Nicolae: The Rise of Antichrist; pp. 276-282
“I hope you know you owe me battle pay,” charter pilot Ken Ritz tells Buck Williams after their dramatic escape from Egypt.
“That can be arranged,” Buck tells him.
This is intended, I think, to remind us that Buck is a cool, sophisticated jet-setting adventurer. But the problem is that Buck is apparently still paying his pilot-for-hire with the same unlimited expense-account credit card that his friend the Antichrist gave him when he hired Buck to run his world-government-controlled news magazine. So really this reminds us both that Buck is compromised — an Antichrist puppet who, in exchange for a big paycheck, is actively supporting the reign of the Beast — and that Buck is not very smart when it comes to covering his tracks. His “battle pay” for Ken Ritz, after all, is going to show up in corporate records for Global Weekly, meaning that at some point he may have to explain to Nicolae why it was that he just happened, coincidentally, to have chartered a flight out of a small Egyptian airstrip on the same night that the international fugitive the whole world is seeking made his escape from that same airstrip on a charter plane.
But anyway, we’ve finally reached the end of the Escape From the Jews subplot. That means we’re now just idling until the next big set piece begins. That’s the pattern in these books — a disconnected series of such set pieces, interspersed with long stretches of nothing in between. Jerry Jenkins usually fills that nothingness with airports, phone calls, prayer sessions and lots of unnatural conversation in which various characters, including Buck and Rayford, talk about how awesomely cool Buck and Rayford are.
And that’s exactly what we get here. Ritz’s plane lands at the Palwaukee airport, where Amanda Steele and Chloe greet them to take them back to Loretta’s house in the Chicago suburbs near their church. On a final phone call from the plane, Buck and Chloe talked about all the things they would need to talk about then next time they talked. Then they apparently rode in silence all the way home before settling in and talking about all those things.
Really, that’s what happens in these pages. Amanda and Chloe greet Buck and Tsion at the airport. They all get into a car and drive home, where the four of them go into the house and then wait around until Loretta goes to bed, because they need to be alone so they can repeat amongst themselves the same things that Buck and Chloe already discussed in his previous phone call. As for their conversation itself, well, it’s mostly about how good it is that Loretta has gone to bed so they can finally talk about their secretive Tribulation Force plans.
Those secret plans are not themselves very secretive. They’re mostly about the upcoming memorial service for Bruce — a very public service they expect to be “packed.”
It still hasn’t occurred to the four surviving members of the Tribulation Force that their planned service for Bruce Barnes will likely seem horrifically callous and stupid to the rest of the congregation at New Hope. Bruce, you’ll recall, was just one of hundreds killed in the conventional bombing of a hospital in Chicago’s northwestern suburbs. Hours later, the Global Community air force nuked O’Hare International Airport and the, shortly afterward, dropped nuclear bombs on downtown Chicago. Before the day was out, tens of millions more were dead in nuclear attacks on major cities all over the world.
Now, the Trib Force plans to hold a memorial service to honor Bruce — and only Bruce. Neither they nor the authors seems to realize that this would likely be perceived as dishonoring all of the other millions of people killed in recent days. They seem convinced, rather, that singling out their one friend — who died in what turned out to be the smallest Chicago-area attack, and the only one to do any damage in the suburbs — will be a great opportunity for evangelism.
Interspersed with their discussion of this exciting upcoming funeral/evangelistic opportunity, Buck worries about Verna Zee. You remember Verna — she was the mean boss in sensible shoes who seemed to be the only Global Weekly employee not dazzled by Buck Williams’ charm and skill. When the Antichrist’s planes nuked Chicago, all of GW’s reporters left the office and went home — because, in these books, this is what reporters do when a huge news story unfolds in their backyard. But Verna lived in the city and so, since she had nowhere to go (and since Buck needed to borrow her car) she wound up as one of Loretta’s many house guests in her home near the church.
Verna has since moved out, Chloe tells Buck, “She has moved in with friends.”
“That could be a problem,” Buck said. “I may have made myself vulnerable to the worst possible person in my profession.”
Still fretting about this a few pages later, Buck says:
“The question is, how much damage can she do to me? She knows completely where I stand now, and if that gets back to people at the Weekly, it’ll shoot up the line to Carpathia like lightning. Then what?”
So what we have here, in other words, is a conversation in which Buck Williams simultaneously: A) helps to plan a big evangelistic rally at which Bruce Barnes’ understanding of the gospel of Bible prophecy will be enthusiastically proclaimed to the whole world; and B) worries that Verna Zee might whisper to his co-workers that Buck believes this Bible prophecy stuff, leading to the Antichrist learning of Buck’s beliefs.
Chloe assures her husband not to worry, because, “I made her promise to come to Bruce’s memorial service Sunday.”
The secrets of the Tribulation Force are thus perfectly safe, because the reporter they’re worried might reveal those secrets will be attending the service at which they’ll all be discussed in great detail. OK, then.
All of this gives Jerry Jenkins a chance to revisit one of his favorite themes — how totally cool the Greatest Investigative Reporter of All Time is. Chloe recounts her conversations with Verna:
“She admitted she was intimidated by you and jealous of you. You were what she had always hoped to be, and she even confessed that she knew she was no journalist compared to you.”
“That doesn’t give me confidence about her ability to keep my secret.”
Buck’s reply is astonishing for what he doesn’t say. He treats this praise as simply a matter of established fact. Yes, of course she’s jealous and intimidated and of course I’m what she always hoped to be and of course no one else is any kind of journalist compared to me. But enough about what she thinks, how will this affect me?
Buck’s narcissism there is positively Rayfordian.
In a larger sense, this whole discussion of Verna also seems intended to be a bit of a pep-talk for readers regarding the duty of evangelism. The present-day Christian readers of these books are meant to identify with the members of the Tribulation Force, whose behavior here is meant to serve as a model for how they can witness to or share the gospel with their own unsaved co-workers and acquaintances.
This pep-talk is horrifically misguided partly because it’s based on a patronizing, condescending refusal to try to understand people like Verna. But an even bigger problem is that it fails to recognize the difference between the starkly supernatural context of this story and the context of readers’ lives here in the real world, where such supernatural evidence is a bit harder to come by.
The authors are trying to encourage readers to “Dare to be a Daniel, Dare to stand alone!” in the face of co-workers who may be put off by the strangeness of their aggressive evangelistic mission. Thus throughout these pages we read:
Chloe then told him about Verna Zee. “She thought we were all wacky.”
“You would have been proud of us, Buck. Loretta had already told Verna her entire story, how she was the only person in her extended family not taken in the Rapture. Then I got my licks in, telling her all about how you and I met, where you were when the Rapture happened, and how you and I and Daddy became believers.”
“Verna must have thought we were all from another planet.”
“How foreign is all this going to be to her?”
That’s all for the benefit of Christian readers, in their context of a pre-Rapture — or, more pointedly, a non-Rapture — world. Here, in the real world, cornering your co-worker to lecture them about the imminent Rapture and the ensuing Great Tribulation will, indeed, cause them to think you’re “wacky” and that you sound like you’re “from another planet.” The authors are urging readers to boldly embrace this wackiness and to be wacky for Christ — letting their Jesus Freak flags fly.
“I took her aside once,” Chloe says about Verna, “and told her that the most important thing was what she decided to do about Christ.” Try that some time with a co-worker and you’ll see the corners of their eyes tighten up as the fight-or-flight instinct kicks in. You’ll see them becoming desperate to escape. And the unbearable awkwardness of such an encounter will be exponentially magnified if you explain that what they “decide to do about Christ” has something to do with prophecy and the Rapture and the Antichrist’s Mark of the Beast.
But all of that talk shouldn’t seem weird or wacky or foreign to someone living in the fictional universe in which Verna Zee lives. In Verna’s world, explicitly supernatural events have become commonplace. Rapture-talk shouldn’t strike her as foreign or bizarre — she’s lived through a Rapture, she’s seen it. In the past two years, she’s seen the miraculous destruction of the entire Russo-Ethiopian war machine, the disappearance of every child and every Rapture-believing Christian adult, the abolition of all national borders and sovereignties and the rise of a totalitarian one-world government led by a charismatic man with apparently supernatural powers of persuasion.
Oh, and also too, Moses and Elijah have returned from the grave and are preaching the same message as Chloe while also miraculously swatting away bullets and breathing fire.
Given all that, evangelism in this fictional context doesn’t seem closely analogous to the kind of evangelism that readers of these books are being encouraged to practice here in the real world. Those readers don’t have the option of striking up a conversation with a co-worker in the break room by saying, “Did you see that report on CNN last night? The one with Moses and Elijah, from the Bible? Did you see the way the bullets fired at them just stopped in mid-air as they proclaimed that Jesus Christ is Lord? What do you make of that?”