Friday, October 17, 2008

Book review: Churched by Matthew Paul Turner

Waterbrook Press sent me a copy of Churched by Matthew Paul Turner to review, as well as two copies to give away! (More on that in a moment...)

Churched, Turner reflects on his childhood memories of growing up in the local “fundamental Baptist” church. We’re given a child’s view (and an insider’s look) at how a Baptist church in the 70s and 80s looked and felt. I won’t say that this is how ALL Baptist churches looked then (or today), but obviously at least one did... and I’ve seen a couple that could fit the bill here, too.

What’s so great about Turner’s portrayal is funny, and delights in the irony and awkwardness of these situations, yet it is also humble and stops short of bashing or attack. Turner does a good job of making this as much about him and his family-- and their understandings (and misunderstandings) about faith and practice-- as it is about the church and its teachings.

Churched is funny, and it does expose some of the aspects of the Christian sub-culture that are at least embarrassing, if not shameful. There are other books that take more in-depth and pointed shots at this; Dave Burchett’s When Bad Christians Happen to Good People (also published by Waterbrook) comes to mind. Turner’s book is different in two ways: it is more personal, coming across as more of a memoir than just an idea book; and it refrains from an attack position, instead merely pointing out observations.

The critique aspect can still be found, because Turner is a great writer who communicates the damage and problems of a fundamentalist and sub-culture mindset through his personal story. In his wrap-up chapter, Turner gets a little bit closer to the critique, but even here it is more inwardly-focused, almost self-effacing. His insights-- in the closing chapter and throughout the book-- offer me, as a pastor, a helpful perspective. Maybe the most stinging words came in this paragraph (in the final chapter):

Even though I’m in my midthirties, I still struggle with being alone with a pastor. Furthermore, and more detrimental to my spiritual health, I also have a hard time trusting pastors. Whenever I find myself in the presence of one of God’s official spokespeople, part of me clams up with fear. It didn’t matter that Pete and I were the same age or that he looked like Ryan Seacrest. I still felt fear.

Which simultaneously makes me want to invite Turner to my church, and afraid of whether I give off the same impressions of the pastors of his past and present. Probably, both of these are good instincts for a pastor to have. Thanks, Matthew.

(My rating: 9+)

I’ll post an announcement about my give-away copies next week. Stay tuned-- you’ll want to read this one.

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