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Volume 15, Issue 3: Counterpoint

Jerry B. Jenkins Interview

Aaron Rench

C/A's Aaron Rench recently posed these questions to Jerry B. Jenkins, author of Left Behind and owner of the Christian Writers Guild.

C/A: What are your three favorite authors before the twentieth century?
JJ: Tom Aquinas. I just missed his signing at CBA a few years back. Herm Melville. Played for the Mets before getting into whales. Al Dumas. Embarrassed myself by forgetting the `s' was silent. He said, "And so where are you from, Illinoiz?" (I liked the book better than the movie(s), but I still enjoy the candy bar.) Edgar Allan Poe (if I may sneak in a fourth).
C/A: Is poetry important for novel writing?
JJ: Garrison Keillor sure thinks so, and uses his own masterfully. I think at least an appreciation of it is important in any kind of writing. I also write a daily syndicated continuing story cartoon strip for 65 newspapers, and I liken it to poetry (only a bit of a stretch). The difference between a 420-page fiction ms. and three panels a day, you see? I tend to be a traditionalist when it comes to poetry. Frost, Poe, Sandburg?
C/A: Does the Christian Writer's Guild include poets? If so, what is their role?
JJ: This is actually a very difficult area for me and I might have left it out, had there not been such a demand. I see poetry as instructive rather than marketable, and I make clear to all would-be poets that the odds against making a living at it are astronomical—and that it of course also means more than iambic pentameter and love from above and charms in my arms. The Luci Shaws and Judith DuPrees of poetry are rare, but they sure have a lot to teach us.
C/A: What is your vision for the future of Christian arts?
JJ: I feel we have for too long surrendered the arts to the world. It seems we're only now realizing that the medium is not the enemy. When we realize that whatever we may think of, for instance, Hollywood's message, their product is light years ahead of ours. Competing with quality is our only hope.
C/A: Do the basic realities of the Trinity and the Incarnation have any affect on Christian culture?
JJ: Well, there's the question for the ages, eh? Sadly, that's our current problem. We need the Philip Yanceys and the Marvin Olaskys and the John Pipers and others with much more gray matter than I to plumb these depths. When we approach the Incarnation in stories of real, everyday people, as Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky and Solzenitzin (hey wait, that can't be right; they're all Russians!) did, perhaps we'll be closer to communicating real, sacred truth.
C/A: Given that your book Soon deals with how the world would look without religion, what do you think a world where the majority of people were Christians would look like? In other words, what would a thoroughly Christian culture look like?
JJ: Needless to say, I don't think Scripture allows for that before the Millennial Kingdom, and in that case I believe God binds Satan. (As a novelist I know it is a world without conflict and thus no grist for fiction.) I need to imagine that world for one of the upcoming Left Behind volumes, but I confess it is hard to fathom. Somehow I think it will be a whole lot different from CBA or summer camp. With Jesus reigning, his definition of true religion is sure to look different from our puny ideas. Living paradoxically will be the order of the day: supporting widows and orphans, ministering to "the least of these," living in true humility, preferring others over ourselves, etc.
C/A: How does a Christian novel keep from becoming propaganda?
JJ: If you mean propaganda in the pejorative sense, we must do our best at the art and let our message breathe through. I must take the heat for whatever extent to which the Left Behind novels fail on that score, as I can only do the best I can do. Frankly, sometimes I wonder why God didn't tap a better artist for that project.
On the other hand, we have never denied that Left Behind is propaganda. We do have a message, and I maintain that most novelists do and don't shrink from it. John Irving's Cider House Rules is a perfect example of beautiful art loudly making the novelist's point, and he is rightfully happy and proud for it. I happen to disagree diametrically with his world view and what he espouses, but I was thrilled when he accepted the Academy Award for adapting his own book to the screen and said he was thrilled for what it would mean to pro choice forces and abortion rights people. He has a message, and he wonderfully communicates it.
I'm just grateful we live in a country where we are still free to compete in the marketplace of ideas.
C/A: What theologians have had the most influence on your thought?
JJ: Probably Schaeffer, Chafer, and Walvoord.
C/A: What are some of the most common mistakes that young Christian writers make?
JJ: Thinking that a piece of writing is a solo and not a duet between them and their editor. Thinking they can start their writing career with a book—akin to starting one's education in graduate school rather than kindergarten. Thinking that a piece of writing by a Christian had to sound (or read) religious. Thanks, Aaron.
C/A: Thank you.

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