The Damascus Way, the final installment in Davis Bunn and Janette Oke's "Acts of Faith" trilogy, is a well-written ending to this series. In spite of the book's weaknesses (which I cite below), I found it to be slightly better than the second book (which was slightly better than the first book). Although this book is not outstanding, it is the best of this trilogy.
First, the book's strengths. Unlike book 2, this one is much more of a stand-alone book. Although there are some references to incidents from previous books, and some carryover of characters, readers who haven't read either of the first two books should have no problem with this one. The Damascus Way starts out strong -- takes off right out of the gate, as it were -- with the introduction of Julia; her story line hooked me from the very beginning.
In The Damascus Way, the authors have a cast of four main characters, each with their own crisis. They move between each of the various characters smoothly, gradually weaving their storylines together. The authors also seamlessly work in several characters and scenes from the Bible: the Samaritan woman at the well; Cornelius; Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch (this baptism scene was especially well-done); and Saul's conversion on the road to Damascus. In fact, Saul is a presence felt all throughout The Damascus Way, since it is set in AD 40 when persecution of the church was ramping up. Although his actual appearances in the narrative are few and brief, he was the primary source of the Christians' fear, and what drove them to scatter from Jerusalem in search of places where they could live and practice their faith in greater safety. It was a backdrop that resonated with me, as the isolation that the early church felt, surrounded as they were by hatred and persecution, feels like the isolation I increasingly feel living in a society that is drifting further and further from Biblical values.
However, I did have issues with a few things in The Damascus Way. The first, and perhaps the least important, was the constant drinking of tea (almost to the exclusion of anything else). As I stated in my reviews of the prior two books in this series, to my knowledge tea was unknown at this time outside of the Far East. What people in Judea would have drank in AD 40 was water, fruit juices and wine (and various combinations of these three). To have them constantly drinking tea was a distracting anachronism, and I frankly don't know why the authors made that choice.
The second issue I had was with Jacob's attitude toward Jesus' healing of him as a younger lad. If you read the first book in this series, The Centurion's Wife, then you know that Jacob was the centurion's servant healed by Jesus. In that first book, Jacob's attitude (and that of his centurion master, as well) toward Jesus and the healing is ambivalent, an event almost forgotten. That was a problem for me with that book, and I go into greater detail about it in my review. In The Damascus Way Jacob is now a grown man who has become a fervent follower and believer in Jesus. And yet, a scene near the end of the book reveals that he still regards his own healing as a non-event. He is thinking back on all of the miracles he has seen God do in his lifetime, and specifically names them, and his own healing is not even mentioned. In fact, he counts his sister's healing as a great miracle, but doesn't even think about his own?! I really think the authors missed the mark in this aspect of Jacob's character and, again, I don't know why they made that choice.
While these first two issues may be relatively minor, this third and last one is major (at least for me). In fact, this book was sailing towards a strong 4 stars until I got to the end and read how they wrapped up everyone's storyline. I know this is strictly a matter of taste, but I prefer books that have bittersweet endings to those that end with everyone living happily ever after and riding off into the sunset. This is precisely what Bunn and Oke did in The Damascus Way. Maybe because it was the last in the series they felt they had to wrap everything up nicely and neatly, I don't know. All I know is that everyone became a believer in Jesus, and everyone found true love. But they stretched it worst of all in the way they ended Julia's storyline. I will be very careful so as not to spoil it for anyone, but having Julia and Helena and Florina all end up as BFFs holding hands (yes, literally!) was just too, too much for me. I know that when we become Christians God changes our old natures and works on developing a new nature in us, but even so this syrupy-sweet conclusion to Julia's story stretched the bounds of credibility and caused me to disconnect from the characters. "And they ALL lived happily ever after" endings often weaken books, and in this case I don't think it's an accurate reflection of how things were, either. Although people were being converted and God was adding to his church daily, not every family member of believers became believers themselves, any more than they do today.
However, aside from the fairy tale ending Bunn and Oke did a good job of depicting first-century Christians in The Damascus Way. They manage to make them seem like real people authentic to that time period, not 21st century evangelicals dressed up in Bible costumes. Overall the writing in The Damascus Way was the strongest and most consistent of the trilogy; I am sorry to see it end since it seems likely that further books would get even better.