Pastor Hank Busche

(creator: Frank E Peretti)

Frank E Peretti
Rev Henry L ("Hank") Busche is the 26-year-old pastor at the little Ashton Community Church. He and his wife Mary lived in a one-bedroom house not far from the church. "It wasn't much, and often seemed far less, but it was all he could afford on his pastor's salary. Well, he wasn't complaining. He and Mary were comfortable and sheltered .... His father had been a pastor while Hank was growing up, and the two of them had lived through a great many glories and hassles, the kind that come with pioneering churches, pastoring, itinerating. Hague knew from the time he was young that this was the life he wanted for himself, the way he wanted to serve the Lord. For him, the church had always been a very exciting place to work, exciting helping his father out in the early years, exciting going through Bible school and seminary and then two years of pastoral internship." Although Hank was "usually full of fire" in his zeal to preach the gospel, he soon finds that Ashton, his first pastorate, "seemed a difficult place to get the fire spread around". Ashton is described as a typical American small town - but it happens to be infested with demons.

Frank Peretti (1951- ) has more than 12 million copies of his novels in print, and has, he tells us on his website, been called “America’s hottest Christian novelist.” Born in Canada and raised in Seattle, Washington, Peretti has held ministry credentials with the Assemblies of God . After graduating from high school, he was soon touring with a pop band and launching a modest Christian music ministry. He later spent time studying English, screen writing and film at UCLA and then assisted his father in pastoring a small Assembly of God church. In 1983, he gave up his pastoring position and began taking construction jobs to make ends meet. He then began writing This Present Darkness, followed by another spiritual warfare book Piercing the Darkness which together sold over 3.5 million copies, and other books.

His output included books for children, and a children’s audio cassette series titled Wild and Wacky Totally True Bible Stories. He produced his first non-fiction book, The Wounded Spirit in 2000, which was written as a result of painful childhood experiences to do with physical incapacity. In all he has produced over 20 books. We are told that "In spite of sudden fame and notoriety, Frank still lives a simple, well-rounded life that includes carpentry, banjo making, sculpturing, bicycling and hiking." He has recently been suffering from Ménière's (a disease of the inner ear that affects balance) which has curtailed his activities (forcing him to sell his own private plane), but he still hopes to write and direct his own movie. He is married and lives in Northern Idaho with his wife Barbara.

The Present Darkness (1986)
The Present Darkness starts with two strange figures appearing outside the little college town of Ashton: "They were tall, at least seven feet, strongly built, perfectly proportioned". They are, it transpires, angels on their way to look in on Pastor Hank Busche.They are soon conscious of "an animated, a creaturelike shape, and as it neared the church sounds could be heard: the scratching of claws along the ground, the faint rustling of breeze-blown, membranous wings wafting just above the creature's shoulders. .... It's leering, bulbous eyes reflected the stark blue light before moving with their own jaundiced glow. The gnarled head protruded from hunched shoulders, and wisps of rancid red breasth seethed in labored hisses through rows of jagged fangs." It's a devil, of course.

One of the angels is obliged to cut it down with his shining sword so that it "instantly felt its insides tearing loose. There was an explosion of suffocating vapor, one final scream, and a flailing of withering arms and legs. Then there was nothing at all except the ebbing stench of sulfur." As for the two angels, they were now "brilliantly white, their former clothing transfigured by garments that seem to burn with intensity. Their faces were bronzed and glowing, their eyes shone like fire, and each man wore a glistening gold belt from which hung a flashing sword." And, of course, they each had wings.

And that is only beginning of what is to develop into a mighty battle between the hosts of God and the work of the devil(s), as the devils try to take over the little town of Ashton using the human Omni Organisation and devil-infested New Age plotters (including the police chief and even the pastor of another of the local churches which dangerously "endorses religious tolerance") to overcome the Remnant of true believers led by Pastor Hank who have to provide adequate "prayer cover" which the angels require if they are to defeat the relentless forces of evil.

Hank's plain Gospel message manages to attract people who have failed to find this simple certainty preached in other churches ("They don't preach the gospel," his converts tell him), and, with the help of their prayers, the (good) Lord Tal, the Captain of the Host (who had once been seen "near the throne room of heaven itself, in conference with none other than Michael") is eventually able to take on the dreaded (evil) Baal-Rafar in a bloody battle - and peace and order is restored to the little town, although it is Marshall Hogan, the owner of the local newspaper, a saint-in-waiting whom Hank eventually converts, who investigates what the Omni Corporation is getting up to and organises all the real detective work. And he has to rescue his own daughter Sandy who has fallen into the devils' clutches, via a crazy demon-possessed Doctor of Pyschology who is trying to guide everyone into becoming part of the Universal Mind. The devils all have their own names, such as Lust, Complacency, Deception, Murder, and Jealousy. Of course they don't always get their own way. When they all tried crowding into Hank's church, a "sickeningly polite" angel told them "I'm sorry, we cannot allow any more demons into the church this morning."

You could say that the whole plot is a load of nonsense from beginning to end - and I would have to agree with you. It is all very well for the author to quote St Paul explaining, "We are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places", but quite another to produce such hackneyed portrayals of good and evil, complete with shining swords and foul smells, that reduce the whole idea to farcical proportions. As for "The Strongman", who "was grotesque, hulking, his black hide hanging like sacks and curtains from his limbs and torso, his face a macabre landscape of bony prominences and deep, folded furrows", it turns out that he was "one of the few majesties intimate with Lucifer himself - a vicious global tyrant responsible over the centuries for resisting the plans of the living God and establishing Lucifer's kingdom on the earth".

Mind you, the heavenly host, strengthened by prayer, proves more than a match for even hordes of devils: "The whitest hot light traced brilliant fiery arcs, a searing edge that cut through the flock of evil spirits like a scythe; parts of demons tumbled into nothingness; other demons imploded and vanished in instantaneous billows of red smoke .... The air was filled with the deafening cries of hideous spirits as blades met flanks, necks, torsos, and demon after demon was flung aside in pieces that instantly disintegrated and vanished like paper." The angels got wounded too - but, given a few prayers, missing limbs were immediately restored. It seems to give them rather an unfair advantage.

Hank (like the author) takes the Biblical stories of the casting out of demons quite literally. As he explains to Marshall, if you believe in God and the Devil then "believing in angels and demons is simply the next step after that. It's only logical." Marshall tells him, "I like that kind of faith. Good and straight, and right on the line". Well, either that or incredibly naive! There seems little room for love - just a delight in vicious fighting and revenge. It's a profoundly depressing picture of Christian arrogance and self-satisfied intolerance. And this, we are told, is the work of "America's hottest Christian novelist". Perhaps he allowed himself to get too near to the fires of hell.

The author has his own not over-modest (and noisy) website, and there is an interesting Wikipedia article about him.

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This Present Darkness cover
Demons and angels struggle to take possession of a little town.The nasty looking ones seen on the cover are, of course, demons.
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