Why Do Last Days End-Time Novels Sell?
Novels about the last days have been around for a long time. I suspect that most people are not aware of this fact just like they are not aware that prophetic speculation has been going on for centuries with less than accurate results.
The Left Behind series was a publishing phenomenon in the 1990s. The series sold tens of millions of copies, and yet we’re still here and prophecy prognosticators are still prognosticating.
Many people are surprised to learn that left-behind-type novels have been around for more than a century.1 Sydney Watson’s Scarlet and Purple (1913), The Mark of the Beast (1915), In the Twinkling of an Eye (1916), which had gone through 25 printings by 1933, and The New Europe (1915) are early examples of the serialization of fictional prophetic themes seen through the lens of current events, the moral state of the nation, anti-Catholic fervor, and destabilized world politics.
In the Twinkling of an Eye anticipated the LaHaye-Jenkins Left Behind theme with these lines: “Think of what that will mean, unsaved friend, if you are here to-day. Left! Left behind!”2
In 1937, Forrest Loman Oilar’s end-time novel Be Thou Prepared For Jesus is Coming appeared. Oilar includes the entire left-behind premise in one volume, including the millennial reign and the subsequent Great White Throne Judgment. Like LaHaye, Oilar wrote his novel as an evangelistic tract “to bring to the unbeliever, ‘the Jew first, and also to the Gentile’ a warning against false doctrines and to show the hope that is yet in store for him if he accepts the true gospel.” ((Forrest Loman Oilar, Be Thou Prepared For Jesus is Coming (Boston: Meador Publishing Co., 1937), 7.))Dayton A. Manker’s 1941 novel
Dayton A. Manker’s 1941 novel They That Remain, that is, those left behind, followed the Watson and Oilar models with “Fascism, Nazi-ism and Communism” as new end-time bad guys that Manker described as “triplets of one blood.”3 Ernest Angley followed a similar script with his 1950 book Raptured: A Novel.
Probably one of the most interesting left behind genre novels is Salem Kirban’s 666, first published in 1970. By 1976, it had gone through fourteen printings with more than 500,000 copies sold. There are a number of striking similarities to Left Behind. The rapture takes place when the main characters are on an airplane; their wives are believers who were taken in the “rapture”; the “rapture” is explained away by those who are left behind; those who do not bow down to worship the beast are martyred by having their heads cut off by a guillotine.4
To counter what I have described as “last days madness,” a number of books have been written to counter this type of end-time speculation, but there have been few attempts at good fiction until Brian Godawa’ series of books. Brian holds the position that most of the prophetic material in the New Testament deals with events leading up to and including the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. This makes his works historical fiction.
By Brian Godawa
If you are like me you have been deeply disturbed by the past huge success of end times fiction like Left Behind, as well as the current financial siphon of speculative novels on the book of Revelation. Is this concern because of greed or envy for the success of others? May it never be! My sadness is because I think it represents the spirit of the age: a hunger for conspiracy theories. In this world of obsession with narrative over facts, even Christians are more drawn to sensational fantasies of the end times than to the real-world glory of the Gospel in the Kingdom of God. Futurists, such as Left Behinders, seem more interested in the coming of the “Antichrist” than in the coming of Christ, or rather, than in the current reign of Jesus Christ over all (Eph. 2:20-22).
Of course, being a futurist novelist means never having to say you’re sorry. You just put your conspiracy theory cap back on every decade and write a new exciting story connecting a myriad of dots of new current events mixed with fantasies of a feverish imagination, and BAM, you’re in the last generation again! No one holds you accountable for your constant changing because, hey, man, it’s fiction! Even though, they really believe it reflects what is about to happen.
I believe one of the draws of futurist eschatology lies in the power of conspiracy theories. We live in a conspiracy theory society now, that values narrative over fact, and complex secret knowledge over simple public truth. The way that Christian futurists scientifically dissect biblical poetic prophecies and obsess over endless connections of historical minutiae and anomalies rivals any 9/11 Truther or secret society researcher. In fact, many of those futurists are also supporters of the grand conspiracy theory as well! And the more evidence you provide that their “last days” are ever-changing unbiblical constructs, the more it proves they are right and you are part of the Satanically deceived apostasy of the last days. It’s a vicious circle of perpetually failing projections that operate more like computer models of theological global warming than real hermeneutical science.
And yet, storytelling is not inherently wrong or even less significant than say, systematic theology. It’s part of the way God created us. We need both rationality and narrative to make sense of our world. In fact, the Bible communicates theology through narrative so powerfully, that I would argue that is also one of the reasons why the futurist versions of the end times are so successful. It is not just that they are sensational comic book movie scenarios of fantasy that make us feel special, but because storytelling embodies a message with a strong impact on our worldview through the imagination.
Think of Jesus’ parables. By inhabiting the story, the audience experiences the doctrinal truth in a distinctly different existential way than rational explanation can satisfy the mind. Not superior, just different. We need both. But when it comes to the complexity of eschatology, a fictional narrative can take that complexity and give it narrative flesh that connects with our “storied nature” in a way that most people can relate to. Think about it. As much as I personally study theological writings to understand the Bible, many many people simply do not have the personality or the patience for such in-depth rigorous study. There is a good case for that being a lack in our Christian culture. But it’s also true that God didn’t make us all the same way, and right or wrong, most people I know prefer a good story to a good systematic theology.
If you’re like me, you prefer both!
So since I love both theology and story, I decided to bring orthodox preterist eschatology to the masses by writing a novel trilogy about the book of Revelation fulfilled in the first century called Chronicles of the Apocalypse. The first novel is called Tyrant: Rise of the Beast. Gary DeMar’s writings on eschatology changed my life decades ago. And they provided a scholarly foundation upon which my theological fiction is based. Though I do at times make creative choices that are a bit different take on things than Gary (so don’t blame him for my differences), I think it is safe to say that we follow the same “big picture” narrative and vision. And just to satisfy that theological side of others, I footnoted the novel with as much text as I have in the novel itself! So people can enjoy the entertainment or dig deeper if they want more. That’s where you’ll find Gary quoted in abundance.
If you are familiar with the story of the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 from the writings of Josephus, you will know that it is a very complex series of events that lie behind the last days of the old covenant. So the way that I tackled the problem was to tell a fictional story that occurs within the historical events. And since decoding Revelation is so difficult, I made the narrative a supernatural conspiracy thriller, so readers can discover the “code” along with the protagonists of the story. It’s kind of like an ancient Christian version of The Da Vinci Code – without the heresy! Here’s the book logline:
Tyrant: Rise of the Beast
Rome, A.D. 64. A Roman prefect and his Jewish servant are ordered by the evil emperor Nero to track down a secret Christian document that undermines the Roman empire and predicts the end of the world. But they’re not prepared for the spiritual war they’ve unleashed. The truth behind the origin of the most controversial book of the Bible: Revelation. An historical conspiracy thriller with angels and demons.
Revelation is one of the most supernatural books of the New Testament. It reveals the spiritual reality behind the historical judgment of God upon first-century Israel and his world-changing confirmation of the New Covenant kingdom. We are only given glimpses of that spiritual war in Revelation, so I took creative license to depict the angelic battle of that dragon Satan (also known as Apollyon), with Michael and the other angels of judgment. I used fantastical imagery to depict what we do not see in the spiritual world, but it’s all based on theological fidelity to the Book. And the human story helps readers to experience the theme of Revelation as an encouragement to first-century martyrs through the Neronic persecution and the struggle of the seven churches of Asia Minor, as well as the Jewish revolt in Jerusalem of AD 66-70.
I warn you, the persecution depicted in the novel is not for the faint of heart. But it is true. Narrative has a way of showing how all the theological elements fit together within the human experience of God’s will in history. Eschatology is not just some game of proof-texting and winning intellectual arguments. It is a real world incarnation of the kingdom of God. It’s time we have a narrative that tells the postmillennial redemptive-historical hope and victory to counter the defeatist fantasy entertainment that is blinding so many in our Christian culture and diverting them from the Gospel of the kingdom.
You can buy Tyrant: Rise of the Beast on Kindle or paperback here.
Or on Kobo, iBooks, Nook and others here.
If you want to find out more information before buying, check out my website for Chronicles of the Apocalypse here. Lots of cool artwork, synopsis, and free scholarly articles about the content. And you can sign up for special information, discounts, and updates of my work.
Brian Godawa is an award-winning Hollywood screenwriter (To End All Wars), a controversial movie and culture blogger (www.Godawa.com), an internationally known teacher on faith, worldviews, and storytelling (Hollywood Worldviews), an Amazon best-selling author of Biblical fiction (Chronicles of the Nephilim), and provocative theology (God Against the gods). His obsession with God, movies, and worldviews results in theological storytelling that blows your mind while inspiring your soul. And he’s not exaggerating.
- Amy Johnson Frykholm, Rapture Culture: Left Behind in Evangelical America (Oxford, NY: Oxford University Press, 2004), 205-207. [↩]
- Sydney Watson, In the Twinkling of an Eye (New York: Fleming H. Revell,  1933), 134. [↩]
- Dayton A. Manker, They That Remain: A Story of the End Times (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan,  1946), 4. [↩]
- Salem Kirban, 666 (Huntingdon, PA: Salem Kirban, Inc., 1970). [↩]