Thinking about Tim LaHaye

Do you ever read a book that gets you started thinking about the intersections of different parts of your life? I know I do. Some authors have had a greater impact on me than others, and sometimes even a “new-to-me” author will remind me of another author’s impact on my life.

Some of my readers might recall author Tim LaHaye passing away 2 or 3 years ago. As a teen, I read both his super popular Left Behind series and his non-fiction works, such as The Coming Peace in the Middle East and The Battle for the Mind. (I’m pretty sure I’ve read several others too, but can’t think of them right now.) I also read his book The Act of Marriage when I was a young newlywed and his book Raising Sexually Pure Kids as a young mother.

I think it’s safe to say that LaHaye’s writings have had quite an influence in my life. I even have shared the Left Behind series with my teenaged son because, after his youth class did a series on Revelation last summer, he was curious about reading more about the “end times.” (My very sensitive daughter, at the same time was shocked and horrified, and had nightmares and worries over the rapture and the end times, proving that children can be exposed to the same things and raised the same way and have very different reactions.)

He had read another dystopian/apocalyptic series the year before, The Hunger Games, and I knew he enjoyed the genre. I thought that, given its classic 1990s Christian fiction and culture status, that he might enjoy it more than any book of prophetic interpretations that was purported to be Bible study or non-fiction.

He’s read a couple of books in the series, but complains that the chapters are long and that there is not enough action. Too many of the chapters are taken up with conversations and not with action, as LaHaye and Jenkins give great blocks of end-times prophetic interpretation through conversations and speaking. He might have even used the words “a little boring.” I guess it’s a completely different experience for someone in the iGen reading twenty years later, than the experience that I had reading them as they came out, knowing that my sister and my mother were both reading along too.

After re-reading a book and a half of the series so that I could talk to him about them, I have to agree with his assessment. My reading tastes have changed, and I’m not as interested in having long blocks of theology included in my fiction reading.

Anyway, I was reading a book recently with some alternate interpretations of end times prophecy, and my attention was drawn to one of LaHaye’s obituaries where Publisher weekly talks about LaHaye’s impact on the publishing industry.  My jaw completely dropped when I saw the quote where the CEO of Tyndale House says,

At the height of its sales, the revenue from the Left Behind series represented more than 50 percent of our total sales revenue.

That’s more than a little amazing. The other statistics of the article were just as amazing when discussing how many sales his books have had. According to this article, the Left Behind series alone has sold over 80 million copies. No wonder you see them at every single used book sale and store that you ever go to. They’re just everywhere.

There are also the movies that Kirk Cameron were in, and I can remember watching at least the first one of them. Growing up, my father was a youth pastor, and I can’t remember if we watched it as a family or with the youth group. Sometimes family and church things blend together when you’re a ministry kid/pastor’s kid.

I tried to convince my son we should try the movie, but he wasn’t interested. He also wasn’t interested in the Nicholas Cage movie remake, which as I understand, wasn’t all that Christian. I guess he really doesn’t get the appeal.

It’s kind of sad to think that a series of books that you loved so much as a young person are not of interest to you anymore. They didn’t stand the test of time, but in many ways are something that I think of when I think of growing up Baptist in the 1990s.

I wonder now, as a product of the 90s, if the impending millennium was some of the appeal of the Left Behind series. Some of the more allegorical methods of interpreting Genesis led to theologians, including Jewish thinkers, to believe that the earth would only exist for 6,000 years.

James Ussher had calculated that the earth was created in 4004 BC, so those of us living right at the end of the millennium were perhaps in the best position to believe that, if Ussher was correct, that Jesus would be returning any second. After all, we even had Y2K theorizing to back us up that things were going to go crazy as the millennium ended. I even took a millennial theology course in college, to examine various end-time beliefs in light of the coming millennium.

When I was younger, I often had a panicked feeling that I would be “left behind,” that my doubts and my fears meant that my faith wasn’t truly strong enough for me to be raptured with the rest of the believers. Much of that urgency has left me. I still identify as a dispensationalist, and I still believe Jesus could return at any minute, but I, thank God, have left some of that emotionalism behind in the steady growth of my own faith.

Perhaps that’s why the Left Behind series no longer holds the same appeal for me. I have no desire to revisit that fraught and worried stance on faith that made up my youth, and I truly have no desire to bring that “edge-of-your-seat” insecurity upon my own children. Instead, I hope for them to rest in the security of their relationship with their savior and for end-times theology be in the background and not the forefront of their faith.

So, I guess I’m okay that my older two children didn’t love the Left Behind books the way I did. (Who knows what kind of response my younger two will have?) I know they both have a love for God that embraces his return, but that doesn’t constantly look to the sky or worry that they aren’t good enough, and that’s what truly matters in the end.

Did any of you read Left Behind and its sequels? What impact did these books (or others by LaHaye) have on your faith?

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