A novel approach to
His books top the
New York Times best-seller list. His message is an uncompromising
presentation of the gospel through the voices and actions of compelling
fictional characters. Jerry B. Jenkins (writing partner with Tim
LaHaye of the Left Behind publishing phenomenon) spoke
recently with Scott Harrup, associate editor, about life as a
writer, a family man and — most importantly — a follower
of Jesus Christ in an increasingly secular culture.
have some stereotypical perceptions of writers as sort of academic
hermits. How do you see yourself?
Well, one out of two isn’t bad. I’ve never been accused
of being an academic. I guess I’m on both sides of the fence
when it comes to being a hermit. I work in a building right next
to my house. On the other side we’ve got the Christian Writers
Guild. So we’ve got eight full-time employees between these
two buildings. And I’ve got a film company. So when I’m
here I do everything except write. When it’s time to meet
a deadline, I go to a place we have in the mountains about 80
miles west of Colorado Springs. I call it “the Cave”
because there’s no phone or TV or Internet. My wife’s
in the house and I’m in the out building and I can either
procrastinate or write. I usually do a good bit of both. When
I’m there I’m a hermit. When I’m here, I’m
too interested in who’s on the phone or who just drove up
or what’s in the mail.
PE: Your new
trilogy, Soon, describes a very different pre-Rapture
world than what you created for the Left Behind series,
and you’re writing a prequel to Left Behind that
will still have to use its original frame of reference. Will readers
see this as a contradiction?
So far they haven’t. I did wonder about that. The difference
between these two approaches is that Left Behind is what
Dr. Tim LaHaye and I believe is going to happen someday and we
want people to be ready, while Soon is a story about
something that I hope never happens. I hope we never have a World
War III. If we do have another world war, I hope it doesn’t
cost us our freedom to practice our faith.
What I’m really
trying to say to believers through Soon is that if this
comes about we’re going to have to look in the mirror. We
have an inherently divisive and offensive message that we can’t
back down from; we believe it’s the truth. But if we don’t
find compassionate ways to share it, people look for laws to protect
themselves from even having to hear it. I think we have too many
evangelicals who get on television and put their thumbs in their
lapels and say, “This is what it says, and this is what
it means, so good for us and too bad for you.”
Really, in my mind,
the true definition of a believer is one who does believe that
Jesus is the only way to God, but it breaks his or her heart that
other people don’t agree. We don’t look down on them
or become condescending. That’s my intended effect with
the Soon series.
focuses on Christianity. What about the billions of people who
follow other faiths?
I stayed focused on the evangelicals. I think Christianity would
survive better than other faiths that don’t have the truth
and have God blessing what they’re doing. I’m not
sure what I’m going to do in volume three. There may be
more evidence of other faiths that help the main characters.
more than a dozen years of working alongside Dr. LaHaye, how has
he impacted your life?
I feel like I’ve been to the “LaHaye Seminary.”
For one thing, he’s the same age as my mother, so there’s
a father/son dynamic that is special. We’ve really become
friends over the years. He has a reputation for being a polemic
and kind of a plainspoken guy who is often embroiled in debates
over issues. But I find that what makes him that way also gives
him strength in the area of his beliefs. I’ve seen him pray
personally for countless people and I’ve seen how much he
cares for souls. The bottom line with him is getting people saved.
He’s had a tremendous impact on my life.
Jerry B. Jenkins
Kid’s Guide to Understanding the End Times
Jerry B. Jenkins
Destiny: Biblical Teachings on the Last Things
Stanley M. Horton
To order call
received about 3,000 personal testimonies of people coming to
Christ through reading the Left Behind books. Any chance
that the books have confused other people or made their spiritual
journey more complicated?
Our worst critics will say that we’re setting people up
for disappointment if they think they’re going to escape
the Tribulation and it turns out that they don’t. We believe
our pre-Tribulation position on the Rapture is correct, but even
if we were here during the Tribulation I don’t see how what
we’ve written would be harmful. People would still know
what was happening and would still, hopefully, be studying Scripture
and trying to remain true to the Lord.
Since our position
is that there is a second chance for people during the Tribulation,
another criticism is that some readers might wait to see if we’re
right and then plan to accept Christ. People ask what if we’re
wrong and there is no second chance. In our minds, that responsibility
lies with the reader. The Tribulation is going to be the worst
time in the history of the world. You don’t want to risk
God hardening your heart or your dying in the chaos that ensues
before you can become a Christian. I think the picture we paint
shows that it’s really risky to think you can wait until
the Rapture to prove the claims of Christianity before you decide
to accept Christ.
PE: There is
a wealth of Scripture in both the Left Behind series
and the Soon trilogy. Describe the challenge of staying
true to biblical writers’ intent when adapting their words
for your books.
probably my biggest challenge in writing both series. It’s
really kind of a fun process because I’ve got Bible texts
on computer I can flip through. I don’t want to sound too
mystical, but there is a certain music to it. As I’m flipping
through Scriptures trying to make it fit — for example,
in Glorious Appearing to find out what Jesus would say
at a certain point — and make sure it’s biblical,
it seems to fall into place.
I’m not a theologian.
I do have a lifetime of Bible reading and a year at Moody Bible
Institute in my background, and I was raised in the church. But
I don’t know the original languages and I’m not a
scholar. It’s amazing that when you get deep into Scripture
you seem to find the verses that fit.
Dr. LaHaye and I try
to make sure, even when we’re speculating about made-up
characters and situations, that when we put them in the context
of biblical events we’re as close to the biblical record
as possible. So far, readers tell us it rings true and that it
sends them back to the Bible to identify which parts are from
Scripture and which parts are made up. And they’re always
surprised to discover they can actually see in the Bible where
we got the story.
B. Jenkins in 60 seconds:
Your favorite travel destination and why?
in Hawaii. Being that far from the Internet and enjoying
the weather is great. If it weren’t so far from
friends and family, I’d live there.
A meat and potatoes guy, or do you watch your food groups?
count calories. I can eat pretty much anything I want
as long as I don’t eat too much of it. I’d
say I’m a meat and potatoes man.
Best round of golf?
had three 102s and one even 100. So I’m closing
on breaking 100. I really enjoy golf, and I play way too
much to be this spectacularly bad.
Is this the Cubs’ year?
always say, “They still have plenty of time to blow
it.” They really have all the horses right now.
When everybody gets healthy, they’ve got the pitching,
they’ve got the lineup, they’ve got the manager.
Unfortunately, they’ve got a really good St. Louis
team down the road.
Coffee or tea for that inspirational jolt?
Passage of Scripture that inspires you?
91:1,2 and Matthew 5:16
One thing you would say to your wife if you were proposing
your seat belt!
Can I send you my book?
Take a number.
PE: Can you
tell me three great things about life with your wife, Dianna?
and I have been married 33 years. A lot of people will ask about
tough times and rough patches and how hard it is to start out
in marriage, and we almost feel like we need to make something
up. The reality is, if there’s an issue between us or we
sense some silence, we compete to see who can be the first one
to clear the air. We don’t raise our voices or fight. It’s
been so idyllic that a counselor would probably say there’s
something boiling beneath the surface.
We met on a blind date
and were married within about six months. It’s something
we don’t even counsel other people to do. But it just felt
right from the beginning and it’s been great. She’s
a fiercely loyal mother and grandmother and would do anything
for her boys and grandkids.
The great thing now,
with our youngest son in college, is that she travels with me
everywhere. I don’t want to go anywhere without her.
PE: Even while
writing prolifically over the years you’ve managed to prioritize
time with your family. Why is that important, and how was that
It really came about when I was at Scripture Press in the ’70s.
We didn’t have kids yet. I was interviewing people for Sunday
School paper stories. I interviewed five or six middle-aged men
who were about twice my age at the time and their kids were grown.
And I was interviewing them about all sorts of subjects for different
stories, but in each interview at some point I asked them about
any regrets they had in life. And, to a man, they said they wished
they had spent more time with their kids when they were growing
up. And these weren’t kids who went off the deep end or
anything. It was just that these men felt they had lost those
I remember talking
to Dianna about it and saying, “If I get to be that age
and have that same regret, I’ll be without excuse because
clearly God’s trying to tell me something.” So we
set a policy that I wouldn’t do any work from the office
or any writing from the time I got home from work until the time
the kids went to bed. That gave me anywhere from two to four hours
a day with the boys. I didn’t force them to talk to me or
play with me. But I was there for them. I wasn’t behind
a closed door, a newspaper or TV. Since Dianna had been with them
all day, that gave her time to do what she needed to do. I think
that’s one of the reasons that our kids never went through
a serious rebellion. They didn’t agree with us on certain
things, and they may have questioned our judgment, but they never
questioned our motives.
You can tell kids that
they’re your number one priority, and they hear what you
say but they believe what you do. If I told my sons they were
my priority, then told them they couldn’t bother me for
a few hours, they would know where they stood. Our sons still
talk about the fact we were at every game, every school activity
As a writer, that also
forced me to be really productive from the time they went to bed
until I went to bed. I usually wrote from 9 to midnight. I’m
not a night person, but I didn’t have a choice. I was writing
several books a year back then besides working full time. But
keeping those priorities in order cleared my conscience. I never
had to write while feeling guilty.
a devoted baseball fan. How does baseball color your life?
It colors it less than it did when I was a kid. I was so into
baseball as a kid that I think it actually got in the way of my
spiritual life. I still am a fan. I’m a die-hard Cubs fan.
I think any team can have a bad century. We watch Cubs games on
satellite. When we get back to Chicago we try to follow them.
My kids are really
into sports. We have three sons, and my middle son was the assistant
baseball coach at the Air Force Academy this past year. He’s
planning to make a career of coaching, so that’s fun to
PE: Since acquiring
the Christian Writers Guild, what are your dreams for that organization?
The whole point is to try to give back to the publishing community
and to restock the pool of Christian writers. So far, it’s
exceeded my dreams. We’re adding about 100 students a month.
We’re at 1,900 students now. We have mentors who walk students
through a 50-lesson, two-year course by e-mail. We’re getting
letters and e-mails from students every day telling us they’ve
sold stuff to local papers and magazines and some have published
books. These people are actually becoming writers. My hope is
that we can change the usual statistic of 1 out of 1,000 book
manuscripts getting published and take our students to the point
where maybe 1 out of 100 of their manuscripts will make it. They’re
being mentored by people who have been there and made all the
mistakes, seen all the pitfalls and know all the short cuts.
faced some aggressive media personalities in interviews. Dennis
Miller on CNBC, recently, for example. What is your focus when
you prepare to represent the gospel in a national spotlight?
I consider those to be really unusual opportunities. One of the
things I want to do is show that there are some Christians who
are connected with the culture.
Basically I think Miller
and others in his field have a preconceived notion of what they’re
going to get with a conservative evangelical. And I like to surprise
them. I’m not going to back down from my theology or my
views on pro-life or the gospel. But I want to surprise them by
responding to their cultural references knowledgeably. I think
more Christians need to do that. We don’t need to be exposed
to every bit of garbage out there, but we need to know what people
are talking about.
The ultimate goal is
to see these people come to Christ. But if the only progress I
can make is to nudge them and get them to see that something I
said made sense, that’s the best I can hope for.
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