It was a book many publishers rejected before one gave it a chance—then watched in amazement as a tiny trickle of sales grew into a steady stream and finally cascaded in a mighty torrent.

It was a book that made it okay for Christian men to read fiction, once mainly the province of women and sometimes condemned from the pulpit as evil or at least a distraction from more productive pursuits.

It was a book that proclaimed specific positions on a host of complex and often controversial theological issues concerning the ways of God, humanity, and invisible spiritual forces. But this book did so not by biblical exposition or logical argumentation, but by means of fictional characters that work out their linked destinies in an engrossing, fast-paced adventure story.

And it was that rare cultural phenomenon—a book that millions of people knew and talked about, whether or not they had read it, or its sequel, or the other books that followed in its wake.

The book was This Present Darkness, Frank Peretti's hair-raising 1986 novel about the struggle between Bible-believing Christians and New Age cultists who battle each other and assorted supernatural forces for control of their once quiet town.

That spine-tingling novel paved the way for a growth spurt in Christian fiction that continued with Left Behind, the end-times novel by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins that appeared nine years later. Left Behind unleashed an unprecedented publishing tsunami of nine adult novels (thus far) with sales of 30 million copies. More than a dozen related titles have sold over 20 million copies.

At the same time Left Behind books claimed top spots on fiction bestseller lists, Bruce Wilkinson's breezy and inspirational The ...

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