Popular author preaches, teaches with 'Left Behind'

Thursday, April 11, 2002

CRUSADE OF HOPE ~ SOUTHEAST MISSOURIAN

With two books left to write in his "Left Behind" series, when Tim LaHaye gets an idea for his novels he quickly heads to the computer and starts writing. And readers can hardly get enough.

LaHaye, whose books have sold more than 40 million copies, plans to do some writing and editing today when he meets in Cape Girardeau with a group from his publisher's Nashville, Tenn., office. The 10th book in his series, "Remnant," is due out July 2 and readers are anticipating its arrival.

LaHaye spoke Wednesday at the Hope for America crusade and then signed copies for fans after his sermon. A little more than 2,300 people attended, which was double the crowds for either of the previous two nights. LaHaye speaks again at 7 tonight.

He will sign copies of his book "Seduction of the Heart" from 4-5:30 p.m. today at Gospeland Book Store in Westfield Shoppingtown West Park.

An author of 48 books, LaHaye was a pastor when he first began teaching biblical prophecy and interpretation, the theme of his fiction novels.

As a young pastor in San Diego, he would teach on Revelation. "My church would fill up and others would go empty and that's when I began to see people had a hunger to know the future," he said.

But it wasn't his nonfiction writing or his Bible commentaries that brought him popular attention. It was his first fiction book that helped bridge the gap between the Christian and secular publishing industries.

Creating 'Left Behind'

But the "Left Behind" story wasn't originally supposed to be a series when it was released in 1995. LaHaye was on a plane in the late 1980s when he got the idea for the plot and characters of the book. As LaHaye sat on the plane, he began to think about what might happen to those left behind on Earth if the Rapture occurred now.

As he watched the plane's married pilot flirt with an unmarried stewardess, he began to develop the characters in his story: a pilot whose Christian wife is taken up in the Rapture, leaving him on Earth during tribulation.

By the time LaHaye left the plane, he had the "germinating spark" for the book, which was released in 1995. But he knew he couldn't write fiction by himself so he began to look for a partner, and found one in Jerry Jenkins.

The pair planned only to write one book, but found that it wasn't enough to cover all the prophecy and teachings of Revelation. "We wrote one book, and then three and then six and now it's 12," LaHaye said. Two other books are written, "Armageddon" and "Glorious Appearance," and will be released in 2003 and 2004, respectively.

But when asked if 12 books will bring the series to an end, LaHaye said, "Well, we'll see."

Teaching plan

LaHaye said the books have been "an interesting read and a spiritually refreshing read, but part of the plan was to teach the understanding of the book of Revelation."

He usually prepares an outline for the book, detailing the prophetic plan that the text must cover. He outlines what the events are, based on Scripture, and what might happen to the characters. But Jenkins is free to add to that.

The books have been an amazing outreach tool for people who want to share the gospel with friends, he said. A woman who met him at the Cape Girardeau Regional Airport Tuesday afternoon said her husband had become a Christian after reading the books, LaHaye said.

"People are repeatedly using it as an evangelistic tool," he said. "I usually take one myself to give to people when I'm traveling. The dimension of it has been just a blessing of God and he's using it as a tool to get people prepared for the coming of Christ."

And people are anticipating LaHaye's next book with almost as much excitement as they await the second coming. One woman, who asked LaHaye to sign a book, said she was awaiting his next release with nearly all the breath in her body.

Stephen Parker of Metropolis, Ill., came to hear LaHaye speak, and bought his book "Rapture."

"He needs to write faster because the last one covered such a short time in all the tribulation and we're only half-way through," he said. "The Rapture might get here before it's finished," he said with a laugh.

LaHaye revealed little about what the next book would be about, instead he spoke about how the Bible shows God's mercy and forgiveness. "He's proven over the years his mercy and compassion and love."

But Christian people can "anticipate something bigger is going to happen and that next big thing on God's calendar is the second coming," he said.

God can save all who call on him, LaHaye said. And in writing the "Left Behind" series, he's seen prove of that.

"In all these years in the ministry, it's been amazing to see the people respond so quickly."

ljohnston@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 126

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