With a 10-Book Winning Streak, This Revelation Duo Is Gearing Up for More
By Linton Weeks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 23, 2002; Page C01
What on earth is going on?
Evangelical Christians Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, authors of the apocalyptic — and fictional — “Left Behind” series, have sold more than 35 million books in seven years. The just-released 10th volume, “The Remnant,” debuted at No. 1 on the hardcover fiction bestseller lists of USA Today, Publishers Weekly and the New York Times and No. 5 on The Washington Post list.
How do you explain this national hunger for made-up stories about the Book of Revelation? Is it because we live in a swerving world of widespread terror, spiritual weirdness and extreme personal dysfunction? Are we so scared to death of death that we hope to crack the code of the Bible and uncover secrets of eternal life? Does the books’ success merely prove yet again that there are lots of good stories in the Bible?
What we do know is that multitudes of people across the country are buying stacks and stacks of “Left Behind” books from Wal-Marts, Costcos, chain book stores and just about any place they can find them, which does not include some Washington troughs of the knowledge class, such as Politics & Prose and Kramerbooks.
The premise is this:
God has decided that it’s time for the final reckoning. He draws millions of born-again Christians straight up to Heaven — leaving only their clothes, dental fillings, pacemakers, anything material — in what some call the Rapture. Millions of unworthy others remain on Earth; they are . . . left behind.
The series covers a period of seven years called “the Tribulation,” during which the earthbound ones still have a chance to turn to Jesus as their savior. Among those left behind, four factions arise: Christians who muster a loose-knit coalition called the Tribulation Force; true believers of other religions, such as Judaism and Islam; followers of the Antichrist who band together in the Global Community to fight people of other religions; and a great number of people who don’t know which way to go. At the end of the period, Jesus will appear and begin a 1,000-year glory-filled reign.
These books, and accompanying kids’ versions, graphic novels, audiocassettes and videotapes, have generated hundreds of millions of dollars for the authors and their publisher, Tyndale House. And, according to the authors, some 3,000 people like Blansett have found Jesus while reading the books.
The authors plan to be through by 2006. The end, as they say, is near.
Jenkins says he’s “itching to do other things.” LaHaye has signed on with another writer, T. Davis Bunn, to do another series of Christian adventure books for Bantam, a division of Random House. It’s a four-book contract for $42 million. Even more startling than the Bill Clinton-level advance is the fact that they’ve broken into New York publishing, which has avoided Christian books. But in a business of declining sales and shrinking expense accounts, this stuff could start looking good.
Tim LaHaye has a long history of political evangelism, not the sort of résumé you’d expect for half of a novel-writing duo, much less one of the most successful duos in literary history.
In 1979, he and his wife, Beverly, founded the Washington-based Concerned Women for America to support the traditional notion of family, oppose abortion and be highly critical of the United States’ participation in the United Nations. “I’ve opposed the United Nations for 50 years,” LaHaye says.
He was on the first board of directors of Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority. He has been an outspoken opponent of homosexuality. He says he has ministered to gay Christians and “I have discovered that it was a very unhappy lifestyle.”
He warns against a powerful, conspiratorial cabal called the Illuminati that he says has influenced major global occurrences for hundreds of years.
“The thing I find interesting,” says LaHaye watcher Rob Boston of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, “is that the political agenda is a little subtle in the series.”
Jerry Jenkins may be one big reason that LaHaye’s political leanings are played down. “Reverend LaHaye is a pretty outspoken conservative,” Jenkins says. “We met in 1991. As far as I know, the height of his political activity was before that.”
Jenkins says that if LaHaye had written the books, he might have just come right out and named the Trilateral Commission and the Bilderbergers as villains. “There are enough hints in the series, like the secret meetings of financiers, to satisfy people who want that,” he says.
“I’m not a theological scholar,” Jenkins says, “and Dr. LaHaye’s not a novelist.”
They act so much like father and son, sometimes, that you’re tempted to ask LaHaye, “What are you feeding that boy?”
He is feeding Jenkins theology. Before Jenkins hunkers down to write each volume, LaHaye passes along a thick notebook of comments and commentary on the part of Revelation that Jenkins will be writing about.
The idea of the Rapture — as one interpretation of Revelation — has been around since the 19th century, according to Bill Leonard, professor of church history at Wake Forest University. Leonard, a Baptist who has studied evangelistic movements for years, says, “It is a literalizing of what some Christian communities see as highly symbolic, metaphorical language.”
When it comes to dealing with Revelation, Leonard says, Christians pretty much fall into three categories. Many mainstream Christians are amillennialists, “who believe that the world will end with Christ’s return, but that these millennial calculations are an overreading of symbolic language.” He says that, in his own view, God will bring an end to time.
The post-millennialists, epitomized by classic American preachers such as Jonathan Edwards and Charles Grandison Finney, believe that as The End nears, the church will change certain unjust social structures and usher in a golden age. “Society and church get better and better,” Leonard says. Finney, for instance, was an ardent abolitionist who believed that the freeing of slaves was a step toward the Second Coming of Jesus.
The pre-millennialists, Leonard explains, argue that the world is not going to get better and better, it’s going to get worse and worse until the Rapture. Then follows the Tribulation and the battle between God and the Antichrist. “In the end God is the winner,” Leonard says, “but Satan beats the hell out of us until that happens. Literally.”
One of the first great pre-millennialists was Dwight Lyman Moody, founder of the Chicago Bible college that shaped the spiritual lives — and fictional worldview — of LaHaye and Jenkins. “This world is getting darker and darker,” Moody said in the 1870s. “Its ruin is drawing nearer and nearer: If you have any friends on this wreck unsaved, you had better lose no time in getting them off.”
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