L.B.: Tin men

L.B.: Tin men August 5, 2005

Please forgive a brief aside, we'll pick up again on page 129 this week in a second post. Here I want to explore a theory about the theological foundations of Bad Writing and, in particular, Bad Evangelical Writing. As it turns out, I doubt this theory applies to LaHaye and Jenkins, but bear with me.

In the last installment, we followed Buck Williams on an impossible journey across central New Jersey to Manhattan, which seems distorted and immense — like Greenland on a Mercator map. I grew up in central Jersey, in Dunellen, just a few blocks from the commuter train that Buck may or may not have ridden, so the garbled, unreal geography of that section hit, well, close to home.

Gershom Gorenberg had a similar response to the Left Behind series. Gorenberg lives in Jerusalem where he is, among other things, an editor with The Jerusalem Post. He happened to be on vacation in the Galilee, near Tiberias, while reading the third book in LaHaye and Jenkins' series, Nicolae: Rise of the Antichrist.

Gorenberg reads that Buck Williams, "would find who he was looking for in Galilee, which didn't really exist anymore." But it gets worse:

A couple minutes later I'm giggling again: Now Buck has decided to make the three-hour journey to "Tiberius" (sic) by boat — one of the many touring boats that, in the book, ply the Jordan River. Which would be fine if the Jordan were really "deep and wide," as the song goes, but in reality it's a narrow trickle not fit for navigating.

The experience is jarring, like meeting someone who calls you by your name, insists he knows you, remembers you from a high school you didn't attend, a job you never had. I'm reading a book set largely in the country where I live — but not really, because the authors' Israel is a landscape of their imagination, and the characters called "Jews" might as well be named hobbits or warlocks. Israel and Jews are central to Nicolae and the other books of the hugely successful Left Behind series — but the country belongs to the map of a Christian myth; the people speak lines from a script foreign to flesh-and-blood Jews.

That's from Gorenberg's fascinating book The End of Days: Fundamentalism and the Struggle for the Temple Mount. (Gorenberg has a lot more to say about LB and the apocalyptic obsession of folks like L&J, so we'll be getting back to him and End of Days a bit more down the line.)

Gorenberg's take on the mythic "landscape of the imagination" helps to explain some of the warped geography of LB. Places like Jerusalem and Manhattan are meaningful to L&J only insofar as they represent forces at work in their predetermined End Times puppet show, so it doesn't matter if the mythic Israel or the mythic New York bears any resemblance to its real-world counterpart.

But this doesn't explain L&J's strange habit of bogging down in places like Waukegan or Easton, neither of which plays a role in pseudo-biblical prophecy. (Neither does New York, of course, but that doesn't stop L&J from treating it as a stand-in for Rome or Babylon or Ninevah.)

Much of this stuff is simply Bad Writing. Sometimes it can be accidentally entertaining in a Plan 9 From Outer Space way, but usually, like most Bad Writing, it's just boring.

In the case of such passages, the dark matter that composes the unreadable bulk of the series, it is not the content that bears theological or political significance, but the simple fact that it exists. This craptacular prose was written by Christian writers, approved by Christian editors, printed and bound by a Christian publishing house. This is shameful.

Christianity has traditionally held a high view of vocation. Christians believe that the artisan, tradesman or professional has the opportunity and obligation to glorify God by striving for excellence at his or her craft. The primary duty of a Christian plumber, in other words, is to be a good plumber. And the primary duty of a Christian artist is to be a good artist. This is true whatever one's calling: doctor, lawyer, Indian chief, online copyeditor.

This teaching goes way back — at least to Aristotle (as rechristened and adopted by Aquinas). But a competing understanding has arisen in American evangelical Christianity. From this perspective, the primary duty of every Christian regardless of vocation is evangelism. Everything else is just a means to this end.

According to this view, then, the primary duty of the Christian plumber is to spread the gospel. After all, what doth it profit a customer if a Christian plumber fixes their sink, but leaves their immortal soul in disrepair? This doesn't necessarily mean that such an evangelist-plumber will be incompetent at his trade. It's possible he could still be an excellent, if somewhat annoying, plumber. But excellence — or even basic competence — is no longer his priority. And he certainly does not believe, as craftsmen of the Aquinastotelian tradition did, that incompetence is a sin.

In this view vocation is unimportant. The standards of your craft become secondary to your duties as a member of the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith. This is particularly problematic for the Christian artist, whose art is now made a means to an end, i.e., propaganda.

This is one possible explanation for the utter inattention to craft of Jerry B. Jenkins, evangelist-novelist. It's a rather charitable view, ascribing Jenkins' incompetence as a novelist to a well-intentioned, but misguided, understanding of vocation and Christian duty.

I do think this devaluation of vocation helps to explain a lot of bad "Christian" art, including the dismally derivative world of "contemporary Christian music." But I'm not sure LaHaye and Jenkins really deserve such charitable consideration. As I've argued elsewhere, the presumption of charity ends when you cash the really big check.

Tim & Jerry are laughing all the way to the bank. They're reaping millions from these slapdash books without putting in the effort that even a semi-competent novel would require, the effort that their readers deserve. (Jenkins has said that each of the books in the series took him about 28 days to write.)

This is a form of stealing. The priority of evangelism provides a nice spiritual cover-story, but LaHaye and Jenkins are simple con-men and thieves, preying on their brothers and sisters in the church.

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76 responses to “L.B.: Tin men”

  1. The sad thing is that dedication to vocation is an effective form of evangelism. Doing a good job, honest business practices, and general integrity provoke people to ask what it is about you that’s different. When they ask, it’s an opening to discuss how using your God-given talents to their greatest effect is a form of worship, and the conversation proceeds from there. I’m much more impressed by the Christianity of the Amish than that of the sleazy contractor with the fish on his car.

  2. It is absolutely amazing that Jenkins and LaHaye have so little physical awareness of the places their characters go. I always imagined that one of the more enjoyable parts of being a thriller writer would be the trips to Vienna or Cairo or wherever your hero ends up, because you get to bum around, soak up local color, and generally pretend that you’re the hero.

  3. I’m curious as to which ways you consider Contemporary Christian “derivative”? I’m not arguing your point, I would just like to hear some examples of how you come to this conclusion..

  4. Wow. I actually blogged about much this same topic just the other day. Especially pertinent here is a bit from a “Christian” screenwriter. (In quotes because, although he is a Christian, he doesn’t believe that the primary goal of his writing is to evangelize.) Screenwriter Craig Detweiller maintains that the reason that so much Christian movie-making fails is because the Christians behind it try to “evangelize” rather than to simply tell a story. When the storytelling gets lost in the intent to preach, both fail to achieve their purpose.

  5. One might also opine that great swaths of the people buying this book might not have ventured to these far lands (yes, even Easton is a far land to some) so who would check their work? I think L&J sized up their market very well and produced a product tailored for them in every way, right down to using the absolute minimum amount of effort to create it (or the appropriate amount of effort to the task I suppose).
    By the way, thanks for this series. I really your insights into these books.

  6. It feels taboo, in Evangelical communities, to criticize craftsmanship, whether it be of music, prose, or whatnot: it’s “God’s work,” so immune from criticism. (Funny. I thought God could do better work than that).
    In the name of fairness, I must state that a good portion of GLBT film is mediocre, for the same reasons: more concerned with preaching than with art.

  7. This is also probably part of the reason that Agnus Dei is great, and christian rock is not.

  8. I’m curious as to which ways you consider Contemporary Christian “derivative”? I’m not arguing your point, I would just like to hear some examples of how you come to this conclusion..
    I can’t give specific song titles, but on the Contemp. Christian radio station I used to listen to, about 50% of the playlist was songs that could have been sung from a boyfriend to his girlfriend (or vice-versa) except that the artist was referring to God.
    Other songs have really questionable theology in them.
    And don’t even get me started on the patriotic/political songs sung by Christian artists that they played. Like “Letters From War”.

  9. As Eric Cartman said, “All we have to do to make Christian songs is take regular old songs and add Jesus stuff to them! All we have to do is cross out words like ‘baby’ and ‘darling’ and replace them with Jesus!”

  10. Re: Christian artisanship: an outfit near here is called “Christian Plumbing”. I had hoped that it ‘Christian’ was a family name (despite the logo with a winged pipe wrench), but it’s not.
    And they have at least three lawsuits and one criminal case for fraud going just now.

  11. 28 days to write a + or – 350 page book? that’s 12.5 pages a day, roughly. Not impossible but such a slapdash effort is telling.
    Clearly, L&J are not so concerned with little trifles like accurate geography or details if they’re only willing to spend one lunar month to churn out a whole novel. That may explain the wonky geography, the redundancy, the haphazard plotting and wooden dialogue, but only if there were no editor involved.
    Was there an editor involved? A real one, I mean? I have a hard time picturing the Evangelical equivalent of Patrick or Teresa Nielsen Hayden, let alone any such hypothetical entity having a hand in the editorial process of turning these MSs into books.

  12. Former Fundamentalist here. I used to be into these books and Hal Lindsey’s nonsense. I ate it up. What is sorta odd for me, perhaps, is that after book four, even though I still believed in their bad theology, I actually stopped reading their books because of it’s horrible writing and the fact that when all the characters became “Christian” they turned into complete squares. I knew some people like those that were converting in the books, but I wanted nothing of it. It was a year or two later that I realize how flawed and stupidly dangerous these books are at the very core.
    Also, in response to the above comment about the “derivative” Contemporary Christian music, I’m at a bit of a loss as to how one can not see that. Most (but granted, not all) of “Contemporary Christian” music is completely derivative. When I used to pledge allegiance to only “Christian” music, the music stores would be plastered in those comparison charts of a “Christian” artist to a “secular” artist. The entire thing is based on consumptive substitutes, when perhaps we should be asking ourselves if we should be consuming so much stuff to begin with.
    Go to a Warped Tour and then go to a Spirit West Coast, Tomfest, or Cornerstone and then tell me if the music, let alone how everybody looks at the Christian festivals is not derivative of what you see at Warped Tour. Check out the crowd at an Atreyu show and then check out the crowd at a Haste the Day or Underoath show. Sure, there’s probably less vampirism at the latter, but probably not by much.
    My point with all these examples, to use an extreme one, is that I don’t think it’s us Christians who started putting on fangs and covering ourselves with blood to look cool. Unless you’re talking about Alice Cooper.

  13. In the case of such passages, the dark matter that composes the unreadable bulk of the series, it is not the content that bears theological or political significance, but the simple fact that it exists. This craptacular prose was written by Christian writers, approved by Christian editors, printed and bound by a Christian publishing house. This is shameful.
    I forced myself to read Left Behind, just to see what the enemy were up to. There is more good writing in this one post, Fred, than in the entire book. Keep up the good work.
    Jenkins has said that each of the books in the series took him about 28 days to write.
    I once read an autobiographical sketch by Paul Theroux. He mentioned that when writing Mosquito Coast he ‘churned out’ 1/2 to 1 page per day. The rest of the time was spent rewriting, cooking dinner, nipping to the pub for a beer, and picking up his boys from school. I’m sure that Jenkins does none of these in the course of his day.

  14. Well, it’s perhaps a measure of either the utter pathos of my life, or the utter intrigue of Fred’s writing, that one of the highlights of my week has become the anticipation and ultimate enjoyment of Left Behind Fridays! For both of our sakes, I’ll go with the latter.
    I have to agree with Fred that the only way to put out such horribly inaccurate, amateurishly un-checked writing is to not really give a shit.
    The ultimate point of eschatology can be described rather briefly. Of course, the comprehension, digestion and living of it can take more than a lifetime.
    All the piss-poor writing, what Fred aptly describes as “the dark matter that composes the unreadable bulk of the series”, is nothing more than filler to make L&J’s work look more like a real book than the Chick Tract that it really is.
    Keep up the good work Fred. I don’t know about your denomination, but we Catholics recognize the concept of “redemptive suffering”, that is, joining the bearance of our earthly sufferings to those of Jesus for the good of our, and others’ souls. My friend, subjecting yourself to LB in this detail is redemptive suffering.

  15. Argh! My University library has just picked up the whole LB series (which is a little bit good, as I’d been meaning to read the part of Glorious Reanimating that has the big JC filling the streets with blood and hearing the lamentations of women). I work there part-time, so I’m going to see about getting your site added to the catalogue record as an internet resource. :)
    The Christian Rock thing is a bugbear of mine, too. I’m utterly atheist, but even I know there’s some wonderful music out there, that doesn’t suffer from the ‘yeah yeah, He is great, woh yeah’ syndrome. Some of the stuff I like includes the possibly too Anglican for Rapturists Sir John Tavener’s The Protecting Veil, Spiritualized’s Let it Come Down, and pretty much any Requiem, but especially Priesner’s Requiem for a Friend.
    The Spiritualized album is particularly great I think, because the whole thing is a spiritual journey, including the highs and lows, and (get this!) the lows are not expressed with the judgement of the highs. The songs in the middle where the singer seems to have lost his faith and is singing “The only time I’m drink and drug free/ Is when I get my drugs and drink for free”, he isn’t saying that life sucks and God will save him. He’s saying that life is unfufilling, and he doesn’t know how to get out of it. So it loses some of the preachiness, which as mentioned spoils both the art and the preaching, and makes it feel like a more human experience, even if we know how the album ends.
    Plus it keeps referencing Daedelus, which is cool. But I still don’t think my gaggle of Pentecostals would be into it.
    Anyone else got good music of this type?

  16. The kind of geographical goofiness can be found in other ideological thillers as well; I remember hooting in the theater when, in Hunt for Red October, the giant submarine is ‘hidden’ in the Penobscot River on the coast of Maine. One wonders what the good folks of Bucksport, or the tourists at Fort Knox, or anyone with a boat as far north as Bangor would have made of that one!
    As for Contemporary Christian music, I don’t know where to begin, except to relate two stories: in the latest Harper’s Magazine, there is an article that quotes a Christian ‘rescue’ organization as stating that its subjects can only listen to Christian music, qualifying the remark that Classical music doesn’t count; Bach is not Christian. As a church organist, I beg to differ. The second story is having been asked by a Lutheran minister (a terrific pastor, BTW), if I could recommend any good music for services. Given that JSB produced what is arguably the best music ever written for the Lutheran Church, I had to conclude that congregations without an awareness of their traditions are doomed to make the best of what they can come up with. Not to slam different tastes – I love a good old Methodist tub-thumper as well as the next worshiper, and not just because of Charles Ives – but I find most people these days don’t seem to know a lot of different kinds of music.

  17. I want to second the comment that L.B. Fridays are one of the literary high points of my week. Thanks Fred.
    I also agree re craftsmanship and good evangelism. And L.B. is clearly written in too much of a hurry. The later books show it more stronlgy, with endless pages of “witty” dialog that sounds like a 5-min sanitized take on Hemingway at his most he-man irksome. Bar-boasting conversations without the bar.
    That said, I want to stir the pot a bit re mixed up geography. I’m a professional fiction writer, and geography can be a problem in plotting. I’ve been known to create freeway exits, hiking trails, or rivers that don’t really exist so that my characters don’t run into complications posed by such awkward facts as “you can get on the freeway but not off it as Xth Street” which aren’t insurmountable problems to the story but are needless complications to folks who don’t know that little fact. My observation is that stories set in an area you know well are riddled with these little simplifications, and that this is OK if their purpose is to avoid needless exposition.
    Of course, as Fred has so wondrously pointed out, L&J thrive on needless exposition, especially about travel, so it’s weird when they do this. And steamboats on the Jordan River are clearly a gaffe.

  18. (To clarify a couple of things – it helps the Spiritualized is great music too, kinda funked-up electro-gospel indie rock. Or something. Also, I’m hoping to find some more in that vein because I find it extremely nice to listen to something so affirming, even when it’s affirming something I don’t believe in. It’s just good to have some music that’s uplifting, and I see the creation of music like this as a celebration of what people can do. It’s a very slight counterbalance to all the other crap that people do in the world.)

  19. Rueben Inc,
    Haven’t listened to the bands you named, but, you since you asked, thought I’d mention these: Two older bands who, while not be labeled Christian that ARE explicitly Christian are Kings X and PM Dawn. King’s X is kinda art rock/heavyish metal and PM Dawn are hip-hop/funk. Both had some commercial sucess.
    Another excellent post, Fred. Being raised evangelical, the books held my interest enough to actually slog through, but, Lord, they were just horrendous. As everyonge has stated, your posts are my favorite part of Fridays.

  20. Bearing Witness

    Fred Clark at slacktivist has been writing a rigorous and fascinating critique of the Left Behind books by Jenkins and LaHaye. His post today deals with the problem of elevating evangelism over craft. For my own thoughts on the relationship…

  21. Bearing Witness

    Fred Clark at slacktivist has been writing a rigorous and fascinating critique of the Left Behind books by Jenkins and LaHaye. His post today deals with the problem of elevating evangelism over craft. For my own thoughts on the relationship…

  22. I hate posting “me too” comments, but your LB postings are a high point of my week as well. I found them a few weeks ago and am completely hooked. Kudos for the time and effort you put into this, and for your excellent synopses, which, thankfully don’t require me to read the actual LB series.
    I know some have suggested paring down certain parts of your critiques, but I love reading all of it. Every word.

  23. Reuben, I’m pretty sure he’s been referenced on this post, but Sufijean Stevens ‘Seventeen Swans’ (I think I got the number of swans right) is wonderful. Also Iron and Wine, which has probably been mentioned here too.

  24. There’s a strange irony in the fact that the old-line churches of Christ are so…tight-assed-ly conservative about their music. It means that we don’t produce any CCM. So all my life I’ve preferred listening to the neat secular artists of the day. Doesn’t necessarily mean I’m any better as a music critic than a book critic, but at least I can hear the shallowness in just about all the “contemporary Christian” junk.
    Weird Al, now–there’s a Christian artist I can get into.

  25. One of the problems of modern pop is that the artists have lost touch with their church traditions. As all Ray Charles’ obits said, the high point was when gospel had just been reinvented as soul. And something like Desolation Row….
    I don’t know (old fogey alert) that anybody not brought up on singing hymns can really thrash home a good final chord. The point was that the devil’s music was like the black mass — the same theme inverted — and if you had no altar, you had no black sabbath.

  26. “Incompetence is a Sin”

    Fred Clark of Slacktivist has an ongoing series of excellent blog posts on Left Behind series of books. His latest entry on bad attitudes to writing and work is excellent. Plus, he uses this term “Aquinastotelian.”…

  27. This is something that just occured to me, while at work stewing over the incursion of L&J on our shelves – Jenkins wrote each book in about a month, right, and the point of these books are (ostensibly) to warn the huddled masses of their horrific fate, before it’s too late…
    Then why did they take nearly ten years to get the whole lot out?
    So maybe, just maybe, they are Rapture porn designed to maximise sales, the proceeds of which will not go to needy children.
    Jeez I’m cranky today.
    Thanks for the recommendations, people, I’ll check them out. :)

  28. In the name of fairness, I must state that a good portion of GLBT film is mediocre, for the same reasons: more concerned with preaching than with art.
    Yeah and like Overtly christian music (that goes in its own special “christian music” section of the record store) good GLBT movies work best when they’re not “GLBT films” but rather, films that explore GLBT themes within them.

  29. I’d also like to jump on the “me too!” bandwagon by stating that Left Behind Fridays are also the high point of my week (in fact, I’m tempted to pick up the copy some friends gave us four years ago–no one has read it yet–and start a similar thread on some book forums I visit.) This is probably more so to me than many of the others here, though, because I’m a amatuer writer, so reading about Left Behind is a great pick-me-up.
    Oh, and about the time that Jenkins takes to write his books…well, my first novel (150,000 words of pain) took over a year (this is just the rough draft–I have yet to even attempt to bring it “up to code”), my second (110,000 words, again only rough draft; I like to keep moving until summer, because it lets me churn stuff out and then gather ideas on things I want to add, remove, or restructure on the revisions) took roughly three months, and my third and most recent novel (140,000 words) took a little under two months…so, I guess Jenkins’ time is still pretty short even compared to the latter two. And come to think of it, from what I flipped through of Left Behind: Book 1 and what I’ve read here, it’s very possible that the first few Left Behind books (hell, maybe even all of them) recieved little (perhaps a month) to zero editing time by either Jenkins or the editor–they probably just removed some typos and structured things (slightly better) than they were.
    Real editing also requires some cuts of info-dumps (if at all possible), adding scenes to clarify points or character depth, and so on. I might also mention that from the excerpts you posted, Jenkins and LaHaye have violated Writing 101: show, don’t tell! I swear, everything sounds like a summary in passing that’s remotely unimportant (The Rapture, the nuclear strike, the carnage, even Rayford and Buck’s feelings and reactions) that I think you must be reading “Left Behind: The Cliffnotes” rather than “Left Behind: The Novel.”

  30. There’s a lot of good non-“christian” music made by Christian musicians hiding in the indie rock aisles of the record store. I don’t know what sets these apart except that they’re more explicitly about music than proseletyzing. The result is often transcendent.
    I’ll second the nomination of Sufjan Stevens. I just picked up his record “Illinois” and it is excellent.
    Duluth art-rockers Low are Christians and it comes through in their beautiful, shimmery, haunting music.
    His Name is Alive experiment with genres from electronic to soul. Always uplifting, highly, highly recommended.

  31. There’s a lot of good non-“christian” music made by Christian musicians hiding in the indie rock aisles of the record store. I don’t know what sets these apart except that they’re more explicitly about music than proseletyzing. The result is often transcendent.
    I’d suggest the music of David LaMotte, a singer-songwriter based out North Carolina. I don’t think he’d ever call himself a “Christian” artist, and only one or two of the songs in his entire reportoire touch upon Christian themes. Those that do actually challenge Christians more than exhalt them. But if you like folksy guitar music with intelligent lyrics, I highly recommend giving him a try.

  32. If you want to change musical genres a bit, try some of the folk musicians. I have friends in the field, and they tell me that folk is “full” of Christians, but if you get preachy, you wind up preaching only to people who don’t need to hear.
    Folks who clearly have deep Christian backgrounds are John McCutcheon, Natalie MacMaster, and about half of the bluegrass bands. In fact, some of the most powerful Christian messages I’ve heard in music are at “gospel shows” in bluegrass or folk festivals. And you never find that old-timey stuff in the Christian bins. Do I gather that it’s become as “non-Christian” as someone above said Bach had become? Yipes.

  33. I can’t believe that this discussion of Christian music has gone on this long without any mention of The Blind Boys of Alabama. I had the good fortune to hear them in concert recently and they were truly awesome both in terms of skill and spirit. Of course it’s not so hard to achieve a high level of craftsmanship when you’ve been practicing your craft for 50 or 60 years as some of them have. Maybe that’s part of the attraction of hard-sell evangelism over evangelism by example. If you want to inspire people by your living faith, you first have to live your faith moment by moment day in and day out until it shines like a beacon. If you want to evangalize with words, you just have to memorize some formula along the lines of “Join my church or burn in hell” and repeat it every chance you get.
    This evangelizing on the cheap is the source of a multitude of literary sins in LB. It would have been easier to forgive the geographical errors if the authors had painted a vivid, moving picture of post-rapture Manhattan. How would the residents of Sodom-on-the-Hudson react to such a catyclismic event? Would they rush to Harlem to seek succor at one of the many charismatic churches? Would they be packing the midtown cathedrals or filling Central Park with spontaneous memorials to the disappeared children? Would they respond to this disaster as they did to 9/11, with an outpouring of generosity and neighborliness or would its mysteriousness lead to panic and an “every man for himself” mentality? The passages Fred has covered give us no clue. It appears that the only effect worth noting was a disruption of the transportation system, and they didn’t even get that part right.

  34. Thanks peoples. Digging through my iTunes I notice I already have a His Name is Alive track called “Someday my blues will cover the earth”, which is actually one of my favourite songs at the moment, just haven’t been paying attention to the artist when it comes up. Now to rob a bank so I can buy all of these cds…
    Beth – totally, that’s what makes this music so much inspirational, and frankly better than the handwavers I heard that one time I went to chuch for my religious history paper. They’re showing, not telling, which again, eases up on the preachiness.
    As for folk music, I’ve never been able to get that much into it, though I guess “Do what the good book tells you” from A Mighty Wind counts. :)
    And for religious lit, I’m sticking with the Irish Catholics. As least they tend to feel conflicted about things.

  35. “insists he knows you, remembers you from … a job you never had”
    This has actually happened to me, although he didn’t “remember” my name and was trying to chat me up at a bar at the time….
    You may now continue with your Christian music discussion.

  36. A few of my old friends used to be in to the whole Christian contempory music thing. What always struck me, is how much lack of faith it’s in there. It’s the whole you protest too much thing. Everything is God exists. God exists GOD EXISTS DAMNIT. A completly and total lack of faith.
    Mind you, my idea of a good Christian song is “One of the Three”, by James. P.S. is good on that CD as well, and 5-0 is probably my favorite romance song of all times…but it’s not appropiate for children. The CD that is..the name of the CD and the title track “Laid” can pretty much sait it all :)

  37. While this seems to be out of line with the musical tastes of those who have posted so far, the world of hardcore, metal, and especially screamo is full or Christian bands, a few of whom are actually good. Living Sacrifice is probably one of the best death metal bands ever and have a noticeably distinct sound from Swedish style death metal; they did really interesting things with rhythm, even before adding a second drummer. Norma Jean is really good noisy metalcore, though a lot of people have found the newest record a little monotonous. Blindside definitely deserves a mention. Beloved (RIP, I saw their final show in January) is really good at what they do, though I prefer the earlier stuff where the soft and hard parts weren’t so sharply contrasting. A whole lot of the stuff on Solid State–Tooth and Nail’s heavy music imprint–is worth checking out, though some isn’t. Also, Christafari is one of the best American reggae bands out there.
    So, there is good Christian music that isn’t derivative of mainstream stuff, but there’s also a lot of crap.

  38. Since we’re sharing … A former coworker used to tune the office radio to the local Christian station. It labeled itself as “family-friendly” so there were plenty of 80’s pop songs changed with one or two words. I think my coworker was surprised that I sang along with so many of the songs.
    One of the bands not named yet might surprise people: the Grateful Dead. Part folk, part bluegrass, part blues, and just enough rock-n-roll, they did spirituals side by side with everything else. One of my favorite songs is their version of “We Bid You Good-Night.” (It’s also a fun song to play when my mother is complaining that the Dead are the Devil’s band.)

  39. Andrew– back in the ’80s I had the marvelous experience being prayed over by my colleagues at a national Episcopal conference to heal me of my unreasaonable preference for J.S. Bach over such new hymnal delights as “If I Was a Wiggly Worm, I’d Thank You, Lord, That I Could Squirm” (um, guys, it’s “if I WERE”, and I’ll just back away slowly now).
    These same conference participants had all signed an agreement not to bring alcohol with them to the conference, as it was being held at a Baptist facility. They all packed bottles in their suitcases anyway.
    This was just the first of many straws that eventually broke the camel’s back of church attendance for me.

  40. Lila,
    That song was in a hymnal intended for grown-ups?! I taught that to one of my VBS classes of three-year olds. (And I did change it to were, not that they would know the difference.)

  41. I’m not entirely sure what’s meant by “derivative”…Certainly appropriating secular genres alone doesn’t make a work derivative. Nor does the lack of individuality. For instance, at least to my ear, many spirituals and blues songs lack “originality”, but I would never call them “derivative”. Though I’m certain there’s a difference between the denotation and the connotation of the word. To me, a piece of art is derivative if it lacks originality in such a way as to be inauthentic. Part of this certainly is reflected in poor craftsmanship. If you’re not communicating authentically then you have little incentive & likely are incapable of doing it well. An example of this might be the “genre-hopping” of bands like DC Talk. There seems to be a divorce between the medium and the message. The true artist, I think, cares passionately about the medium. It’s the propagandist who uses the medium only as a vehicle for reaching large numbers of people.
    On another note, I find it a bit odd that Campus Crusade for Christ’s college bands from the 60s do seem authentic. I realize this is evidence against Fred’s point, which I largely agree with. I find something striking in the enthusiasm of these bands; an enthusiasm which is a sign of “authenticity”. Or maybe a false sense of nostalgia is clouding my judgement….

  42. (um, guys, it’s “if I WERE”, and I’ll just back away slowly now)
    Wow, I’m glad that there are others here willing to stand up for the subjunctive!

  43. Evangelicalism Through Being Bad At Your Job

    Fred gets to the heart of why so much “Christian” art is awful:
    But a competing understanding has arisen in American evangelical Christianity. From this perspective, the primary duty of every Christian regardless of vocation is evangelis…

  44. How can no one mention the horrible art of Thomas Kinkade, Painter of Light ™! in this topic?
    The downfall of the whole idea of “christian” art is in thinking there is any clearly-defined way to separate it from “art” as a whole. Art (by a lot of people’s definitions) is something that expresses a truth, or truths, or at least points out a falsehood or a failure of truth. Truth, if you are a Christian, is God’s territory; therefore, any art that expresses a truth partakes of God, in a small way. Even if it is horribly offensive in other ways, if it shakes you up and makes you question, then it has some truth in it somewhere. Or it points to some truth you had not confronted.
    “Christian art” is usually neither art in terms of its execution, nor, in the ways that it glosses over the truth of actual darkness, confusion, and suffering, particularly Christian.

  45. Fred –
    “It’s possible he could still be an excellent, if somewhat annoying, plumber.”
    love that.
    ajb, did you coin the phrase “Chick Tract”? Love that too. I’ve got a friend who buys into a lot of this stuff that’s geared toward the female consumer, who has grown up on romantic comedies and such. She’s sitting around waiting for her white knight, or possibly the rapture. Makes me think of the phrase “we’ve been poisoned by these fairy tales” from that old Don Henley song…

  46. Kim,
    No, Chick tracts are those cartoon pamphlets by a guy named Jack Chick. They’re typically fire-and-brimstone, end-of-the-world stuff, with a heaping dose of the Catholic Church and the Pope as antichrist.
    My point was that those tracts are about five cartoon-panels long, and say about as much as the entire LB canon does.

  47. 28 days to write a + or – 350 page book? that’s 12.5 pages a day, roughly. Not impossible but such a slapdash effort is telling.
    Actually, thumbing through a copy of the first LB book, it’s a 450 page trade paperback, which is about 16 pages per day. JJ’s “About the Author” page also says he’s (ghost?)written over 100 books.
    IIRC, in an earlier post, Fred quoted JJ saying that he writes 20 pages in the morning and edits the previous day’s 20 pages in the afternoon. Nobody could write decently in that time. By way of comparison, I once read Stephen King is able to write about *7 pages* per day, and he’s one of the most prolific popular novelists alive.

  48. I thought everyone knew who jack chick was?
    Jack chick, http://www.chick.com/catalog/tractlist.asp, has gained much infamy on the internets for several of his tracts claming such things as:
    – The catholic church was soley responsible for the holocaust.
    – Islam is a lunar worshipping death cult.
    – D&D leads to people learning real spells and getting into satanism.
    – Evolution is unable to reconcile the existance of God, because Gluons haven’t been directly observed yet.
    – Hindus are physically unable to kill christians.
    Though dead, he has Ghost artists and writers who carry on his work, bringing lazy evangelicalism to the masses for profit!

  49. I’m doing my Master’s Thesis on the rhetoric of Christian apocalyptic and I will be focusing on LB. I have a small pet theory, let me know what you think.
    Fundamentalist Christian writers are producing such badly written work because of their incestuous relationship with literature. Most of these writers would never read what the rest of the world recognizes as good literature because these novels and essays are secular, praise adultery, fornication, alcohol and drugs, use offensive language, etc. If it’s true that the best writers are the best readers, these Christian writers only read one another’s work and are therefor insuring the Christian writing gene pool lies stagnating. Do you find this to be true?
    In a related ?, do you think so many readers of LB are George W. Bush fans because according to the description of Anti-Christ as a good speaker, charismatic, peacenik who seeks to bring unity . . . they figure GWB could not POSSIBLY be the Anti-Christ?
    Just some thoughts. I would appreciate anything you guys would like to say on these, so I might incorporate them into the thesis. And if you don’t mind, I’d like to keep coming back for more ideas and chat. THanks, Kristin

  50. Kristin,
    I know that I read somewhere (a Google search should turn it up) that the White House convened a group of Evangelical leaders from the apocolyptic camp to basically advise them on how to deal with the Middle East.
    As I recall, word of the meeting got out when one attendee, Jack Van Impe (who can be seen on cable around midnight intepretting that week’s headlines as unambiguous harbingers of the “end of times”) bragged about the meeting.
    You might want to look into that re: the relationship between the LB theology and the Bush White House.

  51. On apocalyptic rhetoric, I think a comparative study between contempory apoc lit (i.e. LB) with the “classic” stuff (the original Hebrew apoc literature and, of course, John’s apocalypse) would demonstrate what piss-poor authors L&J really are.

  52. As far as I know, Jack Chick is still very much alive, even though he’s old. He’s still drawing, too…the Chick-fan websites like http://www.chickcomics.com can point you out the differences between Chick’s own drawings and those of his other artists (mainly Fred Carter, the inspiration for the black half of his Satan-fighting duo, the Crusaders) and a mysterious third artist who may or may not be one of the Brothers Hildebrandt.

  53. Kristin,
    In one of the interviews Fred referenced in an earlier post, Jenkins lists “Cider House Rules” as a favorite book. I’ve not read it, but Irving has the reputation of being an excellent writer.

  54. How can no one mention the horrible art of Thomas Kinkade, Painter of Light ™! in this topic?
    I’d actually avoided mentioning Kinkade earlier, though I’d had him in mind as certainly “derivative.” Part of my reluctance is due to some loyalty I feel toward him. You see, he is a native of my parents’ home town.
    And I would certainly argue that whether or not his work is “horrible” is a matter of opinion. I find some of his work very peaceful, and do, in fact, have a rendition of his “Mountain Chapel” on my office wall, largely because it reminds me of where I went to college.
    However, his work IS rather formulaic and derivative, and as perhaps the primary example of “Christian art” out there right now, I find this situation highly deplorable. Kinkade is technically good at what he does (*I* certainly couldn’t paint a semi-realistic looking chapel building if my life depended on it!), but his lack of imagniation leaves me aching.

  55. Most of these writers would never read what the rest of the world recognizes as good literature ….
    A view bolstered by the book’s unintentionally hillarious jacket blurb, which reads (paraphrased from memory): “Even those who are not fiction connoisseurs will find this book engrossing!”

  56. In terms of rock music made by christians, note that there’s a difference in the end result depending on which audience the musician is aiming at. Most CCM folks aim for their crowd, so the fact that much of the music could be horridly over-produced shitty adult-contemporary would be irrelevant.
    however, there are PLENTY of rock/country/americana folks who are christians but who write for a pop/indie audience. Go find two bands out of denver: Slim Cessna’s Auto Club, which is a full-on revival apocalyptic hootenanny(and on the Dead Kennedys’ label), and Sixteen Horsepower, which was a darker southern gothic/”Joy Division from the backwoods” group. 16HP has since broken up, unfortunately.
    and, in regards to Spiritualized/Jason Pierce; you gotta remember that _every_ song he’s ever written(remember “Walkin’ with Jesus” from Spacemen 3, his previous band?) has been about 1) God and 2) drugs, and lyrics referring to one are easily interpreted as referring to the other. With the exception of one album, he tends to only write on two themes, and in two keys(G and C).
    We should probably mention Johnny Cash in here, somewhere…

  57. Thanks for the suggestions and comments. I also wanted to take this opportunity to agree with what the post said about Thomas Kinkade. I used to work in an “art” gallery that sold Kinkade paintings, prints and products. YEEECHK! I was innundated with flowers and quaint little cottages. I did kinda like the impressionistic ones, though. But I have the same reaction to apocalyptic rhetoric. I feel guilty in dispising it, because I associate it with my past, or more accurately, with myself. I was raised in an Assembly of God home/church, and while I’m discovering more everyday about the fallacious logic, negligent Biblical analysis and horrific intolerance of these and other apocalyptic writers, I’m still entranced by and scared of their version of the end times. Their arguement is that if I disagree with the rapture theory in anyway, I must be one of the false teachers or prophets they are warning their readers will come in the last days.
    Circular reasoning that villifies dissenters is very persuasive.

  58. I like the point about excellence in craft being a praise of God. This was one of the theological points of the Shakers. They had a slogan for it which I forget…..
    I remember many years ago a cabdriver who spent the entire cab ride evangelizing me and proceeded to spend so much time and effort focusing on this that he missed several turns and and I ended up missing my airplane. He was not even apologetic….since I guess he felt he had completed his real mission for the day.
    And this was after we had already established in the first few minutes of the cab ride that yes, I was a Christian believer. I think that a reason for some of the evangelizing was to make sure that I was (or would become) the “right kind” of Christian believer. And it must have been God’s plan or something for me to miss the airplane…

  59. I’m not a big fan of music with a Christian message (or even Christian themes), being the Godless heathen that I am.
    Yet, Prefab Sprouts “Jordan: The Comeback” is an album I rate as a bona fide masterpiece. It’s something as mad as a concept album about Jesse James, Elvis and Jesus (with Michael Jackson thrown in for good measure). It may be dismissed by many as schmaltzy, but I find its humor and incredible tunesmithing that saves it from becoming too earnest.
    It contains a line I find rather apropos when discussing bands who sing glory to God: “Sing me no song/You’re not King David/Sing me no high hushed glory be/Sing it to one/One of the broken/And, brother, you’re singing/Singing to me”
    This from a song that starts with the spoken lines “Hi, this is God here. Talking to me used to be a simple affair. Moses only had to *see* a burning bush, and he’d pull up a chair”
    And the pairing of “Scarlet Nights” and “Doo Wop in Harlem” is about the most touching farewell to a parent as I have ever heard. Even if you believe in an afterlife, death is not something to be taken lightly (which LaHaye and Jenkins seem to not understand, as noted). “Yes, I know we’re not saying goodbye/Yes, I know that farewell don’t apply/Yes, I know no matter how I try…/Yes I know, and you should know/That all the same I’ll cry” And it’s incredibly uplifting.
    Sorry to gush, but Prefab Sprout are just one of the most overlooked bands in the world (especially in the US), and if I can turn just one person onto the genius that is Paddy Macaloon, then it’s worth it.

  60. Slacktivist on the Left Behind Books: “Tin Men”

    “Christianity has traditionally held a high view of vocation. Christians believe that the artisan, tradesman or professional has the opportunity and obligation to glorify God by striving for excellence at his or her craft. The primary duty of a Christ…

  61. Speaking of Christian music/musicians, may I point to one of the most popular acts in the world over the last twenty years? ;)
    Take a look at the religious imagery (especially Christian, though not…conventionally so) in U2.

  62. An artist friend of mine (A devout Christian, I might add) one night had much to say about Kinkade and his lack of anything approaching challenge in his “art”. I look at a Kinkade painting, and all i can say is “oh, how CUTE”, and other cracks on that level. There is nothing in them to make me think or feel on any deeper level. Now, some widely hailed contemporary artists have done work that has utterly angered me in its derivativeness and cheap sensationalism, but for Kinkade, I can feel nothing.

  63. Good musicians that are/were Christians:
    U2, Johnny Cash, The 77’s, Adam Again/Gene Eugene, The Lost Dogs, Steve Taylor, Sufjan Stevens, Vigilantes of Love, Rick Elias, Buddy Miller, Terry Taylor/Daniel Amos, The Call and many others…

  64. Bad musicians that are/were Christians:
    I’ll resist starting the list, but it would be lengthy…
    Saw Rick Elias play this past Saturday night in a church and he said “You know, I’m a musician, not a minister. Some people expect me to do a lot of talking between songs, but I do my talking through my music. I know some musicians are really good at the preaching part of it…unfortunately, it seems, usually, the better they preach the worse the music is.”

  65. Thomas Kinkade’s art has some interesting parallels with L&J’s writing, though Kinkade is far more technically competant an artist than they are writers.
    Look at Kinkade’s painting of Block Island’s Southeast Lighthouse, for instance. It so happens that I am on Block Island as I type, vacationing here as my family has for more than 30 years, so I am very familiar with the pictured spot. Kinkade’s painting isn’t the best version of this view I’ve ever seen, but it’s not technically the worst, either.
    It *is* the only one with an explanatory “message”, however. Kinkade says:
    “Block Island is a study of resolute courage and dignity. The house stands alone, severe, crisp of line. It supports the proud light tower. A single antique auto stands in its fenced yard; a solitary figure, back turned to the viewer, strides toward the comfort and consolation that the house offers. The sea has eroded the rocky coast; in centuries to come, the house itself will surely fall before the water’s inexorable advance. A solitary ship sets out on its voyage to an unknowable destination, led away from danger by the stoic resident of Block Island.
    The first thing I notice, as someone who as been in this spot many times, is that Kinkade has altered the perspective. In a photograph taken from more or less this angle, you may be able to tell that the path of the “solitary figure” is Kinkade’s invention. The actual distance from the place where the footprints begin to the lighthouse is much longer than appears in the painting, and Kinkade has put the snowy path in over two deep gullies, to make it seem much more direct than it would be in real life.
    This only bothers me a little, though you may feel free to make it into a metaphor for formulaic, easy-peasy Christianity. What really sets me back on my heels is Kinkade saying that “in centuries to come, the house itself will surely fall before the water’s inexorable advance.” Kinkade’s painting dates from 1998; if he ever visited Block Island (which I doubt — I bet he worked from photos) or studied the site of the real lighthouse he would have known that the erosion didn’t take centuries to make the house fall, but only decades — or it would have, except that the lighthouse was picked up and moved back from the cliff in 1993. In fact, Block Island’s Southeast Light would be an excellent symbol not for stoic, changeless endurance, but for the foresight that knows when it’s time to change, for both strength and flexibility.
    The way Kinkade distorts both physical distances and the intrinsic meaning of this specific location reminds me of the way L&J distort geography and emotional reactions in LB. I get the feeling there’s some factor underlying both distortions: perhaps it’s that both, um, artists have privileged their message, their evangelization, over the demands of their art. The Muses are jealous bitches, and they won’t stick around where they’re not really wanted.

  66. A really good book on the relationship between Christianity and Art is, “Walking on Water,” by Madeleine L’Engle. She is a novelist perhaps most famous for, “A Wrinkle in Time,” and its sequels.
    From the first chapter:
    “Christian art? Art is art; painting is painting; music is music; a story is a story. It it’s bad art, it’s bad religion, no matter how pious the subject. If it’s good art –and there the questions start coming, questions which it would be simpler to evade.”
    The book is well worth a read.

  67. A Bride Most Begrudging

    Isn’t this just an awesome cover for a romance?
    It’s a Christian historical title, and TLHines has an interview with the author, if you’re interested. (And, she’s got a pretty

  68. I guess this is a Blog. I’m not experienced in the bloger-world. This whole critique of the “left behind series” is appropriate. The overall lack of critical thinking within modern christiandom is disturbing. I have been a professional sculptor at the international level for 20+ years. What I can’t seem to get my arms around is the popularity of the, so called, artist Thomas Kinkade. I see this sort of western Christian bull market hucksterism in both the Lehay camp and the Kinkade crusade. “His work conjures a simpler peaceful life.” The whole thing is dung. I’m disgusted with the modern western marketing of Christianity. I wonder how Christ feels?

  69. I’m reading a book set largely in the country where I live — but not really, because the authors’ Israel is a landscape of their imagination, and the characters called “Jews” might as well be named hobbits or warlocks.
    That’s because they’re not Jews, Hobbits, or Warlocks. They’re just pieces to be moved around on the End Time Prophecy gameboard.

  70. One To Recommend

    Found at Slacktivist, A comparison of now and then: FDR: Oh, I’m sorry, was wiping out our entire Pacific fleet supposed to intimidate us? We have nothing to fear but fear itself, and right now we’re coming to kick your…

  71. Thank you, thank you so very much for stating what I’ve thought for a long time now.
    Faith, should never excuse bad work.

  72. Since this post concerns itself with shoddy workmanship, I’ll ask the question here: does anyone know the reason why Jenkins uses flush left/ragged right margins in his books; as opposed to the more conventional “justified” alignment? I ask because it makes the work look juvenile — juvenile without even reading!

  73. Maybe he never figured out how to use the buttons on his toolbar?
    Really, though, that’s a typesetting issue. Even if an author submits his drafts not right-justified, it’s up to the editor/printer/publisher to fix that in the actual book.

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