Timothy LaHayeTim LaHaye is the co-author, with Jerry Jenkins, of "Left Behind," the popular Christian fiction series about the End Times. Some Christians believe in the Rapture, an apocalyptic event in which believers will rise from the earth to meet Christ while others are "left behind" to endure the tribulation -- a time of rampant lawlessness, disaster, famine, and illness -- prior to Jesus' return to the earth.

In your new book, you seem to want to recast the Rapture in a warmer light.
Actually I want to cast the nature of God in warmer light. The Rapture is a time of incredible mercy and grace. If you only look at the people who defy God, it's a negative time. But if you look at the whole population, it's a blessed time.

But you can hardly blame people for being scared. You've done as much as anyone to plant the catastrophic events of the Rapture in people's minds.
I wouldn't plead guilty to that. All we're doing is fleshing out the prophecy of the Bible. There is going to be a time of tribulation, but keep in mind that that seven years comes just before the millenium. The Tribulation is there to let people make a decision about Jesus Christ. For those who accept God's plan, what follows is nothing but utopia. But for those who reject it, it's eternal loss. I don't think that's different than what any Christian would tell you.

And yet the Rapture isn't considered orthodox Christian theology .
I think that is an erroneous conclusion propagated by the amillennialist and reform church movements. The truth is, Christianity is divided between those who take the Bible literally and those who take it figuratively. Those who take it literally are far more in the majority, if you're talking about evangelical Christians--Southern Baptists, Assemblies of God and independent churches, like the Brethren. There are a lot of denominational groups that accept this, so I don't think it's fair to say [it's a minority view]. Lets face it, we've sold more than five million copies of Left Behind books, and they say every copy is read by 10 people. Five million times 10 is a lot of people.

Is buying the book a sign they ascribe to millenialism?
No, but it's a sign they think about the future. Some are not even Christians. In my new book, I want to show that God's future is merciful. I believe we've been silent too long about the mercy of God and overexaggerating the wrath of God.

Who has overexaggerated the wrath of God?
The church. Those who don't take the time to teach the truth about prophecy are leaving it to people who want to be negative about the wrath of God.

The Old Testament is full of God's wrath and vengeance. In the New Testament, Jesus preaches forgiveness and love. How do you account for the change in God's approach?
I don't think it does change. In the Old Testament, God shows mercy on those who turn to him. He never calls out to the holy people and says "Turn to me." He calls out to the sinful people. The acts of God are pointed at the adulterers, the abominators. And he sends people to warn them time and again. He sent a prophet to Nineveh and the people repented and he spared them for 100 years, before they strayed again and he destroyed them. Is the Lord to blame because they rebelled against him?

As you say, God has always sent prophets to warn of doom. Who are these men now?
There is a change in that respect. In the Old Testament, God raised up prophets--the books of the Old Testament were written by them. In the New Testament, he raised up the apostles and after the first century, he gave the Revelation. Now it's the church that has the job of spreading the word. And by the church I mean policeman and fireman and others in everyday lines of work. If they are fulfilling their commitment, they are sharing their faith.

You cite a couple in the book who are afraid to have children because of what their offspring might have to go through during the Tribulation. Are the Rapture and Tribulation really that iminent?
Well, first of all, people like that are selfish. And second, lots of people have tried to predict the time, and none of them have got it right. It's better to live each day with the Rapture in mind.

Can a person be saved if they don't believe in the Rapture?
Sure. There's no verse in the Bible that says you have to believe in the Rapture. You are just better informed. The only requirement is having faith in Jesus Christ, and a child understands that and could have that.

In Luke's gospel, Jesus predicts catastrophic events, but says they will happen "before this generation passes away." Some say that means he was talking about and to the Jews in the first century. How do you explain that verse?
The question is how to decide what generation he's talking about--the disciples or the one seeing the signs? There are many predictions that Jesus referred to that have yet to take place. In Matthew, in the parallel passage to the one in Luke, Jesus said he will keep us from the hour that will try the whole earth. That has never happened. Those who try to make the destruction of Jerusalem the fulfillment of Jesus' prophecies are unbelievable to me.

In Revelation, on which many millenialist doctrine is based, John specifically addresses the account of his visions to seven cities. Again, why don't you restrict the revelation to those cities at that time?
Those events passed away before those churches could fulfill them. The interesting thing is, whether you accept the concept [of millennialism] or not, the church is still responsible for what it says. The positive results of prophecy-teaching benefit the church and the earth as a whole. I've dedicated my life to telling people to be ready for Jesus. I don't see why that's such a pessimistic and dangerous view.

There does seem to be a psychology of threat in the Christian psyche. Some preachers seem to thrive on this idea that Christians are imperiled.
There are excesses to everything. We are living under the threat of terror. We're spending a huge amount to protect ourselves. We'd be unwise not to. We're saying the same thing spiritually.

Must these predictions come to pass? Can't they be avoided the way Nineveh avoided its fate?
These prophecies are not based on what God is going to do, but what He knows man is going to do. He's going to rapture the church. If people reject the prophecies and reject the word, is that God's worry?

Your Left Behind series has been so successful. Would you write more novels that stress this idea of God's loving nature?
We're doing two series now. The Left Behind series is continuing to tell the story of the Rapture forward, and the new series with Bantam Books, which starts right away, has real-live people living from today until the Rapture.

What have you been reading lately?
I just finished writing the introduction to a new edition of "Ben Hur." That was a fun read. I'd read before but fun to read it again. And I've enjoyed Tom Clancy, except that he's extremely ponderous. I've read Grisham. And I've read some people who should get themselves a collaborator, like I do.

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