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These words have a slightly rehearsed quality--as a pastor and book-tour veteran, LaHaye has had to tell the same stories many, many times. But he tells them with sincerity. LaHaye doesn't have the stage presence required of a great preacher, but he knows how to show his heart one-on-one. Left Behind, which is published by the Christian press Tyndale House, has brought LaHaye and Jenkins something like $50 million apiece, and LaHaye recently signed a separate $42 million deal with Bantam Dell for a new series about an evangelical Indiana Jones. LaHaye neglected to tell Jenkins about the new deal in advance, leading some in the publishing business to call him greedy. (As with Left Behind, a working novelist will hammer LaHaye's thoughts into prose, though the new compatriot, Davis Bunn, won't take as big a cut--50%--as Jenkins did.) But LaHaye doesn't seem like a man motivated by money. Aside from driving a white Cadillac SUV the size of a tank, he and his wife of 55 years, Beverly, don't live lavishly. Their condo in Rancho Mirage, Calif., is at one of the less impressive country clubs, and LaHaye recently gave a seminar in Wichita, Kans., in a sports-coat/paisley-tie/blue-leather-loafer combo that looked as if it could not have been purchased after 1985.
LaHaye wasn't above urging the crowd in Wichita to preorder the new Left Behind book on the Internet "'cause I'm not sure you'll get it if you don't." But he doesn't beg like a cheap televangelist. Nor does he bluster like Jerry Falwell or Jesse Jackson. If he's having an argument--something that happens a lot when you fight for a single political and religious viewpoint all your life--LaHaye doesn't get louder; he gets softer. He leans back and takes a full minute to consider your point. And in the end he is always interested in what for him is the only real question on the table: Do you have a personal relationship with Christ? Would you like to? Within a few hours after we met for the first time, LaHaye gave me advice about my career, my love life and my salvation--and yet his questions didn't feel intrusive. He's that genuine.
LaHaye learned how to talk to people as a pastor. In his first two decades after graduating from Bob Jones University in 1950, he ministered in Minneapolis, Minn., and then San Diego. In 1974 he founded an Evangelical church in El Cajon, Calif., that today claims 3,500 worshippers each Sunday. As a pastor in turbulent California during the '60s, LaHaye saw all manner of good people get into trouble with drugs and sex and sin. He felt that fragile humans needed to be filled with the protective Holy Spirit early, and his churches quickly led to schools (his Christian Unified Schools of San Diego now sprawls across three campuses) and to a college called Christian Heritage. "You have to train up a child in the way he should go, according to Proverbs," LaHaye says. "All of us are vulnerable to leadership--and those who deny biblical absolutes are leading many of us away." LaHaye sees people as remarkably malleable creatures.
Shaping adult minds required a more entrepreneurial approach, and LaHaye began writing self-help books. Eventually he hit every conceivable publishing fad: sex advice (including 1976's The Act of Marriage, a blockbuster that declared "the husband's use of clitoral manipulation" to be godly); How to Win over Depression (1974); Anger Is a Choice (1982); Why You Act the Way You Do (1984).