Writing the Rapture: Prophecy Fiction in Evangelical America

Writing the Rapture: Prophecy Fiction in Evangelical America
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Evangelicalismwhatever it is understood to behas always been culturally constructed. While clearly contiguous with earlier patterns of popular Protestant piety, evangelicalism gave a new emphasis to religious activism and presupposed a new kind of confidence in the interpretation of religious experience. Evangelicals have always been interested in eschatologyespecially in America, where powerful strains of evangelical millennialism are neither alien to traditional expressions of faith nor unique to any particular moment of religious history.

In America, one commentator has recently suggested, the largest component of the religious spectrum. But as the nineteenth century progressed, and as evangelicals on both sides of the Atlantic continued to view their societies through the lens of social crisis, a new variety of premillennialism grew dramatically in influence. This dispensational premillennialism had been formulated in the s and s among a small but elite circle that had been initially associated with Trinity College Dublin and the University of Oxford.

Its adherents believed that powerful forces of decay would grow in influence as the end of the age approached. They believed that current events were confirming this reading of prophecy and that the rapturethe sudden disappearance of true believerswas the next event on Scriptures prophetic calendar. This dispensationalism appealed to those evangelicals dissatisfied with the theological prevarications of the mainstream churches, as well as those whose disappointment with the possibilities of mission work among Irish Roman Catholics was both a cause and consequence of their increasing pessimism as to the short-term prospects of the truth.

Extrapolating a basic ecclesiology from their eschatological convictions, many of these evangelicals began to meet informally for the private study of Scripture and the celebration of the Lords Supper. These meetings fed their adherents into such radically anticlerical and primitivist movements as the Plymouth Brethren, within which the momentum for further ecclesiastical experiment was supplied by leaders such as John Nelson Darby Darby, a graduate of Trinity College Dublin and a former priest of the Church of Ireland, promoted his variety of dispensationalism both within and outside the Brethren movement.

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His influence on the eschatological thought of evangelicals was both profound and pivotal, more so perhaps than any other Christian leader for the last years. The systems adherents insisted that the world could only grow worse as the second coming approached and that evangelicals should concentrate their efforts on evangelism rather than social reform. Dispensationalists believed that there was no hope for Western civilization: it was a futile effort, as D. Moody famously put it, to polish the brass on a sinking ship. The dispensationalism he popularized provided a critical element of the doctrinal platform of the movement that would do so much to shape the evangelical future.

This fundamentalism, first thus identified by its enemies in the s, proposed a reified evangelicalism and promoted a theological platform that reaffirmed central components of traditional Protestantism in the face of the liberal skepticism that was being encouraged by the conclusions of evolutionary geology and late nineteenth-century biblical criticism. And their approach appeared to pay dividends. At the beginning of the twentieth century, their expectations of decay in mainstream denominations appeared to be confirmed. Responding to the new. Simultaneously, Oxford University Press was marketing the Scofield Reference Bible ; second edition , an annotated edition of the Authorized King James Version that provided readers with a subtle modification of Darbys dispensational system in marginal notes by the Reverend C.

The new movement of fundamentalists had some eminently respectable leaders, including J. Gresham Machen , a professor at Princeton Theological Seminary, but Machens untimely death and a series of theological and sociological divisions robbed the unstable movement of its best leaders and much of its intellectual capital. In the aftermath of the Scopes trial in June , as conservative Protestants were being identified as gaping primates of the upland valleys, their marginalization was written into the social contract of American secular modernity, and fundamentalists retreated toward the cultural margins to rebuild their infrastructure as their best leaders reexamined the terms of their doctrinal base.

These believers, sporting a progressive fundamentalism with a social message, were identified as new evangelicals or as neo-evangelicals. By that stage, prophecy novels had become a prominent feature of the movements popular culture.

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The genesis of evangelical prophecy fiction, at the beginning of the twentieth century,. Evangelical prophecy fiction was born into a stable and widely popularized dispensational faith, but, throughout its history, it has reflected the changing identities of the movements that have embraced it.

Given these origins, it is hardly surprising that the fundamentalist emphasis on literal interpretation should have made such a big impact on prophecy fiction. The form, if not the content, of prophecy fiction necessarily calls attention to problems of interpretation. This emphasis on literal interpretation drives prophecy novels, as it does dispensationalism more generally, toward a precritical approach to Scripture. But the hermeneutic has become unsettled. In the middle of the twentieth century, a number of leading dispensationalists retreated from strict futurism which argued that all prophecy concerned the very end of the age toward a more strategic and apologetically useful variant of historicism which argued that some prophecies could be fulfilled in the period before the end of the age and therefore combined apocalyptic rhetoric with a more urgent and contemporary social commentary.

Until , leading dispensationalists had uniformly insisted that the rapture would be the next event on the prophetic calendar. Prophecy scholars, working from the basis of their literal hermeneutic, had long anticipated that Jews would be regathered to the Promised Land, though they had not generally conceived that any such regathering in the period before the rapture could be considered a fulfillment of prophecy.

Scholars reconsidered the relationship between Israel and the rapture and began to rewrite the central textbooks of their movement. In , the correction was written into a revised edition of the Scofield Reference Bible. Three years later, it was widely popularized when Hal Lindsey published the most influential dispensational textbook of them all, The Late Great Planet Earth , a powerful monument to cold war fear which led in to a movie version with narration by Orson Welles.

But while it chronicled the means of future global holocaust, The Late Great Planet Earth blurred the line between fact and fiction by highlighting its rhetorical status, offering chapter titles such as Russia Is a. Simultaneously, Lindsey reversed decades of dispensational conservatism by hinting at date-setting speculations.

But the claim that was a fulfillment of prophecy profoundly undermined the coherence of dispensational ideas. By introducing the idea that prophecy could be recognizably fulfilled in the period before the rapture, writers opened up the future. Advocates of dispensational premillennialism are currently recontouring their expectations in the light of this significant geopolitical change.

Advocates of the new progressive dispensationalism have, however, yet to produce any revision of this narrative in the mode of prophecy fiction. Dispensationalism is an evolving system of faith within the constantly evolving fundamentalist and neo-evangelical cultures. Of course, as this reminder of theological and sociological instability suggests, there is not and never has been a neat division between fundamentalists and neo-evangelicals.

Neo-evangelicals have never been precluded from maintaining dispensational beliefs, nor have fundamentalists been precluded from rejecting them. One fundamentalist leader did claim, however, that there existed a necessary link between fundamentalism and premillennialism: There is no greater bulwark against modern liberalism than the doctrine of the premillennial return of Christ. Modernists are never premillenarians.

Evangelicalism, embracing both fundamentalism and neo-evangelicalism, is not a homogenous movement. What the media and academics see. In popular parlance, and in this book, the term evangelical is used to describe a broad range of interlocking but often competing movements, ideas, and ministries, from culturally engaged neo-evangelicals to world-denying. This broad category represents a changing constituency that may network with Billy Graham, Wheaton College, and Christianity Todayor that may denounce them in apocalyptic terms.

However the boundaries are delineated, nevertheless, it is clear that dispensationalism best survived among fundamentalists, and that those believers who moved between the alternate strands of popular Protestantismindividuals like Billy Graham, who left his fundamentalist background to become the patron saint of the neo-evangelical causedid adapt their eschatology to suit. Ironically, it is the premiere cultural marker of that separatismthe prophecy fiction novels that speak most vociferously of believers marginalitythat most obviously indicates its eclipse.

The enormous success of pop culture artifacts produced by dispensational fundamentalists provides a powerful argument that the former separatists have gone mainstream. Dispensationalism emerged and was appropriated to explain its adherents minority status in a hostile social environment. But that marginality is no longer a tenable status. Fundamentalist subculture produced an aggressive counterculture, and, in evangelical prophecy fiction, the literature of that counterculture has provided a quintessentially American myth. It was during the s that evangelicals came in from the cold. During that decade, it was estimated, eight million Americans were firmly committed to dispensational premillennialism.

Evangelical millennialism resonates within the political arena. Throughout the s and s, for example, Ronald Reagan and several of those who were prominent in his administration, including Caspar Weinberger, his secretary of defense, and James Watt, his secretary of the interior, confirmed their belief in a literal approach to the interpretation of biblical apocalyptic. Ezekiel says that fire and brimstone will be rained upon the enemies of Gods people.

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That must mean that theyll be destroyed by nuclear weapons. Apocalyptic ideas permeate Americas sacred lexicon, but they resonate most powerfully within evangelicalism. II Of course, prophecy fiction is only one part of a much larger American culture of evangelical consumption. The recent success of prophecy fiction is not an isolated outburst of creative activity on the part of evangelical authors, but it is the most obvious evidence that conservative evangelicals have moved from subculture to counterculture to cultural dominance.

That success obscures the often troubled relationship between fiction and theology. The difficulty has been particularly marked among dispensational believers, who have traditionally reiterated the need for their adherents to withdraw from worldly entertainments though one early writer of prophecy fiction did long for the pen of a Rider Haggard. But if there is some uncertainty as to the beginnings of the prophecy fiction genre, there is no doubt about the elements that define it. Prophecy fiction dramatizes several variants of an end-time belief that has become common among American evangelicals.

To qualify for membership in the genre, novels and films must refer, however critically or obliquely, to the narrative framework of dispensational belief. Their purpose is essentially didactic, and so, with a tiny number of exceptions, they identify the narrative voice or an identifiable leading character with the authorialand purportedly biblicalperspective.

Prophecy fiction assumes, to a greater or lesser degree, the structural motifs provided by dispensationalism and expects its readers to do so too. Many of the novels assume that the standard dispensational account is axiomatic. The Omega Project , for example, by Morris Cerullo, a self-identified converted Jew, argued that the systems end-time framework was an entirely objective and rational deduction from the Christian scriptures.

It was a calculated narrative maneuver. The novels reference to biblical verses as quantifiable data ignores the degree of subjectivity involved in any act of interpretation, and the idea that technology could solve problems of biblical meaning lends the novels conclusions an air of total rationality, as if the authors dispensationalism was the only result that could ever be logically affirmed from objective enquiry in the Scriptures.

The Omega Project dismissed self-conscious and self-critical processes of interpretation in favor of ideas of self-evident truth: were computer programmers, not philosophers, one character explains, arguing for the rationality of the novels claims. One character was using a Bible, scanning each page with his finger until he found the passages he was seeking. In front of him was a piece of paper divided into two columns. On the left was a column marked Prophecy. On the right was a column marked Fulfilled. But the dispensational narrative is not consistently affirmed.

Some novels adopt the opposite perspective, playing with and ultimately defying readers expectations that their narratives will adhere to the standard dispensational framework. Jean Grants The Revelation , for example, is a novel of prophetic doubt rather than certainty. It focuses on characters who believe that the pre-tribulation rapture could be denied only by some fuzzy liberals and modernists and describes the trials of faith they experience when their own commitment to the dispensational system is critically undermined.

The latter novel even argues for the danger of a false Christian millennialism with a political agendabut still expects its readers to make assumptions of dispensationalisms truth. The most obvious differences between novels appear in the relationship between the rapture and the tribulation. Most prophecy fiction, like Left Behind and the Christ Clone Trilogy, has adhered to the mainstream orthodoxy of dispensationalism and has positioned the rapture before the tribulation. Others have disagreed. John Myerss The Trumpet Sounds and Jean Grants The Revelation tentatively suggested that the rapture would occur midway through the tribulation.

Pat Robertsons The End of the Age and Robert Van Kampens The Fourth Reich both positioned the rapture after the tribulation; the latter novel explicitly denounced the standard dispensational narrative as a false hope. Others have shared his uncertainty. Kim Young, author of The Last Hour , didnt want to presume whether the events she described would happen before or after the rapture and hovered uncertainly between the pre- and mid-tribulation positions.

Angleys Raptured , and Jean Brennemans Virtual Reality suggested that only the best Christians would be included in the rapture. This partial rapture doctrine has always been a minority position within dispensationalism, and its proponents have used it to promote high personal standards. One character in Titan explained to her son that he could only expect to go to heaven if you are a good boy and dont say naughty words.

Writers of nonfictional prophetic material emphatically denied the possibility. Peter and Patti Lalonde made the point explicitly: If you refuse to become a Christian now for whatever reason, Gods Word says that you will be deluded and will believe all the lies of the Antichrist and the false prophet on the other side. There is no second chance.

We believe that those who become saints during the tribulation are those who have never heard or fully understood the gospel of Jesus Christ. They will, in effect, never again be open to accepting the message. Gods Word does indeed say just that. But most prophecy novelists have insisted on the opposite possibility.

The genre depends on the theology of the second chance. As this controversy indicates, disagreements in prophecy fiction go beyond the details of eschatology. While the genre allows a limited variation in eschatology, its negotiation with wider patterns of orthodoxy has often been significant. Early novels promoted the gap theory, the belief, confirmed by the interpretive apparatus of the Scofield Reference Bible, that the earth was of incalculable age. The theory allowed for the conclusions of geological science, for it argued that the creation story of Genesis referred not to an original creation but to a re-creation in the relatively recent past.

The gap theory was a key component of early dispensational orthodoxy that fell out of fashion in the aftermath of the Scopes trial and the subsequent development of creation science, despite its recent reappearance in Hal Lindseys Blood Moon Burroughss Titan suggested that Lucifer might have been Gods first choice as Messiah and proposed that the Holy Spirit could represent a principle of femininity within the Godhead.

Other disagreements range far beyond theology. The role of finance, for example, has been particularly contested among evangelical prophecy novels. Many early examples offered a bold critique of unfettered capitalism. One early novel was so concerned by industrial excess that its cabal of international business leaders takes on the narrative role of the Antichrist himself.

Writing the Rapture

Dayton Manker, writing in , was probably one of the last to point to the dangers of greedy capitalists who, he claimed, had demoralized youth with filthy movies, literature, artbut he rapidly switched his target to identify American Communists and their secretive Jewish controllers as the real enemies of the faithful. Evangelical publishers can often be positioned within the movements spectrum of theological belief and denominational allegiance. In their role as cultural gatekeepers, evangelical publishers grant access and legitimacy to the ideas they introduce to the market.

Others, like Thomas Nelson and Word, have been prepared to publish material that directly contradicts that framework, either by modifying the relationship between the tribulation and the rapture, as in Jean Grants The Revelation , or by abandoning premillennialism altogether, as in Michael Hyatt and George Grants Y2K Some want to have their cake and eat it: Tyndale House has published novels that confirm the traditional account, like Left Behind, as well as those, like the Last Disciple series, that entirely subvert it. Nonevangelical publishers have also begun to promote prophecy fiction, but they do so with no apparent support of any distinctive theological criteria.

Warners republication of the Christ Clone Trilogy ; republished in seems no more theologically significant than its earlier decision to publish Glenn Kleiers nonevangelical apocalyptic thriller, The Last Day These social, political, and theological debates are linked to the cultural function of prophecy fiction. Prophecy novels, like other evangelical novels, are stories that believers tell to themselves and about themselves. This success has shaped the future of the dispensational movement. Until the middle of the s, Hal Lindsey had been the most widely read expositor of biblical prophecy.

By the late s, the influence of his nonfiction work had been eclipsed by that of Left Behind. This turn to fiction represented a paradigm shift in popular prophetic consciousness. Nonfiction had been replaced by fiction as the most successful cultural conduit of dispensational faith. This turn to fiction was hugely significantly for the developing purpose of popular dispensational writing. The unprecedented success of Left Behind demonstrated that fictional texts could be far more popular than nonfictional prophetic textseven such staggeringly successful nonfictional prophetic texts as The Late Great Planet Earth.

The turn to fiction heightened the role of the readers imagination. It allowed room for speculation without ever requiring the author to invest his credibility in falsifiable claims. Earlier writers had thus invested their credibility: Hal Lindseys turn to a limited historicism had hinted that the rapture might occur in , and in so doing had provided the dispensational movement with a significant hostage to fortune. The turn to fiction provided dispensational authors with a strategy of survival after the credibility of Lindseys suggestions had been undermined. Prophecy novels allowed dispensational authors to maintain the immediacy of near-future speculation while countering Lindseys historicism, and they did so without requiring readers either to engage in theological debate or consciously to disagree with one of the most popular prophetic expositors in history.

Simultaneously, their nonaffirmative speculation made prophetic claims open-ended and heightened the potential ambiguity of the texts they produced. Prophecy novelists could speculate without damaging their expository credibility. Some of their number took real advantage of the opportunity the novel form provided. In an Important Note from the Author, James BeauSeigneur stressed that his work would focus more on characterization and voice while being less assertively didactic than previous prophecy novels.

He also distanced himself from his novels theological claims: Never assume that the charactersany of the charactersspeak for the author, he told readers. In addition, as BeauSeigneurs comments suggest, the turn to fiction heightened the authority of the author. Novels did not need to spend time detailing alternative explanations of contested passages. Like the computer operatives in The Omega Project, prophecy novelists could elide the role of the interpreter while presenting the plain and undisputable meaning of the biblical text.

The turn to fiction also involved an important change in the criteria of readerly persuasion. The elements of a convincing novel, even a convincing prophetic novel, are quite different from the elements of a persuasive scholarly or pseudo-scholarly text. Prophecy novels attempt to capture the hearts and minds of their audience by description, not prescription, in the hope that engaged sympathies will lead to changed minds.

Paradoxically, the turn to fiction also decreases the significance of this persuasion and makes textual influence very difficult to ascertain. Prophecy novels are highly rhetorical texts which aim to persuade audiences of the truth of their claims, but can also be persuasive in offering ephemeral entertainment. Readers can consume and enjoy their narratives without ever actually endorsing their distinctive points of view. The influence of this fiction extends far beyond the boundaries of the evangelical movement. But it is difficult to know exactly what its popularity means.

This question of the significance of success has been foregrounded by the fact that prophecy fiction has not only been produced by evangelicals. Other texts, from outside the evangelical world, use dispensational themes for quite different ends. Ken Wades The Orion Conspiracy developed a Seventh-day Adventist alternative to the dispensational tradition, but gave no indication of its being alternative to that tradition during its first one hundred and sixty pages.

Other prophecy novels have been written by Roman Catholics. Like their evangelical counterparts, Roman Catholic writers focus on many of the usual suspects in the conspiracy moving toward a one-world government, economy, and church. As the Clock Struck Twenty , by S. The novel was published in the same year as Smiths adult novel, It Ends with Revelations. Heinlein published Job: A Comedy of Justice as a searing critique of fundamentalist Christianity, describing his protagonists profound disappointment with the heaven he is finally allowed to enter. Similarly, Mark E.

The Dead , reissued invested zombie horror into a traditional dispensational framework, and Brian Caldwells We All Fall Down , described in detail the kinds of narrative situations that evangelical authors would generally rather not countenance. Lydia Milletts Oh Pure and Radiant Heart provided a satirical take on the American Christian Right when it transported three atomic scientists from to the present day, where their leader, Robert Oppenheimer, is mistaken for the hero of a messianic cult.

Tolkins film was as authentic a premillennial vision of the end-time as Hollywood is probably capable of producing. These believers, whose denominational perspective is never identified, conduct their lives according to apocalyptic prophecies made by their leader, the boy. The film is entirely apolitical and not nearly as theological as those emerging from the Left Behind franchise: the religious culture of their movement is hardly described. There is no sense in which this filmwhich alludes repeatedly to the structures of the dispensational systemcan be classified as even a broadly evangelical text, but it illustrates the extent to which mainstream American film audiences can be assumed to be familiar with the core elements of dispensational belief.

And those audiences can also be assumed to be familiar with the most successful products of dispensational culture. These nonevangelical examples of prophecy fiction indicate the extent to which core elements of dispensational belief have crossed into the cultural mainstream. As these examples attest, the audience for prophecy fiction should not be consistently identified as passively receiving the messages of the textsnor can it be consistently identified as evangelical.

In fact, their implied readership appears to change from one novel to another. It is interesting to note that many of the novels, until fairly recently, emphasized their crossover appeal, as if they deliberately intended to introduce fiction to people who had little experience of reading it. The commendation on the back cover of Gary G. Cohens The Horsemen Are Coming , was typical of this approach: I am not a dedicated reader of novels; however, if Mr. Cohen keeps on writing this way, he just might change my taste. Lutzer, pastor of the Moody Church, Chicago, who noted that even those who are not connoisseurs of fiction will be gripped by this book.

But while the novels vary in the kind of evangelical readers they aim to attract, their aspiration to address nonevangelicals has been consistent. Many prophecy fiction novels are clearly exhortatory and a number have advertised their evangelistic success. The Christ Clone Trilogy replaced an appeal for salvation with a number of unexpected and challenging theological twists, more obviously intending to instruct existing adherents than to recruit new converts to the cause.

These varieties of purpose are indicative of the range of relationships that might be imagined between prophecy fiction, dispensational theology, and the evangelical movement from which both have emerged. But whatever the variety of their ideal reader, these prophecy novels return to invoke or revoke the same basic elements of plot.

Because that plot is narrated in changing social contexts, prophecy novels have become an acutely sensitive barometer of the changing evangelical condition. Nevertheless, the variety of beliefs among dispensational and evangelical believers illustrates the dangers involved in reading its literature as indicative of a homogenous religious culture. Prophecy novels do not provide privileged access to an unchanging cultural mentalit.

There is no simple way of describing their relationship to a broader evangelicalismor even, more precisely, their relationship to dispensationalism. We have already noticed that neither evangelicalism nor dispensationalism can provide a fixed point of reference to which the development of prophecy fiction can be compared. Instead, the fictional mode establishes a series of discourses that can be used to both consolidate and challenge dominant trends in the contexts of its production. Similarly, prophecy novels do not provide a micro-history of the movement that has produced and consumed them.

Prophecy fiction justifies and challenges aspects of the wider evangelical culture. Prophecy novels have certainly been designed to be supportive of a larger project. Didactic, nonfictional texts have used fiction to advance their ends.

Morris Cerullos The Omega Project interspersed its fictional narrative with episodes of direct exhortation from the author himself. Other prophecy novels insisted that readers actively engage with the theological debate. Nonfiction was paramount in the construction of theology. 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.

Carol Balizets The Seven Last Years , for example, contained an appendix listing ninety-four prophecies relating to the events of the tribulation. 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 fictionlike other expressions of dispensational theologyhas 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,.

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 Millennialism has become a growth area in recent scholarship, but the study of evangelical millennialismand especially the popular culture of dispensationalism, evangelicalisms most significant millennial subculturehas been largely overlooked.

This scholarly gap reflects a wider lack of interest in evangelical popular culture, which Heather Hendershots work has done so much to correct. 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. Prophecy fiction has often been described as rapture fiction, but this term seems appropriate only for those novels actively representing the expectations of dispensational believers.

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Similarly, from time to time in this book I use the term genre, but always with some degree of hesitation. 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. Both Benson and S. 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. But prophecy novels can only be described as a genre in the loosest sense of the word. 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. There is, sadly, no archive of prophecy fiction. There are large collections of items from the material cultures of popular dispensationalismsuch 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. Nevertheless, from a historians point of view, a good bibliography must precede a good chronology, and a good chronology is foundational to any kind of literary or cultural study.

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. My research in this book has therefore been based on the bibliography of primary sources appended to Frykholms Rapture Culture, to which I have added other titles collected by Doug Cowan and myself. 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. If you do not receive an email within 10 minutes, your email address may not be registered, and you may need to create a new Wiley Online Library account. If the address matches an existing account you will receive an email with instructions to retrieve your username.

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