In February, The New York Times noted that Tim LaHaye had received an advance of about $45 million from Bantam Dell for four non-Left Behind novels. Jerry Jenkins, who actually wrote the apocalyptic series, wasn't part of the deal.

When CTpassed along the news that Jenkins had been "left behind" in this "mega book deal," it drew a terse response from Jerry Jenkins, who denied that he had been shafted. Jenkins's letter explained that the two are still friends and expect to continue to work together for some time, while they pursue side projects. Even so, one big questions remains: Was Bantam Dell wise to hire LaHaye but not Jenkins?

LaHaye admitted earlier this year to Time magazine that as a novelist, he makes a pretty good theologian. For Left Behind, he supplied his best-selling name—the LaHayes' marriage manual, for instance, sold into the millions—the apocalyptic framework, an outline, and advice along the way. That left most of the job of fashioning the actual books to Jenkins. While there is no doubt that LaHaye's marquee name helped to launch the Left Behind series into orbit (last year's installment, for instance, outsold all other novels in the U.S.), the bestsellers have become a phenomenon unto themselves. There was no guarantee that slapping LaHaye's name on a new series without trying to mimic some of the other Left Behind components ( hiring Jenkins ) could assure the new series' financial success.

As it happens, there may be a way to get some indication of whether the executives of Bantam might have a sure-fire hit on their hands—LaHaye has already coauthored another fiction series, this one with Focus on the Family alum Bob DeMoss. It's called the Soul Survivor series. The first three books have been released, with the fourth due in February.

W Publishing Group Senior editor Ami McConnell explained via e-mail that the young adult series addresses "current issues—raves, party drugs, premarital sex, Internet abduction rings, and more." (They're all bad.)

To give readers a taste, the first book in the series, The Mind Siege Project, sets the evangelical high school heroine of the series, Jody Adams, on a boat with fellow classmates on a Spring Break extra-credit boat trip. Her liberal social studies teacher is leading them in a week-long discussion of "tolerance," which branches out into abortion and the public place of religion, and includes the obligatory shots at the American Civil Liberties Union ("You can always tell when it's Christmas or Easter in the school district. You'll see a flock of the ACLU boys ready to pounce on some scrap of injudiciousness"). The hook running through the story is that one of the deranged classmates is planning to kill everyone. In order for that not to happen, Jody has to win the argument about moral absolutes.

LaHaye and DeMoss, said McConnell, "make no apology for the edgy subject matter. They say it's a necessary reminder to this generation that truth is absolute and consequences follow every action. We've found that Christian young adults identify with these characters and are so glad to find fictional 'heroes' who champion their worldview, a worldview that often seems at odds with everything else in the media." (I found them to be more preachy than edgy, but the same applies to the Left Behind series.)

But "young adults"—or even "Christian young adults"—may be too broad a term here. Though McConnell bristled at attempts to compare Soul Survivor and Left Behind sales ("[W]e aren't competing with the Left Behind series and thus don't aim to measure the success of our series against it. We're simply pleased that the Soul Survivor series speaks to the younger fans of the Left Behind series"), it's fair to say that the new project hasn't made much of a dent in either media coverage or sales. When I inquired about the series in my local Family Christian Book Store, I was met with a blank stare. Most of the evangelicals I spoke with, including some in the publishing industry, hadn't even heard of it. It's little wonder, then, that the total press run upon publication of the fourth book, Black Friday, will only be about "close to 50,000." (About 2.5 million copies of the latest Left Behind novel, The Remnant, have sold so far.)

The relative lackluster sales of Soul Survivor could be due to a whole number of factors: the lack of supernaturalism that animates the Left Behind books, insufficient advertising, poor word of mouth.

Meanwhile, Jerry Jenkins isn't exactly Michael Crichton in terms of his solo novels. Hometown Legend, which had a film tie-in, peaked at #5 on the ECPA fiction bestseller list while his most recent novel, The Youngest Hero, didn't even show. It's possible that in the eyes of the fans, the partnership of the two authors is more than the sum of its parts. Think of the Beatles together, then solo.

In any event, it must not be a comforting thought for the executives of Bantam that, while one of LaHaye's series has gone gangbusters, the other has struggled and ultimately failed to garner much attention.

Jeremy Lott is the production director for The Report, a Canadian news and opinion magazine, and coauthor (with Rev. Dr. Lawrence VanBeek) of the forthcoming The Case for Enoch