Having read almost fifty books so far this year which were predominantly theological in content, I found myself craving some mindless fiction for a Saturday afternoon. Following a brief trip to the local Christian bookstore I came away with Three by Ted Dekker. I remembered reading a positive review of this title shortly after it released and thought I would give it a try, despite knowing nothing about the author or the story.
Three has all the elements of your standard psychological/cop thriller novel – a genre I used to read far too often so know quite well. The book moves very quickly and is guaranteed to keep the reader turning the pages. Both my wife and I read and finished it the very day I bought it and we both enjoyed it thoroughly. I hesitate to say much about the plot since almost any information would begin to give away the story, but it all begins with Kevin Parson driving home from seminary only to receive a call on his cell phone telling him there is a bomb in his car and that three minutes from that moment, unless he confesses a sin to the world, the car will blow up. The caller disconnects. And so the game begins. Kevin, his friend and the police try to unravel the mystery about who the caller is and what he wants. What sin could be so serious that a man is willing to kill others to make Kevin confess? Three hundred and fifty pages later, after a heart-pounding surprise ending, you’ll wonder how you didn’t figure it all out much sooner. It has one of the best conclusions you’re likely to read in this type of story.
While the book is a great story, it also has a spiritual lesson to teach, though this is not obvious until the final pages and the story could exist without it. It really is a story about the depravity of human beings and the constant struggle between our evil natures and the work of God in our lives. While this message is subtle, it provides some important food for thought, making this just a little bit more than merely a good story.
There were a couple of negatives. Some of the characters were cliché and thus were only semi-plausible. The same held true with certain elements of the plot (I won’t say which, as once again, that would provide enough detail to spoil the book). I also found that the author was a little lax with his use of God’s name. There were many uses of “dear God” and “oh God” type of language that, while it is all too common, ought to make Christians uncomfortable.
Keeping those negatives in mind, I can say that I truly enjoyed this book.
But before I wrap this up, I have to wonder how much sin and evil a Christian should portray in a story. Is it profitable for an author to spend so much time plotting a story that contains such great evil? And is it profitable for us to then read about these acts of violence and rebellion against God?
These are difficult questions to me. While this book did not contain any sexual content, it did describe many crimes and some depraved thoughts. It well-described some of the depravity that exists in all of us but also described specific crimes. If we hold the Bible as our standard (which is always a good idea) we can see that while Scripture often mentions sexual sin, it does so in a way that could not possibly inflame lust. It spares the details, writing about the act without actually describing it. Acts of violence are described in more detail and there are sometimes more specific descriptions.
And so I leave it for discussion: what limits should we place on works of fiction when describing sinful deeds? Should sinful acts be described in realistic, even lurid detail? Should they be described with only sparse detail? Or should they be avoided altogether, so that we do not write at all about acts of sin and violence?