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Once Upon a Tribulation

I’ve been spending a bit of time finding some articles for a couple of lectures I’m giving in a week or two on cosmic eschatology (“End times” for the non-theological). My co-lecturer is dealing with personal eschatology and things like heaven and hell, intermediate states (what happens when we die but before the final resurrection) and like. I get to look at the eschatological implications for creation and the wider world, including how eschatology shapes our interaction with the world now with respect to things like mission, social justice and environmentalism.

In reading around I came across the following article by Telford Work called Once Upon a Tribulation originally published in the now defunct Re:generation Quarterly.

Work argues that evangelical apocalyptic fiction and other similar writing acts like a legitimized Harry Potter or Dungeons and Dragons for Christians. It’s the fantasy or science fiction that you can read without feeling guilty about enjoying it.

Left Behind is more than just revived Hal Lindsey. LaHaye�s and Jenkins� moves to fiction have made them more like evangelicalism�s holodeck programmers � better yet, evangelicalism�s dungeon masters. Readers progress through the volumes of their series like players working through levels of a role playing game. As they follow the characters� stories, they journey deeper and deeper into future history, on and on into a world that is coming closer and closer to their own � and further and further into a sprawling narrative world as much like Rowling�s or Berman�s as Lindsey�s.

Work makes the good point that evangelicals are now seeing imaginative works, like fiction and film, as vehicles that can be engaged with and of theological significance.

Perhaps the shift from Planet Earth to Left Behind as a sign of the sentimental deterioriation of the dispensational project and the weakening of the evangelical mind. But it may also be a sign of progress. Though evangelicals have long written and read fiction, we are turning to it more and more to do our truth-telling. Having once shunned movie houses, today we are film critics. Having once taken fiction seriously mainly as a parabolic satellite orbiting the real, today it is a respected genre in its own right. Without having dispensed with the old facts, today we dwell in the epics they spawn. Having been burned by too many discredited eschatological timelines, today we embrace chronological ambiguity.

Within the context of the lectures we’ll be looking at the variety of views describing the return of Christ and the interpretation of apocalyptic literature and symbolism.
Should be fun.

However first I need to finish my lecture notes for Monday’s class in the same paper where we’ll be looking at the nature of the soul and human sexuality. That should be fun too. Lots of discusssion, I imagine.

1 Comment

  1. Andrew

    Very interesting. The decription of Left Behind and its genre as Xstian fantasy that you don’t need to feel guilty about is very good. I think LaHaye said that he wished his books were fiction, hinting that they are in fact the truth?!

    I think many of the students in your class are also studying the book of Revelation (with LG) and so there will no doubt be many connections made.

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