Controversial evangelist, activist and bestselling 'Left Behind' author dies aged 90

Tim LaHaye (right) wrote the Left Behind series with Jerry Jenkins (left).Facebook/TimLaHayeMinistries

Tim LaHaye, who has died after a stroke aged 90, was best known for his partnership with novelist Jerry Jenkins in producing the 16 Left Behind novels, a publishing sensation that sold 80 million copies worldwide.

However, he was a prominent figure in conservative evangelical circles for most of his life, and his views were rarely uncontroversial – including those expressed in the Left Behind books.

Born in 1927 in Detroit, Michigan, LaHaye served in the US Air Force in WWII. He attended the fundamentalist Bob Jones University and served as pastor of the Scott Memorial Baptist Church in San Diego for 25 year, founding the San Diego Christian College in 1971.

LaHaye was highly active politically, helping Jerry Falwell to found the Moral Majority in 1979. The movement became very powerful as a way of channelling the social conservativism of evangelicals into Republican political channels, and is credited with helping secure the election of Ronald Reagan. He also helped found the Council for National Policy, an invitation-only think thank, the American Coalition for Traditional Values and the Coalition for Religious Freedom, as well as the Institute for Creation Research. His wife Beverley founded Concerned Women of American to counter feminist organisations.

LaHaye also believed in a global conspiracy led by the "Illuminati", which he thought was a "centuries-old conspiracy to use government, education, and media to destroy every vestige of Christianity within our society and establish a new world order". He was a fierce opponent of homosexuality who was also accused of antisemitism and anti-Catholicism. 

LaHaye's Left Behind series was based on the book of Revelation. It is based on his acceptance of 'Pre-Millennial Dispensationalism', which includes the belief Jesus will return to earth and Christians will be "raptured" into heaven with him. LaHaye believed this period would last up to 10 years, during which time there would be a 'Tribulation' on earth.

He thought this would be marked by an attack on Israel led by Russia, which Israel would defeat, followed by the rise of a one-world government and a single synchretistic religion headed by the Roman Catholic Church and the Pope. After a final battle at Armageddon Christ returns and rules on earth for a thousand years, after which evil is again unleashed. Following this there is a final judgment and the creation of a new heaven and a new earth.

LaHaye's scenario is based on the interpretation of Revelation held by the founder of the Brethren movement, J N Darby, and popularised through the influential Schofield Reference Bible. It is not regarded as serious exegesis by biblical scholars, though it is widely held in many conservative circles.

His collaboration with Jenkins involved LaHaye providing what he said was the biblical framework for the books so that Jenkins could write the story around it. The books popularised 'End-Times' theology far more widely – a development regretted by scholars, who see Revelation as more of a series of reflections on contemporary society than as a precise prediction of the future. 

A 2014 film version starring Nicholas Cage was panned by critics, scoring two per cent on the Rotten Tomatoes review site. 

Tributes were paid to LaHaye by many evangelicals. Rev Jerry Falwell Sr said the impact of Left Behind was "probably greater than that of any other book in modern times, outside the Bible". 

His co-author Jerry Jenkins said: "Thrilled as I am that he is where he has always wanted to be, his departure leaves a void in my soul I don't expect to fill until I see him again."

Rev Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, said: "Dr LaHaye has blessed the church in America with a legacy that will far outlast his time on this earth. The principled stand he took on countless issues has impacted the social, cultural, and political landscape for generations. He was a once-in-a-millennium type of leader who paved the way for future generations."