Van Til Tool

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Tuesday, February 14, 2006




by Forrest Wayne Schultz

A review of Dee Henderson, The Witness, (Carol Stream, Illinois: Tyndale House
Publishers, 2006). ISBN 1-4143-0812-4. 378 pages. $13.99

The Witness

Historical Context:

The Amazing Trend Toward Literary Quality in Christian Fiction

Perhaps the clearest, most salutary, and most surprising of all the trends in American conservative Protestantism during the past forty years has been the gradually increasing concern for literary quality until finally, in our day, Christian readers are now looking for it and Christian writers are now producing it. About a decade ago the level of this literary quality had risen sufficiently that the American Library Association took note and began including a section on “Christian Fiction” in its Library Journal, which began recommending the purchase of some of these books by the nation’s public libraries. And now some of these books are so good that they are winning prestigious awards. One of the best of these new Christian authors, who has won several of these awards, is Dee Henderson, who has written a total of twelve novels: seven in the “O’Malley Series”, four in the “Uncommon Heroes Series”, plus her latest, The Witness, the book under review here, which is hot off the press.


Genre: Inspiration, Romantic Suspense

Her publisher, Tyndale House, regards the genre of Henderson’s stories to be “inspirational romantic suspense”, which is an accurate designation provided that all of these three terms – inspirational, romantic and suspense -- are defined correctly rather than according to certain widely held debased conceptions. To be explicit, “inspirational” does not mean pious gush or saccharin sentimentality, but, rather, it denotes the promotion of genuine faith in God, which involves righteous living in all areas of human life. “Romantic” does not mean frivolous or pornographic; it refers to the attraction between a man and a woman which leads them to join their lives together as husband and wife. “Suspense” does not mean titillating the reader with gratuitous violence and scares; it means righteous courageous battles against clever wicked foes. Rather than surrender these great terms to the enemy, we should reclaim them and restore them to their genuine meanings by writing stories which embody these genuine meanings. Dee Henderson is a good example for us to follow because her stories are good embodiments of all three of these meanings – inspirational and romantic and suspense.

Henderson’s stories also embody the authentic meanings of manhood and womanhood. Her strong female characters are especially striking in this regard. These women are strong as women, not by being masculinized nor by seeking to demasculinize the male characters. This is what we should expect from a Christian writer because it expresses the harmony that exists between the strong Christian womanhood and strong Christian manhood which God designed and built into the natures of women and men. There is no “war of the sexes” in the Biblical world-view.

The Language: Ordinary and Wholesome

There are two different fallacious notions which have been influential in perverting the language in which fiction is written. One of these is the notion that in order to be regarded as “Christian” the story must be written using a non-ordinary special pious-sounding phraseology which has come to be regarded by many Christians as the proper way to talk about God and about spiritual matters. Another notion is that in order for a story to be considered “realistic” it must be larded with debased language. Henderson avoids both of these pitfalls. There is no special kind of pious-sounding phraseology in her stories, which are written in ordinary wholesome language which is realistic without resorting to debased phraseology.


The Story: A Highly Imaginative Creation

Rather than pile up a lot of plaudits such as is found on book jackets, I shall begin by discussing the underlying reason why the story is so good, and that is that it is a highly imaginative creation. Lest we have become too accustomed to this, it should be noted that the production of creative writings is by no means to be taken for granted but depends upon the underlying world-view of the culture. There are those ultra-humanists who so worship at the altar of man that they regard any and every thing done by a human being to be considered “creative”. Such a view, of course, obfuscates any attempt to define what is truly deserving of being called “creative”. On the other hand, there have been theologians who believe that only God can be creative, and therefore it is impious to regard any human work as “creative”. It is only in terms of the Biblical world-view that men can know that creativity is possible (it is due to our being made in the image of a Creator, as Schaeffer was fond of saying) and that they can learn the standards needed for a creative work (which is found by looking at the standards God used in His creations – nature as His visual art, and history as the drama of which He is Playwright). This is the world-view motivating and supplying the criteria for the creative Christian writer, of which Dee Henderson is a good example, especially in her latest story.

Army veteran Amy Griffin witnesses a horrific crime which necessitates her going into hiding to escape from the criminals. Police Chief Luke Granger is determined to protect her and her two sisters from danger and to seek to bring the criminal gang to
justice, which is very difficult to do because of their power and the officials they have corrupted. The sisters become even more vulnerable targets when they suddenly inherit a large fortune. Matters are further complicated by the romances which develop between the sisters and the police.

These are other threads are deftly interwoven to produce one of the most intricate, interesting, and imaginative creations I have ever read. The story opens and closes with fast-paced action, while the middle is devoted to developing the personal relationships and building up the suspense in anticipation of the climactic action at the close.

There is very little dialogue about God. (The best one, very relevant for the story, is Amy’s recounting of her struggle to keep her faith in God and keep her life in the right focus.) It is unclear whether this paucity of mentioning God is regarded by Henderson as a desideratum for a Christian novel or whether it is due to her overreaction against the inferior Christian fiction of the past in which there was often so much talk about God that the story was smothered under it. I must say that I like the natural way Henderson has her characters talking about God and I would welcome more of it in the way she does it, namely as integral to the story, not choking it.


Denouement: Partial Resolution

The story ends with a huge and comical surprise when the identity of one of the murderers is revealed – the one who left the bizarre messages at the crime scene which are noted on the rear jacket of the book. After the crimes are solved and the threat from the gang evaporates there is a resolution of sorts, which is of the only kind that can be realistically expected this side of the Millennium.

So, once again Henderson navigates so as to avoid the Scylla and the Charybdis. That is, her story ends neither on the unrealistic “all problems solved”/”they all lived happily ever after” note nor on a whimper at the meaninglessness of a “same old same old” cosmos. Victories of a limited nature are possible now which foreshadow the ultimate and total Victory of God in the future.


I wish to conclude by asking you not to take this literary quality for granted !!
I remember that after C.S. Lewis and Tolkien died we were saying mournfully “When will we see their likes again???!!!” Because, you see, at that time there was no one of their stature on the horizon to take their place!! I had to wait thirty years for the answer to that question but I am pleased to say that the answer is “Now”. I have lived to see their likes again!! And Dee Henderson is one of them. Hallelujah !

Forrest Wayne Schulz has degrees in engineering and theology. He served as President of the C.S.Lewis/J.R.R. Tolkien Society of Philadelphia during the late 1960s, and as President of the Southside Science Fiction and Fantasy Society in Riverdale, GA in the late 1980s. He served for several years as the delegate of the Coweta Writers Group to the Newnan-Coweta Arts Council and he is the author of the Coweta Arts Tidbits news releases about the Coweta County Georgia arts scene. He can be reached at 770-583-3258 or by email at



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