A popular author who helped invigorate pop culture interest in Christian eschatology with the release of the first book in the "Left Behind" series 21 years ago is surprised by the novel's monumental impact.
Jerry Jenkins, who authored the "Left Behind" series along with Pastor Tim LaHaye and founded the Jerry Jenkins Writers Guild, said he and LaHaye never thought the book would sell so well.
Years later, it not only continues to fly off bookshelves, it has been the impetus for at least four apocalyptic-themed Hollywood films.
“We never expected it to sell like it did. You think if you have a book that does six figures, that's an incredible success, and it is,” he recently told The Church Boys podcast. “At its peak the 'Left Behind' series was number one on Amazon before the book would come out.”
Listen to Jenkins discuss biblical prophecy, fiction and plenty more below:
In fact, the series was at one point averaging 275,000 sales per month. Twenty-one years later, the entire series — which totals 16 books — still sells at least 100,000 copies each year, Jenkins said.
What makes the "Left Behind" series unique is it is a novel with fictional characters that is based on various interpretations of what many believe to be biblical prophecies concerning the end times.
The novels are presented through a pretribulational, premillennial lens — a theology in which Christians are “raptured,” or taken up, to be with Jesus before a terrible time of tribulation unfolds on Earth — and also prior to Christ’s second coming, as discussed in the Book of Revelation.
Thus, "Left Behind" was essentially a book series that merged conjured characters with what millions of Christians expect will be real events in the future.
Jenkins recently released "The Valley of The Dry Bones," a new apocalyptic-themed book that is separate from the "Left Behind" series. He told The Church Boys podcast about some of the challenges related to integrating complex biblical subject matter into his novels.
“On one hand, it is a challenge. On the other, it gives you a sort of a framework,” he said. He explained he and LaHaye had no intention of trying to convince anyone their position was right.
When approaching novel writing with that framework, Jenkins said a writer can end up with some “great fiction.” In the case of "Left Behind," the series invoked popularized prophecies that many see embedded in the text of Revelation.
“My job was to put fictitious but real-life type characters in the way of these biblical events and see what it would look like,” Jenkins said. “We were basically saying, ‘It's fiction. We're making it up but, if it happens the way we think it might happen some day, this is what it would look like.’”
Jenkins recalled his childhood reading and learning about the premillennial, pretribulation worldview — a Christian theology he later embraced. After meeting LaHaye, the two teamed up to produce the blockbuster series.
As for his latest literary work, Jenkins said the book is set in California 10 years in the future and takes into account the state’s ongoing drought.
The real-life scenario, which is weaved into fiction, worsens from what's been seen in the headlines of late.
While discussing his reasons for writing the book, Jenkins recalled a conversation he had with his son while visiting him in California.
“I said, ‘What would it look like if 10 years went by and the drought had not abated?’” he recalled. “They said the state would be uninhabitable. It would be irreparable, and it would be condemned.”
That’s the basis for the book. In it, the U.S. government condemns the state of California and millions flee, leaving airports and other services shut down. The people who remain — most of whom can’t leave for a variety of reasons — are left with scarce resources and are forced to fend for themselves.
“You can be in there at your own risk. You don't have any privileges as a citizen,” he said. “Then, my cast of characters call themselves the holdouts. They have decided to stay by choice to minister to people who can't leave.”
Jenkins said he hopes to minister to people through the book and to encourage deeper conversations; that’s the goal he said he and LaHaye had with the "Left Behind" series.
“One of the criticisms we got was people would say, ‘Well, people are just buying your view of the end times and not reading their Bible, not going to church, whatever,’” he said. “We would always say, ‘That's not our point. We want people to wonder and challenge and converse and argue about this.’”
The goal, he said, was for people to get curious and turn to the Bible and church for their own answers about the end times.