“A Thief in the Night”: Evangelical Christianity’s “Plan 9 from Outer Space”

Here’s a blast from the past for those of you who grew up evangelical in the 1970s. This is the trailer for “A Thief in the Night,” a 1972 film that inaugurated the “end times” genre later exploited by the “Left Behind” books and movies. It’s been said that “Thief” has been seen by 300 million people worldwide, and I’m inclined to believe that number. In its day there was nothing like it, and evangelical churches used it as a  “witnessing” tool (“Invite your unsaved friends!”).

So what’s the winning formula behind this mega-hit? First, take the paranoid theology of “Left Behind,” subtract budget, subtract professional production, subtract even a Kirk Cameron-level of acting ability, add a cheesy soundtrack and an early-seventies grindhouse vibe… oh, and film it in Des Moines, Iowa. Continue reading

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“I’ll Fly Away” and the prison of faith

I grew up at a time when church music was changing from traditional hymns and gospel to contemporary pop-style songs. One of the old songs I’ve heard countless times is “I’ll Fly Away,” which to me — years removed from church-going and religious belief — represents both what was good and what was bad about the Christian culture from which it emerged.

“I’ll Fly Away” is said to be the most recorded gospel song in history. One of the better-known recordings was made by Gillian Welch and Alison Krauss for the motion picture soundtrack of O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000).

Growing up with the song, I never really paid it close attention until I was older. It wasn’t a favorite of mine, just another old-timey hymn for old-timey people: Continue reading