Thursday, August 09, 2007

Kingdom Come, by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins

Kingdom Come
Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins
Tyndale: 2007

After sixteen volumes about the Rapture and the End of Days, LaHaye and Jenkins FINALLY bring the Left Behind series to a close. Finally. There are twelve volumes of the main series beginning with Left Behind and ending with Glorious Appearing, another three volumes of a prequel series and the sequel and conclusion to the whole thing in Kingdom Come. Makes me tired just thinking about it. If anybody wants to complain about the size of a Robert Jordan fantasy series, I have sixteen books here to throw at them. On the other hand, Jenkins is able to churn out a book a year (he is the writer, LaHaye brings the theology).

If you have been living behind a rock for the last decade you have likely heard about the best-selling series of novels from LaHaye and Jenkins. For the rock dwellers among us, here is a quick overview of the last fifteen books: This is Christian themed fiction based around the last book of the Bible: Revelation. Jenkins and LaHaye have imagined our world where before Jesus returns there is a Rapture (God takes back all the True Believers of Christ on earth in a twinkling of an eye), and then the Seven Years Tribulation where God sends Judgments to Earth as a last ditch effort to give the survivors, all non-believers before the Rapture, a chance to come to Jesus and believe. Bad things happen, folks come to Christ, there is action and adventure, God is at work in the world in the face of the Anti-Christ, and Jesus Returns and whoops on Evil-Doers. The prequel trilogy leads up to Left Behind (focusing in part on Rayford before he marries Irene, and also on the Anti-Christ before he comes to power) and ends with the Rapture, so we get a glimpse of Heaven and the first judgments in Heaven. Yes, it took 15 books to cover all of this. The 12 volume main series is filled with Scripture verses and preaching, but during the first half or so of the series it is all quite exciting despite some clunky writing and cheesy dialogue (hallmarks of the series).

This brings the rock dwellers up to speed for Kingdom Come. Jesus has returned and instituted his Millennium Kingdom on Earth. Not Heaven. The theology of this series works something like this: Rapture – Tribulation – Millennium Kingdom – Heaven. For a thousand years after the Second Coming there will be a kingdom on Earth which will be followed by God releasing Satan for the Final Battle after which all believers will be ushered into heaven. "But wait," you say, "I thought that at the end of Glorious Appearing when Jesus returned all non-believers were destroyed that it was over. Right?" Wrong! No, no. Even though the Millennium Kingdom is entirely populated by Believers, things are a bit different. Those who were Raptured or died during the Tribulation have Glorified Bodies which never age. You see. Those who lived through the Tribulation are given preserved bodies which age at a much slower rate (think of Noah living to over 900 years in the Old Testament). The adults who lived through the Tribulation are obviously Believers. Capital B. Children, however, lived through the Tribulation. They still have a choice. To Accept Christ or Not. Those who do not will die on their 100th birthday. Those who Accept will live to the end of the Millennium Kingdom. These children are also the ones who will have children (Glorified Bodies do not have those urges) which will repopulate the world and the unbelievers will come to challenge God at the end of the Millennium.

Keeping up okay? Alright, so, we open with a good fifty pages which, I am convinced, are nothing but readings from Scripture. That's great for Church or a theological discussion, or personal readings of the Bible and personal faith, but Kingdom Come is, ultimately, a work of fiction. A novel. A "Story". I’ve read the Bible. I own several translations. What worked in the Left Behind series proper was how the Scripture was part of the story and drove the story and explained the story. This is just an info dump of Scripture. It was tedious.

Then we get into the story and jump ahead 93 years into the Millennium Kingdom. We get updates on what our previous heroes are doing and how things are being set up. Kenny, the child of Chloe and Cameron (I refuse to call him "Buck" and I was pleased that Jenkins finally stopped calling him Buck) who was dragged all around the world in the Left Behind Series, is a Believer but not yet 100 years old. He, and some of his friends are interested in stopping the group of non-Believers called The Other Light. They form the "Millennium Force", their version of the "Tribulation Force" of the Left Behind novels. Whatever.

The middle section is a combination of Biblical discussion, Biblical Heroes (Noah, Jacob, David) talking about their stories to the children, and the Millennium Force issues with The Other Light. Jenkins tries to insert a threat, a danger, some stakes to make his "novel", his "story" compelling. He fails. We never believe that The Other Light is a real threat to anybody because we know they can't kill a Glorified Body and that The Millennium Force will stay faithful, and honestly, very little time is spent on their side of the story compared all of the Nicolae Carpathia time in the Left Behind series. They come off as weak and impotent, which, in fact, they are. If we have read through the twelve volumes of Left Behind we know the raw power of God and we know what happens when Jesus steps onto the battlefield. It isn't a fight and there isn't a battle. It's just over. And now a novel of the Millennium Kingdom?

There are no stakes! There is nothing driving the narrative, no risk to our characters. As poorly written (yet oddly compelling) as the Left Behind novels were, the one thing that could not be said was that there were no stakes. There was eternity on the line! There was no promise that any character would live through the next chapter, let alone the next novel and by the end of twelve books most of the major and minor characters had been killed. And now? No credible threat. Jesus is on his Throne and we are supposed to believe The Other Light can even harm a soul? We never see those they twist. We never feel their evil.

There are no stakes.

Kingdom Come is less a novel than it is a religious tract. It is the epilogue which Glorious Appearing never needed (not that Glorious Appearing was all that good of a novel). I have not even touched on the rushed ending which had zero emotion behind it. There is no building, just a "here's what happened in the next 900 years and then God wins again". Not that I expect that God wouldn't win (considering the authors, premise, and purpose of the series), but Kingdom Come was a great big let down to a series which started strong and compelling but gasped across the finish line, fell down, and still thought there was a race to run. Sorry guys, it was over a couple of years ago. Let it go.

It is Finished.


One thing I do want to note is about the color design of the jacket covers. Well done, guys! Seriously! The first eleven volumes were black covers to show the evil in the world, Glorious Appearing were white for the Second Coming, and Kingdom Come was golden to reflect the kingdom. Very well designed and themed to the books. And that's my bit of praise for the series. Kingdom Come does not have much else to recommend it.


Jimmy M. Espana said...

Very nice blog you got here... Keep it up ;)

WendyD said...

I read the first four books in the series when they were originally published, but I just gave up because I thought they treated the reader like they were a moron. To me it seemed that the first quarter of each book was devoted to rehashing what happened in the previous one. Come on, this is obviously a series, don't pander to people who pick it up in the middle because they're clueless of how to read a series. Overall they just felt like filler, after only four books. I can't believe they stretched it out to 16! and people kept buying them?! It could've been a really engaging series, but it wasn't.

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Joe said...

Wendy: I found the first novels oddly compelling (a phrase I keep using about the series). Yeah, quite a bit of pandering and the whole thing could have / should have wrapped up in six (let's say seven to get that perfect number)...and that's about the point the series really started suffering...the closer we got to ten volumes.

tomscandy said...

I loved all of them, I don't have Kingdom Come YET>>>>> But can't wait to get it. I really hate to see the series come to an end.........
Tim Lahaye and Jerry Jenkins, you are both great....
Candy from Missouri