I just finished reading Rapture Fiction and the Evangelical Crisis by Crawford Gribben (you can read a sample chapter online if you follow the link). It was published by Evangelical Press in April of this year. I highly recommend it. The book is only 144 pages long, but I was impressed with Dr. Gribben’s econonmy of language. I have read much longer books that contained far less content.
If you want to know what this book is about, pick up a copy and read the first two pages of the preface. Even these two sentences from the first page effectively capture the thesis of the book:
“Rapture Fiction and the Evangelical Crisis attempts to retain rapture novels’ enthusiasm for the return of Jesus Christ at the same time as it examines their presentation of the gospel. Its most basic argument is that rapture novels have emerged from an evangelicalism that shows signs of serious decay.”
The books in the Left Behind series receive the most attention in this book, due to their popularity and recent currency in Western culture. Dr. Gribben does trace the history of early novels and compares their content and methodology with the Left Behind books.
An unexpected bonus of this book is an excellent history of dispensational thought (chapter two). From my perspective, the history is even-handed and irenic. The author even corrects some of the false charges leveled against dispensationalism by its critics. It is obvious that Dr. Gribben does not wish to start a fight with dispensationalists, but he is eager to see the gospel defended in the face of modern evangelicalism’s decline. Where the gospel is proclaimed and a biblical view of the church is upheld, Dr. Gribben does not appear to have a quarrel with dispensationalism.
The author reviews the development of rapture fiction in chapter three. A changing understanding of what is meant by evangelical theology is evident in the progression of these novels over the decades leading up to the Left Behind era. Revivalism, politics and apocalyptic moods in culture have subtly changed the character of popular evangelicalism.
Chapters four through seven highlight ways in which rapture fiction betrays an evangelicalism in crisis in its understanding and presentation of the gospel, the marks of a true church and the Christian’s attitude towards the world. The critiques in these chapters apply to much more than the believer’s choice of reading material. These biblical warnings cut to the heart of true Christian discipleship.
The book ends with an appendix examining alternative perspectives to the eschatology of rapture fiction including brief descriptions of variations on Dispensationalism (Revised and Progressive), New Covenant, Reformed Baptist Covenant Theology, and Covenant theology. Dr. Gribben reminds the reader that none of these alternatives requires the abandonment of premillennial eschatology.
I hope that Rapture Fiction and the Evangelical Crisis finds a wide audience. It is accessible to thoughtful beginners as the author builds his case systematically, but it has enough depth to teach an experienced Christian. It is not only a biblical warning for people immersed in wishy-washy popular evangelicalism, it is a helpful corrective for crusty curmudgeons like me who scoff at books like Left Behind. I hope that this book will influence me to emulate some of Dr. Gribben’s gracious tenacity in confronting error.