Christian Themes

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

The Left Behind series can be understood only within the framework of evangelical Protestant eschatology, or the study of the end-time, particularly in terms of premillennialist dispensationalism, the theory that the thousand-year reign of Christ will be preceded by a series of Tribulations and that God has given Jews and Gentiles separate relationships with him, known as dispensations. Almost from the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, there has been a recurring intense interest in the biblical prophecies related to the triumphal Second Coming of Christ and the final judgment, which Christianity considers to be the culmination of human history. The wave of interest in the end-time that gave rise to the Left Behind series began with Hal Lindsey’s 1970 publication of The Late Great Planet Earth, which set a premillennialist understanding of the end-time prophecies against a backdrop of Cold War fears of Soviet aggression. In response to its popularity, Tim LaHaye, a conservative Baptist preacher who had written a number of inspirational books, began to write nonfiction dealing with biblical prophecy. He became increasingly interested in writing a fiction series dramatizing the premillennialist interpretation of prophecy. By the time he was ready to write Left Behind, the Soviet Union had fallen and the Cold War had ended, leading him to place different interpretations on several prophecies Lindsey had understood as referring to Soviet Communism. However, the basic concepts of a Rapture, a Tribulation, and a triumphant Second Coming with subsequent judgment of the righteous and unrighteous remained unchanged.