Saturday, May 15, 2010

‘The Hidden Flame’ by Davis Bunn and Janette Oke – Book Review

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One of the most fascinating periods of history, in my opinion, is the time when Jesus was walking the earth and the ensuing years when the Church was getting started.  So ‘The Hidden Flame’ by Davis Bunn and Janette Oke was particularly intriguing to me. 

Here is the description of this book from the back cover:

In First-Century Judea, the followers of the Way have burgeoned into a vibrant, growing community that cannot be ignored.
Jerusalem is in turmoil as its religious leaders on one side, and their Roman rulers on the other, conspire to stamp out their fledgling Church.  And Abigail, who thought she had finally found home and safety, is caught between the opposing forces.
Two suitors desire the lovely Abigail’s hand in marriage.  Ezra, a successful Hebrew merchant and widower with important connections among the Sanhedrin, is looking for a mother for his children.  The Roman soldier Linux is fascinated by her winsome charm and possibly could offer the sanctuary – maybe even the love – for which she yearns.  But her heart has been captured by neither of these.  Will her faith and courage survive a heartbreak beyond comprehension as the followers face a gathering storm of persecution they never could have foreseen?

The authors of this book have enjoyed a great deal of success, both together and separately. 

Here is the biography for Davis Bunn:

Davis Bunn has been a professional novelist for twenty years.  His books have sold in excess of six million copies in sixteen languages, appearing on numerous national bestseller lists.
Davis is known for the diversity of his writing talent, from gentle gift books like The Quilt to high-powered thrillers like The Great Divide.  He has also enjoyed great success in his collaborations with Janette Oke, with whom he has co-authored a series of groundbreaking historical novels.
Davis has received numerous literary accolades, including three Christy Awards for excellence in fiction.  He currently serves as Writer-in-Residence at Regent’s Park College, Oxford University, and is a sought-after lecturer on the craft of writing.

Here is the biography for Janette Oke:

Janette Oke was born in Champion, Alberta, to a Canadian prairie farmer and his wife, and she grew up in a large family full of laughter and love.  She is a graduate of Mountain View Bible College in Alberta, where she met her husband, Edward, and they were married in May of 1957.  She has written novels for both adults and children, and her book sales total nearly thirty million copies.
The Okes have three sons and one daughter, all married, and are enjoying their fifteen grandchildren.  Edward and Janette are active in their local church and make their home near Didsbury, Alberta.

The main character in ‘The Hidden Flame’ is Abigail, who has a close relationship with her risen Lord, Jesus; also prominently featured are other early followers of the Way, including Peter, Stephen, Mary and Martha.  The story opens six weeks after the crucifixion of Jesus.  We are following many of the events recorded in the Book of Acts.  Here is the description of one primary event:

And then Jesus had appeared to them, afterward rising up into the heavens, only to have the Lord’s own Spirit descend among them in a most stunning fashion – in wind and fire. (p. 10)

I was excited to see Gamaliel appear in the story.  With Gamaliel appearing, one of the early persecutors of the church – Saul of Tarsus – could not be far behind.  Here is how Gamaliel is described as he meets up with Ezra, one of Abigail’s potential suitors:

Gamaliel, elder Pharisee and long-time mentor to Ezra, received his childhood friend in the main room overlooking the courtyard. (p. 31)

Gamaliel and Ezra have an exchange about the new threat known as the Way:

Gamaliel strode back to his chair.  “All I can tell you for certain is that these followers of Jesus are growing faster than any sect we have ever faced.  And the stories I hear grow with them.  They still claim the prophet Jesus rose from the dead, walked among them, and then went up to the heavens.  They claim he is the true Messiah.  They claim…”
“Miracles,” Gamaliel said.  “Signs and wonders.  Things which enflame the passions of everyone within reach.  Either the listeners join, or they become enemies.  Talk of them is everywhere.  If anything sways them – diverts them – I fear a storm of such force that everyone might soon be swept up.  And away…” (p. 36)  

Ezra had another connection with real people in the Bible – Sapphira is his sister.  If you are unfamiliar with the story of Sapphira and her husband, Ananias, you would direct you to read Acts Chapter 5.  Suffice it to say, Ezra was not happy with the followers of the Way after he discovered what had happened to his sister and brother-in-law.

Throughout the book, both Ezra and Linux are pursued by the ‘Hound of Heaven.’  The Lord even used Ezra’s son.  When Ezra asked his son what he liked best about the psalms, which he was learning from Gamaliel’s senior aide, Titus: 

The young voice rang clear and high like chimes.  “Why do the nations rage, and the people plot a vain thing?  The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against His Anointed…”

Out of the mouths of babes!

Abigail was so blessed to be used for the Lord’s service.  Here is what it looked like for her as she continued to serve others in His name:

It was God’s Holy Spirit ministering through her hands, her feet, her lips.  It was God who had brought her here in this day.  To see the need.  To realize that in his name she could bring them blessing.  To do what he wished her to do for those discarded ones of society.  People that he loved, had died for.  People he had come to serve.
The very thought nearly overcame her.  She had never dreamed the Spirit could use her.  But she saw it in the eyes of those she touched.  Those she prayed for.  And she had never felt more alive. (p. 238)

I was really struck by how obedient and reliant on the Holy Spirit that all of the followers of the Way were in this book.  They are an inspiration for all of us who are farther along the timeline from the earthly life of Jesus.  

They were also very dedicated to the Lord and His plan, and were prepared for what may come.  
Several of them were jubilant over the fact that Peter was released from prison by God’s angels (as related in Acts Chapter 12); Paul showed them the stark reality of what could be:

But Peter raised a hand for silence.  “Brothers and sisters, it matters not.  Perhaps the next time they arrest us we will not be delivered.  Nevertheless, we must do as we are commanded.  Pray that all of us will continue to have boldness to preach the Word.” (p. 247)

 Linux finally comes to the end of himself and, after spending time with the followers of the Way, and seeing miracles and healings, etc… he comes to follow the Lord.  He ultimately comes into the inner circle of the Way, coming under the tutelage of Stephen as he is taught the holy writings.
To learn about the fate of the other characters in this book, you will just have to read it for yourselves!

I really enjoyed this book!  It was awesome to be transported back in time – to a time that is of such interest to me!  Being that many of the events in the book are included in the Book of Acts, I had a pretty good idea what was coming – but Mr. Bunn and Mrs. Oke did use creative license to add some depth and extra elements to the story, which enhanced the story.  There was a time in the middle of the book that seemed to drag, but overall, the story’s pace was fast and interesting.  I really enjoyed being taken ‘behind the scenes’ to see what could have been happening in the hearts and minds of some of the important people in the Bible – and those who could have been there!

The Hidden Flame,’ is the second book in the ‘Acts of Faith’ series by Davis Bunn and Janette Oke.  I have not read the first book, ‘The Centurion’s Wife,’ but I may have to double back to catch that one!  And I am not sure what the publisher or the authors have in store for the series, but I certainly hope there are more to come!  I am really hoping to hear more about Saul of Tarsus…

You can order this book here.

This book was provided by Bethany House for review purposes.

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