- The Washington Times - Monday, March 25, 2002

The Rev. Tim LaHaye, apocalyptic novelist and evangelical minister, has pushed aside top secular rivals to become the nation's best-selling fiction author.
Even as the debate continues over his influence on modern Christianity, the current issue of Publisher's Weekly ranks Mr. LaHaye's co-written novel "Desecration" the ninth installment of a series about Christ's return at the end of the world as taking "the fiction lead" in 2001 for hardcover sales.
The book, co-written with veteran novelist Jerry Jenkins, sold 2.9 million copies and for the first time displaced a regular group of predictable blockbusters, the trade magazine said. The term "desecration" stands for the defilement levied by the anti-Christ upon a reconstructed Jewish temple just before the Second Coming.
"For the first time since 1994, John Grisham does not hold the year's lead [fiction] spot," Publisher's Weekly said.
The dramatic success of Mr. LaHaye's series, which is the story of "characters readers can care about" caught up in an end-of-the-world biblical tale, has also drawn criticism. The Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals, a 20-year-old research center at Wheaton College, recently published a satirical essay in which a fictional character in a dialogue argued that Mr. LaHaye was the most influential evangelical of his time.
Perhaps not grasping the essay's irony, publicists for the novel series, published by Tyndale House, drew on the essay to declare that Mr. LaHaye was "recently named the 'Most Influential Evangelical of the Past 25 Years.'"
Larry Eskridge, associate director of the institute, said his essay meant to show Mr. LaHaye's wide influence in Christian pop psychology, creationism, founding of the Christian conservative political movement, book packaging and evangelical culture wars.
The article compared him to evangelical leaders such as the Rev. Billy Graham, James Dobson, Bill Bright, the Rev. Jerry Falwell, the Rev. Bill Hybels and the Rev. Benny Hinn. In the end, it suggested that Mr. LaHaye, despite his behind-the-scenes modus operandi, may have shaped popular faith the most.
"LaHaye has breathed new life into the sagging fortunes of dispensationalism," or belief in a prophesied and detailed judgment plan, said "Blinky Killeen," a fictional character in the Eskridge essay. This theology holds that history is split into a series of seven "dispensations," culminating in a 1000-year reign of Jesus Christ from a world headquarters in Jerusalem.
"We weren't intending to proclaim or anoint LaHaye as the most influential evangelical, either for good or bad," Mr. Eskridge said of the essay, which was mistakenly viewed as straight news by some readers who thought Blinky Killeen was a real-life scholar.
Mr. Jenkins, who writes the "Left Behind" novels with Mr. LaHaye's theological advice, said the books bring people to faith. "Letters from readers … tell us their perspectives, and sometimes lives, have been changed by what they've read," he said in a statement.
His work has found an audience, evidenced by 50 million novels, movie videos, and children's products that have sold. Some Bible believers have taken exception to Mr. LaHaye's end-time scenarios.
The series is "filled with very serious errors about what the Bible really teaches about the end times," the Rev. A. L. Barry, former president of the conservative Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, warned its members in 2000.
With the first novel, "Left Behind," published in 1995, Boeing 747 pilot Rayford Steele is "left behind" when true believers are "raptured" into the sky to meet Christ. After his conversion, Mr. Steele endures nine more episodes to date of an earthly showdown between the Antichrist and God.
The novels reflect Mr. LaHaye's interpretation of biblical prophecies found in the Bible books of Matthew, Thessalonians and Revelation of a final "tribulation" of horrors (mass starvation, nuclear winter and earthquakes to name a few) before the end of the world.
Mr. LaHaye's "pre-tribulation" view lends itself to a plot in which people still can convert to Christianity during the tribulation and, meanwhile, have a dramatic adventure as the world ends. This is said to happen at a climactic "battle of Armageddon" in northern Israel's Jezreel Valley. At that point, some prophecies say, Christ will return, annihilate the forces of the anti-Christ and establish His rule over the world.


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