Church Life Theology

“Get [Left] Behind me!”

“The first step is admitting we’re the problem,” remarks Paul Sullivan in the October 1 edition of the Toronto Metro. [1]

“Since 1970, 52 percent of the world’s population of fish, birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles — every living creature except people — have vanished […] During the same period, the world’s human population nearly doubled, from 4 billion to over 7 billion” [2] . From deforestation, freshwater depletion, to an explosion of carbon emissions, humans are “taking over the neighborhood and pushing everyone else out,” Sullivan writes. [3]

Some say overpopulation is the problem, but that is far from the truth. The problem is overconsumption as seen in the ridiculous fact that the average American consumes “at a rate of four planets” [4]

Americans aren’t all to blame. Humanity in general is on the hook for destroying our home: “The earth is defiled by its people; they have disobeyed the laws, violated the statutes and broken the everlasting covenant” (Isaiah 24: 5).

On October 3, the much anticipated (or not) apocalyptic flick, Left Behind, hits the big screen. This Christian “cult classic” promises to inspire adhering followers of premillenial dispensationalism/Left Behind (PD/LB) theology, that the rapture of believers and apocalyptic destruction (by God) is real and perhaps impending.

But don’t take it from the movie, it’s in the Bible, right?

Really? Is God going to destroy the world through violent destruction? Not sure that He has to. We are doing a pretty good job of that ourselves. It’s so fantastic that two weeks after the 2014 UN Climate Summit, a movie like Left Behind should be released — is it a gift from the blogger gods?

The connection between Left Behind and climate change lies in the implications of PD/LB theology.  Wesleyan theologian, Dr. Howard Snyder explains: “Premillennial dispensationalism undermines the biblical worldview by locating the renewal of creation exclusively after the return of Jesus Christ. Since the present world is headed for inevitable destruction, any concern with saving it is a distraction from rescuing souls before Jesus returns.”[5]

Within this system, salvation is limited to the realm of individual souls, rather than being expanded to the ecological realm of creation. Yes, saving souls is high on God’s list of priorities, but the Bible also includes the wider message of God’s promise to restore creation — and the role of Christians in His mission of renewal. (As a side note, did you know that the lion– the most revered animal on the planet — is an endangered species? Freakin’ lions man!).

Most bible scholars would agree with C.B. Bass in his assessment that PD/LB theology “involve[s] some basic principles of interpretation that depart radically from the historic Christian faith, and that are often diametrically opposed to what the church always believed.”[6]

Indeed as N.T. Wright correctly points out: “the split between saving souls and doing good in the world is a product not of the Bible or the gospel but of the cultural captivity within the Western world.”[7] Are followers of PD/LB theology being held captive by a partisan Christian culture?

Mark Noll seems to think so: “…the extreme partisanship fostered by doctrines like the secret rapture of the church make it all but impossible to think about learning something from other people throughout history, Christian or otherwise.[8]

So how should we think of the Bible, if Left Behind leads us astray? N.T Wright offers an alternative take on how the Bible and Christian story should be read: “The Bible is…the story of creation and new creation, and it is itself, through the continuing work of the Spirit who inspired it, an instrument of new creation in human lives and communities.[9]

PD/LB theology is not the best way to approach the Christian faith. So if you are thinking of the Left Behind movie as a form of dramatic education, or even cinematic evangelism, it might be a better idea to say “Get Behind Me, Left Behind,” watch Disney’s African Cats, and if you are feeling charitable for some reason, you can always donate to the World Wild Life Fund.

Just a thought.


[1] Paul Sullivan, “The 1st Step is Admitting we’re the problem,” Toronto Metro (October 1, 2014), p. 14.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Howard A. Snyder and Joel Scandrett, Salvation Means Creation Healed, (Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books, 2011), 59.

[6] Clarence B. Bass, Backgrounds to Dispensationalism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1960), 17.

[7] N.T. Wright, Surprised By Hope, (New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers, 2008), 265.

[8] Mark A. Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994), 143.

[9] Wright, Surprised by Hope, 282.

Josh is an award-winning faith and culture writer and the author of the upcoming book, God Incognito: Bonhoeffer's Theology of the Cross for the Trump Era and Beyond. He holds a master's degree in theology from Tyndale Seminary in Toronto and is the recipient of the Dr. Ross and Carol Bailey Theology Award. He lives in Murillo, Ontario with his wife and their two adorable daughters and has a column at ChristianWeek.org.

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