Hope. Heartache. Miracles. Martyrs. Saints. Sinners. Fear. Faith. New author, John Eklund, weaves each of these into The Third Testament, an interesting work of fiction that I recently had the pleasure to read and one that I would recommend to anyone who seeks to learn more about the historical and miraculous moments that have impacted the Church in the last 2000 years, while being entertained by a compelling story of an everyman faced, not only with his only daughter’s battle with cancer, but also with an unexpected, and unwarranted, legal case against him.
A Unique Tale
The Third Testament is unlike any other book I have ever read. It is marketed as fiction, yet is replete with historical information. In it, three stories seem to be intertwined:
- a fictional story of a Catholic college professor and widower, Fred Sankt, who is compelled to write an account of modern Christian history and does so in order to get through the trials of being sued and supporting a daughter with melanoma.
- a non-fiction account of many of the miracles, apparitions and historical events which shaped the Church in the last 2000 years.
- a synergistic result that speaks of how redemption and faith prevail
The first story made me wonder time and time again how much of it was actually truth disguised as fiction. Time and time again, I wondered: Is Fred Sankt actually John Eklund? (For the record, he is not. John Eklund is not a widowed college professor with a sick daughter, but a husband, father, oncologist and hematologist, who took to writing Christian fiction on a whim and decided he loved it.)
The second story sometimes made me wish it was in its own volume, with a detailed index. That way, I could return to specific miracles, saints and historical events it chronicled, with ease, after finding out how both Fred Sankt’s personal saga unfolded and how he chose to conclude his third testament. (Luckily, the book contains a table of contents, if you will, of Fred’s third testament at its end, which makes it a bit easier to go back to reread key points of historical interest.)
The third story left me encouraged. In every individual’s life – and in the history of mankind itself – there are dark periods. But hope and redemption are always present. Faith can get anyone through and miracles – even modern ones – do happen!
When I received The Third Testament in the mail, I discovered that the author had kindly inscribed it with the words, “May you find intrigue and inspiration in the pages.”
That I did!
As I read the story within a story within a story, I found myself curious about what would happen to Fred, his daughter and even his close friend – an agnostic who returns to the church. I wanted not only to know how Fred would shoulder his heavy life burdens, but where his spiritual journey would take him.
As The Third Testament opens, Fred, who is unaccustomed to dreaming, experiences a series of dreams that serve him a call to write a book of salvation history, picking up where the New testament leaves off – a third testament.
At about the same time as the dreams begin, Fred is served a summons and, then, finds out that his daughter Ellen’s health is in jeopardy. His world is turned upside down.
As Fred fights seemingly erroneous, yet serious lawsuit, and the sorrow of his daughter’s, perhaps terminal, illness, he finds solace in writing a work that chronicles Christian history from the end of the New Testament through to the modern day, hitting upon many select miracles, approved apparitions and stories of how religion and history are connected.
The reader remains curious throughout the book, not only about what will happen to Fred and his daughter Ellen, but also about which parts of Christian history Fred will choose to include in his next testament and why. How will Fred bear the crosses he is dealing with while meeting the call of completing the monumental task of writing a third testament?
In my opinion, The Third Testament is inspiring on two levels.
First, it shows how people can be enormously challenged in life, and still remain spiritually strong – coming out renewed and blessed even when faced with serious difficulties — blessing others in the meantime. Indeed, the characters in The Third Testament are likable and real, making it easy for readers to empathize with them and recognize how faith really is at the core of all life – in this world and beyond.
Second, The Third Testament inspires readers to learn more about religious history and their own opinions of it. I know I, for one, found myself noting different apparitions, modern day miracles and political events intertwined with religious history that I want to look into more. In fact, I almost wished the book came with an index so I could more easily go back to some parts of Fred’s new testament.
As The Third Testament chronicles the journey that Fred faces in shouldering his life burdens – the lawsuit against him and having his daughter struck with the same cancer that took his wife – while finding solace in his call – to write a book about modern salvation history – it makes some strong strides that will keep readers engaged.
- The characters in the book are realistic – their personalities and stories are ones readers might be familiar with in every day life. I truly cared about them as I read the book.
- Although the title, The Third Testament, might make conservative Christian/Catholics wary about reading the book, it should not. While it might make one wonder if the book wanders into very unconventional, and perhaps, heretical, territory, the author carefully adheres to church teachings. For example, while the book discusses the popular alleged apparition at Medjugore, the protagonist Fred decides not to include it in his salvation history book because it has not been approved by the Church.
- For those brought up on the Bible and the Catechism, but with only limited knowledge of modern miracles, martyrs, saints, religious politics, etc., the book is sure to pique interest. As I read, I found myself noting some for further exploration that I hitherto knew very little about.
- Christians who believe that history and religious heritage are inextricably woven together will like this book. For, although it is a piece of fiction, the author not only backs up various religious stories within the book with footnoted documentation that can help curious readers seek more information, but he also sends a clear message – there is not history without God.
- The book affirms the importance and incredible strength of the church – and the hope that is found in it. This is really brought home to the reader in Chapter 32, where in the parable of a humble servant, who speaks with a demon, saying:
“Jesus Christ made a promise–the simple promise ‘Upon this rock I will build my Church, and the Gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.’ And now after 2000 years the Church still endures. It endures despite a history of heresies and persecutions. It endures despite the tyranny of despots. It endures despite the laws of probability and the laws of science. What greater miracle is there than this—that the son of a simple carpenter, who lived a life of poverty, and dwelled with the lowly, who never ventured more than a hundred miles from the town of his birth, and who died a criminal’s death on a cross, would establish a great and holy Church, and that the teachings of this Church would be spread throughout the world by twelve simple men–men who hid in fear after the crucifixion? …The most powerful kings and most menacing armies stood against her, but the Church did not falter. For 2000 years this Church has withstood the test of time, overcoming the greatest of odds again and again. It surmounted the insurmountable. It beat the unbeatable foe. It prevailed through the harshest of storms. I say to you, this Church has shattered the very laws that you exalt. It defied that laws of probability, and it humbled the laws of science.”
The humble servant continued on, “The existence of this Church is not a myth. The existence of this Church is not a legend. That this Church exists is an undeniable fact. That Christ’s promise was kept is an undeniable fact. And if He kept this promise, then how can there be any doubt that He will keep His greatest promise—the promise that was central to His ministry, the promise that said ‘If you believe in me, and eat of this bread, and drink of this cup, you shall live forever.’ So when you ask ‘why do I have faith,’ I tell you, it is because I have trust, and nothing that your fair science can offer can break that trust. This is why I pray, so that someday I will enjoy that most sacred covenant of all”–the humble servant paused briefly and then added with solemnity and conviction–“together with my friend!” He then looked the demon right in the eye. “What good can your science and probability offer that is greater than this?”
With those words, the demon turned away, never to bother the humble servant again.”
As much as I liked The Third Testament overall, I did find parts of it more compelling than others. As a first novel, it is quite impressive – and one that I pray gets picked up by a major publisher, with a bit more editing, for wider marketing and readership since its premise is unique and its message important. Until then, there are a few things that might trip readers up:
- At times, I felt that the two major plots of the book – Fred’s legal and family challenges and his endeavor to complete a third testament – were woven together clumsily. Some further editing or smoother transitions might help readers follow the story lines more easily.
- While the book starts off with strong descriptions and dialogue that made me feel right “there” with its characters, as it progressed, the narration got bogged down at times. Also, Fred’s inner dialogue sometimes seemed to meander or get preachy – with a worthwhile message, but not always the best delivery.
- Although I did not mind the that the book strongly leaned toward the “right wing”, sometimes detailed atrocities committed by non-Christians while failing to do so with those committed in the name of Christianity and definitely had strong political overtones in the latter portions, some readers might. Be aware that this book centers around topics that make some uncomfortable – cancer, politics and religion – and that its protagonist, Fred Sankt, is inspired, yet human.
- The book contains a long litany of saints, events and historical figures in it, while leaving out others. Well-studied Christians may wonder why some are included while others are left out.
Enlightening, Edifying and Entertaining
If you are a Christian/Catholic who likes fiction, is interested in stories of strength through trials and seeks to broaden your knowledge of the miracles and mysteries of modern Church history without having to read dry historical accounts, this books is for you. It reads as a combination of fiction, history, theology and prophesy which keeps the reader engaged through both imagination and reason. Expect it to enlighten, edify and entertain.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of The Third Testament in exchange for an honest review.
Martianne appreciates all the faith-filled enlightenment and edifying she can sneak in between entertaining and being entertained by her three young ones as she journeys along with a call as wife, mom and homeschooler. She blogs about the adventure at Training Happy Hearts.
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