Christian leader Tim F. LaHaye, whose 16 blockbuster “Left Behind” novels sold 80 million copies worldwide, died Monday at a San Diego-area hospital after a stroke. He was 90.
The exceptional reach of his writings, fiction and nonfiction, made him one of the most influential evangelical Christians in America.
“He was easily one of the most influential evangelical Christians of the 20th century,” said Pastors & Pews founder David Lane.
Focusing on the New Testament’s final book, Revelation, and other apocalyptic passages, Mr. LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins co-authored the “Left Behind” series that popularized the theology of growing numbers of evangelical Christians — a lengthy period of suffering on earth, called the tribulation, before the Second Coming of Jesus, but which the saved Christian remnant will be raptured up to heaven to avoid.
The Rev. Jerry Falwell Sr. described the series’ impact on Christianity as “probably greater than that of any other book in modern times, outside the Bible.”
On Monday, others prominent in public life praised Mr. LaHaye’s contribution to American religious life.
“It takes a great visionary leader and communicator to set forth what we Christians believe is the most important information for all to know and in a format that intrigues, excites and motivates millions to buy and read books,” said Becky Norton Dunlop, Heritage Foundation Ronald Reagan distinguished fellow. “His creative way to share the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ was inspired.”
A prolific author, Mr. LaHaye wrote more than 60 nonfiction books, with more than 14 million in print in more than 20 languages. His focus for these books ranged from secular humanism to Bible prophecy and the biblical teaching on sex and marriage.
Mr. LaHaye was a driving force behind the 1970s founding of the Moral Majority, along with Falwell. His wife, Beverly, founded Concerned Women for America at about the same time to counter feminist organizations that claimed to speak for women.
These and other groups brought into politics for the first time legions of evangelical Christians who broadened the Republican Party’s focus on free market and military preparedness issues to include traditional social and religious stands on issues such as abortion, religious freedom and expression, and marriage.
Mr. LaHaye also helped found the Council for National Policy, an ongoing association that brings together Christian leaders in the publishing, broadcast and cable news world, prominent political activists and interest group leaders to fashion — quietly and in private — a social, political and economic agenda that promotes constitutionalism, individual freedom and traditional values.
“Tim LaHaye and his wife, Beverly, hold a unique place in American life,” said Eagle Forum founder Phyllis Schlafly. “Through their service in organizing — whether Council for National Policy, Concerned Women for America, or their other efforts, or by their advocacy through the writing and speaking, the LaHayes have made a difference for all Americans and especially for conservatives.”
The novels brought to lay readers a Bible interpretation that held that only born-again Christians would be united with God in heaven, and those who have not acknowledged Christ as their personal savior will be “left behind” to endure seven years of torment on earth. But the theology also said that the Second Coming could not take place without the existence of Israel.
“Tim LaHaye’s view of the end times as expressed in his ‘Left Behind’ series was influential in expanding the market for Christian fiction,” said Merrill Matthews, resident scholar at the Institute for Policy Innovation. “The basic tenets of premillennial dispensationalism that emerged in the series were already embraced by many evangelicals. LaHaye’s contribution was to put that theology in a format that was more accessible and relatable to readers.”
Mr. LaHaye, who earned a doctorate in theology, was a pastor of churches in South Carolina and Minnesota before eventually settling in San Diego County in California. There, he took the reins of Scott Memorial Baptist Church, and under his 25-year leadership, the congregation expanded to three sites.
“Few evangelical leaders rival Tim,” Mrs. Dunlop said. “He is in a small group with Billy Graham and Bill Bright.”
Mr. LaHaye is survived by his wife, Beverly Ratcliffe LaHaye, four children, nine grandchildren and 16 great grandchildren. He is also survived by a brother, Richard LaHaye, and a sister, Margaret White.
Dates and times of services were not immediately available.