Originally created 03/31/04

Spartanburg store holds release party for last 'Left Behind' book



SPARTANBURG, S.C. - A thousand fans were expected to line up Tuesday night for the book signing and national release of the final book in the Left Behind series.

"This will be the biggest event we've ever had," said Chuck Wallington, the president of Christian Supply Inc. in Spartanburg, where the event was being held.

Mr. Wallington has been juggling calls from national media, the BBC and the London Times as he prepares for the authors of Glorious Appearing, Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, to sign their 12th and final book in the series.

Customers have picked up numbers for their place in line and purchased the last several books in the series, Mr. Wallington said.

He said the series' appeal had dropped off with the past few books, but the final one has grabbed readers' attention.

"This is the book about the most incredible event the world will ever know, and that's the Second Coming of Jesus," Mr. Wallington said.

Though Glorious Appearing is the final book in this series, the authors do plan to write a prequel and a sequel.

Mr. LaHaye, 77, is a Palm Springs, Calif., resident who has been writing and preaching for decades. In the 1980s, he decided that a fictional series about the end of time would be an ideal way to spread his teachings. Realizing he couldn't write fiction himself, he eventually hooked up with Mr. Jenkins, now 54 and a prolific religious novelist based in Colorado Springs, Colo.

"We liked each other from the start," Mr. LaHaye said.

First published in 1995, the books originally were sold in Christian stores, such as Christian Supply, but their sales eventually extended to Barnes & Noble and other mainstream retailers. The previous 11 Left Behind books have sold 40 million copies. Glorious Appearing has about 2 million in print.

The series dramatizes the Dispensationalist theology of Christianity, following the most literal possible reading of Bible prophecies. The novels weave complex End Times sequences from some of the Bible's trickiest passages.

Mr. LaHaye is a creationist and religious-right stalwart who opposes gay rights and abortion and defends Roy Moore, the Alabama chief justice ousted for refusing an order to remove a Ten Commandments monument from his courthouse. In the 1980s, he was the national co-chairman for the campaign of Republican presidential candidate Jack Kemp, but he resigned after a reporter discovered he had called Catholicism a "false religion."

Some Roman Catholics and conservative Protestants have charged that the Left Behind novels are anti-Catholic because the scenario includes a future pope who establishes a false religion linked with the Antichrist.

Critics also say that apocalyptic and poetic writings have been interpreted as literal forecasts rather than as symbolic messages to the church.

"Dr. LaHaye believes we should treat the Bible literally where we can," Mr. Jenkins said. "For people who disagree with us, we say, 'Write your own books.' We're just glad we can live in a country where we can compete in a marketplace of ideas."

Both Mr. Jenkins and Mr. LaHaye are fans of another controversial religious work, Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. They say it shares two qualities with the Left Behind books: The ability to recruit new believers and proof that Christian narratives have large commercial appeal.