Friday, January 25, 2013

Review: The Harbinger

I must confess, after hearing so much about this book on various news websites that I frequent, and catching the first chapter at a book signing I participated in some time back (it was on the shelf, and no one was stopping by my table), I was quite excited to finally get my hands on a copy of The Harbinger, by Jonathan Cahn.

Now that I've had a chance to read it, I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, I found the concept behind the novel intriguing--this notion that the leaders of the United States have brought down judgment upon us all by their defiance of God's chastisement. Certainly the idea that 9-11 was allowed to happen to us for our sins is not new, and Jonathan Cahn does a great job in laying out the ways in which America has been paralleling the attitudes and even the actions of the ancient Israelites in their response to the assault of the Assyrians. On this count alone, the book is worth reading.

On the other hand, however, this book represents to me the worst kind of Christian fiction, because it isn't really a novel. It's more akin to a parable. The story is preachy. The narrative lacks any distinctive style. The characters lack development or depth (or even a description!). The book reveals nothing about the human condition, other than the interpretation of recent events in light of scripture. In many ways, it is the antithesis of what I personally believe Christian fiction should represent - ie: the best in story-telling.

I have no objection to communicating a biblical message of one kind or another in the midst of a novel, but it cannot come at the expense of the essential elements of a story: setting, characterization, plot, description, conflict, etc., and I think The Harbinger fails on this account.

A better example of a Christian message encapsulated in a novel, in my opinion, is C.S. Lewis' That Hideous Strength, or even the first two books of the Space Trilogy. I pick out the third book because a) it is my favorite, and b) because in this book, a deeply theological and cultural critique is offered, but none of it at the expense of the story. To me, this is what Christian writers ought to aspire to.

And yet for all that, I still enjoyed The Harbinger, found it's message interesting, and wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to a friend. But just not as a great novel.

Three stars.
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  1. Michael,
    Thanks for your honest review. I agree, I don't like Christian fiction that sacrifices story for preachy. It always comes across like a used car salesman.

  2. The tragedy here is that this story could have been so much more, but for that the author would have to have been more interested in telling a good story than in simply getting his message out (as compelling as that might be). And he could have done so without sacrificing the message at all, I think.

  3. It can be a line...If you're writing specifically for the CBA market, those readers expect more than just a clean read. A problem for authors is that...really, who are you writing for? If you're writing for CBA you tend to preach to the choir. If you're writing for your unsaved friends, then you might as well call a sermon a sermon.