Critical Resources for the "Left Behind" novels

Recently there has been a surge in interest in Bible prophecy and the end times, largely due to the surprising success of the "Left Behind" novels, a series of twelve books co-authored by two Fundamentalist Protestants. After nine years, fifty million copies, two movies, and an endless flood of apocalyptic merchandise, I'm sure many Catholics have been introduced to the "Left Behind" series; and while some recognize that the books do not completely agree with Catholic doctrine, others assume they are compatible.

On this page I've collected a few resources and an article I wrote to help you see how the views in the "Left Behind" books are contrary, not only to all of the Christian tradition, but to the Bible itself!
By Fr. Gary Coulter - Contact me Go to Fr. Coulter's Homepage Sign my Guestbook

Recommended Resources

Carl E. Olson
Author of the book: Will Catholics Be Left Behind? - A Catholic Critique of the Rapture and Today's Prophecy Preachers

An incredible list of dozens of articles he has written for numerous publications on the Left Behind series and the Rapture.

Here is one of his many article's on the rapture from Envoy magazine

The Left Behind Books: Harmless Fiction or Anti-Catholic Propaganda?

Five Myths About the Rapture from Crisis Magazine, Nov. 2003

Catholics United for the Faith
On the Rapture: Now You See 'Em, Now You Don't (PDF)
On the Millennial Reign of Christ: Apocalypse Not Now - The Church, The Millennium, and The Rapture (PDF)

Catholic Answers
On the Rapture:

Rapture: The End-Times Error That Leaves the Bible Behind by David B. Currie
One of the best books for interpreting the scripture passages on the end times.

The Rapture Trap: A Catholic Response to "End Times" Fever by Paul Thigpen, PhD
Carl Olson highly recommends this book for both Catholics and non-Catholics who are looking for an introduction to this important topic.

US Catholic Bishops
The Bishops' Department of Education says the "Left Behind" series is "subtly and overtly anti-Catholic" - Winter 2003

Bishops of Illinois
The 16 Catholic Bishops warn Catholics about "Left Behind" books - June 2003
Read the Statement:
An excellent article on the topic:
Other articles:

Catholic Update: Raptured or Not? A Catholic Understanding

Catholic View of the End Times

by Fr. Gary Coulter

If one reads the Left Behind novels, it's obvious they are not meant to simply entertain, but to proselytize and promote a particular view about the end times. The authors are not just giving us passages from the Bible, but rather their personal explanation of such passages. So while I too, like the authors of these books, have a great desire for people to become Christian and embrace the Gospel, I see several serious problems with the theology of the "Left Behind" books.

First, the view of the end times used in the books are not "biblical", despite what the authors say. The Left Behind books are an apocalyptic mythology about the future that has been created based on a novel interpretation of the Bible, using a unique and recent theology called premillennial dispensationalism.

All Christians agree that Jesus Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead, just as we pray in the fourth century Nicene Creed every Sunday: "He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end". While each man and woman will face a particular judgment at their death, there also will be a definitive and Last Judgment at the end of the world.

There is a passage in Revelation chapter 20 which speaks of Satan being bound and Christ reigning with His saints for a thousand years. Fundamentalists understand this 1,000-year reign of Christ very literally, what is called the millennium, an earthly paradise of Christianity before the end of the world. The name given to such a position is called premillennialism, believing that we currently live before the millennium, pre-millennial, and we are waiting for Jesus to come and be a worldwide King who will reign on earth, literally, one thousand years.

Now this view isn't held by most Protestants, nor was it believed by any Christians until it was created in the 1830s by a former Anglican priest. It became known throughout the United States because of the Schofield Reference Bible and then was made popular by Hal Lindsey's 1970 best-seller The Late Great Planet Earth, a feat now repeated by the "Left Behind" series.

The problem with millennialism is that numerous passages of Scripture speak of the age between the First and Second Comings as a time of great sorrow and strife for Christians. One revealing passage is the parable of the weeds and the wheat (Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43), where Christ declares that the righteous and the evildoer both grow alongside each other in God's field until the end of the world. Then they will be separated, judged, and either cast into the fire of hell or inherit God's kingdom. There is no biblical evidence that the world will eventually become a totally Christian kingdom, rather there will be both righteous and wicked until the final judgment.

So when is this 1000 year reign of Christ spoken of in Revelation?

In the Gospels, both John the Baptist and Jesus proclaim: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Mt. 3:2, 4:17) As Jesus told His disciples, "Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power" (Mk. 9:1) The reign of God's kingdom has already begun with the coming of Christ and His death, resurrection, and the manifestation of His Church on Pentecost. Jesus founded a Church on the 12 apostles that would be His kingdom on earth until the end of time, he gave Peter "the keys of kingdom of heaven" (Mt. 16:19), and declare that the gates of hell would not prevail over His church.

Thus the Catechism says the Church is "ultimately one, holy, catholic, and apostolic in her deepest and ultimate identity, because it is in her that 'the Kingdom of heaven', the 'Reign of God', already exists and will be fulfilled at the end of time" (CCC 865). The Kingdom is not yet complete, but began with the Incarnation and will be fully realized at the end of time: In its fullness, the Kingdom is not an earthly reign, but the triumph of Christ over the power of sin and Satan, culminating in an eternity spent in communion with the Triune God.

This view of Scripture understands that the reign of God is not a strictly earthly kingdom, nor a literal, thousand-year reign. Rather the number 1,000 is used throughout scripture to represent perfection or completeness. Recall the words of St. Peter: "With the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day" (2 Pt. 3:8-10). As the popular phrase says: "God works in His Own time."

Thus the millennium is not an earthly golden age, but rather the present period of Christ ruling through His Church, when he says: "Behold, the Kingdom of God is in your midst" (Lk. 17:21). The Church on earth is joined to and participates in Christ's heavenly reign in a way that continues to build His kingdom until it is fully realized at His Second Coming.

Fundamentalists who hold that Christ's kingdom is yet to come, thus deny an essential truth of our faith: that Christ is working here and now through his Church. In fact, the authors of the Left Behind series see the Catholic Church as a man-made institution, one sometimes even contrary to the will and work of God. For them, faith is individualistic - "Me and Jesus" - and any larger spiritual or religious community is viewed with great suspicion.

So when's the rapture?

There is a second popular belief of these authors, which by now most of you have probably heard of: "the rapture". The rapture will be a secret "snatching up" of all true believers to heaven; it will be immediately followed by a time of tribulation and the reign of the Antichrist. At the end of the tribulation, Christ will come again to establish his earthly, thousand-year reign, with a new temple based in Jerusalem.

Now Christians and Catholics do believe that Christ's Second Coming will be preceded by a time of great difficulty and persecution, often called the tribulation. As the Catechism says, "Before Christ's second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers." (CCC 675) There will be a time of religious persecution and deception, a "final unleashing of evil" (CCC 677) before the triumph of Christ.

But in the 1800s, some began to claim that a rapture would occur before this period of persecution.

The first problem is that such a position splits the Second Coming into different events. Now Christ is thought to have three comings - one when he was born in Bethlehem, one when he will returns for the rapture, and one when he establishes the millennium. This is foreign to all of Christian tradition and Scripture - when St. Paul speaks of the rapture in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, he always speaks of the one coming of Christ on the last day, not multiple returns.

The other scripture passage argued for the rapture is the Gospel where Jesus speaks of two men working in the field, one is taken and one is "left behind" - two women are grinding grain, one is taken the other left (Mt 24:40-31, Lk 17:34-35). But when Jesus refers to those taken, he doesn't say they are raptured away - rather he is actually referring to those who die because of their sins. This is because Jesus speaks of two events: first Noah, who was "left behind" with his family after the flood, and then Lot, who escaped Sodom and Gomorrah with his family. In both cases, those "taken" were killed in judgment, the ones left were the faithful ones who survive and carry on God's mission. Based on these Scripture passages, Noah and Lot can testify that it actually pays to be "left behind". Christ isn't speaking about the rapture, but the moment of final judgment.

Yet many millennialists still think that Jesus will come to rapture them away so that they will not suffer tribulation, that with a pre-tribulation rapture he will "dispense" true believers from such suffering and difficulties. This is why the theology contained in the Left Behind novels is called premillennial dispensationalism. Yet Jesus never once promised an easy life or an escape from suffering for his followers. In fact quite the opposite, he warned that they would suffer and be persecuted for following Him. As St. Paul reminds us so often, we have to endure until the end. The rapture can create a false hope to think we will be dispensed from all tribulations, and therefore one will not be prepared for when they come.

When St. Paul speaks of the rapture in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, for 2000 years Christians have interpreted this to mean that when Christ comes again, all the just will be brought up into his kingdom of heaven. It's just that normally we use a different word for this event - it's called the resurrection. And this rapture, the resurrection, occurs at the end of the world, on the last day, after the time of tribulation, when Christ comes again, judges the living and the dead, and grants all who persevered in sanctifying grace a share in his everlasting Kingdom.

Hopefully now you have a better understanding of how the "last days" will differ from that contained in the Left Behind series. First we believe that "the last days" or "the end times", properly understood, refers to the time we live in now, we are living in the millennial reign of Christ, the time when he desires to gather all people in the Church, which is "the seed and the beginning of the kingdom on earth" (CCC 567, 669; Lumen Gentium 3) And while Catholics agree that there will definitely be an "end of time" and that history as we know it will one day be complete, we do not spend time looking for signs in the heavens and in the headlines. Rather we know that each of us will face the end of our time on earth, we will not be dispensed or raptured away. We are to be concerned and preparing for the end of our lives, then we will be ready for the last day when Christ returns. To Him be glory and power forever and ever. Amen.

And from the horse's mouth:

By Fr. Gary Coulter - Contact me Go to Fr. Coulter's Homepage Sign my Guestbook