The Third Millenium, by Paul Meier
Thomas Nelson, 1993
311 pp.; $12.99, paper

Left Behind, by Tim LaHaye & Jerry B. Jenkins
Tyndale House, 1995
468 pp.; $12.99, paper

The End of the Age, by Pat Robertson
Word, 1995
374 pp.; $12.99, paper

You have miraculously made it onto the last flight out of L.A. before a kilometer-wide flaming meteor hits. Every link to your adult life—your home, job, friends, assets—will soon be drowned by a mile-high wave, melted by nuclear reactors gone bad, and shaken by earthquakes that exceed Californians' worst nightmares. You find yourselves at a crowded terminal in Albuquerque where you watch on TV while the President shoots himself in the head. You meet Dave, a nice Christian NBA star, who takes you to the home of Charley, an ex-coach and savvy investor who is now a multimillionaire.

How do you possibly cope with this much chaos and trauma? Where do you start? What do you do?

You have a Bible study. An inductive one, with "hearty laughter" accompanying the questions. "Open the Bible to the very last book. That's Revelation . …Now turn to chapter eight."

"It is surreal," admits one participant.

So begin the adventures of Carl and Lori, our escapees from L.A. It turns out that Charley is an amateur prophecy expert and that Revelation predicts these amazing current events accurately—so accurately that Carl and Lori become Christians.

Such is the premise of Pat Robertson's novel, The End of the Age. And this ex-presidential candidate and head of cbn and host of The 700 Club is not the only evangelical leader who has taken up the sport of end-times novels. Paul Meier, a psychiatrist and cofounder of the Minirth-Meier Clinics, has written The Third Millennium, and Tim LaHaye, best-selling Christian author and husband of Concerned Women of America founder and head Beverly LaHaye, has partnered with Moody's writer-in-residence, Jerry Jenkins, on an end-times series, the first of which is Left Behind.

Imagine the ultimate press conference where evangelical leaders come clean on what they really think about the press, government, the state of the church, men and women, evil, the future, and other world-view items. That is what I believe we get in these novels. Stellar leaders of institutional evangelicaldom let down their guard in the name of telling a good yarn. Opinions that would carry a hundred qualifications emerge unedited in the voices of the various good guys.

Revelation applied
All three books take place in the very near future with America playing a central role, at least in the beginning (in End of the Age and The Third Millennium, the Antichrist is the President), and all three share the view that Revelation tells us pretty much what is to happen. Still, they differ in interesting ways.

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In Robertson's End of the Age, after the meteor and the President's suicide a semi-alcoholic ex-actor VP takes over. He has an adulterous, bisexual wife who has been to India (a very bad sign in the book); she works with her friend Tauriq Haddid, a Hindu entrepreneur and arms dealer, to get Mark Beaulieu chosen as the new vice president. Beaulieu comes from a monied family, "loathes the free-enterprise system" and "Western Civilization," drives a Porsche, and is so good-looking and charming that he is elected to Congress. Did I mention that Beaulieu had been to India as a Peace Corps volunteer?

The President is soon bumped off, and Beaulieu not only becomes President but proposes a one-world government, which all the nations, except for Israel, think is a wonderful idea. Soon Beaulieu, as supreme dictator, wants to rule the world from "New Babylon," along with his homosexual, philandering, liberal bureaucrats. Yes, the cashless society and the mark of the Beast and one-world religion come into play, as well as the persecution of Christians. Eventually, Beaulieu decides he has been patient enough with Israel and attacks, which is a mistake. God destroys his army, the tables are turned, Jesus returns.

Left Behind is only the first installment of the LaHaye/Jenkins series (volume two is Tribulation Force; volume three, Nicolae, has just been released). It begins with scenes from the old Rapture posters: cars and airplanes crash, fires and chaos abound, as all Christians and children vanish, leaving only their clothes. Few of those who remain figure out what happened (the official explanation is that it is a natural event caused by a combination of nuclear and environmental factors interacting with electric fields). In the aftermath of this trauma, the world becomes enraptured with the peace-loving, smooth-talking, hope-giving new president of Romania, Nicolae Carpathia, who just loves the UN (and is secretly supported by an elusive ring of international financiers). He proposes worldwide disarmament and a reorganization of nation-states into ten regional bodies, headquartered in New Babylon (oh-oh). A remnant church emerges to fight the Antichrist. They call themselves the Tribulation Force. End of volume one.

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Of the three books, Meier's The Third Millennium hews most closely to Revelation. Every horseman, trumpet, bowl, and seal of judgment is described. In Meier's scenario, President Damian Gianardo wants to recreate the Roman Empire by uniting ten nations, which is a good economic idea for all involved—unless the President just happens to be the Antichrist! So 25 percent of the U.S. is raptured (5 percent of Europe; 50 percent of some African nations); Elijah and Moses show up in Jerusalem; China, Russia, and the United Muslim States (headquartered in New Babylon!) oppose Gianardo; nuclear war ensues, not to mention boils, locusts, earthquakes, famines, more earthquakes, and the persecution of Christians; simultaneously, worldwide revival breaks out, amidst martyrdom. The warring armies meet in the Jezreel valley, on the field of Armageddon; God intervenes; Christ returns.

The Antichrists
Meier's Gianardo is the least scary Antichrist. Seemingly not even aware of his true identity, Gianardo comes across as simply ambitious: he wants to be the supreme governmental and religious leader in all of history and will nuke anyone who gets in his way. No mention is made of Satan or demons. In fact, evil is surprisingly secular in Meier's world: a character flaw.

Possession is Robertson's dominant metaphor for the Antichrist. Through the ministry of Shiva guru Raj Baba, Beaulieu is possessed by "a powerful demonic spirit," and by the end of the book, by Satan himself. Beaulieu is said to have "power over people," but the means are unspecified. Pastor Jack, a descendant of Jonathan Edwards and the leader of the Christian enclave in New Mexico, explains that "demon princes are responsible for the strange New Age religions springing up and … are behind most of the unexplained cruelty and perversion that exist in our world." Still, the actual evil described in the book is rather ordinary—the usual sins of an oppressive police state. An oddity is that all evildoers seem to hate capitalism.

For Robertson, evil is discerned intuitively by Christians (that is, when not directly explained by the Book of Revelation). Despite the fact that Beaulieu is "charming, sporting a warm smile and ready wit," many Christians sense something amiss. "I felt it. It was cold and icy. It was evil. There is something very disturbing, something sinister about this guy."

Left Behind 's Nicolae Carpathia is the most subtle and ominous of the Antichrists. In fact, if it were not for the inside track of the narrator's point of view, Carpathia would come across as positively heroic. Unlike his counterparts in the other books, he knows who he is and what he wants to accomplish. Like the others, he is charming and handsome (voted "Sexiest Man Alive" by People magazine). He refuses to criticize "any sincere person's belief system" and seeks "true harmony and brotherhood, peace and respect among peoples." (Potshot: Carpathia says that President Bush's talk of a "new world order" "resonated deep within my young heart"—evidence that Bush never did win the hearts of evangelicals.) At the same time, Carpathia is straightforwardly demonic. Unlike End of the Age and The Third Millennium, Left Behind portrays evil as big, powerful, organized, and scary—in other words, realistically.

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Jews and Catholics
Of the three books, only Left Behind gives significant play to that staple of conspiracy theories, a cabal of international financiers who manipulate world events from behind the scenes. But where the conspiracy theorists would speak of "Jewish bankers," LaHaye and Jenkins give their bankers names like "Todd-Cothran" and "Stonagal," with little indication of Jewish origins.

In fact, the authors of all three novels have gone out of their way to avoid any hint of anti-Semitism (except in the eyes of those who believe that Christian evangelizing among Jews is inherently anti-Semitic). In these books, Jews are initially just as blind as everyone else or, as in Robertson, are the lone non-Christian holdouts against the Antichrist. For all three, Jews are at the forefront of the end-times Christian revival (which is not that surprising considering Elijah and Moses are the ones doing the preaching in two of the books).

Among the Jews, the good guys are usually the Orthodox, who are shown as either resisting the Antichrist or the first to convert. For evangelicals to see the Orthodox as allies is understandable in that they, like us, really believe their Scriptures, but also ironic, in that the Orthodox, in real life, tend to be the staunchest opponents of the evangelization of Jews.

One striking feature of all three books is their almost complete silence regarding Catholics—and it's not because they were all raptured. After the meteor hits in End of the Age and the Antichrist proposes a one-world religion, one would assume the press would report the reaction of the pope, but nothing is said. Robertson includes a couple of Catholics in Pastor Jack's kingdom, but he hedges his bet by having them commit their lives to Christ during the recent traumas. Meier has a quarter of the United States being raptured, which would presumably include a large chunk of Catholics, but he never uses the C word. The same is true of LaHaye/ Jenkins, though they go out on a limb by mentioning that Mother Teresa is among the disappeared.

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While this silence is strange, it is, in fact, an advance when one remembers that only a generation or two ago it was obvious to many Protestants that the pope was the Antichrist. Still, we are not at the point where we feel comfortable, at least publicly, calling them our full brothers and sisters in Christ.

The missing church
Catholics are not the only ones to get the silent treatment. Strangely, so are Protestant denominations. Not one character is labeled a Presbyterian or Methodist or even Baptist—only Christian or non. Churches play no role in Robertson's book whatsoever; there are only ministries and individual Christians. Since Robertson's plot does not have the benefit of the Rapture, which would remove all true Christians from the scene, this silence is loud indeed. (For Meier, a "big church in Dallas" is mentioned, but after the Rapture, silence. Are we to believe that all the Methodists and Episcopalians were raptured?)

Through the voice of his nba-star Christian, Robertson comments on the state of the current church: "Even most Christians in America have been acting like God is some kind of big, easygoing teddy bear in the sky who's going to let them get away with trashing all His sacred laws." At the same time, Robertson's Pastor Jack sees the end-times revival beginning with a Washington rally of 500,000 Christians in April 1980. Yet his list of signs of revival stresses things like producing evangelistic films and radio and television programs, Bible translation and distribution, crusades, and publishing—all parachurch operations. He mentions megachurches, but highlights their success with evangelism.

LaHaye and Jenkins criticize churches that "demanded little and offered a lot"; they seem to celebrate small, strong, independent churches that emphasize "real preaching and teaching," which we later learn means spending a lot of time talking about the end times, especially the Rapture. The assistant pastor of one such church is left behind in the Rapture, but after experiencing a true conversion he is the one who creates the Tribulation Force: the ultimate parachurch ministry.

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I have often heard it said that we evangelicals have a low view of the church. After reading these books, that sounds like a serious understatement. On the evidence assembled here, key evangelical leaders have lost all confidence in the institutional church, seeing God at work exclusively with individuals and focused parachurch ministries. This disdain for the church is accompanied by a preoccupation with evangelism as the only legitimate work of the Christians. How we relate together as a community of believers, becoming the body of Christ, simply doesn't figure into the vision of these books.

Part one of two parts; click here to read part two.

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