A Wolverton in Sheep’s Clothing: a book review

Monte Wolverton was raised by Wolvertons in the Pacific North West. He is the cartoonist son of cartoonist Basil Wolverton.  He is known for his political cartoons and his satirical contributions to Mad Magazine. Monte Wolverton is also an associate editor and board member of Plain Truth Ministries, a publishing and teaching ministry committed to proclaiming ‘Christianity without Religion.’ In The Remnant, Wolverton imagines a world where “the apocalypse came and went and Jesus didn’t return along with it”(268).  So this is Christian fiction with a healthy overlay of seventies-style-dystopia science fiction.

remnant_cover_160In 2131, the world is ruled by an atheistic, totalitarian regime based in Carthage, Tunisia.  The few Christians and people of faith in the safe zones are sent to work camps far away from the general population. Outside the safe zones, is the wilderness—vast regions more or less free from the Federation’s direct control.

Grant Cochrin is a geologist imprisoned in a work camp in North Dakota (probably working on a pipeline). He is a Christian, and has a single page from the Sermon of the Mount (Matt 5-7), a remnant page of the family Bible (the Bibles had all seized and destroyed by the government).  After Grant has a chance encounter with a wilderness dweller, he learns about Christian communities in the wilderness. He, his family and friends escape the camp, and chase after the promise of religious freedom and authentic Christian community.

However, their post-religious-context means the groups they encounter have tenuous grasps on historic Christian faith and practice. They meet profiteering prophets, legalistic faith healers, Charismatics that do drugs during communion (and then cavort), and catholic monastics who are way too into their shrines and spiritual disciplines.  And they encounter a few helpful voices as well:  kind strangers who take them in and help them on their way, fellow Christians who join their quest, friendly Muslims and Buddhists (who reunite Grant with the Bible his page remnant was from), an elderly religious scholar who tries to get Grant and his group to look at what they already have as community instead of looking elsewhere, and even helpful Raptors (Mad Max style motorcycle gangs who control everything in the wilderness). They face perilous dangers along the way, and in the end Grant is forced to make a major decision.

I don’t review a lot of (self consciously) Christian fiction because of the tendency of their authors to tell instead of show. The medium is merely a vehicle for the message and the literary craft falls flat. If I want preachy prose, I’d rather just read John Piper (or someone else more Reformed than God). Wolverton is  guilty of way too much tell, and not enough show in his writing. The whole book is designed to promote the Plain Truth’s Ministries idea of “Christianity without religion.” It has a sermonic quality (here is another group that gets it wrong, how can we be faithful to the gospel). Grant says near the end of the book, “If there is anything I’ve learned on this trip,” Said Grant,”I’d have to say that Christianity functions poorly as a religion. It is most healthy when it’s an active trust in Christ—a friendship in which he leads, obviously, since he’s our Shepherd” (240). This is the message the entire story tries to illustrate and hints at along the way.

So I can’t say this was great literature or anything. However the book held my interest. There is some playful, humorous dialog.  I kept reading to see what kind of religious nutjobs Grant and the team would encounter next. For mindless fiction, the book was alright, and well paced. I give it three stars.

Note: I received this book via Speakeasy in exchange for my honest review.


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