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.

 

Life After Mars Hill: a book review

“Two years ago if you would have told me that the next big book project I was involved with was to be co-authored with Rob Bell, I would have asked what you were smoking,” says Mark Driscoll (from the Introduction, ix). At the time, Driscoll was at the helm of Mars Hill Church in the Rainier Valley in Seattle and on the board of Acts 29, a missional church planting network, he helped co-found. In 2013 there were criticisms and intimations of trouble, but Driscoll had always been a polarizing figure with his critics. Comes with the territory when you are a bombastic communicator and a man of strong convictions. He was under near constant criticism for what he said and how he said it. Yet in 2013 the new criticisms began to mount. Driscoll was accused of plagiarism, faulted for unethical marketing, had formal charges filed against him by a former elder, was protested against by a number of former members and got his name dragged through the mud for a decade-old-internet-rant. By September of 2014, Driscoll was forced to resign and his once thriving church dissolved.

Mark Driscoll & Rob BellThree years earlier, in September 2011, Rob Bell left his own Mars Hill. At its zenith, Mars Hill Bible Church had a weekly attendance of 10,000 people. However Bell’s bestseller Love Wins had made him a pariah to many in the evangelical world and hurt the attendance of his congregation. Bell was under constant fire for not holding the doctrine of hell dearer and for suggesting that perhaps, maybe, ‘Jesus will save everyone.’ Since leaving MHBC, Bell has found a new home on the Oprah Winfrey Network and has self-consciously sought to ‘pastor those outside the church.’

Temperamentally, theologically and stylistically, Bell and Driscoll couldn’t be more different. Yet both of these charismatic leaders and church planters, found themselves forced to resign their respective Mars Hills. So how did these two get  together and decide to collaborate on a new book, Life After Mars Hill (forthcoming, HarperOne)?

Driscoll tells the story:

When I left Mars Hill, I was given an ultimatum. I was forced to retire. All of my old friends and allies didn’t answer any of my calls. My conference dates were all cancelled. My publisher dropped me. Of course Grace stuck by me, but it was really hard. When I felt totally abandoned by everyone, even God, I got a phone call. It was Rob. He said he was praying for me and wanted to know how I was doing. I had been critical of Rob but when I needed someone to remind me of God’s grace, he was the one that was there for me. We met several times and discussed life, our mutual struggles and God. Rob had the idea of recording our conversations. When we listened to the terrain we covered, we both knew it would be interesting and helpful terrain for the church as a whole (6-7).

That is how the two struck up their unlikely friendship. The book  tells the story of the hurt and isolation both of these men felt after their fall from evangelical super-stardom. The format for the book is dialogue between the two former pastors (with a couple of brief chapters describing Driscoll’s and Bell’s personal journeys..

That the two men now call each other friends shouldn’t diminish the significant differences between their respective Christian visions. Bell  still finds Driscoll’s Christianity narrow, legalistic and he finds Driscoll’s complementarian views and authoritarianism troubling (39-40). Driscoll still faults Bell for his lack of doctrinal precision, and his utter lack of manliness (43). The two also find themselves on different sides on a number of social issues (such as marriage equality). At one point, Driscoll kids Bell, “You have the style’ while I am the  one with substance” (89). In response, Bell quips, “Jesus came full of grace and truth. You cling to  truth. I love the truth but have sought to err on the side of grace” (90).

But this is not a raging debate. Driscoll and Bell  speak respectfully and humbly to one another. Critics of Driscoll will likely see him, in these pages, as stubborn and chauvinist as ever. Critics of Bell may still find his lack of doctrinal clarity aggravating and his teaching dangerous and pernicious. But there is movement on both sides. Bell is gracious and Driscoll reciprocates.I think the real value of this book is the conversation itself. Rachel Held Evans endorsed this book saying, “Rob Bell has done what I never could arrange. He sat down and had a civil conversation with Mark Driscoll. While I find Driscoll’s Christianity problematic, I came away with a deeper appreciation of the man, his story and God’s graciousness to him.” I highly recommend this book for anyone troubled by the legacy of either of these former ‘Mars Hill Pastors.’ I give this book five stars!

Notice of material connection: I received this book as a complete fabrication. I was not asked to write a positive review. But don’t you want to read this book? Happy April Fools.