By Joe LaGuardia
A Reading Life is a blog series focused on the literature that has shaped my life and call to ministry. Find the introduction here.
What ever happened to Christian fiction author Frank Peretti? Perhaps he is still writing books; but, since I haven’t looked at a Christian fiction section at the bookstore in a while, I wouldn’t know the difference. What I do know is that, during the 1990s, when I caught snippets of God’s call on my life, Frank Peretti was a big deal. It was hard to be an evangelical without running into his books along the way.
Frank Peretti was most famous for his “Present Darkness” series, including This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness. Both are takes on small-town America in the throes of larger-than-life spiritual warfare. Peretti painted a world in which demons and angels are at war. Humans are mere pawns. We can only catch glimpses of this spiritual warfare around us, and it is only by prayer and God’s Word that we ward off evil spirits.
Peretti’s books influenced many people in the church. They framed our life as a battle that we waged on our knees rather than with weapons. They gave us a spiritual edge that provided a deeper meaning to seemingly random events that unfolded around us. They added a spice to a stale Christian life that was quickly dwindling well into a booming Clinton economy.
At the time I read Peretti’s books, I was very impressionable. I was a teenager, and I stood at the cross-roads of life. During the summer between my junior and senior years in high school, I ventured to Manhattan on a month-long pre-college art class at Parson’s School of Art and Design.
I had my eyes set on art for a long time, but that summer I wasn’t so sure. I was fulfilling a dream–to make art in the Big Apple, but things did not feel right. I was torn between my dream of art and a rising call in my life to go into full-time ministry. My trip to Parsons was, for me, a time of discernment. Would I go to art school or a private Christian college to get a religion degree?
Since I stayed with my grandmother that summer, I had to commute from Staten Island to Manhattan five days a week. It was a 2 hour round trip. It required two trains and a ferry. I had a lot of time to read. I was reading Peretti that summer; it was Peretti on a ferry, for all practical purposes.
Peretti’s writing engaged my imagination as it did other Christian readers; and, with the art culture of New York, my imagination turned towards the spiritual environment in which I lived and moved and had my being. Peretti got me excited about ministry, and I thought that I had unmasked the spiritual darkness that a life of art certainly entailed. When I came home to Florida at the end of summer, my mind had been made up: I was going to apply to a Christian college, meet a nice Christian girl, and go into ministry.
I remember trying to explain this to my Italian teacher the following term. She tried to talk me out of going to a private school. I think she was concerned that I would not have the opportunities for a lucrative job; so, in trying to open her eyes to all things Peretti, I invited her to church. I think she obliged to assuage my fears. Looking back, I think she took pity on me. She was a good teacher.
It’s been a long time since the summer of 1996. I did end up getting a religion degree, a nice Christian girl, and a full-time job in ministry. But I have matured as a Christian and I have moved past Peretti’s theology. I do not read him the same as I did, but I do not regret leaving the arts behind though I miss it now and then.
I believe that God provides exactly what we need when we need it. If I were to read a Peretti book today, I would probably toss it. Back then, however, it clarified a call, which gave me some of the greatest blessings anyone can ever ask for, including the girl and two children!