Based on a dispensationalist interpretation of prophecies in the Biblical books of Revelation, Daniel, Isaiah and Ezekiel, Left Behind tells the story of the end times (set in the contemporary era), in which true believers in Christ have been "raptured", (taken instantly to heaven) leaving the world shattered and chaotic. As people scramble for answers, an obscure Romanian politician named Nicolae Jetty Carpathia rises to become secretary-general of the United Nations, promising to restore peace and stability to all nations. What most of the world does not realize is that Carpathia is actually the Antichrist foretold of in the Bible. Coming to grips with the truth and becoming born-again Christians, airline pilot Rayford Steele, his daughter Chloe, their pastor Bruce Barnes, and young journalist Cameron "Buck" Williams begin their quest as the Tribulation Force to help save the lost and prepare for the coming Tribulation, in which God will rain down judgment on the world for seven years.
The Tribulation Saints are a group of underground post-Rapture Christian converts. Throughout the series, they are in conflict with the Antichrist Nicolae Carpathia during the Tribulation, each in accordance with his or her own divinely-determined destiny.
The most well known of the Tribulation Saints include Rayford Steele, Chloe Steele, Cameron "Buck" Williams, and Tsion Ben-Judah.
Multiple books in the series have been on the New York Times best-seller list. Starting in 2000, Books 7 and 8 reached number one on the list followed by book 10, which debuted at number one. Total sales for the series have surpassed 65 million copies. Seven titles in the adult series have reached #1 on the bestseller lists for the New York Times, USA Today, and Publishers Weekly.
One reason often cited for the books' popularity is the quick pacing and action, and reflects the public's overall concern with the Apocalypse, as portrayed in the Book of Revelation in the Bible. Michelle Goldberg has written that, "On one level, the attraction of the Left Behind books isn't that much different from that of, say, Tom Clancy or Stephen King. The plotting is brisk and the characterizations Manichean. People disappear and things blow up." The New York Times also compared the series to Clancy's works. However, those views are not universally shared. Other reviewers have called the series "almost laughably tedious" and "fatuous and boring."
In 2007, the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA) recognized the Left Behind series at its CBA & ECPA Awards Celebration in Atlanta, Georgia with the ECPA Pinnacle Award. ECPA President Mark Kuyper said, "In many ways this series established Christian fiction as a significant category in publishing in general." Jerry Falwell said about the first book in the series: "In terms of its impact on Christianity, it's probably greater than that of any other book in modern times, outside the Bible."
Influences on the authors
LaHaye and Jenkins cite the influence of Russell S. Doughten, an Iowa-based filmmaker who directed a series of four low-budget but popular feature-length films in the 1970s and 1980s about the Rapture and Second Coming, starting with 1972's A Thief in the Night. Indeed, the title "Left Behind" echoes the refrain of Thief's early-Christian-rock theme song by Larry Norman.
While writing that the series fulfills the norms of mass-market fiction, as mentioned above, magazine writer Michelle Goldberg characterized the books as an attack on Judaism and liberal secularism, and suggested that the near-future "end times" in which the books are set seem to reflect the actual worldview of millions of Americans, including many prominent conservative leaders.
The books are written from a Protestant viewpoint. As a result, some believe the books are anti-Catholic, noting that many Catholics were not raptured concluding that no religion is free of false converts and that the new pope establishes a false religion. While the fictional Pope, John XXIV, was raptured, he is described as having embraced some of the views of the "Father of Protestantism" Martin Luther and it is implied that he was raptured for this reason. His successor, Pope Peter II, becomes Pontifex Maximus of Enigma Babylon One World Faith, an amalgamation of all remaining world faiths and religions. Catholic Answers describes the series as anti-Catholic. On page 343 of Book 10, The Remnant, most of a Catholic church (including the priest and the catechism teacher) are raptured. The co-author of the book, Jerry B. Jenkins, as well as LaHaye, stated that their books are not anti-Catholic and that they have many faithful Catholic readers and friends. According to LaHaye, "the books don’t suggest any particular theology, but try to introduce people to a more personal relationship with Jesus."
David Carlson, a Professor of Religious Studies and a member of the Greek Orthodox Church, wrote that the theology underpinning the Left Behind series promotes a "skewed view of the Christian faith that welcomes war and disaster, while dismissing peace efforts in the Middle East and elsewhere--all in the name of Christ".
Some premillennialists, while accepting many of the basic beliefs behind the series, describe problems with specific prophetical teachings in the Left Behind books. For instance, in The Mark, Chang Wong receives both the mark of the beast and the sealing of the Lord and he is later accepted into heaven, despite having the mark, because he was drugged and forced to have it against his own free will. This has led some readers to wonder how a Christian can have the mark of the beast and still be saved.
Along with some other rapture fiction novels, the Left Behind series demonstrates a specific understanding of the Gospel and the Christian life, one with which many have taken issue theologically. The books have not sold particularly well outside of the United States. Dispensationalism remains a minority view among theologians. For instance, amillennial and postmillennial Christians do not believe in the same timeline of the Second Coming as premillennialists, while preterist Christians do not interpret much of the Book of Revelation to predict future events at all. Brian McLaren of the Emergent Church compares the Left Behind series to The Da Vinci Code, and states, "What the Left Behind novels do, the way they twist scripture toward a certain theological and political end, I think [Dan] Brown is twisting scripture, just to other political ends." John Dart, writing in Christian Century, characterized the works as "beam me up theology."
Some practicing Christians, evangelical and otherwise, along with non-Christians have shown concern that the social perspectives promoted in the Left Behind series unduly sensationalize the death and destruction of masses of people. Harvey Cox, a professor of divinity at Harvard, says part of the appeal of the books lies in the "lip-licking anticipation of all the blood," and theologian Barbara Rossing, author of The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation, said the books glorify violence. Time magazine said "the nuclear frights of, say, Tom Clancy's The Sum of All Fears wouldn't fill a chapter in the Left Behind series. (Large chunks of several U.S. cities have been bombed to smithereens by page 110 of Book 3.)"
Paul Nuechterlein accused the authors of re-sacralizing violence, adding that "we human beings are the ones who put our faith in superior firepower. But in the Left Behind novels the darkness of that human, satanic violence is once again attributed to God." In that same book ("Glorious Appearing") Jesus merely speaks and the bodies of his enemies are ripped open, forcing the Christians to drive carefully to avoid "hitting splayed and filleted bodies of men and women and horses."
Note: The books are listed initially in story-line (chronological) order but then numbered in order of publication.
There are also graphic novels, CDs, a Left Behind series for teens, and movies. Audio dramatizations based on the first twelve titles have also been produced for broadcast on Christian radio. The series written for teens, called Left Behind: The Kids, has the same plot as the adult series, but the main protagonists are teenagers. Several of the main books have also been turned into movies by the Canadian motion picture studio Cloud Ten Pictures; the film titles include: Left Behind: The Movie(2000), Left Behind II: Tribulation Force (2002), and Left Behind: World at War (2005).
Two spin-off series have been written: a political series by Neesa Hart and a military series by Mel Odom.
A video game, Left Behind: Eternal Forces, was released for the PC on November 6, 2006. Its sequel, Left Behind II: Tribulation Force, was released in 2009.
Left Behind: Apocalypse, by Mel Odom
Left Behind: The Kids by Jerry B. Jenkins & Tim LaHaye with Chris Fabry
Left Behind: End of State, by Neesa Hart
The success of the Left Behind books has led to the release of four motion pictures based on the series so far. All four have been produced by brothers Paul & Peter LaLonde, and have been released through Cloud Ten Pictures, an independent Canadian-based Christian movie studio.
The first, Left Behind: The Movie, was based on the first book of the series and was released in 2000. In a very unusual marketing scheme, the studio released the movie on home video, and then released it to the theaters. The movie fared poorly in theaters. The movie starred former Growing Pains star Kirk Cameron as Buck Williams. Cameron, who praised the book series as "inspiring", is a practicing evangelist (and co-host with Ray Comfort on the TV show The Way of the Master).
The sequel, Left Behind II: Tribulation Force, based on the second book, Tribulation Force, was released in 2002. The film debuted at #2 on Nielson's video scan reports, behind Spider-Man (2002), and was #1 in terms of overall sales for two days on Amazon.com.
The second sequel, Left Behind: World at War, was released first to churches on October 21, 2005 for church theatrical viewings and was released to DVD and video on October 25, 2005. Much of the main cast from the previous two films, excluding Clarence Gilyard, reprised their respective roles for Left Behind: World At War. Gilyard, who played Bruce Barnes, was unable to return for the third movie due to a scheduling conflict with a play in New York. The movie is based very loosely on the final 50 pages of Tribulation Force and features Louis Gossett Jr. as the President of the United States, Gerald Fitzhugh. The third movie was the least identifiable with events in any of the books. Recognizable events were the marriages of Buck with Chloe Steele, and of Rayford Steele with Amanda White; the death of Bruce Barnes; and President Fitzhugh's heading an attack, resulting in World War III, with Great Britain and Egypt fighting against the Global Community. Major parts of the movie, however, were taken from subsequent books in the series. These events include the poisoning of Barnes by GC forces, instead of Nicolae Carpathia himself, and an attempt by Fitzhugh to assassinate Nicolae Carpathia. Buck's meeting with the President in the books makes it into the movie, but in a totally different form.
The movies have been criticized for, among other things, low production values. A Slate reviewer commented that in 2004, Cloud Ten Pictures made a deal with Sony Entertainment to release all of its pictures under the Sony banner and has been doing so ever since.
In 2010, Cloud Ten Pictures announced that a remake of the Left Behind series was in development, with production set to begin in late 2012 for an October 2014 release date. The movie, starring Nicolas Cage as Steele and Chad Michael Murray as Buck Williams, was released to theaters October 3, 2014. It earned overwhelmingly negative reviews and flopped at the box office.
The video game Left Behind: Eternal Forces (2006) and its three sequels, Left Behind: Tribulation Forces, Left Behind 3: Rise of the Antichrist, and Left Behind 4: World at War, were developed by a publicly traded company, Left Behind Games. The games are real-time strategy games wherein the player controls a "Tribulation Forces" team and allows the player to "use the power of prayer to strengthen your troops in combat and wield modern military weaponry throughout the game world." The original game was released in the United States on November 14, 2006, and received mixed reviews. Distribution was initially planned to work through churches and megachurches.
Although the original game was accused of encouraging religious violence, not all reviewers of the game or critics of the Left Behind series shared that view. Representatives of the company have responded that the game's message is pacifist, because shooting nonbelievers instead of converting them costs the player "spirit points", which can be recovered by pausing to pray. The company also responded to these criticisms in an online newsletter,stating, "There is no violence, only conflict," and, "The most successful way to fight, is through the means of spiritual warfare; PRAYER and WORSHIP. Soldiers and military weaponry are available, but once anyone plays the game, they’ll see how difficult it is to succeed by using these less effective means of warfare."
People Get Ready: A Musical Collection Inspired by The Left Behind Series (1998) is "a musical collection inspired by the Left Behind series".
- "People Get Ready" Crystal Lewis 4:24
- "UFO" Geoff Moore & The Distance 3:08
- "Come Quickly Lord" Rebecca Saint James 4:29
- "I Wish We'd All Been Ready" dc Talk 3:44
- "Horses" Margaret Becker 4:05
- "Eve of Destruction" Barry McGuire 3:34
- "People Get Ready" Impressions 2:38
- "Thief in the Night" Big Tent Revival 3:38
- "Elijah" Rich Mullins 5:14
- "New Body" Audio Adrenaline 4:00
- "I'll Lead You Home" Michael W. Smith 5:22
- "Jesus Is Waiting" Al Green 8:08
Williams professor Glenn Shuck has written the book Marks of the Beast: The Left Behind Novels and the Struggle for Evangelical Identity, published by NYU Press in 2005. He followed this with a collection of original essays co-edited with Jeffrey J. Kripal of Rice University on the Esalen Institute in California, published by Indiana University Press in 2005.
Robert M. Price has written the book The Paperback Apocalypse published by Prometheus Books in 2007 which reviewed the whole genre of apocalypse fiction.
In 2002 a series of graphic novels was launched that comprised the first two books in the series, Left Behind and Tribulation Force. The original idea was to release sets of 3 to 5 novels (each about 45–50 pages) for each book in the original series. However, after the 5th and final novel for Tribulation Force was released, the graphic novel series was apparently discontinued, and the novels that were released are now (as of December 2006) out of print. A compilation of the graphic novels for the first book was later released as one novel.