesome after you get saved. The guy gets a new car, is always happy, and his wife is finally able to get pregnant after he meets Jesus. Now, what does that do to our theology when we get right with Jesus and find that we still have difficult times in our lives and we don’t get that new car and our spouses are still unable to have children? Does that mean that God doesn’t care? I think that’s a very dangerous and sugar-coated message that is going to dissuade people from the truth in Christ more than anything.

      Some of the best “Christian” movies I’ve ever seen have not fallen into the category of “family friendly” because they are honest and true to life, and even still don’t have to water down the Gospel to be great films. Two such movies are “Blue Like Jazz” and “Believe Me.”

      So I want to be clear, there are many Christian Filmmakers and Screenwriters doing excellent things for the Kingdom, but they won’t get the kind of exposure that God’s Not Dead and Courageous and the like will get because they’re actually taking risks.

      To answer your question about what my particular stance on biblical eschatology is, I wouldn’t say I’ve given up, but I do think it matters far less than franchises like “Left Behind” say it does. My number one issue with pre-trib rature, as I said before, is that it cheapens the gospel, and the Great Commission. These ideas are simply not found in scripture. In fact the church at Thessolonica had a similar issue. They were told that Jesus would come back soon, and then they started dying and Christ had not come back?

      So there was a panic, and how did Paul react? He said this’:

      “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)

      A lot of the time, prophecy preachers will try to superimpose this admonition over top of the book of Revelation at whatever point they please and use that as a justification for there particular point of view. The issue is that it wasn’t written with that purpose in mind. And when I read that, I see Paul completely skirting the issue of when and simply saying, “When Christ comes back, this is what will happen.”

      There are some sects of Christianity that have been picking dates for the rapture and then, when that day comes and goes, changes it again. But I think scripture is clear on one thing: Be ready. No matter when that day is, when Christ comes back, be ready and trust the details to Christ.

      I believe that Jesus is coming soon. But so did my grandparents and their parents and so on and so forth. What is “soon” from God’s vantage point? We don’t know, but we can trust him to reveal that or not to reveal it. And if he doesn’t, we can be confident that his plan for this world is good, and it’s my job to be faithful in sharing the Gospel until he comes.

      Sorry that was so long, but I wanted to give a thorough and honest answer to your questions. As always, thanks for engaging with what I write. It means a lot.

      Grace and Peace,

  3. Yes, best that I’ve heard this put, “…a very; selfish Christian-ish Idea…” I don’t remember is it was Corrie Ten Boom or Ruth Graham who spoke of Christians in China being ill-prepared for the days of Mao because of the ‘beam me up, Scotty!” theology. (Is that an anachroinism?) Would that we Christians would take our Bible as serously as we do our fiction. http://textsincontext.wordpress.com/2013/05/11/second-coming-rapture-vs-scripture-christian/

    1. Absolutely. I think American Christians are especially prone to accepting what is put in front of us if it even sounds remotely scriptural. And that’s problematic. I appreciated your article on on the second coming vs. left behind. You have a new follower, sir!

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