Who has been the most influential evangelical in the U.S during the last 25 years?
The answer to that question tends to bring up the usual candidates: Billy Graham, Bill Bright of Campus Crusade, James Dobson of Focus on the Family, or perhaps Pat Robertson. The Evangelical Studies Bulletin, (Winter) the newsletter of the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals throws in the wild card of Tim LaHaye, and it may not be too far-fetched. LaHaye pioneered and helped popularize creationism in the early 1970s, and then was instrumental in translating therapeutic ideas into an evangelical context with his books on the “Spirit-controlled temperament” in the mid-1970s.
By the late 1970s, LaHaye wrote the widely popular evangelical sex manual “The Act of Marriage,” the first of its kind. Around that time, his book, “The Battle for the Mind,” and “The Battle for the Family set the stage for the rise of the Moral Majority. Since 1979, LaHaye and his wife Beverly (head of Concerned Women for America) have been key players of the religious right.
As co-author of the spectacularly popular “Left Behind” series in the late 1990s, LaHaye conveys pre-millennial, end-times teachings into an entertaining style that even Hal Lindsey and his “Late Great Planet Earth” could not achieve. The newsletter concludes that LaHaye was “influenced by all the changes swirling around evangelicalism, rose out of the ranks of the movement, and then in turn played a strategic role at key points that have cemented — for good or ill — the direction [evangelicalism] will be taking in the next few decades.
(Evangelical Studies Bulletin, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL 60187-5593; http://www.wheaton.edu/isae).