Babylon Bee Yourself: a book review

I am an occasional reader of the Babylon Bee and occasionally share their satirical articles on social media.  Or more than occasionally. I’m a Babylon Bee oversharer. I have appreciated their acerbic wit and the way they turned their scathing, tongue-in-cheek critique on the Evangelical industrial-complex. Often the headline does it for me. I don’t always read the articles even when I shared them. Yeah, I’m that guy.

But the Babylon Bee has now moved into new territory, beyond the ethereal internet onto a palpable (and pulpable) printed page, a Babylon Bee book, How to Be A Perfect Christian: Your Comprehensive Guide to Flawless Spiritual Living. This is your guidebook for navigating evangelicalism. This includes joining the right church, with just the perfect mix of over-the-top pyrotechnics and punny church signs. It means always giving off the appearance of everything being “fine,” doing life together without letting community get too deep, vulnerable or authentic, serving God without doing much of anything, exploring ways to look spiritual online, inhabiting the Christian subculture and being sufficiently cut off from the wider world, conforming to mainstream Christian beliefs, crusading against the heathens and fighting those cultural wars.

Yes, it lampoons everything that drives you crazy about the Evangelical subculture and all those things that drive people away from the church. OMG, Evangelicals are a bunch of hypocrites. They are shallow, judgy, self-centered, dismissive of outsiders, and live in their own bubbles. Haha. Get it? It’s funny because it’s true. 

Adam Ford (creator of the Babylon Bee) and Kyle Mann (current head writer and showrunner for all things Bee) collaborated to bring this book to print. Writing humor is a difficult thing, and the Bee often succeeds admirably. I can’t say I enjoy this print edition all that much. Perhaps it is that for humor to be rip-roaringly funny, there has to be an element of surprise to it. If satirizing the evangelical subculture is amusing on page 3 (why do books always start on page 3?), I  found I was barely interested in the topic by page 192.  The last 9/10 of this book were a bit of a slog. There was no surprise, the jokes become more and more predictable. If the concept was fresh at the beginning (big if), by the end, Ford and Mann are almost wholly reliant on snark to keep their readership’s interest. So like my online-sharing self, the headlines grab me, but I lose interest in the long haul.

But beyond the humor, I kept asking myself, “what is this book trying to say?” Creator of the Onion (internet satire par excellence), Scott Dikkers writes in How to Write Funny,  “Satire has something to say—something important—that’s hidden in the literal text.” What was the point? Did I feel like I was being challenged to do something different? Is there a prophetic edge to what Mann and Ford are saying? Maybe. My sense is that their lambast of the Christian subculture re-enforces in the reader their own judgment against perceived evangelical shallowness. Moreover, the caricature of the movement is so overdrawn, it would be difficult for any reader to find themselves (we will only see those we already dismiss). There is snark but no prophetic edge. I wish the Babylon Bee was more like Samantha Bee (but with fewer F-bombs).

If you enjoy reading everything from the Bee, you probably will find this book enjoyable too. I was a little underwhelmed but certainly, there is value in being able to laugh at yourself. I give this three stars.  ★★★

I received a copy of this book from the publisher and have provided you with my honest review.

 

Jesus at the Watering Hole: A Book Review

Confessions of a Bible Thumper: My Home Brewed Quest for a Reasoned Faith by Michael Camp

Michael Camp has waded his way through the entire evangelical subculture. He converted in the seventies, after previously been apart of evangelistic youth rallies and meeting CCM music legend Phil Keaggy (his conversion is not directly related to either of these). He then went to L’Abri, did missions, got a degrees from Fuller Seminary’s School of World Missions and Eastern College, he attended Baptist churches, Che Ahn’s church in Pasadena (Charismatic Evangelical), Calvary Chapels, Non-Denominational Churches and Vineyards, as well as more Emergent Churches. He is well versed in Christian politics, dispensationalist End-Times theology, biblical literalism, creationism, evangelism and world missions, homophobia and Hell and a whole host of evangelical peculiarities.

Confessions of a Bible Thumper  tells the tale of Camp’s conversion to Christ and his gradual drift away from conservative evangelicalism.  The format is reminiscent of Brian McLaren’s New Kind of Christian trilogy, but  whereas those were fiction, this is Camp’s own story. Camp explores various topics while telling  the story of his  journey through evangelicalism. Each chapter closes with pieces of a  discussion between Camp and his  friends in a bar, discussing his journey, his book, and his current theological stance. Today he is still a Christian and concerned about listening to the scriptures, but politically, socially, and theologically he has come to critique the evangelical culture which first formed him in the faith. He has moved away from the legalism, an acculturated form of church and the Christian life,   from He also has moved towards Christian Universalism and the full affirmation of homosexuality and a hermeneutic of the Christian life which is based on love.  But lest this sound like he’s just another liberal, he also is passionate about proper interpretation of the Bible and  affirms intelligent design.

I enjoyed this book.  I have wrestled with many of the same parts of my evangelical heritage, though I haven’t come to all the same conclusions. I think he raises good questions and  I generally found reading this book made me think.  I don’t agree with everything Camp says, but he does seem fair in his reading of scripture and evangelical culture. One aspect I really appreciated was the attention he paid to biblical hermeneutics. He has a chapter on Bible Abuse where he offers sound advice on how to interpret scripture sensitive to its context.

However, despite my generally positive experience reading this book, I did find several aspects to critique:

  1. I found the format of the book a little preachy. This isn’t just a story about Mike Camp’s journey. It also records his discussion with friends over dinner and beer reflecting on that journey. Those conversations shift the narrative for me, from an exploration of one man’s journey, to an apologetic for why I should come to the  same conclusions as Mike Camp.   Camp comes off as the grand guru of his own book (the one with all the answers).  His friends sometimes vehemently disagree with him (especially his staunchly evangelical pal, Steve), but it is obvious that they haven’t spent as much time thinking through the issues and are as well read as he is.  Thus I found the dialogue with his friends less engaging than the story parts of the book. This discussion comes off as a device which clarifies Camp’s own position rather than  being a robust debate. Occasionaly his friends seem like strawmen.
  2. Camp occasionally describes people as conservative, moderate, liberal or progressive evangelicals owing to their position on particular hot button issues.  What bugs me about this is that based on his criteria, he likely would peg me as a moderate evangelical. I loathe the word moderate and there is nothing I would hate being called more.  I think it is like calling someone tepid. Yuck.
  3. Camp repudiates most of what he has been taught in evangelicalism but he seems to buy in (at least in some form) to Christian primitivism (the idea that we should get back to the church of the New Testament) and he has rather low ecclesiology.  This leads he and his friends to be rather dismissive of the institutional church (in favor of just being a couple Christian friends hanging out at a bar).  In a couple of places I wanted more connection to church history and theology.
  4. The discussion in the bar and over dinner happens while Mike and his friends are drinking Fat Woody, Ridgetop Red, Pumpkin Ale, Panther Lake Porter and Belgium Blonde.  This discussion happens west of the Rockies and there was not a single person drinking IPA.  It doesn’t seem right.

These critiques aside (which may say more about me than Camp’s book). I think this book would be an interesting read for any of us who have lived through the past thirty odd years and have seen the various trends in the evangelical world.  I also appreciate the way Camp catalogues his thinking and points his readers to various resources and authors.  Do not read this book if you are uncomfortable being challenged and do not like to think for yourself.  My seminary friends will be cognizant of many of the issues Camp raises here, but others will find his story format engaging, challenging and informative.  Maybe one day I’ll catch up to Mike and the two of us can sit down over a cold one and discuss theology. I’ll be drinking the IPA.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.