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But the trend is increasingly being reversed. More frequently than before, modern prophecy authors are working from fiction to theology, surrounding novels with a scholarly or pseudo-scholarly apparatus designed to consolidate or elaborate a broader doctrinal consensus. Authors associated with the franchise have produced a swathe of study workbooks, devotional materials, and associated exhortatory material.

Prophecy fiction emerged at the beginning of the twentieth century from a predefined dispensationalism, but, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, is increasingly attempting to reshape it. Throughout the history of the genre, therefore, dispensationalists have responded to growing market forces that have simultaneously blurred the distinction between exposition and fiction and that have called for a continual recasting of prophetic expectations in the light of current social and political concerns.

Prophecy fiction—like other expressions of dispensational theology—has rarely functioned merely as an indicator of eschatological concern. Because of this, the popular reception of prophecy novels is, at least partially, indicative of the extent to which the distinctive elements of their various worldviews have been endorsed, or at least generally sympathetically consumed, by a largely, but not exclusively, Introduction 21 evangelical reading public. Because they blur the boundaries of edification and entertainment, prophecy novels can be read, with due qualification, as a barometer of cultural and political attitudes within the evangelical movement and as significant but not determining representation of the changing face of a distinctively American faith.

III It is the longevity of the prophecy fiction tradition that makes possible this reading of its content. Most critics who comment on the phenomenon assume that prophecy fiction emerged with the publication of Left Behind.

Paul Gutjahr dated the rise of evangelical prophecy fiction to the s; Glenn Shuck and Frederic Baumgartner dated its emergence to the s; Paul Boyer identified examples from as early as the s; and Amy Johnston Frykholm has found examples from as early as While evangelicals appropriated the forms of romance, the western, and the historical novel, prophecy fiction is something they invented. It is not easy to decide upon the optimal terminology. Writing the Rapture is not the history of an identifiable genre.

Firstly, the novels do not themselves constitute a genre in the strictest sense of the word. They do not exist in a straightforward canon, and most appear unaware of the existence of other examples of their kind. Where the novels do appeal to existing texts, it is almost exclusively 22 Writing the Rapture to other material by their own authors or to denominationally approved texts. Prophecy fiction is less of a discrete genre than an imaginative mode that provides an overlay for texts that could also be accommodated in other genres. Many of the prophecy novels that are discussed in this book could also be considered as science fiction or dystopian fiction, as thrillers or romantic fiction.

Very few prophecy novels would fail to fit into other generic categories.

Nevertheless, as the final chapter explains, a sense of a self-conscious genre status has emerged in more recent publications, especially in the aftermath of Left Behind, whose success has stamped an identity on a tradition that was previously ephemeral and variegated.

The second reason why Writing the Rapture cannot be considered a history of prophecy novels is that it can only be an incomplete survey of surviving material. The most basic difficulty in developing this project has been in building a bibliography Introduction 23 of primary sources. There is, sadly, no archive of prophecy fiction. There are large collections of items from the material cultures of popular dispensationalism—such as that hosted in the Christian Brethren Archive at the University of Manchester, the collection formerly held by the Center for Millennial Studies at Boston University, and the collection housed at the Pre-Trib Research Center at Liberty University.

These collections contain a number of important examples of prophecy fiction, but they are far from being exhaustive in scope. Prophecy fiction novels have been produced and consumed within subcultures that kept few records. Many of the early novels, in particular, were privately published, had limited circulation, and became so entwined with the popular culture of one variant of evangelicalism that they were regarded as uncollectible ephemera by insiders and outsiders alike.

Readers will notice that I hesitate to build any kind of argument on the relative absence of prophecy fiction from the s and s: it is impossible to know what has not survived; similarly, it is possible that the future discovery of additional prophecy fiction will complicate the argument this book advances. It is likely that relatively few prophecy novels have been published.

In the last century, around one hundred examples may have appeared, including the various Left Behind spin-offs, and around half these examples have been published in the aftermath of Left Behind. I have listed every example with which I am familiar in the bibliography of primary sources. Other difficulties in my pursuit of this project have been related to the many kinds of contexts into which prophecy novels should be inserted.

There is a great deal more that could be said about the backgrounds of Milton Stine or Joshua Hill Foster—and certainly a great deal more that could be said about Jerry B.

Jenkins and Tim LaHaye. Large parts of the literary culture of early twentieth-century American and British evangelicalism have not survived. It is important to emphasize, therefore, that Writing the Rapture is not and makes no claims to be an exhaustive study. Instead, it provides a basic map to the territory that future work will qualify and redefine. Nevertheless, Writing the Rapture does provide a series of analytical and descriptive readings of some of the most significant evangelical prophecy novels.

The nature of their significance certainly varies: some novels are important because they are early examples of prophecy fiction, though their sales statistics are entirely unknown; other novels are important because they advance innovative theological or social perspectives; and other novels are important because of their vast sales.

While Writing the Rapture attempts to engage with the most significant evangelical prophecy novels, its coverage of material produced before Left Behind seems much more comprehensive than its coverage of material after Left Behind. This book argues that these novels sometimes parallel and sometimes oppose wider trends in dispensational culture and evangelical eschatological thinking. Chapter 6 will therefore focus on the reception of the Left Behind phenomenon. Writing the Rapture focuses on the evolution of the genre and its status as a palimpsest upon which the tensions and conflicts of the last century have been inscribed.

The book will historicize the genre and present it in parallel with the evolution of dispensational premillennialism and the changing cultural status of American evangelicals. What is certain is that, throughout their history, prophecy novels have reflected and challenged the changing contexts of dispensational culture. It is increasingly obvious that, with the success of Left Behind, prophecy fiction is now shaping dispensational culture and is even reformulating the tradition they once attempted only to represent.

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For all their expectation of increasing marginality, writers of evangelical prophecy fiction now find themselves defining the mainstream in a way that earlier prophecy novelists could never have imagined. The sudden popularity of novels and movies concerned with biblical prophecy disguises the extent to which evangelicals have wrestled with the ethics of fictional prose.

Throughout their history, evangelicals have maintained an uneasy relationship with literary fiction. Uncertainty about the value of the fictional mode gave way to widespread disapproval of its method and its scope. By the middle of the nineteenth century, preachers and writers on both sides of the Atlantic were regularly fulminating against the dangerous proclivities of prose fictions and their effects on those who consumed them.

These criticisms were regularly voiced within the premillennial communities that most vigorously insisted upon separation from the rapidly perishing world.


David Bebbington has described the prevailing influence of Romanticism on the development of the evangelical movement throughout the nineteenth century—ironically, an influence that its world-denying premillennial cultures made especially evident. The catalyst appears to have been the work of Sir Walter Scott and his increasingly respectable genre of historical fiction. Their ideas were co-opted elsewhere, as a wider range of nineteenth-century writers drew evangelical imagery into novels of sentiment, social reform, and anti-Catholic polemic.

Most of these early evangelical novelists concentrated on adapting the genres that they knew would sell. Ralph Connor, for example, was publishing evangelical cowboy novels from as early as the s.

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Rapture novels emerged out of nineteenthcentury American culture that often deferred to a particularly virulent species of ethnocentrism. In the s and s, for example, popular American writers were constructing a national religious culture on the basis of a shared Anglo-Saxon ethnicity and Protestant faith. The Protestant nationalism of these writers homogenized readers and consolidated a community identity around the rapidly developing culture of Bible veneration.

Early dispensational prophecy novels offered a critical response to these social and religious concerns. Their texts were pervaded by assumptions of the racial supremacy of white Americans and nervously wondered how their society might be affected by the sudden reversal of their progress. But the novels also argued that theories of racial unity were deeply unsatisfying as a basis for international union. I George Eliot was the best prophetic novelist evangelicalism never had. In The Antichrist , the Russian Orthodox theologian Vladimir Solovyov identified the Japanese as Gog and Magog, and imagined that the Antichrist would rise to power with the help of major Christian churches and the Jews.

The ephemeral nature of many of these publications suggests that earlier examples—as well as other examples from the same period—may well have disappeared. The limited circulation of these publications militated against the development of a self-conscious genre. Early authors of prophecy fiction appeared to write without any knowledge of other similar texts. Despite their apparent independence, however, these early novels established the parameters that would govern the tradition until the end of the twentieth century. There is no evidence to suggest that evangelical prophecy fiction emerged as a distinctively English-language phenomenon.

Darby, a leader of the Brethren movement and a chief proponent of dispensational premillennialism on the Continent. This was a most unlikely charge. His response to the criticisms did not defend the theology of the dispensational rapture, but Eclectic Roots of Prophecy Fiction 31 rather focused on his strategy of religious pragmatism. The serialized novel could serve an evangelistic purpose, he hoped, by warning the unconverted of the imminence of the end times.

In the culture of early twentieth-century German Pietism, and for many decades after, prophecy novels could be consumed without necessarily being endorsed.

  • Evangelicals and the Arts in Fiction: Portrayals of Tension in Non-Evangelical Works Since 1895.
  • Eli Manning: The Making of a Quarterback.
  • Der Kettenträger (German Edition)?

Most of the earliest examples of prophecy novels— and perhaps its first individually published titles—appeared in the United States. They were published independently, without any hint of mutual awareness. Like other literary texts of the period, they emerged in response to a widespread sense of political, social, and cultural collapse.

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Though these texts emerged from the slowly evolving dispensational mainstream, they offered a surprising variety of social and theological perspectives. This concern for the American future went hand-in-hand with criticism of business excess. Milton H. In Titan, by contrast, the exploited masses were imagined to overthrow their masters in a series of revolutions that would be led by the emerging Antichrist. As this range of opinions suggests, early prophecy novels responded in a variety of ways to the material contexts of their production.

Neither were early prophecy novels theologically uniform. In fact, some of the early titles displayed a surprising distance from traditional patterns of doctrine. But Titan went significantly further in its doctrinal deviation. Despite their theological and thematic variety, these early novels shaped the direction of the emerging tradition, developing the basic themes and stock characters that would be developed in later texts.

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