Tim LaHaye, coauthor of the popular "Left Behind" book series and influential leader in the evangelical Christian community, died Monday at age 90. He will be remembered for bringing apocalyptic theology into mainstream Christian and popular culture and for helping evangelicals play a more dominant role in politics.
"LaHaye has blessed the church in America with a legacy that will far outlast his time on this earth," said the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, to Religion News Service. "The principled stand he took on countless issues has impacted the social, cultural and political landscape for generations."
Jerry B. Jenkins, who penned the "Left Behind" books with LaHaye, wrote in Christianity Today: "His departure leaves a void in my soul that I don't expect to be filled until I see him again."
The 16-book "Left Behind" series, published from 1995 to 2007, told the story of life after the rapture, or the moment in which true believers are taken to heaven and others are left on earth to face trials and tribulation. Many Christians embraced its message, passing copies of the books among their friends and fellow church members.
"LaHaye, who believed that the Antichrist had been born during his lifetime and that the end days were near, insisted that the series was less a work of entertainment than of evangelism," The Washington Post reported.
However, other church leaders and religious scholars have criticized the books, questioning LaHaye's biblical interpretation, NPR reported.
"Critics have objected to what evangelical writer Tyler Wigg Stevenson called the 'macabre giddiness' of the books, which seem at times to revel in the doomsday suffering of the unsaved," the article noted.
Whatever your take on the books' content, it's impossible to deny their influence on apocalyptic thinking in the U.S., as Alissa Wilkinson, co-author of "How to Survive the Apocalypse, wrote for The Washington Post earlier this month.
"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," she noted.
Beyond his apocalyptic writings, LaHaye authored dozens of other books on family life and the rise of secular humanism, RNS reported. He also developed relationships with evangelical Christian pastors across the country, urging them to play a more prominent role in election season.
"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 their values and views," RNS reported. "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."
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