I grew up on Left Behind, among lots of other books. One of my uncles found out I was an avid reader and made it his business to send me books. That’s how I ended up in a Walmart one night just before midnight when one of the books was coming out. I had finished it by the next afternoon. Nothing was more disappointing than when, at the end of Glorious Appearing, Jesus finally returned – and quoted Paul. I thought after 2,000 years he might have developed some new material. Gosh.
Then I took a class on the book of Revelation at Huntington University, where I discovered, to my disappointment, that the theology in the Left Behind series was complete nonsense. In Surprised by Hope, N.T. Wright called Left Behind “pseudotheological fiction.”
After I watched Left Behind II: Tribulation Force in the light of that class, it seemed Tim LaHaye must have acquired his theology of the end times by tacking a few chapters of Ezekiel, Daniel, and Revelation to a wall and throwing darts at them to determine the attributes of the Anti-Christ.
…Which is why I was delighted to find in my inbox an invitation to read and review a book by Monte Wolverton called The Remnant, a title it shares with Left Behind book 10. I trust the people who sent me the offer, so I knew it was going to be decent. Plus, I needed a little more fiction in my life.
Wolverton’s The Remnant is not about the rapture, though. Not even a little bit. Like the Left Behind books, however, The Remnant is about a post-apocalyptic world. In this one, though, Jesus didn’t come back. The world has ended because of World War III and been rebuilt without religion, as much as possible.
The prologue is set in Tunisia in 2063. The second sentence of The Remnant reads this way: “In the year 2062, a cataclysmic global war prompted the World Federation to ban all religion.” The banning process is cartoonish. While I was reading it, I kept telling myself, “Willing suspension of disbelief. Willing suspension of disbelief. Just let it happen.”
In chapter 1, we are introduced to Grant Cochrin, his wife Dana, and their son and daughter Tadd and Lissa. Also featured are Sara Davenport, Owen Fenbert and Bryan Hantwick. To be honest, I got them mixed up sometimes.
Anyway, the world is divided up into three areas:
- Safe Zones, cities where moral atheists live protected by drones and zappers from anyone and anything dangerous.
- Work camps for anyone religious, where we find our heroes.
- The Wilderness, which is mysterious, unknown, and lawless.
Our little group isn’t particularly persecuted. They live in crappy one-bedroom apartments, and they can’t leave the camp, but they’re otherwise generally well-taken-care-of. They work long hours, apparently doing some kind of manual labor.
The book opens as they escape their work camp, under cover of darkness, in danger of being zapped to death by Federation drones. They leave because they are looking for a faith community they’ve heard exists somewhere in the Wilderness.
The Bibles and all other religious books have all been destroyed, but when the World Federation soldiers confiscated the Bible belonging to one of the group’s grand-whoever-it-was, they managed to snag a ripped page of it and keep it hidden for generations. A remnant, if you will. A remnant from Matthew 5:7-15 and 32-45, thank goodness. These verses will keep them grounded later when they find distorted versions of Christianity.
And do they ever.
Their first location, deservingly, is Lastdays University, run on a beautiful campus in the Wilderness by a self-styled prophet who has discovered secret codes in the Bible and has predicted the end of the world repeatedly, on various past days. When prophecy fails, his many followers just double down, and he turns out to be a huckster.
The group encounters faith healers, charismatics with bizarre practices, and a woman who thinks they should just start their own faith community instead of looking for a new one. All except the last, including the end-times cult, are bent into strange new contorted versions of their strange modern-day contortions of Christianity.
Our heroes are tested and tried, each attracted to the various heresies or fallings-off for different reasons. All the while, our little group is guided by the words on their remnant of the gospel of Matthew.
There’s a weird scene with Muslims piloting a boat down the Mississippi who drop everything to pray at the appointed times and thereby nearly crash their boat. There’s another scene with Catholics and excessive rules.
I didn’t see the ending coming. Not even a little. I’m not going to spoil it, but let’s just say that if it was a woman, Franklin Graham’s wife would be a divorcee. It ends on a cliffhanger that, honestly, made me want to see what Wolverton comes up with next.
The Remnant was good. It was an enjoyable read. However, there were a few things that bugged me throughout. For one thing, when the Federation would zap people, it was spelled “zapp.” For another, some of the characters and situations seemed… cartoonish. I say “cartoonish” intentionally because the author is a well-known political cartoonist, and I think that helps make sense of why some of this is a little… exaggerated.
Still, it was a fun ride. I’d do it again. I’m interested to see where Monte Wolverton takes it next.
Also, I was delighted to see Dr. Brad Jersak’s name in the closing credits. That made more sense out of the sensible theology throughout.
Come to think of it, “Monte Wolverton and Brad Jersak,” though not accurate for this book, would be a combination I would much prefer to “Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins.” It wasn’t quite the same kind of read I got from Jerry B. Jenkins for storytelling, but to be fair, Wolverton has more experience as a political cartoonist, and Jerry B. Jenkins had been publishing books for 16 years before he wrote Left Behind. This is only Wolverton’s second book. Still, for a sophomore effort, not bad at all.
Also, the theology didn’t make me sick, and I would feel safe if The Remnant fell into the hands of impressionable youngsters.
Buy your own copy at Amazon. It’s only $6 on Kindle right now (January 26, 2017).
Or buy it from his website, where you can preview part of the first chapter. Just… don’t watch the trailer. Trust me.
FTC disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for free in exchange for my honest review. My review was not required to be positive.