House: good foundation, flawed floor plan

I haven’t had the chance to sit down and read a good novel for quite some time. Well, one book hot off the presses is House, a collaborative effort by Frank Peretti and Ted Dekker, Christian fiction’s two most popular authors (Peretti much more deservedly so). Affected by all the hype, I purchased the book and read it last Saturday. Here’s a description of the plot:

In rural Alabama, two couples find themselves in a fight for survival. Running from a maniac bent on killing them, they flee deep into the woods and seek refuge in a house. They soon realize the killer has purposely lured them to this house and that they are now trapped. As they huddle around an old fireplace, a tin can falls through the chimney. Scrawled on its side is a message from the killer, establishing his House Rules. He claims he has killed God and will also murder them as well, unless they kill at least one of themselves. They have less than 12 hours to find a way to survive. At sunrise the game is over and everyone dies if the killer’s demands aren’t met. What they quickly learn is that the only way out…is in. But going further into this house—where unknown challenges await them—is equally deadly. The characters come to realize that the house, while real, mirrors their own heart and soul…and unless each can defeat the evil within, the evil in the house will surely claim them.

Technically, this is the first book I’ve read that squarely goes in the horror genre. It’s an appropriate approach considering the subject matter (or so I think), even though there are a few sadistic parts that made me squirm and even a little sick. Peretti’s trademarks are all over the story. In fact, if Dekker’s name hadn’t been on the cover, I wouldn’t have thought he was involved at all.

The narrative is designed to show how sin lies within each human heart. I believe it is a point well worth making. Salvation isn’t amazing if we don’t truly understand how bad the bad news really is. For years, I didn’t understand the depth of my own depravity and thus wasn’t all that amazed by grace. So I’m thankful for the message of House. It’s not very often you see human depravity displayed from a Biblical standpoint, even by most Christians. Peretti and Dekker drive home the truth that evil is not just about sins, it’s about the heart. It’s not just what you do, it’s who you are that is the problem. This point is made almost flawlessly. I say “almost” because there are a couple short sentences that slip into humanistic, “free will” thinking—i.e., you have to change who you are. The biblical standpoint is that we cannot change who we are, and that it’s not the choice of a supposed “free will” that saves us but the free grace of God. However, the overriding theme of depravity has a strong doctrinal foundation. And considering Dekker’s semi-Pelagian theology (as revealed in his other books) this is quite an accomplishment.

That being said, the story as a whole is a disappointment. It starts out fabulously. I was hooked from the first page. Unfortunately, the book degrades in quality as the story progresses. Halfway through, I was tempted to put the book down without finishing it—something I’m almost never tempted to do. At that point, there isn’t really a plot as much as there is just running around the house for two hundred pages. And I’m pretty liberal when it comes to allowing a lot of suspension of disbelief in a story, but plot elements in this book went from weird to bizarre to just plain stupid, to the point that I didn’t believe what I was reading. True, everything is explained in the end, but not before the story loses too much credibility. It also didn’t help matters that a couple of the plot elements directly copied those of Peretti’s book Nightmare Academy.

House is already being made into a movie, which will be released sometime next year. Of all Peretti’s novels, I’m not sure why they’re wasting film stock on this one. I’d rather see The Oath made into a movie (even though House does a better job of illustrating the doctrine of original sin).

“The only way to win is to lose. The only way out is in.” I’ll admit, that’s a great tag for the storyline, with deep theological implications. Too bad the story doesn’t match the strength of its theology.