Sunday, October 2, 2016

Book Review: Through the Flames

A Fair Trade Book

Title: Through the Flames (Left Behind: The Kids volume 3)

Author: Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye

Author's web page:

Date: 1998

Publisher: Tyndale

Publisher’s web site:

ISBN: 0-8423-2195-0

Length: 143 pages

Quote: “All of a sudden that scary house looked like the safest place he knew.”

Does anyone not remember the dazzling success of the original Left Behind series for adults? Naturally it spun off a series for teenagers. Four students who weren’t friends before the “disappearances” (“The Rapture”) of other friends and relatives have become close friends now. They’ve become Christians and, although all the lifelong Christians who wanted to be their spiritual leaders are gone, they’re studying the Bible with newly converted Bruce Barnes as their pastor. “Judd, at sixteen, was the oldest…Vicki Byrne, a year younger. Lionel Washington was thirteen,and Ryan Daley, twelve.” All four are orphans, but the horrific “Tribulation” events going on around them aren’t leaving them much time to mourn for the parents and siblings they’ve lost. Volumes one and two of Left Behind: The Kids set the stage, so to speak; in volume three, the teenagers are already in mortal danger.

Nobody is really safe in the apocalyptic vision of these novels. Most, but not all, of the major characters will survive to the end of the series. How else could it be, in a world where all the lifelong Christians are gone, nearly all the evildoers are still active, and most of those who’ve seized this last chance to become Christians are actively involved with evildoers? Lionel has an “infamous” uncle who’s taken over his home. Tough, rebellious little Ryan is in danger from the common-or-garden-variety criminals who’ve become what Lionel has for a family. Before the end of volume three, Judd and Lionel will run into a burning building in hope of being able to rescue adults (groan!) and Vicki, not exactly new to underage driving, will use a stolen BMW to win a fight with a van (wail!).

The trouble with these adventures in the children’s series, I believe, is that child readers don’t recognize that these are supposed to be miracle stories of how God is protecting the newly converted Christians. The trouble is that in too many cheap adventure stories aimed at children, this kind of story is a cliché, and a pet peeve of mine. 

I don’t mind stories, some of which are actually true, where a child simply notices something adults have overlooked, or a child’s innocence of the fears and prejudices that inhibit adults allows the child to understand something adults have blocked from their minds, or a child’s superior resistance to an infectious disease empowers the child to save adults’ lives, or a child’s smaller size enables the child to climb higher or crawl deeper than adults, or various other scenarios where being a child would actually be an asset in the real world. I don’t mind an occasional reminder that, because teenagers are close to adult height and still growing, they typically have more energy and often have more strength, for their size, than adults have. 

I do mind the way the cliché stories give child readers the impression that children normally save the day because adults are normally idiots. A grown man who tries to use a van to bully a little girl in a borrowed car is certainly a jerk, a villain, and his being those things might be explained by his being an idiot; even so, I think too many writers think children want to believe that any fifteen-year-old illegal driver can count on being able to win a physical fight with an adult driving a bigger vehicle. Everybody may like it when Vicki “just shifted into reverse and backed into the van” and then “just yanked the wheel to the left, shifted again, and took off. He chased us all over the place, but I finally lost him”…but Sunday School teachers can’t count on anyone reading this story as testimony that Vicki is on the side of the angels. It was meant to be that. It reads like just another unlikely story.

Each volume of Left Behind: The Kids still qualifies as a Sunday School book, though, because each one contains a scene in which somebody explains the basic Christian message of…

Gentle Readers, the Infamous Brad Hicks is on my mind. Brad Hicks has often played picador to Christians. One way he did that was by reminding them of a Scripture that’s familiar to us Bible Christians but sometimes unpopular with evangelical Christians. Jesus did not actually say that everyone who recites a formula like “I accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior” will be saved. Everyone who will be saved, will be saved by Him. However, according to Romans 14:11, a time will come when every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord, and then there will be surprises. Some people who have been “calling Him Lord, but not doing the things that He taught” will be told, “I never knew you.”

Some people, and in some posts Brad Hicks was one of them, have set this verse up in a false dichotomy. Evangelical Christians say “Only believe, and you will be saved.” Jesus said, “What you have done unto the least of these My brethren, you have done unto Me.” Jesus also said, on another memorable occasion, “If you love Me, keep Mycommandments.” Anyone can say “I believe.” Those who really do believe act on their beliefs.

I mention this because, even though the Left Behind series doesn’t give all of its characters a great amount of time or number of opportunities to act on their beliefs, I don’t think this series can be accused of portraying “cheap grace” or letting anyone be saved merely by saying, hypocritically, “I believe,” and then never doing anything about it. When characters in these novels say “I believe,” it won’t be long before Jenkins and LaHaye make them prove that they really mean it. In Through the Flames the kids merely have to show the kind of physical courage, bordering on foolhardiness, that can be expected from strong, interesting teenagers. This is only the beginning. In later volumes some of them will have to show the kind of spiritual courage, bordering on insanity, that Christians associate with the early martyrs of the faith—some of whom were, in historical fact, teenagers.

So...if you read these books without prejudice, they obviously weren't meant to describe exactly how the last days of this world are going to be in literal detail, but they do give a fair representation of the Christian Gospel as something teen readers should prepare themselves to take very, very seriously. How seriously teen readers do take it, whether they'll be caught up in the adventures...depends on them.

Anyway the whole series are Fair Trade Books. Jerry Jenkins is still alive (and encouraging less successful writers online, with blog posts frequently linked at this blog), so if you buy any of his books secondhand through this web site, we will send 10% of the total price of books and shipping charges to him or to a charity of his choice. That's $5 per book, $5 per package, $1 per online payment (up to $100). The total would be $10 on a postal money order (you'd pay the surcharge directly to the post office) or $11 via Paypal, to the address at the very bottom of the screen. There were forty (yes, forty) jeans-pocket-size volumes of Left Behind: The Kids, and based on the size of the last package in which I mailed a book, the total cost to buy all forty volumes would be $225 (five packages), or $228 online.