The American Vision: A Biblical Worldview Ministry

The Threat of End-Time Mania

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Bible prophecy always seems to be in the news. Wars and natural disasters make it a perennial topic of discussion. While talk of the end times has been going on for more than two millennia, it was only with the publication of Hal Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth in 1970 that the topic entered best-seller status. Estimates put sales of the non-fiction book at more than 30 million copies worldwide. The Left Behind series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins demonstrates that there is still a large appetite for end-time books. The series has sold more than 60 million copies since the first volume appeared in 1995. This does not count its many incarnations in a variety of different media: a PC game based on the Left Behind book series that is selling well and sparking controversy,[1] a Kids Series (10 million sold),[2] graphic novels,[3] daily devotional, and so much more.

So why another book on the topic? A shift is taking place in prophetic thinking, and the subject is being scrutinized more closely by those outside the circle of fundamentalism and evangelicalism. Many conservative Christians who cut their teeth on the works of notable prophecy prognosticators are beginning to question the popular end-time paradigm. The interpretive methodology itself is coming under scrutiny. The issue of eschatology has become a topic of political conversation. In his book American Theocracy, Kevin Phillips links the end-time scenario of the Christian Right to conservative politics:

Book buyers will understand that in these United States, volumes able to sell two or three hundred thousand hardcover copies are uncommon. Not rare, just uncommon. Consider, then, the publishing success of end-times preacher Tim LaHaye, earlier the politically shrewd founder (in 1981) of the Washington-based Council for National Policy. Beginning in 1994 LaHaye successfully coauthored a series of books on the rapture, the tribulation, and the road to Armageddon that has since sold some sixty million copies in print, video, and cassette forms. Evangelist Jerry Falwell hailed it as probably the most influential religious publishing event since the Bible. Several novels of the Left Behind series rose to number one on the New York Times fiction bestseller list, and the series as a whole almost certainly reached fifteen to twenty million American voters. Political aides in the Bush White House must have read several volumes, if only for pointers on constituency sentiment.

* * * * *

Twenty years ago, The New York Times would not have considered LaHaye for the bestseller list, and my scenario of his writings influencing the White House could only have been spoof. Not so today. In a late-2004 speech, the retiring television journalist Bill Moyers, himself an ordained Baptist minister, broke with polite convention. He told an audience at the Harvard medical school that “one of the biggest changes in politics in my lifetime is that the delusional is no longer marginal. It has come in from the fringe, to sit in the seat of power in the Oval Office and in Congress. For the first time in our history, ideology and theology hold a monopoly of power in Washington. [4]

The highly influential Phillips, among others, demonstrates that eschatology is getting the attention of a broader audience, and not all of it positive. Radio and print journalist Esther Kaplan writes that “[George] Bush’s Middle East policy perfectly aligns with the religious worldview of LaHaye and his millions of readers.”[5] Paul Boyer, professor emeritus of history at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and currently a visiting professor of history at the College of William and Mary and a long-time analyst of prophetic themes and their impact on politics,[6] points out as recently as 2003 that “as the nation debates a march toward war in the Middle East, all of us would do well to pay attention to the beliefs of the vast company of Americans who read the headlines and watch the news through a filter of prophetic belief.”[7] Robert Dreyfuss, writing for Rolling Stone magazine, describes LaHaye as “Reverend Doomsday.”[8] Concern for the way Bible prophecy is influencing foreign policy is becoming increasingly prevalent in numerous books and articles.[9]

Footnotes:
[1]
. www.leftbehind.com/channelfree.asp?pageid=1321&channelID=175
[2]
. www.leftbehind.com/channelkids.asp (book) and www.leftbehind.com/channelkids.asp?channelID=65 (audio)
[3]. www.leftbehind.com/channelbooks.asp?channelID=53
[4]. Kevin Phillips, American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21 st Century (New York: Viking, 2006), xiv, xv.
[5]. Esther Kaplan, With God on Their Side: How Christian Fundamentalists Trampled Science, Policy, and Democracy in George W. Bush’s White House (New York: The New Press, 2004), 30.
[6]. Paul S. Boyer, When Time Shall Be No More: Prophecy Belief in Modern American Culture (Cambridge, MA: Belknap/Harvard University Press, 1992).
[7]. Paul S. Boyer, “When U.S. Foreign Policy Meets Biblical Prophecy,” Alternet (February 20, 2003): www.alternet.org/story/15221. As I have demonstrated, it’s the other way around. End-time enthusiasts are reading the Bible through the filter of current events
[8]. Robert Dreyfuss, “Reverend Doomsday: According to Tim LaHaye, the Apocalypse is now” (January 28, 2004): (www.rollingstone.com/politics/story/5939999/reverend_doomsday/).
[9]. The most recent example is Zev Chafets, A Match Made in Heaven: American Jews, Christian Zionists, and One Man’s Exploration of the Weird and Wonderful Judeo-Evangelical Alliance (New York: HarperCollins, 2007), chap. 3.

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