Sunday, May 20, 2007


In Sunday School last Sunday the teacher opened with a dramatic reading from the opening chapter of Frank Peretti's This Present Darkness. I recalled reading this book in high school and enjoying it. So I dug out my old copy and re-read it this past week.

I had to keep reminding myself that this book spent years on the Christian best seller's list. According to wikipedia more than 2.5 million copies have been sold. There are so many things to find fault with in this work. I'd categorize my complaints as literary and theological.

As a work of literature, this book actually falls short of the quality represented even by the Left Behind series. Characters are shallow and too often predictable. Several times in the book I also found myself thinking I had already read such and such a section. It turns out I had. Peretti seems to recycle ideas on occasion within the book. In short, if it weren't for the fact that this is such a quick read, I'd feel pretty guilty about having spent my time reading it.

As for theology, I recognize that it is a work of fiction and so is not claiming to be an attempt at factual representation. The fact that many have used this book to inform their view of spirituality and spiritual warfare says more about them than it does about Peretti, I suppose. However, in the end, it has some glaring problems. First, the angels derive their ability to fight the demons from the prayers of the saints. As the saints are more or less faithful in prayer, the angels are correspondingly more or less capable of fighting evil. At one point, in the climactic scene between the lead angel and the lead demon, the angel is losing (the saints think the fight is over and have stopped praying). The angel tells God the name of the demon (as if God isn't aware) and asks him to communicate this to the faithful so that they can pray. Alongside this problem is an overall sense that God is not truly sovereign. One final problem - Most of the people doing evil things in this book are doing them because of the direct influence of a demon. There is little to no indication that the people are morally responsible. To the contrary. In several passages the preacher casts demons out and the person effected goes from complete evil to near sainthood before the reader's very eyes. Where is original sin? Where is the flesh with which we all struggle? It seems we should instead be arguing, "the devil made me do it."

As I was checking wikipedia (trying to see if I could find the number of weeks on the bestseller list) I noticed that one of the people that goes after the book for being soft on personal sin is Dr. Burns at DTS! He made me proud! Nice to see they are on their game.

I could pick on other things, but this should suffice. While I certainly believe in spiritual warfare, I don't think Peretti's ideas about it are congruent with Scripture. And even if you feel compelled to ignore the doctrine and just pass the time with a good book, I don't think this one qualifies on that score either.

So in short, "just say no" to This Present Darkness. Your time would be better spent any number of other ways. (Praying for those poor beleaguered angels?)

1 comment:

M. Jay Bennett said...

Dr. Burns doin' us proud. Good to see!

He is supposed to have a book on the presence of God coming out soon. P&R is publishing it. I remember the night in ST 106 (Eschatology) when he told us he was working on the manuscript. He said he talked to friends about publishing a book through P&R prior to making the deal. He recalled with a big smile on his face, "They said they wouldn't touch P&R with a ten-foot pole!" I'm looking forward to it!

He was one of my favorites profs!