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Gary Younge

Tim LaHaye: a "wake-up call"
Christ's novel return is a US bestseller

Bookshops have ordered more than 2m copies of Glorious Appearing - more than Hillary Rodham Clinton's memoir sold in its first six months - which has shot to No 4 in the Amazon internet book rankings the day before its release.

Glorious Appearing is the last in a 12-book series called Left Behind published over the past nine years. The first 11 novels sold more than 40m copies, making the authors, Tim LaHaye and Jerry B Jenkins, the best selling novelists in the country, beating even John Grisham.

Coming in the wake of the success of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, which details Jesus's last 12 hours before crucifixion, the Left Behind series is the latest example of the huge impact religious themes are having on popular culture.

Originally sold only in Christian bookshops, the series is now in mainstream stores including Barnes & Noble and Wal-Mart.

More than 20,000 volunteers plan to form a Left Behind street team, to spread the word about the books to family, friends and neighbours.

The first novel, Left Behind, starts with the rapture - the moment when those who have been born again will disappear and ascend to heaven, according to many evangelists.

The remaining books detail the seven-year period of mayhem and upheaval in which those left behind have their final chance to find Jesus. The antichrist becomes the head of the UN and triggers the second coming after he signs a peace treaty with Israel, while 144,000 Jews convert to Christianity.

Any similarities to modern-day events, says LaHaye, is coincidental and prophetic. "That's the way it's going to be during the tribulation period, according to Revelation," he told the New York Times.

"And if it happens to parallel what the seculars are trying to do today, so be it ... The fact that we're seeing some of those things happen right now must be a wake-up call to some people to say, 'Hey, we may be closer than we think.'"

LaHaye, a former pastor in San Diego, founded a network of Christian schools and a Christian college in California before joining Jerry Falwell in the political action group the Moral Majority. During the mid-90s he joined Jenkins, a bestselling Christian author, in an attempt to turn the Bible into bestselling fiction.

Glorious Appearing should be the final episode, in which Jesus finally returns - although the publishers plan a postscript and a prequel.

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