After his double-hit Darkness novels about angels versus demons, followed by two more suspense thrillers in the 1990s, Frank E. Peretti chose to get more personal. His 1999 contemporary novel The Visitation instead focuses on a person’s inner demons, specifically those of a former Pentecostal pastor in Washington state.
This is burned-out pastor Travis Jordan. After a mysterious stranger comes to the town of Antioch, Washington, Travis is forced to review his past. After all, this kindly stranger, Brandon Nichols, seems to know all about Travis. Even worse, Nichols claims to be “a new, improved version of Jesus.” He has endless charisma. He can perform real healings. He preaches love and tolerance. Naturally, he soon forms a religious movement that pulls in many believers, excepting Jordan and others.
All along, this “messiah” has a personal mission to ensnare Jordan himself. Nichols is convinced their stories are the same: that they both mistrust the Lord.
Thus begins a series of doctrinal deceptions and battles in a small town, woven with chapter-length flashbacks to Travis’s past struggles and life changes. Travis is forced to wrestle with the teachings of his youth, church authority abuses, why God does and does not heal friends and church members, and most of all, the real Jesus.
Peretti’s heroes confront their own flaws, yet give no ground to false teachings both inside and outside the Church. In fact, unlike other Christian-made novels, this one has named denominations, such as Pentecostals, Baptists, and Lutherans. Without preachiness, yet with grace and gentle humor, Peretti shows these saints’ excesses and where they get things mostly right—a hyper-realized version of the real world.
A great theology book can debunk false doctrines or tell about true ones, such as who Jesus is and why we must follow and worship him. Yet it takes a great fiction book to show how the real world challenges one’s faith, and to awaken new and unique passions to know and follow the true Jesus. The Visitation is one of the best.
Best for: Older teen and adult readers who like suspense with supernatural edges.
Discern: Comedic and serious presentation of charismatic gifts (specifically among Pentecostals), spiritual abuse, fake versus real healings, teen infatuation and romance, false christ with unexplained (demonic?) powers, threats or violence, and unanswered questions about why the real Jesus Christ does what he does.