The Last Disciple.
By Hank Hanegraff and Sigmund Brower
Summary: Early converts are subject to persecution from Rome and the Jews in Jerusalem following the ascension of Christ and inauguration of Nero as Caesar of Rome. The story follows the life of one particular ex-centurion turned political right-hand-man-to-Nero as he deals with his horrific memories of Roman conquest over barbarian tribes, his attempts to balance his conscience with the actions of Rome against the Jews, and his exposure to Christianity revolving around an attraction to a Jewish slave girl and a mysterious scroll which threatens to undue the tyrannical rule of Nero.
I was at first intrigued about this book when I read of it in World magazine and saw that it was written by Hank Hanegraff. You may know that Mr. Hanegraff is the President of the Christian Research Institute having inherited this position from the late Walter Martin, author of Kingdom of the Cults. I listened to Hank for many years when I was younger and it was he that was instrumental in helping me leave the charismatic movement. When I read that this particular book was a written with post-millennial presuppositions, I was greatly interested because of the wild success of another eschatological fictional series holding to premillenialism. Since finishing the Lord of the Rings Trilogy last year, I was not very hopeful that any other fiction would be worthwhile reading. This has proved to be wrong when it comes to this book. The authors have succeeded in writing a book that is entertaining yet may cause you to weep in certain sections.
The Last Disciple is historical fiction and as far as it sticks to this genre, it succeeds. There is enough mystery, action, suspense, deception, history, and even romance to make it worthwhile reading. However, one of the best things that this book does is paint an excellent historical context for the New Testament. It gives insight into what the ancient world was like when Christianity was first “born”. Kind of like a “filling in the blanks” historically when you read The Acts of the Apostles and subsequent books of the Bible. What I mean is that you get a chance to read about how the priests manipulated the crowds to their own ends; how Roman rule was ever present in the lives of the Jews; how extravagantly certain Jews lived who abandoned their people and threw in their lot with the Romans; what it was like to be a Roman citizen; what persecution was like for followers of Christ in Roman ruled countries; just how wicked a ruler Nero was; the ever present deception in every sphere of life. Of particular note is the depiction of the reality of how violent a time it was as the book describes Roman soldiers bursting in through doors with “swords drawn, their sweaty bodies flicked with bits of gore”. As well, there is a “feel” to parts of the book that is almost devotional, even though it is fiction. There are 2 sections where I was moved to tears (as I walked on my treadmill) when certain events are described: the Christians in the Coliseum and the death of a young mother at the hands of Roman soldiers gone berserk. These parts really brought home to me the reality of the persecution of our Christian brothers and sisters. Because of the graphic nature of these parts, I would use caution in recommending it to younger readers. It may also be inappropriate for young readers on purely technical grounds as the multiple plot lines get confusing towards the middle of the book. This forced me to back track at times in my reading as I tried to remember where I was in the story.
One of the things that I am glad for regarding this book is that it is essentially a good story. The authors, who I believe are coming to new convictions regarding eschatology, did not use this book as a soapbox to set forth their views of theology. This always bothers me and seems incongruent since the form employed, fiction, does not match the content revealed, truth. This may be appropriate for other views of eschatology and other series of books which are, interestingly enough, published by the same company. Instead the authors have remained true to form in that they seem to have attempted to write a good story primarily. I have recently heard that Mr. Hanegraff is currently writing a theological book on the post-millennial view and is nearing completion. Hopefully this will also be true to form.
All things considered, I would recommend this book as legitimate entertainment, exciting and historic, with a slight devotional quality.