- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 10, 2002

When the Rev. Tim LaHaye wanted to write about the end of the world, he turned to one of the world's best vehicles for presenting truth: fiction.

The biblical scholar and San Diego-based minister had a false start with another writer, but when he met with veteran Colorado Springs author Jerry B. Jenkins in 1991, the two men clicked. They wanted something accessible and readable to the average American, something more swashbuckling than Hal Lindsey's 1970s "Late Great Planet Earth" the decade's top nonfiction best seller on how the Second Coming will transpire.

"I loved the idea and looking back on it, it seemed like a slam dunk," said Mr. Jenkins, 52, who, along with Mr. LaHaye, 76, was in town yesterday for an appearance at the National Press Club.

"You've got the best villain in history you can't do better than the Antichrist it's good versus evil, the whole cosmic heaven versus hell thing. The question was: How do you do this and make it seem real versus seeming hokey? There was a fine line.

"I was trying to bring justice to the greatest story that will ever happen," he said. "But I knew nothing. Bringing humility to the project was necessary. If you thought you were qualified, you'd fall on your face. This kind of fiction was new territory."

Drawing on Mr. LaHaye's experience as a World War II pilot, the two set out to make the book of Revelation readable. In 1995, they penned "Left Behind," the tale of a jaded airplane pilot who discovers one-third of his passenger load had disappeared from his Boeing 747. He discovers that Christ has mysteriously summoned the world's born-again Christians to heaven, with several billion people "left behind."

The story of this pilot and a ragtag group of friends all of whom convert to Christianity as the world is taken over by a Romanian-born Antichrist takes up 12 volumes.

The 10th book in the series, "The Remnant," was released July 2. Now No. 3 on the Amazon.com sales rankings with a printing run of 2.75 million, it describes how newly converted Israeli Christians take refuge in the Jordanian desert fortress of Petra.

Neither author had been to Petra, so they described the site with the help of videos, atlases and advice from visitors. The authors are piecing together book 11 on the battle of Armageddon in Israel's Jezreel Valley.

After that, "[biblical] prophecy says there will be an earthquake that will make the entire topography of the world level," Mr. Jenkins says. "That will take a few pages to describe."

Book 12, the last of the series due out in 2004, will describe Jesus Christ's worldwide reign from Jerusalem. Both men said they felt daunted on how to portray that denouement.

"It will be the challenge of a lifetime to describe that," Mr. Jenkins said. "All I have to work with is the description from prophecy as to what Jesus will actually look like."

"Neither of us can tell you what will be there [in the last book]," Mr. LaHaye said. "But when the time comes, He will give us the inspiration."

Last year, Messrs. LaHaye and Jenkins became the nation's best-selling fiction authors after Publishers Weekly ranked their novel "Desecration," the ninth installment of their series, as taking "the fiction lead" in 2001 for hardcover sales. At 2.97 million, "Desecration" had the largest first printing of any adult hardcover novel last year.

Few authors John Grisham, J.K. Rowling and Tom Clancy can boast a 2 million or more first printing. The term "desecration" stands for the defilement levied by the Antichrist upon a reconstructed Jewish temple just before the Second Coming.

The eighth book in the series, "The Indwelling," became the first Christian novel to hit the New York Times best-seller list, counting sales only in secular bookstores. Even more copies of "The Indwelling" have been sold in religious bookstores.

So far, the "Left Behind" series, which features the Romanian-born Antichrist Nicolae Carpathia, has sold 35 million copies. Some 40 million are in print, along with another 10 million copies of a "Left Behind" series for children.

Blatantly evangelical the plan of salvation is presented multiple times throughout the narratives the series has been translated into 28 languages with more pending. It sells well even in largely non-Christianized countries, such as Thailand because, its Bangkok distributor explained in an interview, Buddhism has no theology about the end of the world.

It will be no picnic, according to Revelation, which describes a series of ghastly plagues: a worldwide earthquake, the poisoning of one-third of the Earth's water supplies, hordes of demonic locusts and an army of 200 million horsemen who kill one-quarter of the Earth's population. This includes much of the population of 21st century Chicago, according to one scene that depicts a rampage through the suburbs by 10-foot-tall, 500-pound demons sporting brilliant yellow, blue and red breastplates.

"There's a God hunger out there," Mr. Jenkins says. "People are buying books about the pope and the Dalai Lama and Eastern religions and inner healing. They hear about books based on biblical prophecy and they are curious. They are looking for something beyond themselves."

Of the millions of people snapping up the books, 3,000 have told the authors that they have become Christians since reading them.

"We don't hide the fact we have a message," Mr. LaHaye says. "We want to encourage people who agree and we want to persuade those who do not. The books are great entertainment, but when you get through with it, you know something about God's prophetic plan for the future."

Christian books aren't the only type of literature with a message, said Mr. Jenkins, pointing to John Irving's "Cider House Rules."

"That was clearly a pro-choice, pro-abortion message and he didn't deny it," he said. "When he won the Academy Award for adapting it to film, he said he was thrilled for what that meant for women and pro-choicers . I was thrilled he said that. He wasn't hiding his message. He said so, and so do we. We've all got an agenda and we're all trying to compete in the marketplace."

They also are planning a prequel that describes the childhood of the Antichrist, as well as the scene in heaven when the first Christians are "raptured" into God's presence. The latter will be like a cosmic awards banquet, the authors say, although they don't plan to insert words in Christ's mouth other than what appears in the Bible.

"I hope this has made people more aware the Book of Revelation is a plausible scenario that could happen in their lifetime," Mr. LaHaye says. "You will live your life differently if you think Christ could come today or tomorrow or next week."

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