Review: THE ASSIGNMENT
There's a good bit that can be said for the wealth or lack of good Christian fiction these days. For me, I want to read a book with spiritual, challenging qualities that doesn't have to stick to steretypes and jargon to be called a "Christian book". The Assignment, by Mark Andrew Olsen (2004, Bethany House Publishers), is a good example of a good book that relies on its story and characters rather than on sermonettes and churchy cliche'.
I want to be very careful to not be a spoiler here - there are some twists and turns starting fairly early on that served to pull me in when I wasn't that interested. The constant back and forth through time, while not confusing, was a bit much in the opening chapters. But then the twists kick in: for whom are the priests looking in an abandoned Nazi death camp field? Why does it seem that the bishop is possessed by evil instead of exorcising it? Why does the young Stephen, seminarian and hopeful pastoral candidate, get selected to join a hush-hush rumored legendary sect of monks who have been charged with protecting the catacon, the human comoponent of The Restrainer mentioned in 2 Thessalonians? How does Nora fit in, a Harvard student putting off her psychology dissertation to investigate her own mugging by terrorists and the constant tragedy and blessing being visited on her family for generations? And who is this "Restrainer", someone charged by God to never die and to forever "restrain the Enemy"?
Those are just a few of the questions that lead deep into the heart of a story that does a fine job of being part Highlander, part This Present Darkness and part Thomas Merton. And here's where I have really enjoyed this book. It goes deep into the recesses of "what if?" and comes out with something plausible in both scripture and in real human relationships. The monastic meditative qualities of the participants, taken into account with the action and increasing danger, have been a strong pull for me. When I read fiction, I want to be entertained - and Olsen does a fine job of entertaining me, the casual reader. But I also like to be challenged spiritually, to be intrigued as the characters grow and discover things about themselves and God. On that level, this novel really works.