An Interview with Jerry Jenkins, Author of "Soon"
- 2003 2 Oct
Bestselling author Jerry Jenkins has held the nation spellbound with his "Left Behind" Biblically-based “end-times” series, co-authored with Tim LaHaye. To say that he has earned a reputation for great action-packed fiction would be an understatement – "Left Behind" has become the best-selling fiction series in history, and represents only 11 of his 14 New York Times best-selling titles.
His latest book, "Soon: The Beginning of the End," is no departure from gripping, fast-paced storytelling, and though it also falls into the prophetic thriller category, it takes a fresh perspective on the final years of mankind’s earthly sojourn. The book chronicles the story of Paul Stepola, a character loosely based on the Biblical figure of the Apostle Paul, who lives in a future world so ravaged by a fourth World War that all religion has been prohibited and Christians have been forced into hiding, even in America. At first, Stepola joins the violent hunt for “rebel” Christians, who are thought to be a dangerous menace to society, but he is later converted by the lives of the very people he has been seeking to destroy.
Unlike the "Left Behind" installments, "Soon" looks at the world still prior to the Rapture described in the book of Revelation. Speculating on a time almost 50 years beyond today, the story actually builds on this year’s very real U.S. invasion of Iraq, the terrorist attacks of 2001, and the backlash against radical fundamentalism of any kind that has followed these events. This technique lends an eerie possibility, if not probability, to Jenkins’ book, and forces the reader to consider the prospect of lost religious freedom.
“I saw a couple of letters to the editor in Time magazine after 9/11 that suggested that all war is really a product of religious extremists, and that if we would eliminate religion we could eliminate war,” Jenkins shared in an interview just prior to the book’s release. “It’s not a new concept, but it hit me that people were taking it seriously. I started thinking … 'what would this world look like if war was eliminated by eliminating religion?'”
Jenkins builds his story on the premise that religion cannot be erased, however, it can only be pushed underground, and so he peoples "Soon" with Christians in all manner of double agent scenarios, from Wall Street to L.A. and even a literal underground colony in an old Midwestern salt mine. These futuristic believers struggle valiantly to spread the Gospel despite zealous persecution by the National Peace Organization, an FBI-meets-United Nations conglomerate of peacekeeping forces from around the world, dedicated to eradicating all religious thought and expression.
The Christians in "Soon" frequently resort to creative, guerilla-style tactics – though always non-violent – to keep a step ahead of their oppressors, something that Jenkins said is not uncommon in the countries he has visited where present-day persecution is taking place.
“You can only hold down true believers so long, and I saw that especially in Romania, where the church was … allowed, but they couldn’t grow and they couldn’t get permits to do anything,” he remembered. “Eventually, they just become very innovative and creative, and find ways to show their faith because they still feel that it’s a Higher Law that tells them to ‘go into all the world and make disciples,’ even if it’s against [man’s] law.”
The suppression of religious expression is brutal in the “what-if” situation of "Soon," but the mindset expressed by many of the general public members in the book uncannily reflects the headlines from today’s top stories about separation of church and state and free speech battles.
“I’m hoping that this scenario [in "Soon"] never comes to pass, but the reason I wrote it is that I had the fear that we’re heading toward this,” Jenkins shared. “I think it’s going to be the ‘tolerance police’ that finally make this happen. After 9/11, it seemed like God was OK with everybody again, but Jesus was not, because anytime you talk about Jesus, people think you’re being ‘exclusivistic’ and they refer to John 14:6 that [says] Jesus is the only way to God, and [ask] what does that mean to devout people of other faiths?”
Though he bristles at the attitude so many non-Christians express towards evangelical faith, Jenkins is also quick to point out that the battle goes two ways. “I think we’re [as Christians] going to be largely responsible for something like this too,” he said, “because we need to learn how to express that belief and that truth without totally alienating everybody … John 14:6 should break our hearts, and we need to find ways to express that lovingly.”
Faced with the concept of all religious expression being eliminated, the Christians in "Soon" go one step further in their efforts and actively prepare for the effects of the Rapture by “illegally” printing and hiding Christian literature in all sorts of places, hoping that it will be a help to post-Rapture seekers who may have no other means of learning about the Gospel. Their work presents a sobering and challenging idea to Christians everywhere, to consider the desperate plight of a planet left without any living person who knows Christ.
“That’s one of the things that we think about even with the "Left Behind" books,” said Jenkins. “The likelihood is that there are going to be people left behind who discover these books and in this story, we’ve got people who are underground and trying to win back their religious freedom and practice their faith, and are also thinking of the future and what’s to come.”
Taken at face value, Jenkins' story is great, can’t-put-it-down reading. But woven into the storyline are issues that go far beyond just a good futuristic fiction story, and challenge each Christian to take a long hard look at present day reality and contemplate what may be down the road. Most importantly, "Soon" asks us to determine whether we’re up to the challenge, because it may be coming … soon.
"Soon: The Beginning of the End" released last month from Tyndale House Publishers. Author Jerry Jenkins, has written 14 New York Times bestsellers, including 11 from the "Left Behind" series. A former vice president of publishing at the Moody Bible Institute of Chicago, Jenkins now serves on the Institute's Board of Trustees. He and his wife, Dianna, have one married son, another in college, and one still living at home with them in Colorado.