"When I gave my life to the Lord, I thought I'd be a preacher," says Tim LaHaye, who despite more than 50 years of preaching is now best known as a phenomenally successful author. More than 30 million copies of LaHaye's books have been sold, including eight titles co-authored with Jerry Jenkins in the Left Behind series, the seemingly omnipresent apocalyptic novels.
With his latest book, Mind Siege, co-authored with David Noebel, the soft-spoken minister has raised the bar in Christian book sales. His critique of the ills of modern society premiered on The New York Times hardcover nonfiction bestseller list at number 17. At the same time the Left Behind series had five entries on the hardback and paperback fiction lists.
"I can't tell you what a thrill it is to walk into a Costco and see our books and other Christian books in the secular stores," LaHaye remarks.
And what set off this avalanche of publishing success? "About 40 years ago I had an experience where I wrote a tract, he explains. After I'd preached a message on Sunday night, I'd print it up. One Monday, he went to visit a patient in the hospital. Her family had given her the tract, she read it, then gave it to the other lady who was sharing the same room. And that [tract] led her to Christ. I kind of staggered down the hall and thought, Oh God, this is a new way to reach people!" Years later, LaHaye and his wife took a trip overseas and were surprised to find just how far-reaching his printed products had become. "Bev and I did a trip around the world, and we'd been to Poland, a communist state. The spiritual leaders apologetically showed me a copy of my Spirit-Controlled Temperament. You see, they'd copied it without permission from the U.S. publisher. But I was elated they were using it."
Today, LaHaye's books have been translated into 34 languages. "And I've never done one thing to cultivate that," he says adamantly, crediting all his success to God.
But there must have been a secret formula for the overwhelming popularity of the Left Behind series, which describes the fate of those left on Earth after the rapture, in which Christians ascend into heaven. "It's a series of things," LaHaye says of the books' appeal. "Timing is one thing. All people, even secular people, are seeing books on the market like The End of History. It makes them start thinking, where is this world going? People recognize something's going to happen, and they'd better get ready." Another component in Left Behind's success, LaHaye says, is his co-author, Jerry Jenkins. "I think it's Jerry's masterful fiction writing. And he's never been given his due credit until now with the Left Behind series." Eight titles have been published in the series, with more to come.
"I think God has chosen to use this as a tool," LaHaye continues. "And Tyndale House has done a good job with marketing. They've done their homework."
With a wide array of topics, from the apocalypse to Bible prophesy, family life and the purported evils of secular humanism, who is LaHaye trying to reach? "Both adults and children," he admits. "I have several audiences. That's why I write, with help, children's books, like the Left Behind: The Kids," LaHaye says. "I'm currently working on a Mind Siege for youth. And part of my vision is to do dynamic videos for kids." But he doesn't stop with videos. LaHaye has set his sights on the big screen. Unhappy with the current Left Behind: The Movie so much so, he has filed a lawsuit against the movie's producers his goal is to create a believable conversion with a top quality, feature film.
At age 74, the author is bombarded with speaking invitations and does a weekly Prophetic Update on the television program The King is Coming. Does he believe his true calling is to warn about the coming of the rapture? "I hope," he says with a smile, but then adds, "Well, maybe that's one of them."