Bestselling author Janette Oke has dreamed for years of retelling a story in a biblical time frame from a female protagonist’s perspective. A bestselling author in his own right, Davis Bunn was elated to work with Oke again. Now, from this dynamic team, comes the sweeping saga of the dramatic events surrounding the birth of Christianity.
Janette, having written more than 75 bestselling novels in nearly 30 years you are certainly one of the most loved authors of inspirational fiction.With such a strong identity as a solo author,what drew you to initially collaborate with Davis?
Oke: I had known Davis Bunn for some years before our first collaboration, our paths having crossed at industry events and at Bethany House. I had read and admired his work, deeply respecting his writing gifts and creative talents. I came to recognize that, though he and I were worlds apart—in heritage, education, experience and writing styles-, we (besides our faith) share other significant values: we both love to write, and we are motivated by the possibilities for opening minds and hearts through creating characters and developing their stories.
We found even more common ground in our initial brainstorming sessions; it was amazing to both of us how easily our ideas fed off of one another.We saw the characters and plot grow by the hour as we hurried to jot notes in an effort to keep up with our thoughts. As our sample scenes and chapters went back and forth between us, we realized we indeed shared the same vision for the story and the same understanding of the characters we had created.
It has been nearly seven years since you both collaborated last on the SONG OF ACADIA series. What is it about this ACTS OF FAITH series that has brought you together again?
Oke: In my Bible reading over the years, I often pondered what biblical characters might have been thinking and feeling, beyond what their stories contain on the written page. But I was hesitant about writing a biblical novel because I felt neither comfortable nor qualified to mix “fact” and “fiction” in approaching these heroes and heroines of the faith.
But I knew Davis had strong research and writing skills, and that I could rely on him for historical authenticity and engaging plot ideas to make this work well.
Bunn: We definitely needed each other. Before Janette and I began talking about possibly doing a Bible-based novel together, I had never considered such a project. To my mind, this required an intimacy with the people and the Scripture passages that I personally found extremely daunting – I would be basically taking the Word of God and building a story around it.
I would never have attempted such a thing on my own. Janette’s perspective, experience, deep familiarity with the Bible, and her devotion kept me firmly grounded throughout this period.
How did you go about researching this novel to get that perfect balance of “fact” and “fiction”?
Bunn: I went to the Holy Land seeking to tie the development of the characters and descriptions more firmly to the land, the times and the people. Janette and I felt that it was important for The Centurion’s Wife to capture the flavor and feel of life two thousand years ago.
My journey there was based around an opportunity to study with an Orthodox rabbi who about twenty years ago became a follower of Jesus. He now acts as a missionary within the Israeli conservative religious community, which is a very difficult and risky task. He taught me as much by the way he lives his life as he did by his study of the Scriptures.
We split the days in two—we studied Scriptures each morning, and traveled to various sites each afternoon. His intention was to help me see the region through the eyes of a Jew, and if possible through the eyes of a Jew living under Roman occupation.
There was probably a myriad of directions you could have gone with this story.How did you come to choose this particular plot line?
Bunn: I have long felt that the glory and victories found within the book of Acts really started the day after Christ rose from the dead. In these seven weeks leading up to the Pentecost, the disciples are transformed from followers to leaders. How did
this happen? How did the outside world react?
We know the High Priest was opposed to the disciples and sought to stifle news of the divine resurrection. But what of Pilate? Did he see this news of a risen Lord as another threat? And what of Herod, the puppet King of the Jews, who could not abide another bearing that title?
Any leaders today that feared insurrection would try to discover the truth. They would send in a trusted and seasoned observer, someone who could take care of himself. This observer would need to determine whether this truly was a threat and, if so, figure out how to crush it before it spreads. These are the seeds that the story grew from.
Oke: Yes.We also felt strongly that the story must be true to Scripture where characters and events of the day were incorporated.
So we conceived the two main characters, a centurion who appears briefly in the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life and a fictional young woman of mixed heritage. These would carry the plot forward, interacting with people and events at the first-century birth of Christianity.
What do you hope reader’s will take away from The Centurion’s Wife?
Oke: I really cannot put into words what writing this book has meant to me personally.
Many familiar events surrounding the death and resurrection of Jesus took on totally new perspectives as we plunged the characters into the cultural upheavals of their day.
We lived with their fears, their pain, their excitement and, finally, their joy in their new-found faith. It is my hope that readers will also feel what they felt and discover, along with me, a new understanding of what it meant for those first followers to believe that Jesus actually rose from the dead.
Bunn: I agree. The resurrection, lacked context for the early believers; they still were looking for a conquest of earthly powers, before the Holy Spirit came and opened them to divine revelation.
But if you think on the moment when the Spirit descended upon mankind at large for the very first time, when the seed of the risen Lord was planted in every believer’s heart, you have to strip away everything that we in our current believing culture have attached to the idea of Christianity, just as the early church at that moment lost hold of what they thought Christ’s kingdom on earth looked like.
What remains is this one act. This one gift. This one glimpse of eternal truth.
So it is my prayer that your experience reading The Centurion’s Wife will be much like my experience researching and writing it—your everyday concerns will fade into the background as you focus on Christ’s everlasting and life-changing gift.