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Tim LaHaye, evangelical leader and ‘Left Behind’ co-author, dead at 90

Tim LaHaye, the evangelical leader known for his conservative politics as well as the best-selling “Left Behind” series, has died at age 90, his ministry announced. Photo courtesy of Evangelical Press Association

(RNS) Tim LaHaye, the evangelical leader known for his conservative politics as well as the best-selling “Left Behind” series, has died at age 90, his ministry announced.

LaHaye died Monday (July 25) at a hospital in the San Diego area after recently suffering a stroke, his ministry said.

Dr. Tim LaHaye, right, with co-author, Jerry Jenkins. Photo courtesy of Tyndale Media Center

Tim LaHaye, right, with co-author, Jerry Jenkins. Photo courtesy of Tyndale Media Center

“Thrilled as I am that he is where he has always wanted to be, his departure leaves a void in my soul I don’t expect to fill until I see him again,” said co-author Jerry B. Jenkins in a statement on the death of his co-author of the apocalyptic series.

Tim LaHaye with his wife, Beverly. RNS file photo

Tim LaHaye with his wife, Beverly. RNS file photo

LaHaye and Beverly, his wife of 69 years, were an evangelical power couple, with him serving as a pastor, religious broadcaster and the founder of Christian high schools and her founding Concerned Women for America, a prominent conservative organization.

“Between his theology and his co-writer Jerry Jenkins’ writing ability, the two of them really managed to capture the popular imagination,” said Marcia Z. Nelson, contributing editor and former religion book reviews editor at Publishers Weekly.

The “Left Behind” series, a modern-day morality tale, told of how an airline captain tried to find his family — and struggled with his own failings — after believers were suddenly “raptured” into heaven and nonbelievers were left to face tribulations on earth.

The series was first published in 1995, in the run-up to the new millennium, which prompted anxiety among end-times believers as well as others. LaHaye’s contributions to those books made his apocalyptic theology more engaging and approachable to a more general readership.

“To some extent I think it was like right time, right place ‘cause it started the middle ‘90s,” Nelson said. “I really do think that there is a definite connection between that kind of sort of generalized anxiety about what’s going to happen and the popularity of the ‘Left Behind’ books.”

In 1999, “Apollyon,” was the first Christian fiction title to cross over from Christian best-seller lists to general ones, spending multiple weeks on both The New York Times and USA Today best-seller lists.


RELATED STORY: Reaction to the death of evangelical author Tim LaHaye


LaHaye had long been a proponent of relying on the Bible for prophetic messages.

“Everyone wants to know about the future and there’s a lot of discussion, but only the Bible gives concrete answers,” LaHaye said in a story published in 2005 by Religion News Service. “What people don’t realize is that 28 percent of the Bible was prophetic at the time it was written. There are over 1,000 prophecies in the Bible, half of which have already been fulfilled.”

One of his key roles in U.S. politics was to encourage the late Rev. Jerry Falwell Sr. to start the Moral Majority, urging previously reticent conservative Christians to speak out about their values and views. LaHaye had gathered Southern California pastors to counter progressives but thought a national organization should be formed.

More recently, he helped garner evangelical support for former President George W. Bush and was known as a spiritual adviser to former GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee.

Beyond the 16-book “Left Behind” series, LaHaye wrote dozens of other books, on topics such as family life, Bible prophecy and critiques of secular humanism, that sold millions of copies.

In 2001, the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals named him as “the most influential American evangelical of the last 25 years.” It cited the string of 1970s and ‘80s books he had written about “battles” for evangelicals: “The Battle for the Mind,” “The Battle for the Family” and “The Battle for the Public Schools.”

Christian author Tom Sine was critical of LaHaye’s role with the religious right, but agreed with the finding of the institute, saying that he was influential in fostering the “politics of fear.”

“Tim LaHaye has become such a dominant influence in American Christian culture because he has defined the terms of America’s culture war,” wrote Sine, author of “Cease Fire: Searching for Sanity in America’s Culture War,” in a 2001 article in Sojourners, responding to the recent designation by the ISAE.

The son of a Detroit autoworker, LaHaye was an Air Force veteran and a graduate of the ultra-conservative Bob Jones University. He pastored churches in South Carolina and Minnesota before moving to California. He led the Scott Memorial Baptist Church in San Diego County for 25 years, expanding it to three locations, including Shadow Mountain Community Church, an evangelical megachurch in the San Diego suburb of El Cajon.

“Tim was one of the most godly men I have ever known,” said David Jeremiah, the current senior pastor of the El Cajon church. “Almost every conversation I had with him ended with his praying with me and for me.”

The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, praised LaHaye for the range of his contributions.

“Dr. LaHaye has blessed the church in America with a legacy that will far outlast his time on this earth,” he said. “The principled stand he took on countless issues has impacted the social, cultural, and political landscape for generations. He was a once-in-a-millennium type of leader who paved the way for future generations.”

The last tweets before the announcement of his death on LaHaye’s Twitter account were two quoting the Gospel of Matthew about focusing on heaven rather than earth.

“Don’t store up treasures here on earth where they can erode away or may be stolen,” they read. “Store them in heaven where they will never lose their value and are safe from thieves. If your profits are in heaven, your heart will be there too.”

About the author

Adelle M. Banks

Adelle M. Banks, production editor and a national reporter, joined RNS in 1995. An award-winning journalist, she previously was the religion reporter at the Orlando Sentinel and a reporter at The Providence Journal and newspapers in the upstate New York communities of Syracuse and Binghamton.

27 Comments

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  • 40 years ago, LaHaye was ranting about the Whore of Babylon. She apparently moved to Rome.

  • What a crackpot. He wasted the only life he’ll ever have preaching about and waiting for the rapture and the end times.

  • Not wasted, though. Huge influence as a Christian writer, both style and substance.
    He did good.

  • Nah, doc. He didn’t do any good. He just did very well.

    Now who was it that said… It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven?

  • Yeah! Kirk Cameron’s career will suffer! I’m sure Tim LaHaye had excellent intentions, too bad that his religious theory of a pre-Trib “Rapture” doesn’t have any concrete evidence from the scriptures! It’s a convoluted, conception that actually requires you to IGNORE basic principles taught throughout the scriptures. Jesus said as his parting declaration in the Gospel of Matthew, “…..and lo, I am with you ( those who believe) UNTIL THE END OF THE AGE”! Are there TWO churches? One taken, and another that rises FROM NOTHING during the tribulation? Jesus is going to be with his church, until the end of the world as we know it! Matthew 25 follows, of course, Matthew 24, where Jesus is asked, “what will be the sign of your coming, and of THE END OF THE AGE?” Jesus answers both of those questions TOGETHER, because that’s what the coming of Jesus IS: the end of the age! Matthew 25 as a complete thought CONTINUING from chapter 24, begins with the parable of the 5 wise and the 5 foolish virgins. HALF of the virgins ( church!) is SHUT OUT of the celebration! What happens AFTER the wedding supper of the Lamb? NOTHING! Then the parable of the master going into a far country leaving the talents to his servants? When the master returns, ITS JUDGEMENT! Nothing could be clearer! When Jesus returns, it will be THE END! Unfortunately, many well intended Christians still believe in the “Jesus drive-by”! The 7 year, preview-all expenses paid- vacation plan, that Tim LaHaye and others present, IS NOT EVEN ARTICULATED IN THE BOOK OF THE REVELATION OF JESUS CHRIST! Pretty pathetic!

  • You can always be counted on to be kind, polite, and reflective, can’t you?
    sometimes, just for the comedy value I wish your theo-reality were true, just so I could watch the expression on your face when Jesus says– “Get away from me. I never knew you.”

  • No Ben, you cannot count on me to be kind, polite, and reflective, although that IS my default position.

    You can only count on me to be ME, and ME wants Hillary thrown in the Federal Supermax Prison!!
    WITH some leg irons too!! Mwahahahaha !!

  • The best thing you can say about the Hollywood version of Left Behind is that it was not the worst film Nicholas Cage ever starred in. (That would be The Wicker Man)

  • Ah yes, Tim LaHaye of the Tim and Jerry Prophecy Comedy Team. For more on LaHaye/Jenkins, Google “LaHaye’s Temperament,” “Prof. Wm. L. Craig Leaves Tim LaHaye Behind!,” “Jerry Jenkins: Betting on Pretrib,” and “Pretrib Rapture Dishonesty.”

  • In a direct reply to you and only you (I hope atheists and other non-believers will not reply in this specific instance). I was once in the pre-tribulation camp. Mostly as a result of the teaching of the friend who explained the way of salvation to me after much difficult effort. I have come to question that position more and more, attempting to follow the way of the Bereans, who tested Paul’s teaching to see if it was so. Another dear Christian friend once told me many years ago, “God doesn’t typically deliver from tribulation, but through tribulation.” That got me thinking. Still, if one genuinely loves the Lord and has faith in Him, as events grow progressively worse (no pun intended) they will recognize that what they are counting on in terms of a pre-trib rapture may not come to pass, and will need to cling even more deeply to their need for Jesus in what lies ahead.

  • When you refer to Floydlee as doc, do you mean “DOC,” as in the longtime, somewhat acerbic, commentator who generally always took a conservative opinion? I note that Shawnie5 has referred to AragontheAtheist as “Max” as in, I’m assuming “Atheist Max.” It’s hard to tell all the players without a scorecard. In the interest of full disclosure, in apprehension of repercussion, I once adorned these pages as “Diogenes.’

  • He used to post as Doc Anthony. Conservative opinion would be one description. I’d say to the right of Atilla the Hun, myself. Unlike how I would describe you, I wouldn’t describe Doc as respectful.

    Aragon may be Atheist Max, but the style is a bit different.

  • Thank god! LaHaye and wife did plenty of harm with their pseudo religion. They won’t be missed.

    Still, I suppose there are some, perhaps friends and family, who miss him. They have my sympathy for their grief.

  • The guy turned crackpot ideas into a long running book series (and 5 films) with cultural ubiquity. I won’t begrudge him that success.

    Writing is a difficult process. 16 books is a lot of stuff to write. Even garbage fiction represents a level of effort which is laudable.

    He left his mark on the cultural landscape which will be remembered and referenced long after people remember who they are referring to. Much like Erich von Daniken.

  • You both are talking about what is still essentially a series of works of fantasy fiction written for commercial sale. It is not a holy text. It is not a treatise on religious belief. It’s success is largely due to being a fantasy series appealing to a crowd which typically denounce such genres.

    Whatever liberties were taken with the Bible or certain Christian beliefs was his prerogative as an author.

  • I openly told Ben, in fact in these general forums, that I am also Doc. Simply switched to my first & last name (“Anthony” is middle.) I do a blog (elsewhere) in a locality where actual first and last names are required of all bloggers, and honestly, I’m really moving more in that direction.

    Using your **real** name helps clarify what you are REALLY willing to put on the table, your true beliefs or non-beliefs, within the public marketplace of ideas.

    I’m still conservative; I still want the entire gay-marriage-gay-clergy faction of the United Methodist Church **excommunicated**. (Scarlet letters are optional.)
    But other than the usual inflammatory stuff — Ben considers them inflammatory but I’ve never personally insulted HIM or his own sexual orientation — I’m really a nice guy. No joke. I’ll give anybody the shirt off my back (if you don’t mind a slightly sweaty shirt, of course) !!

  • Actually I know a number of Christians who enjoy the fantasy genre, my wife among them. Fantasy writing has little appeal to me, beyond that great classic, “Lord of the Rings,” though I would consider that a blend of fantasy and mythology. I am not taking issue with artistic license, I was discussing the relative merits of two different eschatological models.

  • In my own case, when RNS’s format changed I failed to renew my “tag” as it were, as “Diogenes,” so I went with my real name, generally for the same reasons you have cited. It’s more intellectually honest, though it may put one at potentially greater risk. I think I’m probably as conservative as you, but I really want to respect those with whom I disagree, I’ve visited certain religious websites where the vitriol towards anyone who is “other” in any degree, is poured out vehemently, that caused me to reassess my tone. I think civility and kindness reflect the obligations of our faith.

  • But every once in a while a Christian with a bee in their bonnet gets all silly about the evil or satanic influence of Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter.

    The relative merits of any eschatology depend on how you see yourself within it. Everyone wants to lecture themselves as the survivors. What kind of destruction and reinvention does it allow for. Total destruction being the least appealing to people for obvious reasons.

  • None of us look forward to the prospect of oppression, persecution, or personal destruction. Whatever eschatological narrative I embrace, I’m not counting on getting out alive (in the physical sense of the term). Since my spiritual view embraces the potentiality of an eternal life in the presence of God, my physical well being in the final analysis is a lesser consideration. As to Harry Potter, I merely find him tiresome.

  • Oh come on. What Christian doesn’t want to be a holy warrior for the second coming?

    I mean that in jest. 🙂

  • I prefer to war in the realm of ideas and rhetoric, not on a bloody battlefield of physical violence and pointless death. My days as a potential physical warrior ended when I finished my military service. Shalom.

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