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Rapture Culture: Left Behind in Evangelical America, by Amy Johnson Frykholm

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Rapture Culture: Left Behind in Evangelical America, by Amy Johnson Frykholm

Rapture Culture: Left Behind in Evangelical America, by Amy Johnson Frykholm

Conservative evangelical Christians are an important part of American culture, yet they are a part of culture which the rest of society often doesn’t pay much attention to; this forms a basis for their complaints that despite their power and numbers, they are a persecuted minority. The one thing they can point to positively, however, are the Left Behind series of books.

Summary

Title: Rapture Culture: Left Behind in Evangelical America
Author: Amy Johnson Frykholm
Publisher: Oxford University Press
ISBN: 0195159837

Pro:
• Interesting exploration of what conservative evangelicals believe and why
• Interesting discussion of the ideology and assumptions behind the Left Behind books

Con:
• A bit heavy on the post-modern discourse regarding texts

Description:
• Analysis of the beliefs and culture of evangelical Christians
• Focuses on people’s reactions to and use of the Left Behind series of books
• Argues that evangelical culture is more integral to American culture than usually perceived

Book Review

Written by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, the Left Behind books are a publishing phenomenon. They tell the story of the “rapture,” an aspect of evangelical theology not shared by the rest of the Christian community. Evangelicals generally believe that, at some point in the future, all True Believers will be “raptured” up to heaven. Those “left behind” will have to fight in the final battle between good and evil, either on the side of Christ or the side of the Antichrist.

The importance of the rapture for evangelicals cannot be underestimated. People spend large amounts of time trying to figure out when it might happen; believers watch the news and interpret everything they see in terms of whether it is a sign of the coming rapture. The question of whether they will be among those taken up to heaven constitutes one of the fundamental organizational points of their lives.

People’s understanding of the rapture, and thus also of Christianity and their lives as a whole, have been strongly influenced by the interpretations set forth in LeHay’s and Jenkin’s books. Amy Johnson Frykholm explores how people read these stories in her book Rapture Culture: Left Behind in Evangelical America. She interviews men and women, evangelicals and non-evangelicals, to create an anthropological study of America’s “Rapture Culture,” the segment of America which believes in and awaits the rapture.

Frykholm is not an evangelical, so she is a stranger to their culture; she comes from an evangelical background, though, so she is not completely ignorant and harbors a lot of sympathy for them.

Thus, we learn not just about the rapture believers and the alienation they have from American culture generally, but also about Frykholm herself and the alienation she is experiencing. Frykholm doesn’t hide the fact that she thinks the books are simply bad fiction, but she is able to explore why others don’t feel this way and what sorts of psychological reactions they have to it.

Some people read the books because they reaffirm their religious views, some because they provide alternative theological perspectives from what they hear in church — and thus they even provide a basis for readers to challenge what others in church are saying. Some simply find them to be entertaining fiction and ignore the theology, while others disagree strongly with the theology and stop reading after a couple of volumes.

Unlike the Bible, everyone recognizes that the books are fiction and thus shouldn’t be taken literally, but this acceptance of them as fiction allows the theology to be incorporated without the same critical reflection and study they apply to the Bible itself.

Rapture Culture: Left Behind in Evangelical America, by Amy Johnson Frykholm

Rapture Culture: Left Behind in Evangelical America, by Amy Johnson Frykholm

Thus, paradoxically, recognition that the books are just one person’s theological interpretation helps ensure that this interpretation acquires greater penetration into their own belief systems.

This has long been one of the reasons why fiction and art can come in for special criticism: people often read them without the same mental filters that they apply to nonfiction, such as news. This allows ideas to spread and become incorporated on an unconscious level where it becomes very difficult to critique them and develop some critical distance from them. It’s not that fiction is bad, but unreflective reading of fiction can be.

Frykholm’s study of the Rapture Culture in America has something to say about evangelical culture, about American culture, and also about the nature of reading and interpreting fiction in general. It’s a very conversational book (which is natural given the fact that is based on a large number of personal discussions and interviews conducted by Frykholm) and an interesting read for anyone curious about religion in America.

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