BtB Excerpt: This Present Darkness, by Frank Peretti

Books, Burnside Sells Out, Featured — By on October 20, 2010 at 8:00 am

(Editor’s Note: Here’s round two of our long, slow burn of a marketing campaign: my essay on Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness.  You can learn more about our book, Besides the Bible, here and here.  You can buy it here.)

There’s an inherent snag to writing Christian action: a pathological reliance on Deus ex machina as a storytelling convention.  The majority of the time, a Christian protagonist is too weak to overcome an antagonist on his own, so he is reliant on God, and no antagonist can stand against an all-powerful, all-knowing God.  What can you do? It’s theology.

With This Present Darkness and its sequel, Piercing the Darkness, fiction author Frank Peretti found a way around this conundrum.  Rooting his storyline in Ephesians 6:12, Peretti’s novels wove in the realm of spiritual combat, where action-hero physiqued angels  crossed swords with smoke-snorting demons. Peretti’s human characters play an integral role in this ongoing war, their prayer lives strengthening or jeopardizing the efforts of our unseen heavenly guardians, and their actions sending ripples through the spirit world. Also, now an angel could hack a demon’s head off without trafficking in secular violence.

But then there’s the other inherent problem with Christian fiction: no matter how fanciful, far-fetched, or Scripturally questionable the story may be, a book’s creative license can twist into theology.

This isn’t fully Frank Peretti’s fault. He set out to write a thrilling fiction novel, and it’s not as if Ian Fleming set out to change foreign policy when he penned Casino Royale. Still, Peretti’s Pentecostal affiliations are readily apparent in his work, particularly the idea of “territorial spirits,” and for the millions of impressionable young readers flipping through This Present Darkness, Peretti’s concept of spiritual warfare is, at the very least, sort of awesome to think about.

It’s one thing to picture angels and demons locked in mortal combat all around you, but it’s another when Peretti’s vision of how that war plays out in tangible life gets specific with an alarming message.  According to the Darkness universe, the imaginary friends of children are actually demons, small town carnivals are akin to Roman orgies, and Satan’s favorite strategy is to wrongfully accuse good Christians of molestation, rape, and prostitution. Oh, and New Agers aren’t spacey ex-hippies irrelevant to the world at large, but the single most dangerous threat to Christianity.

So what causes Frank Peretti’s fiction, or Left Behind and for that matter, to become inarguable theological fact? It’s not as if we believe Jesus is actually a lion, or Turkish delights are Satan’s confection of choice, simply because that’s how it is in Narnia.

The problem may lie with how we’ve been conditioned to read the Bible, not as water for the soul, or a living, holy book, or even a point of communion with our Heavenly Father, but as a dissected academic text, neatly divided by chapter and verse. Every verse must have tangible meaning in our every day lives. It cannot be simply enjoyable. Is it any surprise we read Christian fiction the same way? Can’t we just revel in Frank Peretti’s storytelling and enjoy the ride?

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    13 Comments

  • Matt Miles says:

    The more stories I hear about people misreading books like this, the more gratitude I have for being raised in a home that appreciated good fiction. We were Baptists, but we read Lewis, Perreti, mythology, novelizations of Star Wars and whatever. At no point do I remember my parents needing to point out what was real and what wasn’t. The growing trend of “warnings” against what is essentially just good storytelling bothers me.

    All that to say,I like the excerpts so far, and want to get the book as soon as possible.

  • Jesse D says:

    Man, I loved these books when I was in high school. I ought to go back and re-read them; see if they stand the test of time and a more refined reading palate. I haven’t really thought about them in years.

  • Yea, these were some of my favorites.

  • Andrew says:

    This Present Darkness may be a work of fiction, but it helps one become more aware of power of evil that wishes to devour us. Angels may not look like huge superheros and demons may not be black firebreathing creatures, but they are real and they symbolize the battle in our spiritual souls. If we don’t understand the critical situation at hand, we won’t be able to pray effectively, we won’t know what we are up against and we won’t know the Power we have over them.

  • Lukas says:

    Even in the secular world, fiction is based on blueprints of the real world. The truth is that we have only clues of what’s going on in the spiritual world. Most of our beliefs on angels and demons capitalize on the New Testament, few parts of the Old, and MYTHS. Yes, MYTHS.

    What I’m daring to say is that while many christians might read it as a portrait of the spiritual world, I tend to see it as an illusionary image of what we think about the spiritual world. It is probably the farthest we can go from the reality of a world that we have little access to.

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