Marks of the Beast: The Left Behind Novels and the Struggle for Evangelical Identity


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These novels, written by two well-known evangelical Christians, depict the experiences of those "left behind" in the aftermath of the Rapture, when Christ removes true believers, leaving everyone else to suffer seven years of Tribulation under Satan's proxy, Antichrist. In Marks of the Beast , Shuck uncovers the reasons behind the books' unprecedented appeal, assessing why the novels have achieved a status within the evangelical community even greater than Hal Lindsey's blockbuster The Late Great Planet Earth. It also explores what we can learn from them about evangelical Christianity in America.

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Most strikingly, he shows how the ultimate vision put forth by the series' authors inadvertently undermines itself as the series unfolds. Project MUSE promotes the creation and dissemination of essential humanities and social science resources through collaboration with libraries, publishers, and scholars worldwide. Forged from a partnership between a university press and a library, Project MUSE is a trusted part of the academic and scholarly community it serves. Built on the Johns Hopkins University Campus. This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website.

Without cookies your experience may not be seamless. Institutional Login. LOG IN. In this Book. NYU Press. Additional Information. Table of Contents. It culminates in global rule by the Antichrist, whose government is enforced by an identification mark placed on either the hand or forehead. Irene [his Christian wife] had been right. He, and most of his passengers, had been left behind. The Rapture is exceptionally effective as a plot device that establishes the Antichrist and the terror of the mark of the Beast, but it also serves as a warning to viewers and readers that this could happen to them.


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To underscore the point, the Left Behind franchise includes in the eponymous first novel, first film, and a videocassette titled, Have You Been Left Behind? Your Future Depends on It! In all three of these formats, a similar script is presented where a pastor leaves a tape for the post-Rapture world to see—explaining why he and others who believe as he does are missing.

You are no doubt stunned, shocked, afraid, and remorseful. These writers and producers have blurred the line between entertainment and teaching, which deepens the supernatural thrills. The Bible—properly decoded, of course—becomes a source of special knowledge of the violent future and helps to create that excitement. Lovecraft started going to church.

The age of the computer will contribute to his ability to control the life of every person on the globe. He will be the very incarnation of evil. In the sequel, A Distant Thunder , significant tension revolves around this choice, where the one decision will lead to beheading by guillotine and the other to being marked. Citizens may choose either location [right hand or forehead], and visible will be a thin, half-inch scar, and to its immediate left, in six-point black ink—impossible to remove under penalty of law—the number that designates the home region of the individual. That number may be included on the embedded chip, should the person prefer that one of the variations of the name of the potentate appear on their flesh.

Most, we assume, will prefer the understated numbers next to the thin scar. The first or last name may be used, including one version of Nicolae that would virtually cover the left side of the forehead. If the Rapture provides the entry to the horror, the choosing of the mark provides the tension of life or death, and the violence of the tribulation provides the background and dystopian atmosphere that situates newly converted and persecuted Christians.

The spectacle of beheading and the implied gore in punishment for rejecting the mark heightens the terror. In The Mark , an execution scene is depicted near the conclusion of the novel. A number of women refuse the mark. Even more innovatively, LaHaye and Jenkins create a character who bears both the marks of Christ and Antichrist.

Drugged by his father and forcibly given the mark, Chang Wong is understandably concerned about the fate of his soul. But other Christians assure him that he is not responsible as it was not his choice. In his novel, Raptured , Ernest W. Angley describes the acquisition of the mark in some detail.

Here, the very instruments of the mark are suspect:. It felt colder than any ice Jim had ever felt. Something shot up his arm and traveled on to his heart. It was amazing how his countenance suddenly changed.

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Like magic he had been turned into a different man. His eyes glittered, and his lips curled into a sneer. Jim had never been one to swear, but now the blasphemies began to roll from his lips as a great torrent. What a great change had come over him. Angley sticks with an economic reading of , but in an interesting expansion of the mark of the Beast trope adds, in what is intended to be a significant insult, that a dead body without the mark cannot be buried. From these perspectives, marking the body with the economic symbols of the Beast is to participate in evil to the point of complete separation from God.

On the surface, the context of the mark of the Beast demonizes technology at worst, suspects it at best. However, this particular understanding of body and modernity, where the forces of God and Satan contest, is significant beyond the critique that technology has gone too far.

These texts declare that the branding of the body with symbols of allegiance or economic efficiency is in itself an act of mythic consequence. The body is once again not merely the center of identity, it also provides flesh to a theocentric cosmos.

Likewise, the often-reported evangelical fixation on the sexual practices and identities of others—even granting the power to destabilize civilization to the private life of a minority—may express not so much Victorian frigidity but rather a concern joined with a particular mythopoetic reading of the stability of the cosmos centered on bodily presentation.

In fact, part of the apostasy of the Church leading us to the end is guiltless masturbation. In the modern dispensationalist imagination, the care, use, and expression of the body directly influence powerfully destructive cosmological forces. It is the monsters—Antichrist, Beast, and Satan—that draw us to the edge of this abyss.

Thus these stories of supernatural horror fascinate us—for the monstrous evils that lure us to destruction are not just projections of anxieties and fears, but also our own desires.

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Monsters in the Church: Marking the Body in Evangelical Horror

There is something in us that craves to behold these evil creatures, gory futures, and ultimate victories. The evangelical end-time pulp mill witnesses to an exhausted and conflicted modernity. In that tale, reward and punishment are meted out almost exclusively in terms of body. Their authors are not outsiders to the modern world; they inhabit the hyphen between post and modern, and suffer from the excesses, promises, and contradictions of modernity while desperately trying to sacralize or re-enchant it. It is no coincidence that these end-time tales situate chaos and cosmos in the body and mark it up with the betrayal of technology at the hands of supernatural evil.

This form of evangelical Christianity appears enchanted by body, determined to find continuity between body, soul, and identity—to make flesh sacred, while seeking the pleasure of escaping, through the Rapture, the suffering of the non-raptured in satanic tribulation. However, evangelical end-time pulp writers and producers are not exiles of modernity, nor simply Republican shills in a liberal nightmare; rather, they embrace the promises and recoil at the betrayals of modernity.

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With his second coming, the narrative concludes with a millennium of peace in which God resurrects the saints and righteous dead and gathers them together with the bodies of believers glorified into perfection. Christ returns, however, in an orgy of bloodshed, where he slices open the bodies of his enemies by the sound of his voice: And with those very first words, tens of thousands of Unity Army soldiers fell dead, simply dropping where they stood, their bodies ripped open, blood pooling in great masses.

With every word, more and more enemies of God dropped dead, torn to pieces. For miles lay the carcasses of the Unity Army. As Rayford slowly made his way down to the desert plains, though he had to concentrate on missing craters and keeping from hitting splayed and filleted bodies of men and women and horses, Jesus still appeared before his eyes—shining, magnificent, powerful, victorious. With that description LaHaye and Jenkins present Jesus as righteously washing the blood of ignorant others from his teeth in tribal acknowledgement of the universal righteousness of his cause.

These scenes also depict the destruction of technology. Yet modernity is more than technology—it is also a perspective that places the self at the center. At the end of these end-time tales, newly perfected bodies dominate the story as Jesus hovers in the background, offering congratulations and handing out tiaras. The body is the center of identity, soul, and now gloriously perfected with the bodies of the opposition sliced open, bled white, decaying, swallowed by the earth.

It remains possible, even when seen through the lens of horror, to embrace these stories for the mythic worlds they seek to enact.

Direction: Monsters in the Church: Marking the Body in Evangelical Horror

The narratives reveal an understanding of the power and significance of the body in the cosmos—it keeps chaos at bay. Moreover, dispensational hermeneutics and horror-like creative license have created stories that blur the line between fiction and actual life as part of a ritual of enactment. While taking salvation and the Bible seriously, these evangelicals also enjoy stories that excite, scare, and thrill—and they know it. Attempting to control the narrative, he filed a lawsuit in against the producers of Left Behind: The Movie Left Behind: World at War , dir.

Craig R. Baxley Cloud Ten Pictures, It is retained here because the texts and theology we are examining are considered evangelical not only by scholars but by their authors too.

Marks of the Beast: The Left Behind Novels and the Struggle for Evangelical Identity Marks of the Beast: The Left Behind Novels and the Struggle for Evangelical Identity
Marks of the Beast: The Left Behind Novels and the Struggle for Evangelical Identity Marks of the Beast: The Left Behind Novels and the Struggle for Evangelical Identity
Marks of the Beast: The Left Behind Novels and the Struggle for Evangelical Identity Marks of the Beast: The Left Behind Novels and the Struggle for Evangelical Identity
Marks of the Beast: The Left Behind Novels and the Struggle for Evangelical Identity Marks of the Beast: The Left Behind Novels and the Struggle for Evangelical Identity
Marks of the Beast: The Left Behind Novels and the Struggle for Evangelical Identity Marks of the Beast: The Left Behind Novels and the Struggle for Evangelical Identity
Marks of the Beast: The Left Behind Novels and the Struggle for Evangelical Identity Marks of the Beast: The Left Behind Novels and the Struggle for Evangelical Identity
Marks of the Beast: The Left Behind Novels and the Struggle for Evangelical Identity Marks of the Beast: The Left Behind Novels and the Struggle for Evangelical Identity
Marks of the Beast: The Left Behind Novels and the Struggle for Evangelical Identity Marks of the Beast: The Left Behind Novels and the Struggle for Evangelical Identity

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