Tim LaHaye, Evangelical Pastor and Co-Author of Popular “Left Behind” Series, Dies at 90

Tim LaHaye (right) and Jerry B. Jenkins sign the 12th book in the Left Behind series at a store in Spartanburg, S.C., in 2004. (Mary Ann Chastain/AP)
Tim LaHaye (right) and Jerry B. Jenkins sign the 12th book in the Left Behind series at a store in Spartanburg, S.C., in 2004. (Mary Ann Chastain/AP)

Tim LaHaye, evangelical pastor and co-author of the best-selling Left Behind novels, has died at the age of 90.

LaHaye was a prominent Christian leader, a successful megachurch pastor, the author of scores of nonfiction books and the founder of The Institute for Creation Research as well as several schools.

But he is best-known for Left Behind, the wildly popular series of novels imagining Jesus’ return to Earth in the modern era. LaHaye conceived the idea for the series, which he co-wrote with novelist Jerry B. Jenkins.

The resulting books illustrated LaHaye’s religious interpretations, NPR’s Tom Gjelten reports:

“LaHaye promoted the idea of a ‘rapture’ — when Jesus-believing Christians would suddenly rise up to heaven, leaving nonbelievers behind. During his 70-year ministry, LaHaye distinguished himself by focusing on the second coming of Christ.

” ‘Jesus said, “I go to prepare a place for you, and I will come again,” ‘[LaHaye said]. ‘And yet many pastors don’t talk about the second coming.’

“LaHaye did, with great success. His Left Behind books sold close to 80 million copies. In addition, he wrote about 60 nonfiction books, mostly focused on biblical prophecy.”

Earlier this month, Alissa Wilkinson, an English professor and critic at large atChristianity Today, wrote that no other brand “has captured conservative American evangelicalism at the turn of the century as well.”

In her piece for The Washington Post, Wilkinson notes that the books merged popular fiction with devoutly believed prediction:

Left Behind isn’t great literature, but it’s highly engaging reading for a mass market, fast-moving fiction with elements drawn from sci-fi, romance, disaster porn, and political and spy novels. …

“This is the genius of the Left Behind books: They work on two levels. For the non-Christian reader, the traditional genre trappings and the mystery of what will happen next keep the pages turning. But for the Christian reader, being able to read current events into the novel’s narratives is thrilling, as is seeing how various elements of the Bible that are written as visions in Revelation (dragons, beasts, women giving birth, horsemen, fiery pits, the symbol 666) might actually work out in contemporary America and the geopolitics beyond its borders.”

Left Behind books have been adapted into multiple films, including three starring Kirk Cameron and one featuring Nicolas Cage and Chad Michael Murray. The brand also gave birth to video games and graphic novels.

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Camila Comonoske

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