November 23, 2001




ATLANTA, Nov. 21 - Aaron M. Hopper, a 23-year-old

middle-school teacher, was scanning the bookshelves of the

Family Christian Store in Gainesville, Ga., today when a

new paperback caught his attention.

It was "Attack on America: New York, Jerusalem and the Role

of Terrorism in the Last Days," by John C. Hagee, a San

Antonio evangelist who writes about biblical prophecy and


"I said, `I've got to have this,' " Mr. Hopper said. "I'm

settled on the fact that this happened for a reason, that

God was trying to get our attention. The Bible says there

will be great sorrow before the end times, and what

happened on Sept. 11 is just an example."

Mr. Hopper is far from alone in his interest. As with the

approach of the year 2000, the Sept. 11 attacks have

invigorated the apocalyptic brand of theology embraced by

many Christian evangelicals and fundamentalists, who view

the collapse of the World Trade Center towers as the latest

harbinger of the end times.

At Christian bookstores across the nation, titles on

biblical prophecy, both fiction and nonfiction, have flown

off the shelves in the last two months. Christian Web sites

and bulletin boards are chock-full of commentary and

interpretation on the meaning of the attacks and their

place in the prophetic timeline. Pastors have taken to

their pulpits to predict that the second coming is near,

with some going so far as to speculate that they could be

preaching their final sermons.

"There's a heightened interest, no doubt about it," said

the Rev. Russ G. Shinpoch, pastor of Wildwood Baptist

Church in Acworth, Ga., northwest of Atlanta. "God got

America's attention. And in my opinion, the window's going

to be brief."

Like many of his conservative counterparts, Mr. Shinpoch

says he believes that Jesus could return within two or

three years. "As far as we know, there's no more prophecy

to be fulfilled," he said. "It literally could be any day."


That, of course, is not necessarily the view within the

mainstream of Christianity. Hank Hanegraaff, president of

the Christian Research Institute, a California group that

studies what it considers to be aberrant Christian

theology, said the prophetic strain of the faith had always

suffered from an overly literal interpretation - and often

misinterpretation - of the Scriptures. Mr. Hanegraaff said

the leaders of the prophecy movement, beneficiaries of a

multimillion-dollar industry, were always looking for

cataclysmic events to validate their doomsday scenarios and

paper over previously failed forecasts.

"There are always these events that the prophecy teachers

seize upon and say, `See, I told you so,' " Mr. Hanegraaff

said. "A lot of these people are desperate, because how

many times can you be wrong."

Nonetheless, there is little question that Sept. 11 had a

profound impact on those who subscribe to end-times

theology. A recent survey of 500 bookstores by the

Evangelical Christian Publishers Association found that the

number of nonfiction books about prophecy sold in the eight

weeks after Sept. 11 had increased by 71 percent compared

with the previous eight weeks.

The country's top-selling hardcover fiction book,

meanwhile, is "Desecration" (Tyndale House) by Tim LaHaye

and Jerry B. Jenkins, the ninth volume in the enormously

popular "Left Behind" series, which depicts a global battle

between the forces of good and evil after the Rapture of

the saved. The book, which made its debut atop The New York

Times best-seller list last week and remains there this

week, had an initial printing of 2.97 million copies, more

than any other fiction book this year, according to

Publishers Weekly. Another 100,000 copies will be printed

in time for Christmas.

Because the "Left Behind" series has such a devoted

following, "Desecration" presumably would have sold well

even had it not been published on Oct. 30. But sales thus

far are more robust than for the eighth book in the series,

which was published last year, and officials at Tyndale

believe that the terrorist attacks spurred demand.

"People who have read the `Left Behind' series felt they

were seeing something right out of the books," said Daniel

J. Balow, director of business development for the

publisher. "And people who had never read the series have

been pushed to consider what the future brings."

Doug R. Ross, president of the Evangelical Christian

Publishers Association, predicted that Christian retailers

would enjoy an increase of 5 percent to 7 percent in sales

for the Christmas season. "That, of course, is contrary to

what you see in the general trade," Mr. Ross said. "And I

think one of the reasons is certainly in response to the

times we live in. A cataclysmic event like Sept. 11 and the

unsettledness in the Middle East cause people to say, 'Is

this the war to end all wars?' "

Web sites trading in apocalyptic material have also been

popular. Orders tripled in September and October for

Armageddon Books, a concern in North Carolina that sells

600 prophecy-related items over the Web, said Broderick D.

Shepherd, the company's owner.

"The worse the news was for America, the better our

business was," Mr. Shepherd said.

Another Web site features a "Rapture index" that describes

itself as "a Dow Jones Industrial Average of end-time

activity." By assigning numerical values in 45 prophetic

categories, it ostensibly measures the velocity of movement

toward the Rapture, when Christians supposedly will vanish

before a seven-year apocalypse led by the anti-Christ. The

total score of 182 recorded on Sept. 24 was the highest

ever. Any score over 145, according to the index, suggests

you should "fasten your seat belt."

Those who embrace biblical prophecy have linked the

terrorist attacks to both complicated interpretations of

Scripture and to a number of specific biblical references,

from Isaiah 30:25 ("in the day of great slaughter, when the

towers fall") to Revelation 18:10 ("thou mighty city,

Babylon! In one hour has thy judgment come.")

Many pastors have used such predictions to encourage their

parishioners to get right with God. But some authorities

say that such an emphasis misstates Jesus' intent.

"I worry that this apocalyptic fixation leads to a kind of

otherworldliness on the part of many Christians," said

Randall Balmer, a professor of American religious history

at Barnard College. "Rather than looking to improve or

reform the world, they simply are opting out and predicting

judgment. They talk about individual regeneration rather

than social amelioration, and to emphasize one at the price

of the other is a distortion of the gospel."