L.B.: Jerry’s book tour

L.B.: Jerry’s book tour November 11, 2003

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 By the book's end, he's rejoicing that "the mighty Lord and Creator of the universe had withdrawn every drop of water in the wicked city," punishing the Los Angeles evildoers — yes, L.A. is the wicked city in question — who've been oppressing Christians.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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