A Tale of Two Bestsellers

Thirty-seven years ago this summer, in June of 1970, a book was published that I believe caused a great and timely acceleration of understanding of bible prophecy, and brought an entire generation a new understanding of God’s plan for the ages. This book sold over 30 million copies in 54 languages; the New York Times called its author “The Jeremiah of Today” and credited him with being the best-selling non-fiction author in the world, for the entire decade of the 1970s.This book has touched millions of lives with the gospel and exhorted many to live as though Christ could come at any moment. It spoke of His imminent return, detailed the signs of the times and God’s plan for Israel. It emphasized the idea that life on earth was temporal but heaven was the real goal anyway, and it just might be closer than we think. The title? The Late Great Planet Earth, by Hal Lindsey, one of the best known authors of my generation and whose name is now synonymous with Bible prophecy.

Now, fast forward with me to 2007, 37 years later; One particular book promoted as the fastest selling non-fiction work of all time was on the best seller list for 120+ weeks, half of those at #1 or #2. The author was named by Time Magazine as one of the 25 most influential Americans. It is of course, “The Purpose Driven Life”. Combined with “The Purpose Driven Church”, published in 1995, they also have sold 30 million copies in 21 languages. But did you know that the actual title is “The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For?” Unlike the best-seller of 1970, it does not focus on the passing away of this earth, but rather on becoming comfortable on this earth through finding some sort of purpose and bringing heaven down to earth. Unlike the 1970 work, it says in no uncertain terms that we are to stay away from prophecy, and its author, Rick Warren, tells us that Jesus told His disciples that “my return is none of your business’…that our purpose is NOT prophecy and studying the book of Revelation is a diversion at best. These two culture-shaping books could not be more different in their emphasis, and to two different generations; and you can already guess where I am going with this.

The Late Great Planet earth was published by Zondervan, who also published Strong’s Concordance and Halley’s Bible Handbook. Rick Warren’s publisher in 2005? Zondervan….and they still bring us Strong’s Concordance and Halley’s Bible Handbook which is commendable; but in the words of the book of Revelation, “I have THIS against them: they also publish, along with every Purpose-Driven spin-off book, “The Emerging Church” by Dan Kimball; Brian McLaren’s “A Generous Orthodoxy” which is anything BUT orthodox Christianity; All of Bill Hybels books; and several other Emerging Church type titles. In the late 80s they were sold to Harper/Collins publishing, one of the largest secular publishers in the world and their publishing choices reflect that poor decision in ways too detailed to go into here. Harper/Collins’ main publishing house puts out many books offensive to Christians, but that didn’t stop Zondervan from merging with the world for whatever reason.

Since 1970, Many a copy of Hal’s book was passed around until they were dog-eared and yellowed with use. He has written at least 20 additional titles, many of which I have read, all exhorting the reader to be watching and waiting for Jesus; the time of the writing of Hal’s books was one of great change and upheaval; the spiritual climate of the late 60s and early 70s was a time that saw the 6-Day War, the beginnings of the European Union, UPC bar-code technology, mass communication, and the explosion of Eastern Mysticism in a society that had seemingly gone crazy.

Well, society is no less crazy today, even more so; but it remains to be seen what kind of lasting impact the Purpose Driven series will have had in looking backward 35 years from now; but we can ask some important questions while we’re waiting to find out: Does it point primarily to the coming kingdom, or is the focus on this life? Does it promote the true gospel or a man-made philosophy? Will the true church grow through it, or just someone’s church? I believe it is a genuine cultural indicator, showing just how much asleep the church is and how much it has allowed itself to be influenced by the world.

Let’s bridge the spiritual gap between 1970 and 2007.

– In 37 short years, Bible prophecy became too divisive to be taught from the pulpit, or it’s passed off as ‘old school’.

– In 35 short years, a pre-trib pre-millennial perspective of prophecy is greatly under attack by those who hold a historical view – that the events of Revelation have already occurred in history; those who believe in a pre-trib rapture today find themselves having to vigorously defend the teaching of His imminent return; this was not the case at all when I became a believer. Websites and books critical of Hal Lindsey’s eschatology abound – I have viewed dozens of sites this week, scarcely able to find one intelligently presented argument against the pre-trib position, while those who scoff at the notion of the Lord’s coming being near are increasing more and more, just as the Bible predicts;

– In 37 short years, best-sellers have replaced the Bible as texts for worship services in many churches;

– In 37 short years, the general teaching that the Lord still has a plan for His people Israel has been ‘replaced’ in many churches by the teaching that the Church is now Israel, and that this tiny nation has no more significance to many Christians than the island of Fiji.

I have to wonder if The Purpose-Driven Life had come out in 1970, and The Late Great Planet Earth in 2007, would either of them have been best-sellers, would they have found a captive audience? Or is the spiritual climate that allowed each of these books to be definitive statements of their own time a sign of the times in itself? As we continue to look into these issues and take the spiritual temperature of the times, we just may find our thermometers read ‘lukewarm’ more often than not these days; and if I were going to write a book today, it might just have to be called,

“The Late Great Pre-Trib Pre-Millennial Blessed Hope Church of the Last Days on Planet Earth!”

About Mary

I have been a believer since 1981. Everything else before that is relatively meaningless. My heart has, from day 1, always been toward the subject of bible prophecy and I have seen the Lord do amazing things in my life through simply studying the Word and applying it to my life. I am a wife, grandmother and work full time in ministry. Life is full, and full of learning curves and seasons.
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