You don’t have to be religious to recognize Jerry B. Jenkins as today’s biggest writer in Christian fiction. Author of more than 170 books, he is best known for the 63 million-selling “Left Behind” series.
I caught up with Jenkins this month on a park bench at the Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ conference in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California where I asked him to share the basis for his personal faith.
He says he’s not a man to “compartmentalize faith,” emphasizing “faith must permeate everything — family, ethics and work.” And for the next 20 minutes, we talked about all of those things.
Jenkins is no stranger to hard work. From his first job as a teenage sportswriter through his past 30 years as a biographer and novelist, Jenkins has been an incessant writer. He freely admits, “I’ve made my living from the fame of others.” His nonfiction books include as-told-to biographies with Hank Aaron, Orel Hershiser, Walter Payton, Nolan Ryan and The Rev. Billy Graham memoirs.
These days, some of his biggest efforts focus on his support of the Christian Writers Guild, a professional group of Christian writers that claims nearly 2,000 members.
Jenkins says he started the guild because “we want to restock the pool of Christian writers.” Writers who join are assigned a mentor who will coach them through e-mail during the year.
Family remains one of Jenkins’ biggest sources for spiritual strength. Married for 37 years to Dianna, they are rarely apart. She spends work time with him at conferences, and when he’s off work, their time together includes “nonworking vacations and phones off.”
Together they’ve parented three children, and he counts the title of “dad” as his biggest achievement.
Living out one’s faith in the fishbowl of fame comes with some challenges for Jenkins. One of the biggest challenges is the stewardship of his newly acquired fortune.
“It’s a burden when you’ve sort of hit the lottery. I was raised to love God, but I was also taught that love of money that was the root of evil.”
Intoning the word “love,” Jenkins emphasized an upbringing that taught him “personal wealth will not make you a better person, it will just show who you are.”
Showing who he really is can be his second-biggest challenge. The public spotlight has brought its share of unwanted attention. He’s had his critics about his theology and his writing.
He says he meets these challenges with the basics of spiritual disciplines.
“Even when you feel like you’re secure, you need to be in the Bible, prayer and church . . . You’re never so self-confident — or you shouldn’t be — that you can let those things slide