Though I have not yet seen the film nor read the series of novels as of earlier 2001, I have seen similar works such as "The Omega Code", "One Moment After" and the 70’s classics "Thief in the Night", "Image of the Beast", and "Prodigal Planet", as well as having noticed the proto-eschatological themes addressed in more mainstream science fiction such as "Babylon 5" and "Earth: Final Conflict". I believe I am safe in addressing John Whitehead’s criticism of this cinematic production.
John Whitehead levels considerable criticism at "Left Behind". Yet at one time he was one of the voices calling for greater Christian involvement with popular culture as evidenced in a profile of him published in the December 7, 1998 edition of Christianity Today. It is in response to this yearning that the producers of "Left Behind" hope their efforts will "lead to more family-friendly movies".
But of such efforts, John Whitehead says today, "Christian involvement in culture should be in a way that ultimately serves that end --- not merely to pour $17 million into a poorly adapted feature that does not contribute to leading viewers into a deeper relationship with their eternal Creator."
One must assume Mr. Whitehead thinks such edification can be found in "The Last Temptation of Christ" which he classified as "a sympathetic and reverent treatment of Christianity’s origins," according to the Christianity Today profile. It should be recalled that "The Last Tempation" was the movie that made Judas out to be the hero and cast Jesus as the villain.
Mr. Whitehead further admonishes contemporary Evangelicals in light of the "Left Behind" phenomena, "Instead of dedicating their lives to taking care of the poor and the needy, American followers of Christ too often ignore His example and instead look for cheap thrills in an increasingly superficial world."
Mr. Whitehead should be reminded of his own neglect of the downtrodden in his own pursuit of glitz and the limelight. According to Christianity Today, Mr. Whitehead’s civil rights organization the Rutherford Institute, at the expense of those facing more pressing and substantial First Amendment religious rights issues, came to the defense of Paula Jones --- the floozy who wouldn’t disrobe for then Governor Clinton but who apparently had no problem doing so for Playboy photographers.
To some Christians, it’s not legitimate missions activity unless it’s directed at some impoverished foreigner halfway around the globe. John Whitehead writes, "...instead of centering their hopes, prayers and financial resources behind the tragedy in India [a reference to the recent earthquake] ... much of the American Christian community was busy hyping a movie that one reviewer called ’unintentionally hilarious’."
Elsewhere on his gaudy and semi-tasteless looking magazine and website Gadfly, John Whitehead has explored the metaphysical background of the "X-Files".
How would he propose we reach out to those whom this particular genre speaks to? Somehow I don’t think vaccination clinics or soup kitchens will quite grab them where they are hurting most. An evangelistic film geared towards their interests in paranormal phenomena and government conspiracies likely would, however. And for others, such visualization would help make the obscure beasts, dragons, plagues and judgments of the Book of Revelation and other passages of Scripture relevant to their early twenty-first century lives.
John Whitehead dismisses "Left Behind" as a "B" film and comments, "Truly Christian films embody this aim by exploring the human dimensions of loving thy neighbor as thyself, portraying servants in a world where everyone seeks to be a master, and by encountering the Divine in unexpected places ..."
What more could Mr. Whitehead hope for than a movie set during the time of the Tribulation?
During that period in eschatological history, the very power of Satan will be allowed the seemingly unbridled power the Prince of Darkness has always longed for since the time of his fall, and during this future era simply being a Christian could get you executed. It is under such conditions to which Americans are currently not accustomed that the protagonists of "Left Behind" must stand for truth and righteousness during the heyday of the New World Order.
In all likelihood, "Left Behind" is not a perfect movie. However, much of the drivel and filth produced by Hollywood is not worth watching to begin with.
It must be remembered that Christians have not had much practice at producing cinematic masterpieces that are both theologically accurate and appeal to a broad audience. This is due in large part to the sanctimonious piousness like that displayed by those such as John Whitehead, who in at least this instance, refuse to realize the apologetic of certain literary genres and narrative techniques.
By Frederick Meekins