Summary: A skewering of some convenient targets.
I don’t read a lot of Christian fiction. Most of it I think tries too hard to get a message across and not hard enough to tell a good honest story. And I think that is the central problem with Evangellyfish.
Douglas Wilson is a good writer. He strings words together nicely and is pleasant to read. But from the beginning this seemed like a book that was just too safe and predictable. It is held up as good satire. And that does seem to be what he is attempting. But I happen to really love some good satire. Christopher Buckley is one of my favorite authors. Coffee with Jesus, the Colbert Report, Jonathan Swift, etc have left us with a world of satire and so in an age that is cynical about pretty much everything, satire needs to be even more carefully crafted than ever.
What I think that Wilson missed is that the best satire is not only from the inside, but against your own side. Evangellyfish is safe in particular for Wilson. A review on Amazon that I read after I finished captured my thoughts exactly,
“The book bills itself as dangerous and edgy, but it came across to me as par for the Wilson course. Pop quiz: which pastor lives like a hypocrite, full of deceit and sexual sin: the mega-church pastor or the Reformed pastor? Of course the mega-church pastor! What sin does the youth pastor struggle with? Of course sexual sin! Which female character villainously manufactures a campaign of vicious slander: the reporter, the secretary, or the midwife? Of course the midwife! After all, she’s already guilty of near-manslaughter just for having babies outside the hospital (at least according to the book!). To anyone familiar with Douglas Wilson, none of these caricatures are surprising.”
What is disappointing is that Wilson can write. It feels like it could have been a good story even if it was attempting to skewer a part of the church that is already pretty aware of its weaknesses. Wilson even put himself in as a cameo appearance as the only one that really teaches about sin and repentance, which didn’t feel funny, just self serving.
Like so many books that I read lately that I have not liked, the characters just didn’t feel all that real and/or were unlikable. Sin comes to light eventually, especially in situations where there is enough people. So the fact that the book talks about years and years of pastors sleeping around and paying off ex-lovers and half the church staff (and elders) well aware of the problem and aided and abetting the abusers to keep abusing is not funny it is sad. (Especially since Wilson has defended SGM in its problems.)
I came into the book skeptical, so maybe I was too skeptical and that biased me against it. But this was the Christianity Today Fiction award winner for 2012. It should have been better than this. All the while good Christian Fiction, like J Mark Bertrand is not only not recognized, but eventually he left his publisher because the publisher doesn’t know how to market Christian Fiction that is not Romance and/or Amish.
I do want to note that my opinions are not standard. The links below are pretty positive reviews so you might want to check them for balance.