L.B.: Jerry’s book tour

Jerry B. Jenkins, co-author with Tim LaHaye of the Left Behind series, is promoting his new book, Soon, which was written without having to split the profits with the valued assistance and spiritual guidance of LaHaye.

Soon isn't set during a dispensationalist's "tribulation" period, but Jenkins is still sticking closely to his lucrative winning formula. Debra Pickett describes it in The Chicago Sun-Times:

Soon is set 35 years after the end of World War III, and religion has, indeed, been banned. Its hero, Paul Stepola, is an agent of the National Peace Organization, charged with exposing and destroying religious zealots. Of course, as the plot unfolds, he repents for his sin. By the book's end, he's rejoicing that "the mighty Lord and Creator of the universe had withdrawn every drop of water in the wicked city," punishing the Los Angeles evildoers — yes, L.A. is the wicked city in question — who've been oppressing Christians.

Let's see: Perversely out-of-proportion persecution complex on behalf of white American evangelicals? Check. Equation of "peace" with the works of Satan? Check. Pornographically explicit religious conversion scene? Check. Gleeful destruction of the wicked secular humanists finally getting their lethal comeuppance? Check.

Yep, looks like Jerry's still got that magic touch.

It is curious, though, that he would set his story 35 years in the future, since the whole premise of the Left Behind series is that the world is going to end a lot sooner than that.

Pickett offers a shrewd profile of Jenkins, whom she interviewed over lunch:

Jerry Jenkins, co-author of the wildly popular "Left Behind" series of religiously themed adventure novels, wants me to know that he's not an anti-Semite. …

As if to underline the point, he's even ordered a bagel.

She catches some revealing comments that might confirm one's more cynical suspicions about the author's commercial ambition:

"I'm writing for a conservative, evangelical publisher, and I've worked in that space for a long time," he says. "There are certain expectations."

But ultimately, she finds Jenkins bewildering:

… He seems to have an enormous blind spot. He refers to LaHaye's writings about the rapture as if they were established truth, when, in fact, the word "rapture" doesn't even appear in the Bible. And neither, incidentally, does the "seven-year tribulation" that is the premise of the ''Left Behind'' books. Jenkins speaks of LaHaye as a renowned scholar, yet it's unclear what, exactly, he's been studying.

Jenkins' book tour also took him recently to Dallas, where he was interviewed by Barbara Delgado of The Dallas Morning News. We learn that Jenkins has now taken charge of something called the Christian Writers Guild, where he'll be helping to teach a new generation of would-be Jerry B. Jenkinses how to write just like the master:

Q: Why was teaching young writers important to you?

A: It's a way to give back. I had good mentors when I was young. I want to deepen the pool of Christian writers.

We have a first novel contest. A $50,000 prize. I'll edit the book, and Tyndale will publish it.

Q: How would you rate the quality of Christian fiction today?

A: I think we're broader than we've been, but we're still shallow. It's better than it used to be – it couldn't be worse.

I feel a responsibility for this [lack of quality]. Because "Left Behind" has been so successful, a lot of publishers just want any Christian fiction they can get. Unfortunately, too often it looks like it.

Let the record show that Jenkins feels some responsibility for the lack of "quality Christian fiction."

Also in Texas recently — although they did not meet with Jerry Jenkins — was the "Special Reporting Team" of JoongAng Daily.

This intrepid team of Korean reporters is trying to get a grasp on American fundamentalism. After reading Michael Lind's book Made in Texas: George W. Bush and the Southern Takeover of American Politics, they decided that Waco, Texas, was a good place to start. They visited Baylor University, where they were disappointed to find that the faculty weren't the rabid fundamentalists they were expecting.

But then they went to the university book store. Pay dirt:

… the bookstore on campus exuded a strong impression that Baylor was a school in the heart of Waco-Crawford. Many copies of fundamentalist novels, the "Left Behind" series, were stacked on the shelves.

Their summary of the series loses nothing in translation:

Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, famed fundamentalist writers, co-authored the work. More than 15 million copies of the series were sold. The plots involve the seven-year-long chaos before the arrival of Christ, the anti-Christ’s rule of the world from New Babylon and God’s forces protecting Israel from Russia and other invaders. The day of rapture comes, and millions of the faithful are lifted up to the sky by Christ and a chaos ensues in the world. Nicolae Carpathia, the Romanian president who in his 30s resembled Robert Redford, becomes the secretary general of the United Nations and rams through a resolution that moves UN headquarters to Babylon in Iraq. Only those who believe in the second coming of Christ and the prophecies of the Old Testament could write such a novel; the story is sure to fascinate those bent on "anti-Enlightenment" and "anti-intellectual" thought.

The JoongAng gang then cites a poll that found a frighteningly high percentage of Americans subscribing to the famed fundamentalist writers' ideas about the end of the world. They go on to make the connection between this apocalyptic worldview and the political agenda of George W. Bush and leave Waco, it seems, a bit shaken and fearful of these crazy people who have taken control of America.

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  • Jorge

    Wait, so Carpathia (what a name!) moves the UN headquarters out of New York, the hub of international culture and commerce to Babylon, an archeological site and tourist attraction out in the middle of the desert? So, does the General Assembly meet on top of a Ziggurat? That’d be like moving the seat of the President from DC to the site of the Jamestown settlement.
    Sorry to harp on a passing detail like this but I swear, these guys need to use their frickin imagination! Why must every little thing be so litteral? it doesn’t even take that much imagination to refer to New York as a New Babylon, heck Rastafarians have been doing it for years!

  • Legomancer

    But…but… “Stepola” is an anagram for “Apostle”! Only QUALITY writers use that tactic!

  • The Bone

    Slacktivist: Thank you so much for doing this analysis of Left Behind. I’m so glad I don’t have to read those books now! (I tried to read the first one a few years ago, I really did… but I had to put it down after the first couple of chapters. You’re a better man than I)

  • kodi

    I, for one, am beyond relieved to hear that Christian fiction is finally recovering from the damage done to it by such unreadable hacks as Dante, Milton, and Bunyan. Couldn’t be worse, indeed.
    Of course, they didn’t have the benefit of a $900 correspondence course teaching them the correct way to be a Christian Writer.

  • Deana Holmes

    I want to hear more about the “pornographically explicit religious conversion scene”!

  • alphabitch

    I want to thank you, Slacktivist, for pointing out the JoongAng Daily special report series. Fascinating.

  • Chris

    Ah it’s so nice to see that paranoia and anti-modern hysteria plus formulatic writing should be successful in this day and age. When I think of all the hours I wasted reading C.S. Lewis fiction and the Abolition of Man, I am grateful that people like Jenkins are available to make everything so much easier.
    Or not, the damn hack.

  • AngryElephant

    Tsk, tsk. The fundies aren’t in Waco — that’s the center of the beaten-down moderate Texas Baptists. The fundies are up at Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth.

  • Miki

    It should be noted that the Baylor bookstore also sells “Happy Mania,” a soft-porn manga series. It’s on the opposite side of the shelf with different versions of the Bible.

  • ihavenomouth

    On the site for the Christian Writers Guild, you can request that they mail you a starter kit. You could, if you were so inclined, give a false address and cause them to mail a kit to the middle of nowhere, costing them money. If you were so inclined.
    That said, the fees on this stuff are ridiculous. $1,250 for a beginner’s course indeed!

  • Axiomatic

    But this is writing. The Starter Kit should be composed of a hundred sheets of paper and a pen.
    That’s all you need, honest.