As one might imagine in the second book of a trilogy, the saga that began in Book 1 continues. Above all else, Professor Litfin spins a great yarn. This reviewer was absorbed by the story from beginning to end. The two main characters from The Sword – Teofil and Anastasia - are back with a fine supporting cast of good and evil characters. Overall, I was less impressed with Book 2 of the Chiveis Trilogy. I suppose it was because for me some of the novelty of the story had worn off just a bit. But still the overall premise is ingenious – writing from the perspective of not having a copy of the New Testament far in the future and trying to figure out the fullness of Christian faith.
See: http://lhpqbr.blogspot.com/2011/02/noted-review-christian-fiction.html for Pr. Bertram's review of The Sword.
The Gift has a three-part division as did The Sword. Part One is Solidarity; Part Two is Extravagancy; and Part Three is Victory. The story revolves around Teo and Ana's quest for a copy of the New Testament. It is intriguing how they and others working together piece together much of what the Old and New Testaments reveal about the true God – "Deu" in their case. I admire the ability of Professor Litfin to help the reader imagine that, yes, we do not know the fullness of God's revelation of Himself. Parts are missing and all we have is an incomplete picture. Near the beginning, Ana tells Teo, " Someday we'll discover the rest of Deu's story." (page 26). Hence the quest for the New Testament. Teo meets a "scrawny teacher with long white hair [named Sol]" (page 74), who broadens Teo and Ana's knowledge of Deu. Sol is a believer in Deu (Deus), telling Teo, "I do [believe in the Creator]. His name is Deus. He is one true God, and he existed before all time." (page 76) But they do not know who "Iesu Christe" (page 79) is. Sol does tell Teo that he had heard "this name used to describe a savior figure prefigured in the Holy Book." (page 79) They read from the Second Book of Samuhel, the seventh chapter about a Promised king who will rule forever. But they do not know if Iesu Christe is the Promised King. Sol also reads from "the fifty-third chapter of Isaias" (page 79), describing a "'man of sorrows' who ended his life in defeat" (page 79). And they do not know which Iesu Christe is – "the victorious Promised King or the defeated Suffering Servant" (page 79). More hints are given as Teo and Ana are "window shopping" and Ana's eyes land on what we would call a crucifix with a corpus on it. They know the cross is Deu's symbol, but did not know it was a place of death. Throughout the book Teo and Ana's knowledge grows by bits and pieces as they interact with other "Christiani," and as more and more truth of Deu is revealed to them. Again it is fascinating to see the revealed truths of the Christian faith veiled and then unveiled bit by bit.
Sol and Teo travel to the Forbidden Zone, the Land of the Defectives, to learn more about the "Pierced One." (page 132) The Defectives are anyone who has a disfigurement of any kind. They are removed from the country of Ulmbartia to the Forbidden Zone by the shamans, also known as the Exterminati. As Teo and Sol meet the Overseer, one receives a hint of the theology of the cross that is scattered throughout the book. He tells Teo, "To perceive the truth, you cannot be whole, . . . [o]nly the broken can truly see." (page 130) He then "breaks" Teo by piercing his hand with a nail. The Overseer also tells Teo, "I believe you may one day understand the nature of weakness . . . Deus favors the weak and the downtrodden. He hides his strength in them." (page 132) By the way, Ana is also a defective because of the scar from the wolf bite she had received. (pages 154-155) The Pope is in The Gift, albeit a kinder, gentler Pope, called "Papa" by the Christiani. He even lives in Roma. He is the leader of the Universal Communion. Teo struggles with having a theology of glory as he believes that the power of the Promised King must return to his followers. (page 293) He thinks that evil is in control because Borja (an evil man whose motto is "cruelty is strength (p. 150)) "controls everything." (page 294) He tells the Papa, "But if we had power, things would be reversed. Instead of being weak, we'd be the triumphant ones." (page 294) Teo sees power and weakness as being "mutually exclusive." (page 295) "If you're weak, you lose. Be strong, and you win."e tellsHe (page 295)
Later, by means of a diary, Ana tells Teo of the theology of the cross, "This is exactly how Deu works. He takes the weak and raises them up, and he brings the mighty low. He turns all our values upside-down. " (page 344) Teo, Ana, Sol, the Overseer, the Papa, and many other characters wrestle with exactly how Deu works in the world. Through power or through weakness?
Evil. Good. A washing. A sacred meal which "binds us to Iesus." (Page 294) Chastity. God's care and providence. His working through means. Revelation. The quest for the New Testament. Missions. These and many more theological concepts are found throughout The Gift. The story itself is worth reading. Especially if one has read The Sword. One just has to find out what happens to Teo and Ana! Will they move closer to their goal of bringing the New Testament to their homeland of Chiveis?
A QBR reviewer strives to answer this question: should a Lutheran pastor or layperson purchase this book or borrow it from the library and read it? As I wrote in my review of The Sword: "Like all fiction books, this one transports the reader to a different world. Dr. Litfin does an excellent job bringing us from the 21st century to the Kingdom of Chiveis four centuries into the future. The book is a vehicle to think about how the Bible and the Church survive in the future against demonic forces. The book's story line is very creative. As a Lutheran pastor or layperson reads it with Lutheran eyes, he or she can receive much diversion and enjoyment from reading [The Gift.] Should you purchase it with your hard-earned money? Obviously that is a personal question which only you can answer. But unless Pastor Cain gives me the next volume of the trilogy to read (and review!), I am looking forward to adding it to my library."
The Rev. Peter Bertram is Pastor of Our Savior's Lutheran Church in Chadron, Nebraska and is a regular contributing reviewer to QBR.