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Plotting Apocalypse

Plotting Apocalypse: Reading, Agency, and Identity in the Left Behind Series

Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Plotting Apocalypse
    Book Description:

    It is the not-too-distant future, and the rapture has occurred. Every born-again Christian on the planet has, without prior warning, been snatched from the earth to meet Christ in the heavens, while all those without the requisite faith have been left behind to suffer the wrath of the Antichrist as the earth enters into its final days.

    This is the premise that animates the enormously popular cultural phenomenon that is the Left Behind series of prophecy novels, co-written by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins and published between 1995 and 2007. But these books are more than fiction: it is the sincere belief of many evangelicals that these events actually will occur--soon. Plotting Apocalypse delves into the world of rapture, prophecy, and tribulation in order to account for the extraordinary cultural salience of these books and the impact of the world they project. Through penetrating readings of the novels, Chapman shows how the series offers a new model of evangelical agency for its readership. The novels teach that although believers are incapable of changing the course of a future that has been preordained by God, they can become empowered by learning to read the prophetic books of the Bible--and the signs of the times--correctly. Reading and interpretation become key indices of agency in the world that Left Behind limns.

    Plotting Apocalypse reveals the significant cultural work that Left Behind performs in developing a counter-narrative to the passivity and fatalism that can characterize evangelical prophecy belief. Chapman's arguments may bear profound implications for the future of American evangelicalism and its interactions with culture, society, and politics.

    eISBN: 978-1-62103-989-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-2)
    (pp. 3-20)

    It is the not-too-distant future, and the rapture has occurred. Every born-again Christian on the planet has, with no prior warning, been snatched from the face of the earth to meet Christ in the heavens. Cars have been left unmanned; the graves of the faithful supernaturally exhumed; offices suddenly divested of a third of their workers, their clothes and jewelry the only clues to their earlier presence. This removal of believers from the earth sets the stage for history’s most traumatic era: the Tribulation. In this seven-year period, the Antichrist will rise to power, instituting a reign of terror from...

  5. 1. CRACKING THE PROPHECY CODE Reading as an Act of Agency
    (pp. 21-40)

    In the wake of the chaos caused by the unexplained disappearance of millions of people, Rayford Steele makes the discovery he has been dreading: his wife, Irene, and young son, Raymie, are among the vanished. Desperate and distraught, Rayford contacts the church that Irene, a devout evangelical, had attended. The church is distributing videotapes filmed before the rapture with the express purpose of communicating the truth of the disappearances to those left behind. Playing the tape, Rayford hears an urgent message: “Find books” and “study so you’ll know what is coming and you can be prepared.”

    One might observe that...

  6. 2. THE PARANOIA OF PLOT Narrative, Conspiracy, and Agency
    (pp. 41-59)

    The “paranoid style” that Richard Hofstadter named in his paradigmatic essay of 1964 is a mode of seeing the world that has sonorous resonances with what might be described as the “apocalyptic style” that characterizes Left Behind. Hofstadter makes the correlation explicit: in their staging of “a spiritual wrestling match between good and evil” that engenders “the promise of redemption and victory,” the “deeper eschatological significance” of paranoid scripts becomes apparent.¹ Indeed, “the paranoid spokesman sees the fate of this conspiracy in apocalyptic terms.”² LaHaye and Jenkins’s prophecy novels incorporate a range of features that underpin the logic of conspiracy,...

  7. 3. “WHAT A SHOW!” Apocalyptic Spectacle and the Agency of Watching
    (pp. 60-77)

    There can be no doubt that LaHaye and Jenkins’s rapture, and the Tribulation that follows, are profoundly spectacular events. Left Behind is a “filmic” text: the narrative is peppered with grandiose set pieces such as car chases, gunfights, and daring rescues, hence the publishing industry’s positioning of the novels as action fiction, with comparisons to Tom Clancy’s popular military and techno-thrillers appearing on the dust jackets of several editions of Left Behind. Popular end-times exegeses speak to a stereotypically American predilection for scale and excess: hyperbole is a salient feature of contemporary U.S. prophecy writing. For example, Are We Living...

  8. 4. “IN THE WORLD BUT NOT OF IT” Agency and Social Engagement
    (pp. 78-96)

    “I look upon this world as a wrecked vessel,” proclaimed the nineteenth-century dispensationalist preacher Dwight L. Moody. “God has given me a lifeboat and said to me, ‘Moody, save all you can.’”¹ Moody’s conviction that the world was in inexorable decline and hopes for a spiritual regeneration were unfounded contrasted sharply with the postmillennial optimism of his predecessors of the antebellum period. And yet the pessimism of Moody’s wrecked-vessel metaphor is tempered, if not quite neutralized, by the balancing image of the lifeboat. For all that is beyond the scope of human agency—the ability to bring the world back...

  9. 5. A VERY AMERICAN APOCALYPSE Left Behind’s Neoliberal End-Times Vision
    (pp. 97-115)

    In the second volume of his Prophetic Writings, John Nelson Darby warned: “If you are wishing for money, or seeking to make provision for placing your children in the world, or if you have any plans for the future, you cannot wish for the Lord Jesus to come; and if you cannot, then your hearts are not right with Jesus.”¹ Darby’s fervent admonition against materialism and wealth, written in the middle of the nineteenth century, remained salient for many dispensationalists well into the twentieth. Early rapture fiction frequently took a negative view of the emergent capitalist economy: Milton Stine’s The...

  10. 6. THE REVELATION WILL BE TELEVISED Media, Celebrity, and Authority in Left Behind
    (pp. 116-134)

    Left Behind author Tim LaHaye contends that “television presents images in such a way as to communicate to the viewer that this life is all there is; there is no afterlife, so get all you can while you’re here.” He also opines, however, that “I believe that if the apostle Paul were alive today, he would be using TV to reach the world with the Gospel. And he might even ask for money to support his programs.”¹ These quotes appear to evince two opposing perspectives on the nature and effects of modern media. The first avers that television frames its...

  11. 7. NEGOTIATED AGENCY Female Subjectivities at the End of History
    (pp. 135-153)

    In the year that the first Left Behind novel was published, the religion scholar Julie Ingersoll completed a study of conservative Christian women and the challenges they faced in male-dominated fundamentalist institutions. Like others who have observed similar phenomena, Ingersoll was struck by the way in which the question of gender pervaded the culture, even in its smallest details. At a Christian bookstore, for example, she notes that “there is almost no inventory that is not intended specifically either for men or women,” adding that “the men’s books are bound in rich colors and focus on themes of strength, courage...

  12. 8. QUEERING THE APOCALYPSE Homosocial, Homophobic, and Homoerotic Subjectivities in Left Behind
    (pp. 154-172)

    For good reasons, many academics addressing the issue of gender in evangelical discourse and culture have focused on issues relating to women. Scholars including Julie Ingersoll, Betty DeBerg, Brenda Brasher, Lee Quinby, Catherine Keller, and Tina Pippin have made important contributions to the study of the specific experiences of women in a faith culture that advocates male headship and female submission, propagates demeaning female stereotypes, is hostile to feminism, and judges women who do not or cannot conform to accepted evangelical ideals of femininity as failures, troublemakers, and even traitors. In comparison to this rich and extensive body of work,...

  13. CONCLUSION: BOTH NOW AND NOT YET Reading in the Shadow of the Rapture
    (pp. 173-182)

    Almost two decades after Tim LaHaye was inspired to write a series of novels about the biblical end-times, the thirst for prophecy literature remains seemingly unquenched. In 2012 a search for “Christian prophecy” in the books section of returned 5,158 results; the same search on offered the reader a choice of 6,581 texts, not to mention several thousand more DVDs, CDs, MP3s, and video games. That around 80 percent of the books in this category—including both fiction and nonfiction—have been published since the launch of the Left Behind series indicates just how transformative and influential Tim...

    (pp. 183-208)

    The novel opens with 747 pilot Rayford Steele pondering the recent failings of his marriage during a transatlantic flight. His wife Irene has recently become “obsess[ed] with religion,” and consequently Rayford has started to take an interest in a member of his cabin crew, Hattie Durham. On the same flight is Cameron “Buck” Williams, an award-winning reporter for the prestigious Global Weekly. During the flight, an incredible event transpires. A large proportion of the plane’s passengers disappear, leaving no trace but their clothes and other personal effects. As the implications of the event become apparent, Rayford diverts from Heathrow to...

  15. NOTES
    (pp. 209-228)
    (pp. 229-240)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 241-253)