Sunday, October 9, 2016

Book Review: Death Strike

A Fair Trade Book

Title: Death Strike (Left Behind: The Kids volume 8)

Author: Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye

Author's web site:

Date: 2000

ISBN: 0-8423-4328-8

Length: 123 pages

Quote: “Something warm ran from her side. The guard shouted, ‘Leave the knife in! You’ll do more damage if you take it out!’”

All the lifelong Christians have suddenly disappeared, leaving behind some nice people who merely hadn’t been Christians…and a lot of nasty people who are beginning to realize that now they’re free to run the world their way…and some teenaged orphans, who, in this series, have become Christian missionaries. Of course, Christianity is not encouraged at their school. Vicki has been sent to reform school for “crimes” like praying with other high school girls and helping to circulate an underground newsletter that explains that the people everyone misses may have disappeared in The Rapture. In the opening scene of Death Strike, Vicki’s been stabbed by a juvenile delinquent who’s lent money to another girl, who was cringing behind Vicki when she said she couldn’t repay the loan.

Vicki and new friends Judd, Lionel, and Ryan don’t have time to mourn the parents they’ve lost as they dodge the ever-increasing perils of life as post-tribulation Christians. Some good things go on; they’ve made a few more friends. In a world that’s accepted sweet-talking, satanic Nicolae Carpathia as dictator of the Global Community, though, most things that happen aren’t good.

In Death Strike Coach Handlesman, who never used to be the boys’ favorite teacher until he outed himself as another new Christian, is in prison (“sent away for reeducation by the Global Community”). Chaya, whose family threw her out when she became a Christian, has been hired as a live-in assistant to Chloe Steele, who is also what Vicki has in the way of a mentor and mother-figure. Lionel and Ryan, whose voice is finally changing, are putting their underground newsletter on a web site. Vicki’s praying that she and Judd will have a chance to be “more than just friends,” although the Young Tribulation Force are closer friends, more like brothers and sisters, than teenagers normally get to be across the divides of age, gender, race, and religious background. Judd’s required course in religious history has the following essay question: “Enigma Babylon One World Faith encompasses all religions and is thus superior to all individual belief systems. Explain why you believe this.” Nevertheless, Judd gets to speak as the salutatorian at graduation and, physically dodging a Global Community agent as he speaks, uses the opportunity to admit his involvement with the underground newsletter and invite students to become Christians.

The kids’ dystopian world won’t get better until The End—the apocalypse which, from the Christians’ viewpoint, will be the Glorious Appearing that ends the series. Their stories hold the interest of readers who understand that no individual novel in this series really resolves the various plot elements and the characters can’t do anything to improve their dystopian world, who enjoy watching the teenagers grow up and explain the Christian message at least once in each volume.

The novels are improbably wholesome; apparently all the bad people are high on Prozac or similar “celibacy in a bottle” pills, because the Global Community tempts teens to sneer at Christianity without holding out the older temptations of sex, drugs, or even rock’n’roll. The relentless cleanness of this series can seem weird. We know the Young Tribulation Force are highly motivated to be good examples of Christian behavior, and are also going through a heavily suppressed grieving process; we can believe that they don’t want to rebel against the frustrations of being a teenager by getting stoned, that Lionel and Ryan aren’t thinking much about sex yet, and that Vicki and Judd are sincerely trying to practice spiritual chastity. We know that Nicolae Carpathia really isn’t a natural man, that in the reality of these novels he becomes a channel for the Evil Principle, which presents him with temptations—to which he yields—stranger and worse than the ordinary temptations of human flesh. For teenagers in a reform school, though, “behavior medication” or being characters in a series whose authors don’t want to let debates about moral boundaries hijack the story seem the only explanations…Vicki’s violent dorm mate may kill somebody before she’s done, but she won't use foul language.

So, are Christians supposed to believe these stories are true or probable in the real world? Of course not. They’re fiction; they’re meant to call attention to the general idea of a time of tribulation, as foretold in Bible prophecies. There are different interpretations of those prophecies. The image of The Rapture is suggested by a Greek word that literally means “away-from standing.” If you study church history, you find several possible ways sincere Christians have imagined a time when Christians and non-Christians would “stand away from” one another. The Greek word in question evolved into an English word, “apostasy,” which suggests former Christians becoming estranged from the faith, like Julian the Apostate. Some Christians envision a time of tribulation when ex-Christians attack the “remnant church” before The Rapture. Some prefer to understand both rapture and tribulation as states of mind, which, for many Christians, they have been. Some go on from there to interpret the return of Christ as a metaphor for society’s progress toward enlightenment…

However, the Left Behind novels do have a solid base in reality. In many times and places Christians have been persecuted for their faith. Something about the idea that each individual soul is valuable to God and exists in relationship to God is fundamentally opposed to the idea of dictatorship. Tyrants seem compelled to feel a compulsive need to compete against individuals’ understanding of God. Sincere Christians, and other religious people who believe that we should generally live at peace with others and follow the laws of our countries, have been tortured and killed by tyrants—even including pseudo-Christian tyrants—who wanted to destroy that whole dangerous idea of individual freedom of conscience.

In the sense that Christian teenagers need to learn about oppression and persecution, it’s possible to say that they need to read Left Behind: The Kids and similar works. They can of course begin with historical documents…and the great thing about Left Behind: The Kids is that, while these novels mention people being killed for their faith, their focus is on how living individuals keep up the courage to practice their faith. For readers struggling with depression, anxiety, or hostility, Left Behind: The Kids is easier to take than Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.

Left Behind: The Kids are also Fair Trade Books. This means that, from the total price per used copy of $5 per book + $5 per package, we send 10% or $1 to Jerry Jenkins or a charity of his choice. Eight of these jeans-pocket-sized books would fit into the last package I mailed out, for a total of $45, from which Jenkins or his charity would get $8. There were forty volumes altogether, and the whole set would cost you $225, of which Jenkins or his charity would get $40. We have unfortunately been obliged to collect a surcharge of $1 per online payment of up to $100 (if you pay in real life, which is safer anyway, the post office will collect its own surcharge) so, if paying online, you'd send $11 for one volume, $46 for eight, or $228 for all forty.