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Left Behind, by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, is a speculative novel about transformation, salvation, and faith. One day, millions of people throughout the world simply disappear. With no apparent reason for the disappearances, those who remain are left to wonder if their loved ones are alive, are being punished, or if they themselves are being punished. Around the globe, people come up with different theories to explain what happened. One theory is that the event marks the beginning of the end of days. In Christian doctrine, Christ is prophesied to return to collect the souls of the faithful. The problem this poses for those left behind is whether or not they were faithful, and whether they can change their lives so that they will be accepted by Christ. According to one group that subscribes to this theory—a group from the New Hope Village Church—the people on earth will suffer seven years of trials. The Antichrist will rise and grow powerful, and have dominion over those who remain. During those seven years, many will perish. However, those who survive will witness the second coming of Christ and be accepted into His glory.
The novel focuses on two characters who are deeply affected by the mass disappearances. One is Rayford Steele, an airline pilot. When the rapture occurred, Rayford was in the process of piloting a plane on its way to London. He thinks of his wife and son, both of whom are devoutly religious. He believes that the church has been raptured and that he has been left behind to suffer for the next seven years, as he tries to survive the arrival of the Antichrist. His daughter, Chloe, has also been left behind.. He prays for her salvation while he works to become a better person himself.
The other character, Cameron Williams—known as Buck—is a news writer of international renown. He has a different take on the event, and he tries to observe it with the professionalism and objectivity expected of journalists. He witnesses the effects of the event world-wide, and the rise of Nicolae Carpathia, a powerful political figure. Buck’s investigation into the disappearances leads to an encounter with Bruce Barnes, a young pastor at the New Hope Church. Bruce leads a group called the Tribulation Force. Together, Bruce and Buck determine that Nicolae is the Antichrist, and his rise to power heralds the beginning of the seven years of tribulations that will precede Christ’s return to Earth.
This realization means that the characters are forced to accept the reality of what is happening around them--including the existence of Christ and the Antichrist--and work to improve themselves through prayer. They also need to prepare for battle, and build up their fortitude for the difficulties that lie ahead. Those people who pray for a second chance and are granted the opportunity, urge everyone else to join them so that they too can be saved. By the end of the book, not everyone has joined them. However, those who do feel ready to resist the Antichrist and spread the word of God.
Left Behind is the fourth book in the 16-book series of the same name, though it was the first of the series to be published, in 1995. Books from the series have been adapted into film: Left Behind: The Movie was released in 2000, Left Behind II: Tribulation Force came out in 2002, Left Behind: World at War was released in 2005, and a reboot starring Nicholas Cage and titled Left Behind came out in 2014. There’s also a video game series called Left Behind: Eternal Forces that was inspired by the book series. The series has received mixed reviews, with seven of its titles appearing on bestseller lists. Some reviewers lauded the books for their fast-paced and exciting plots, whereas others called the series tedious and boring. The entire series of books was recognized by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association at its CBA & ECPA Awards Celebration. The organization praised both the books’ impact on Christianity and on the genre of Christian literature in the publishing business. Many Catholics have spoken out about the books because of their Protestant viewpoint. One particular complaint is that many Catholics were not raptured at the start of the story. The co-authors, LaHaye and Jenkins, have both asserted that their series is not anti-Catholic. According to them, the goal of the books is not to point readers toward one theology over another, but rather to enhance the reader’s relationship with Jesus. A member of the Greek Orthodox Church suggested that the theology in the series welcomes war and disaster, ignoring peace efforts worldwide. The violence in the series has drawn concern from practicing Christians. However, despite these criticisms, the book series has been successful, selling over 65 million copies.