On her website, Francine Rivers writes: "My greatest hope is that my books will encourage other Christians who have the same struggles I have and that the books can be used as tools in presenting the gospel to unsaved friends and family members. There are so many people who would rather die than pick up a Bible. Fiction can serve in a non-threatening way to open minds and, I hope, hearts to the Word of God." Rivers's last series, "Lineage of Grace," told the stories of five Biblical women; now she turns to five men with "Sons of Encouragement." Both series follow directly from the author's hope that fiction can help people turn to Scripture; her stories parallel the Bible as closely as possible, and her added material is clearly meant to illuminate the Biblical stories she has chosen.
In THE PRIEST, Rivers tells the story of Aaron, whose younger brother Moses gets all the attention. But even though he harbors some resentment, Aaron answers his brother's call to help him get the Israelites out of Egypt. Time and again, Aaron, the first High Priest, has to call their people back to the Lord and away from degradation. The first half of the book is very faithful to the Scriptural story of Aaron, while the second half focuses more on Aaron's inner struggles during the exile.
While Rivers provides a great deal of historical fact and color, this book is hampered by that very faithful adherence to the Scriptural story. While the Bible is considered great literature, it is definitely not a novel; by trying to include every Biblical detail, Rivers performs the literary equivalent of kneecapping herself. The repetition (or midrash) of the Torah reads awkwardly in novella form, and characters like Aaron's sister Miriam, who were minor to begin with, seem even more awkward when they keep popping up as the book proceeds.
Including all of the Biblical details also strains the modern reader's belief, even when it's been willingly suspended. Moses and Aaron are old men at the story's beginning; by its end, their age, while Scripturally accurate, is so advanced that it's nearly impossible to believe they could be doing what they are doing. Yes, Scripturally accurate, and when one reads the Bible, one reads in the Spirit and accepts that accuracy in whatever way the Spirit moves the reader. But when one reads fiction, even Christian fiction inspired by Scripture, it's much more difficult to let go of human notions, like wondering if a nonagenarian could really continue to do hard physical labor and travel in the desert. Again: this could happen, and it certainly does in the Bible. It just makes reading THE PRIEST slower going.
Francine Rivers wants her books to be used as tools. The good news is that these "tools" are made from the finest ingredient and crafted with love, attention and skill. The bad news is that these "tools" are a bit heavy in the hand and could use sharper edges. The additional good news, of course, is that those faults can be rectified. Rivers has the highest aims and a great concept for the Sons of Encouragement books; here's hoping that the next volume will be more reader friendly so that more readers can be encouraged to seek God's word.
Reviewed by Bethanne Kelly Patrick on April 9, 2004