Jerry Jenkins is, in many ways, a moderate in the Christian literature world. But the author is best known for his partnership with the fiery 80-year-old Tim LaHaye, who was named one of Time magazine's most powerful evangelicals last year, along with the now-fallen Ted Haggard.
Jenkins and LaHaye's co-authored and phenomenally popular Left Behind series tells the stories of those who remain on Earth even as their Jesus-loving peers are zapped skyward in the rapture. Jenkins, who calls Black Forest home six months of the year, chatted with the Independent about the pair's brand new biblical-era book John's Story: The Last Eyewitness, which is the first in a four-novel series called The Jesus Chronicles. He also weighed in on recent tumultuous events that some believers say have accelerated the End Times.
Indy: John's Story, which is set in biblical times, signifies a departure from the futuristic Left Behind series. Why the switch?
JJ: Since our theme really is always Jesus, we said, "Let's go back in the biblical calendar, out to the first century and flesh out the gospel stories." ... We want to be as close to Scripture as possible, because people look for that.
Indy: Tim LaHaye comes up with the themes for your books, based on biblical record. Then you write the novels. How did it work in the futuristic Left Behind series?
JJ: [LaHaye] takes a decidedly different view of Bible prophecy than most do, especially with the Book of Revelation. A lot of people think it is symbolic and figurative. He says, "Where we can, let's take it literally. ... If John the Revelator says, "I looked and I saw fire from heaven or chunks of ice,' let's take that literally." ... I just put fictitious characters in the way of these events and wrote to find out what happened.
Indy: Why is Christian-themed fiction important?
JJ: We don't write to offend people, we just write to inform people. We were amazed to see how popular the Left Behind series became. The audience we are shooting for with The Jesus Chronicles is similar to the one Mel Gibson was shooting for with The Passion of the Christ.
Indy: What do you make of the Ted Haggard incident? Will it have an impact on evangelism in the nation?
JJ: It is an embarrassment, of course, yet I think that the church has handled it fairly well. ... Of course, it gives anyone ammunition who is against church people. Of course, we are vulnerable if we ever put ourselves in front of people and say, "This is how you ought to live," and [we] are living double lives. My hope is that people realize that we are not supposed to admire men or worship men. ... It makes all of us who are known as Christian leaders examine ourselves and be careful of the temptations we allow ourselves to get next to.
Indy: Some point to the increasing political divide in the United States, and the mid-term Democratic victory in particular, as a sign of the End Times. What do you think?
JJ: I don't see any parallel to prophecy there. Most of the End Times prophecy centers on the Middle East, anyway, ... It is sort of sobering when we Americans and Christians look at prophecy because there doesn't seem to be any mention of America or the United States or this part of the world. I don't know if we basically just disappear or we are insignificant when the end comes, but we don't seem to play much of a role in it.
Indy: Does the Iraq war point to the End Times in one way or another?
JJ: The prophecies say there will be wars and rumors of wars and nation rising against nation. Well, we have had that for 2,000 years. It does seem to get worse all the time, ... It seems to me that we are heading toward something.
Indy: If you had to put a date on the End Times, when would it come?
JJ: [The Scripture] says that Jesus Himself doesn't know. That only His father knows. So anybody that tries to put a date on it is engaging in folly. I don't think there is anything more that has to be accomplished before the return of Christ. I think it could be today, but I am hoping and praying that God waits. The longer He waits, the more people will turn to him. How is that for dodging the question?