The following post is not an official review. It is merely my initial thoughts and first impressions of this title, which was provided to me by christianaudio.com. A review will be written and posted when I have completed the novel.
I am going to have so much fun with this one. Or I am going to suffer horribly. Either way, it’s going to be a ride.
I participate in christianaudio.com’s Reviewers Program; however, I haven’t done much with it because they often offer audiobooks of publications that were essentially sermons in print form… that are now back in audio form often with someone else’s voice. It’s admittedly kind of odd now that I think about it. In any case, I stopped selecting those titles because I don’t know what to do with them. Do I agree with the teaching, do I disagree, do I find them helpful? Do I proclaim how wonderful they are like so many other reviews I read? I’m at a point in my life where I am… how do I say this… suspicious of pastors and Christian teachers of any stripe. Too many stories of abuse, misuse, self-glorifying zeal, and meaningless humility, both in the news and in my own experience. Reviewing their work? I’d rather not.
So when christianaudio finally offered a fiction book, I was excited. When I saw the author is Jerry B. Jenkins, I jumped for it.
Because, yes, this is going to be so… much… fun!
I read Left Behind a few years ago. I did not like it. It was very obvious from the first sentence to the last that the authors- Jenkins and Tim LaHaye- were writing what they believed should happen, both in terms of plot and characters, rather than a story that followed any logical sense of what would happen. The entire Russian army attacking Israel because some scientist invented a miracle wheat? Buck is a super-fantastic journalist who just happens to be reporting on that? Steele is cheating on his wife because she just-so-happens to be going to a church that preaches about the end times and he can’t stand that? After he converts, he can’t believe it when his mistress rejects his bible-thumping on- um, I mean, sharing the gospel with her? Left Behind was a paint-by-the-numbers premillennial evangelical with a persecution complex fantasy trip. Apparently the fastest way to become a New York Times bestseller is to tell people exactly what they want to hear. Maybe I should take notes.
But hey, this isn’t Left Behind. It’s been twenty years since the first book in that series came out, and it’s the only one I read. Jenkins is writing solo now. Maybe he’s gotten better. Plus, who can resist the summary on christianaudio’s product page?
Is church history about to be rewritten? Contrary to the teachings of church history, do recently discovered ancient parchments indicate Paul- not Peter- was the first Pope? Crucial pages of the Apostle Paul’s parchments have gone missing and rumors of their content have the world reeling. Dr. Augie Knox is on a quest to find the pages that reveal what God Himself taught the man who would become the greatest apologist in the history of the Christian church.
It sounds like an evangelical rip-off of The Da Vinci Code. So let’s get started with this audiobook!
First up to bat! This isn’t a solo project. Jenkins’ name is the only one on the cover, yes, but you listen to the full title and copyright notice stuff (or use the Look Inside! feature on Amazon to look at the inside title/copyright pages) and that suddenly changes! Empire’s End: A Novel of the Apostle Paul, written by Jerry B. Jenkins and James MacDonald. Both names claim copyright on the book. What in the world? Why would they hide MacDonald’s involvement like that? I mean, I get that Jenkins is the big-name fiction author whose name appeared on the NYT bestseller’s list, but to completely eliminate MacDonald’s name from the cover? I’d be affronted if I were him.
Also, speaking as a guy who has only touched two of Jenkins’ novels… does he always need pastoral input when he writes fiction? Or am I just lucky?
Second up to bat! We start with a preface summarizing the political shenanigans of Rome shortly after the death of Jesus Christ, focusing specifically on Pontius Pilate and Roman General Decimus Calidius Balbus. I did not make that name up. Jenkins did. Seriously. General Balbus. And the audiobook’s narrator, David Cochran Heath, says it like “bulbous”, which I’m sure was the intention. But anyway. First thing out of their mouths, first dialogue of the novel after some paragraphs of expositional background:
“Do you ever smile, General?”
“When something amuses me.”
“When was the last time?”
The general squinted, a hint of crow’s-feet appearing around eyes matching the color of his short gray hair. “During our last campaign one of my men delivered to me the severed head of a woman who reminded me of my wife. That made me smile. At least the wench has borne me no children.”
Pilate roared. “I wish I could say the same of mine!”
Evangelical patriarch humor, ladies and gentlemen! Get some tomatoes.
They discuss an attack on a Samaritan pilgrimage and General Balbus (resist laughing) gets angry because Rome is changing leadership and passing him over. Blah blah blah.
Third up to bat! The first chapter claims to be taken from the memoirs of the Apostle Paul! Apparently he had a memoir! And it’s all about stuff that was explained in the Bible… in Acts 9… so why is Jenkins expounding on that here? What’s the purpose? Traditionally, Christians believe that Luke wrote the book of Acts, and Luke was Paul’s companion, so, technically, the book of Acts is overall Paul’s version of events with some Peter spliced in. Why expound upon Paul’s version of events? Do Jenkins and MacDonalds believe they can do better than Luke? Luke left out important details? I mean, yeah, there’s a three-year gap Paul mentions in Galatians 1 that Luke doesn’t, but how important was that?
[Update: I’m nearly two hours into this audiobook now. That gap is apparently extremely important.]
So here I am, after the preface and chapter one, and I thought I was reading a conspiracy theory! Not a long-winded historical fiction account of events I can simply open up a Bible to read!
But writing this makes me feel so much better.