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Thursday, October 12, 2006

T.D. Jakes and Not Easily Broken

Christian fiction can be a difficult thing to write. There are few authors throughout history who have done it well. C.S. Lewis is perhaps the most prominent example of a writer who managed to write great fiction that was strongly theological in purpose. There has also been such writings as Marlowe's Faustus, Dante's Divine Comedy, Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, and Dostoyvesky's Crime and Punishment.

Generally speaking, though, Christian fiction, especially Christian popular fiction falls prey to stereotypes and shallowness. Characters become moral lessons rather than real people. Situations are manipulated to fit a sermon rather than occurring naturally with the themes subtly woven in.

That said, there have been modern Christian authors that I've enjoyed. I grew up reading Catherine Marshall whose novels were tinged with autobiographical memoirs and history. For a long time, I enjoyed Grace Livingston Hill, though eventually all her books started to sound the same and they were rather dated. In His Steps by Charles Sheldon was another book that I treasured.

In more recent years, I've been charmed by the writings of my former journalism professor, Joseph Bentz, in particular his science fiction novel. I was also blown away by Alan David Justice's The Final Bow.

For a long while, though, I've been soured on most Christian fiction writing because it has felt so lifeless or polemic. I won't go near the Left Behind series for reasons theological that are better discussed on a different sort of blog.

Last month I decided to make another foray into Christian fiction with a book written by a minister prominent in both spiritual and political realms. Bishop T.D. Jakes is one of those talented men who when he does something, he does it well. He's a singer who has been nominated for a Grammy, a bestselling novelist, and the minister of a large and growing church. A highly intelligent and educated man, he began college at age 15 and eventually earned a bachelor's, masters, and a doctorate.

His novel, Not Easily Broken, was an enjoyable read. It's not something that will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the greats mentioned in the first paragraph of this entry, but it was entertaining and explored issues that face married couples. While it is in no way a life-changing book, neither would I hesitate to pick up another one of Jakes' books.

Here is an excerpt from the review at Book Help Web:

T.D. Jakes is a man who knows his audience and writes directly and unapologetically for them. His latest book, Not Easily Broken, is a novel sure to appeal to Promise Keepers, Dobson devotees, and evangelical Christians everywhere.

Would that more books written for that audience could be done with the skill and sensitivity that T.D. Jakes shows.

Not Easily Broken is the story of a marriage. When the book opens, the marriage is 15 years old and Clarisse and Dave aren't exactly in a cozy, comfortable place. Neither, though, are they in a terrible place. Rather, they have failed to nurture their marriage and find themselves increasingly at odds with one another. Clarisse wants Dave to be more ambitious and supportive of her career; Dave wants Clarisse to understand him better and to let him protect her and help her the way he wants to. Dave wants kids; Clarisse is certain it's a trick to destroy her career.

Amidst this uneasy tension, they are in a car accident which leaves Clarisse's leg badly broken. She drops deep into depression and pushes away all of Dave's attempts to help her. He grows increasingly frustrated and then gives up trying. Matters compound when he connects with a single mom, Julie, Clarisse's physical therapist. What starts out as a mentoring relationship with her son grows into an attraction.

Not Easily Broken takes a tender look at a marriage and the difficulties a marriage can have. Jakes takes the readers through detailed sessions with both the physical therapist and the family therapist, accurately capturing the emotions and reservations that the characters feel. He's also able to communicate some important truths about relationships and interdependence without sounding preachy.


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