Cover Story

Heroes, villains, soldiers, spies

It's too early to tell, but Joel C. Rosenberg's bestselling novel may be part of a trend: successful Christian cultural products that go mainstream without losing their salt

Issue: "Fact & Fiction," Dec. 21, 2002

WORLD'S OPPOSITION TO self-promotion is rare in the magazine world. We have never hyped books by our writers. We haven't even run photos of our columnists. We don't want cults of personalities. We aspire to biblical objectivity, God-directed journalism that makes His providence (and not ourselves) the center of attention.

WORLD went further than we've ever gone before with this note in my Nov. 30 column: "Joel C. Rosenberg's just-out The Last Jihad (Tom Doherty Associates) is a political thriller that messed up my typical treadmill walking pattern. I typically read and treadmill for 30 minutes, or 60 at most. The Last Jihad made me do 100, because good action plus characters worth caring about left me unable to put it down."

It quickly turned out that others were also reading and enjoying. Rush Limbaugh read The Last Jihad and spent 15 minutes on his radio show extolling the book: "Absolutely crackles with high energy and a chilling premise," he said. Other major talk show hosts were also recommending it highly, and the result was immediate: The Last Jihad jumped to No. 1 on the amazon.com website, was in the top five at barnesandnoble.com, and was moving fast at bookstores as well.

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That left us in a quandary. Joel is a senior writer for WORLD, and has for nearly two years now written an excellent weekly "FlashTraffic" page about what's going on in Washington. Our rule for a decade has been: no enthusiastic reviews of our own books. At the most, a mention. We have a strict separation of editorial and business concerns. But The Last Jihad is a well-written book of which Christians can be proud. It's a No. 1 bestseller. That's legitimate news-and thus you are reading our cover story.

Furthermore, this goes beyond one-shot news and may portend a trend. Following on the commercial success of The Prayer of Jabez and the Left Behind series, which embraced a theological perspective suspect among some Christians, comes a thriller as real as the headlines, in which faith in Christ is vital in the lives of some laudable characters. Next January and February two films said to have strong Christian themes, To End All Wars and Gods and Generals, will go into national release.

Could it be that dawn may be breaking after a long night of cultural negativism? Journalists love to spot trends, and it really is too early to see whether this is one, but are Christ-salted books, movies, and cultural products of all kinds now able to go mainstream without losing their salt? Is the amount of Christian talent on loan from God increasing, and will the ghetto walls be broken down?

Time will tell, but it seems likely that the next few months will be Joel C. Rosenberg's time. Joel's father was raised as an Orthodox Jew and his mother as a Methodist, but by the time Joel was born in 1967 neither had faith in God. Both came to Christ in 1973 and now help evangelical ministries in developing countries design, build, and retrofit Christian conference centers, schools, and orphanages. Joel, impressed by biblical prophecies, became a dedicated Christian at age 17 and started an evangelical group.

Joel later graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in filmmaking and also studied at Tel Aviv University. He then worked at the Heritage Foundation and at Bill Bennett's Empower America, and in 1994-95 was Mr. Limbaugh's research director. He became an advisor to Steve Forbes and to Israeli leaders such as Natan Sharansky and Benjamin Netanyahu, before beginning to write for WORLD early in 2001. He is a member of McLean Bible Church and lives in northern Virginia with his wife, Lynn, and three sons Caleb (8), Jacob (6), and Jonah (4).

Joel's experience with American politics and in Israel is evident in The Last Jihad. The book, largely written before 9/11, begins when the U.S. president's motorcade outside Denver falls under attack from a hijacked business jet packed with thousands of pounds of fuel and explosives. Terrorists also strike in London, Paris, and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The CIA traces the attacks to Saddam Hussein and U.S. forces go on alert.

Meanwhile, a Wall Street wizard and his beautiful colleague have just secretly concluded a billion-dollar deal to develop a vast and largely unknown oil field off the coast of Israel and Gaza. That opportunity becomes central to a plan to get Israeli and Palestinian leaders to agree to a peace treaty sweetened by new oil wealth. Saddam Hussein, though, plans to kill the deal by using the weapons of mass destruction that he has accumulated and is now aiming not only at Tel Aviv but at New York and Washington as well.

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