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Writing the Rapture: Prophecy Fiction in Evangelical America

By Crawford Gribben
September 2009 | Review by Dennis Hill

Synopsis

Seeking the forces that drove the unexpected success of the Left Behind novels, Crawford Gribben traces the gradual development of the prophecy fiction genre from its eclectic roots among early twentieth-century fundamentalists.

  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • ISBN: 978-0195326604
  • Pages: 274
  • Price: £9.69
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Book Review

Prophecy fiction is made up of novels mostly set in the time leading up to the end of the world. The author traces the origins of this fiction to the late nineteenth century following the spread of Darby’s dispensational theology. It is this dispensational approach which characterises this kind of fiction writing.

In recent years, prophecy fiction has become a publishing phenomenon. The number of prophecy fiction books published from 1995-2005 equals the number published from 1900–1995. The undisputed king of prophecy fiction, the Left Behind series (12 books published from 1995-2004) authored by Timothy Lahaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, had sold an unprecedented 65 million copies by 2008.

The publishers of Left Behind quadrupled their income during this period and Lahaye reportedly received $45 million as an advance for a subsequent book.

Crawford Gribben writes from a Brethren and dispensationalist background, which, apparently, he has left behind! But he confesses to some affection for the prophecy fiction of the Left Behind series and the theological movement from which it came.

He suggests that the series has entered the cultural ‘mainstream’. This is ironic, he thinks, since a key understanding in dispensational theology is that the church will be marginalised as we head towards the end. Lahaye and Jenkins claim that many have come to faith through reading their work.

Dr Gribben’s book gives quite a large amount of detail on various books published on this subject over the century. Written by a university professor, with more than a third of the book given over to a glossary, notes, bibliography and index, the book does have an academic feel.

Being both American and a former dispensationalist, I was intrigued too! Writing the Rapture is in a special-interest category, but potentially a large one. It will be of interest to prophecy fiction fans, dispensationalists, theologians, and academics with similar inclinations. How many of these will be ET readers is another question!

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