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In his 1970 work, The Late Great Planet Earth, Hal Lindsey claims that the complex system of dispensationalism he professes simply ‘falls out’ of a plain reading of the Bible; it requires little theological education and no knowledge of the dispensational theories of others – though he is quick to assure readers that he does actually have formal theological training. They are the only ones who don’t have the NT wrong. On his biblical interpretation, he claims to be doing nothing more than “diligently [seeking] to follow” the plain sense of the biblical text. He quotes David L. Cooper’s 1940 work, When Gog’s Armies Meet the Almighty in the Land of Israel:

“When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense; therefore, take every word as its primary, ordinary, usual, literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context, studied in the light of related passages and axiomatic and fundamental truths, indicate clearly otherwise.”

Another well-known author of some of the most popular Christian fiction ever written, Tim LaHaye, adheres to the same idea, calling this sentiment of Cooper’s “the golden rule of biblical interpretation.”

However, it is possible to trace the development and transmission of these ideas right back to John Nelson Darby.

John Nelson Darby has been called the “father or dispensationalism.” While he was not the first to explicate the idea of dispensationalism, it was he who expanded on and developed the complicated theory of salvation history, which identifies a series of epochs following one another in a linear fashion. He was also the first to solidify the concept of the rapture of the church, based on 1 Thessalonians 4:17. Darby had significant influence on Cyrus Scofield’s beliefs during the Bible Prophecy Conference movement throughout North America at the end of the nineteenth century, and there is no doubt that Scofield borrowed copiously from Darby while writing his annotated Reference Bible.

Where does the trail lead from there? Scofield became a close friend and colleague of Lewis Chafer, who went on to found the Evangelical Theological College, which would eventually become the Dallas Theological Seminary. Chafer taught at Dwight L. Moody’s Northfield School in Massachusetts from 1902-1910. During this time, he came into contact with Scofield, who, fresh from the Bible Prophecy Conference movement of the late 1800s, encouraged Chafer’s development as a theologian and preacher. Chafer explicates in an article in Sunday School Times, published in March, 1923, that Scofield was profoundly instrumental in his adoption of his dispensationalism.

In 1924 Chafer, founded the Evangelical Theological College. In 1936 it underwent a name-change to become Dallas Theological Seminary and Graduate School of Theology, finally becoming simply the Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS) in 1969. Its first students were a small group of only thirteen that were taught under the guidance of Chafer, who presided over the school from 1924 until 1952, at which point John Walvoord took over as president. Walvoord and Chafer were like-minded colleagues that shared many similar ideas. In 1926, Chafer wrote one of his most significant publications, Major Bible Themes, of which Walvoord revised and updated in 1974. During Walvoord’s presidency at DTS, who else but Hal Lindsey attended the institute, and it was here, under the direction of Walvoord and his staff that Lindsey solidified his pretribulational, premillennial dispensationalism.

The final link in this chain is Tim LaHaye. While LaHaye never credits Lindsey for any of his ideas, it is clear that he has relied on large parts of The Late Great Planet Earth for his writing of Left Behind. While reading The Late Great Planet Earth, there are clear similarities between the two authors’ work: from Lindsey’s account of modern warfare during the Tribulations and LaHaye’s description of World War Three, to the words of LaHaye’s main protagonist, Rayford Steel, on his learning of his wife’s disappearance in the rapture – “Rayford had to direct people to the Bible… he had begun taking [his wife’s] Bible everywhere he went, reading it wherever possible;” compared with Lindsey’s, “I’m going to find myself a Bible and read those very verses my wife underlined. I wouldn’t listen to her when she was here…” Compare Lindsey’s account of a football game, “It was the last quarter of the championship game…only one minute to go and they fumbled – our quarterback recovered…when – zap – no more quarterback – completely gone, just like that!” with LaHaye’s soccer game, “most of the spectators and all but one of the players disappeared in the middle of play, leaving their shoes and uniforms on the ground.” Though these similarities may seem coincidental, when reading the two books simultaneously, the parallels between the books are striking, especially in the depictions of the events that occur during the Tribulations.

Although neither Lindsey nor LaHaye ever explicitly deny that their ideas stem from this tradition, they are both self-deceived in their belief that the ideas they profess are merely interpretations of “the plain sense” of the biblical text.

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