Lest there be any confusion, I am no relation to Jerry Jenkins, who, with Tim LaHaye, published the staggeringly successful series of Left Behind novels some years ago. These books are set in a post-Rapture world in which a heroic band of Tribulation Saints resists the overwhelming forces of the Antichrist. The appeal of the series is enormous, with some 65 million copies sold to date.

Apart from offering spectacular action scenes, the Left Behind books allow readers to imagine themselves in an alien religious world in which Christians face the threat of direct and bloody persecution aimed at forcing them to renounce their faith and accept the Mark of the Beast. Perhaps some readers are prompted to ask themselves how they might respond in such a situation. Would they hold firm or would they apostasize?

It would be unfair to criticize Left Behind for what it is not: the series focuses on action, not theology, and it has few literary pretensions. But it is instructive to compare this distinctively North American view of persecution and martyrdom with that found in other parts of the world—places where such nightmares do not lie in the supernatural realm of the end times. For some Christians, the menace of apostasy is anything but distant or theoretical. It is something they have to consider as a serious prospect in their own lives.