"Gideon's Torch," by Charles Colson and Ellen Santilli Vaughn (Word, 554 pp.; $21.99, hardcover). Reviewed by David Neff.

The villain of Gideon's Torch is not an abortionist or a conniving presidential counsel (though such characters populate this first novel from former presidential counsel Chuck Colson). No, the villain is the Spirit of the Age. Charles Colson and Ellen Vaughn clearly want us to understand this: Our Zeitgeist is an evil Spirit.

Carl Jung wrote that no one "is immune to the spirit of his own epoch, or even … possesses a full understanding of it." Jung would have used analysis to expand awareness of the Zeitgeist. Novelists, on the other hand, use their craft to enlarge our consciousness of what holds our civilization captive. Christian readers have had that consciousness raised in recent years by, for example, Walker Percy's "The Thananatos Syndrome" (which displayed the dark side of biotechnical do-goodism) and by P. D. James's "The Children of Men" (which elaborated the madness of our culture's antichild attitudes).

Now, "Gideon's Torch" explores what happens when the essential impulse toward social order operates in a moral vacuum. If truth is not there, objectively there to be found like an uncut gem, what is to restrain the powerful from feeding their own ambition on a chaotic society's hunger for order, permanence, and stability?

Because for Colson and Vaughn the ultimate issue is truth, their characters occasionally have conversations that sound like they were scripted by Francis Schaeffer—or perhaps Pascal or Augustine.

"What do you mean?" Emily said bluntly. … "It sounds so presumptuous, almost arrogant. How can you be so sure—how can you know there is truth?"

"First of all, ...

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