This summer the Evangelical Studies Bulletin named Tim LaHaye as the most influential Christian leader for the past quarter century. The Bulletin, published by the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals, selected LaHaye over Billy Graham and a host of other evangelical leaders. "For the last 20 years LaHaye and his wife, Beverly, leader of Concerned Women for America, have been key leaders of the religious right,'" the Bulletin wrote. The Bulletin concluded that LaHaye "rose from the ranks of the [evangelical] movement, then...played a strategic role at key points that have cemented-for good or ill-the direction [evangelicalism] will be taking in the next few decades."
The Institute is probably right, even though many Christian leaders have never read anything Tim LaHaye has written. LaHaye is the coauthor of the Left Behind series of novels about the end times-a remarkable publishing success, with 28.8 million sales at last count. Christian leaders tend to be indifferent to the series and its popularity or dismiss this eschatological fiction as "Christian lite." But LaHaye is a man with a mission, and it is a mistake not to take deadly seriously anything he writes.
Academics often don't recognize how influential authors like LaHaye are with the rank-and-file. Much of his influence on the church and the culture, regrettably, has not been positive. The Left Behind series, written with Jerry Jenkins, is propagating his ideological views to an audience that reaches far beyond his evangelical culture. LaHaye's writings tend to foster both an eschatology of disengagement and the politics of fear.