Van Til Tool

Using the Van Til Perspective as the tool to discover what life means and how it ought to be lived.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006





A Review of James Scott Bell, Presumed Guilty (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006)
$12.99 316 pp ISBN-13: 978-0-310-25331-0

Let me begin by making two confessions. First, in my title of this review I shamelessly stole the designation of Bell as “A Master of Legal Suspense” from the Library Journal. Secondly, the book under review here is the only one by Bell which I have read and so it is “presumed representative” of the rest of his novels. Two things, though, which I can say for sure is that (1). Presumed Guilty is excellent legal suspense and an excellent literary embodiment of the Christian world-view; and, therefore, (2). I intend to read the rest of Bell’s novels based upon my favorable experience with this one, and I would encourage you to do likewise.

If the rest of Bell’s novels are as good as this one, which would appear to be the case, then it can be said with certainty that he is one of the new breed of writers which began appearing about a decade ago writing good quality Christian fiction, thereby ending the 30 years of desert in Christian fiction which began after Lewis and Tolkien had completed their writings and no one of their stature was on the horizon to take their place.

The story of Presumed Guilty begins when Pastor Ron Hamilton foolishly agrees to counsel a porn actress with the predictable result occurring. Prior to that, and preparing the scene for that, was the deterioration of Hamilton’s fellowship with God and His love for his wife and children as he got caught up in the ego trip of building a large ministry. Now both of these pastoral foibles -- ego-tripping and falling into sexual sin, are, of course, quite common today both in life and in novels, but Bell uses them in his story in a fresh way that is both edifying and exciting to read about.


Another important plot element is one that is new – at least I had never heard of it before. This pertains to Hamilton’s son Jared, who returns as a soldier from the Iraqi war suffering from what is usually called “post traumatic stress disorder”, a syndrome similar to the one found in many veterans of the Vietnam War. Now the suffering of the Vietnam War veterans is widely known but this is the first time I heard that anything comparable was happening to the Iraqi War veterans. And, that is not all. Jared, like others, is also suffering from a severe spiritual oppression issuing from a demonic stronghold in Babylon. This also is something I never heard before and which I intend to investigate. Although Jared Hamilton is a fictional character, the particular demonic oppression Bell uses in the story is presented as something which is really happening to many soldiers today.

Entwined in the story are the struggles in the minds of the various characters, esp. those of Ron Hamilton, his son Jared, and his wife Dallas. These also are realistically portrayed. After Hamilton is arrested and imprisoned as the suspect in the murder of the porn actress, the focus of the action switches to Dallas, who goes on a crusade to find the truth and nearly ends up being killed as she gets close to learning the true murderer. The other struggle Dallas faces is dealing with Ron’s adultery. She first is embittered by a vengeful spirit but later repents and decides to forgive Ron and seek reconciliation with him. And Ron uses his time in prison to examine his life, which leads him to see how his priorities had shifted away from God and onto “success”. He then vows to return to his first love, which he does. Jared too finds his way back to God after some very harrowing experiences. The story ends on a happy note without being unrealistic.

Bell is part of the new wave of excellent Christian fictional authors not only with respect to the fine craftsmanship of the story itself but also in regard to its language, which is realistic without resorting to debased phraseology. And God is never dragged in to the story but always appears in a natural way, and in such a way as to enhance the story, not smother it.

Information on James Scott Bell is available on his website, where a list of his novels can be found as well as information about the writing seminars he teaches and his handbook on fiction writing. If this handbook teaches what he practices it should be good.

Forrest Wayne Schultz has degrees in engineering and theology. He has been a lifelong avid reader of fiction, the founder and leader of a book discussion group in Philadelphia in the mid 1960s, the President of two literary societies (the C.S.Lewis/J.R.R. Tolkien Society of Philadelphia in the late 1960s and Alternate Dimensions in Riverdale, GA in the late 1980s), and an active member of the Coweta Writers Group (in Coweta County, GA) since 2000. He has had book reviews published in The Chalcedon Report and other publications and he has been a reviewer for Active Christian Media (formerly called Mind and Media) ever since its founding last year.




  • At Wednesday, October 24, 2007, Anonymous said…

    Hi Forrest: I was in your class @ 10th Presbyterian in the sixties. Found your name in a reference list for Van Til. Just hello and an inquiry: Do you know whatever happened to Page Bailey after he left his class at Tenth. I am also looking for his seminal book "Commit without paying a premium. This, however, is not your concern as I do book scouting ments and Consequences" Bob Summerell/Bloomington IL

  • At Saturday, June 07, 2008, Blogger Forrest Schultz said…

    Paige Bailey -- wow, that was a LONG time ago!! I have no idea what happened to him. His class was very thought provoking but too advanced, I think, for us. Since then, after a huge amount of thinking, I have succeeded in revising Dooyeweerd's system to correct the numerous Biblical and scientific defiiciencies -- but that was after en enormous amount of study and hard thinking. Since that class I have become a vantillian and a Rushdoonyite, and without that foundation I could not have accomplished it.




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