Conversation: Jerry Jenkins
Writing for the soul
Jerry Jenkins is the author of more than 170 books, including the No. 1 best-selling Left Behind series with Tim LaHaye. Sixteen of Jenkins' titles have reached the New York Times best-seller list and have also appeared on the Wall Street Journal, USA Today and Publishers Weekly best-seller lists. Jenkins owns the Christian Writers Guild, an organization serving tomorrow's professional Christian writers. He founded Jenkins Entertainment, a filmmaking company run by his son in Los Angeles. Jenkins wrote a book for Writer's Digest Books in 2006. He recently discussed that project, and other aspects of his ministry, with Scott Harrup, senior associate editor.
tpe: Writer's Digest Books is marketing Writing for the Soul to both secular and Christian-themed writers. How did you keep both audiences in focus?
JENKINS: When they asked for a book on writing, I reminded them what they could expect from an unapologetically evangelical writer, and they were fine with that. Knowing the broadness of the audience, I tried to maintain the same kind of sensitivity that was called for when writing the Left Behind series.
It's important to acknowledge in your own mind not everyone understands our lingo or is sympathetic to our worldview.
tpe: How is your ministry branching out beyond books?
JENKINS: Our film company, Jenkins-Entertainment.com, is in post-production on a feature-length theater release called Midnight Clear, a Christmas piece based on a short story of mine and starring Stephen Baldwin. We're really excited about it and believe it will be something special. It recently won Best First Feature at the Cinequest Film Festival in San Jose, Calif.
ChristianWritersGuild.com is going well, with nearly 2,000 students we teach through personal mentors via e-mail. Our annual Writing for the Soul conference featured Tim LaHaye, Liz Curtis Higgs and many others, and we're looking ahead already to 2008.
tpe: Do you see a contradiction between the explosive growth of Christian-themed media in this country and the continued decline in our culture's connection to Christianity? Or is this a case of Òwhere darkness abounds, grace much more aboundsÓ?
JENKINS: It's an interesting dichotomy, because — largely due to The Passion of the Christ and The Purpose Driven Life (and, we'd like to think, Left Behind) — the secular media have been awakened to a huge evangelical market. Their purpose may be only to improve their bottom lines, but publishers and movie studios are asking for more ÒJesus stuff.Ó
Those of us who care about quality and correct doctrine need to fill this hunger with the right material, because the New York and Hollywood gatekeepers might not know the difference. And once schlocky art or heretical material becomes prominent, the market will close and the Christian discussion will be off the table, replaced by the latest fad. This is likely a short window, but crucial.
tpe: You are partnering with Dr. LaHaye on a series of books on the life of Christ. Tell us about that project.
JENKINS: Putnam has released the first of our four-novel series called The Jesus Chronicles. The first title is John's Story/The Last Eyewitness. These novels allow us to flesh out the Gospel stories to speculate on who the boy was who brought his lunch to Jesus, why Jesus was so close to Lazarus, etc. It takes us to the other end of the biblical calendar, of course, and it has been a fun challenge.
tpe: You've communicated your faith with millions of readers. How difficult is it for you to talk to someone about Christ one-on-one?
JENKINS: Not much easier than it's ever been for one who doesn't seem to have the gift of evangelism. But just being associated with Left Behind all these years has made me more passionate, earnest and aggressive about my faith. I don't want anyone to be left behind.
tpe: What are some current events feeding your ideas for future books?
JENKINS: I try not to base my novels on current events. By the time a novel is released, any current event is old news. But there are overarching principles and needs that inform everything I do, such as the pervading fear of the future.
tpe: In Writing for the Soul, you mention a spectrum of people you have written about. Who made the biggest impact on your life?
JENKINS: Working with Billy Graham was, of course, the privilege of a lifetime. But in many ways he's so much bigger than life that he can be hard to identify with. My very first biography subject was Sammy Tippit, a normal guy like all of us, but who is the most sold-out-to-Christ person I have ever met. His lifetime of service makes him a personal hero of mine and his very life convicts me.
tpe: How is God continuing to shape your relationship with Him?
JENKINS: Seeing time fly as I get older changes my perspective on the brevity of life, the urgency of the gospel message, and the necessity of leaving a legacy, especially to my grandchildren. I am 57, and the mirror doesn't lie. I'm coming down the other side of the mountain now, and I am eager to finish well.
tpe: What can a writer gain from participating in Christian Writers Guild?
JENKINS: We believe the uniqueness of our program lies in assigning a personal mentor to every student. The mentor walks the writer through each of 50 lessons over two years. These mentors are widely published experts who care and know how to teach. Many of our students are getting published regularly now, and that is our goal.
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