I have something of a tradition when visiting the in-laws in Minnesota. I do a lot of reading when up there and I often read a book with a Minnesota connection. Welcome to My Planet by Shannon Olson is an example. Jesus Sound Explosion by Mark Anderson and Season’s Revenge by Henry Kisor are also books I read due to interactions with my wife’s family in the snowy climes of Minnesota.
Well, as careful readers of this site will remember, this Thanksgiving we once again made the journey to the Land of a Thousand Lakes. And once again I did a lot of reading and once again read a book I didn’t bring with me.
In Post-Rapture Radio, our faithful narrator finds a mysterious box containing the sermons and journal entries of a genuine, unvarnished American character the Reverend Richard Lamblove. The little-known Lambloveâ€“tried and failedâ€“to revolutionize contemporary Christian culture. As his journal entries, cereal box scribblings, and random notes written on paper scraps reveal, Lamblove sees contemporary culture as shallow, overly individualistic, and consumed with the kind of status measured by money, power, and celebrity. And American Evangelicalismâ€”which has been integrated into the culture as a wholeâ€”has similar failings. Reverend Lamblove vanished without a trace, but Russell Rathbun has “compiled” his papers into a compelling critique of contemporary faith an antidote to faith-as-usual and a wakeup call for Christians to genuinely respond to the gospel.
I would love to say that I found this description to be an accurate one, as that sounds like a book I would love to read. But, and I really should know better than to buy into the hype of a book jacket and its blurbs, I just didn’t come away with anything like that impressions. Instead, I was left puzzled about what it all meant exactly.
I think one of the problems is that I don’t really bring the necessary background or perspective to enjoy the critique and or satire. Although I grew up in an evangelical Christian home, went to a Christian college as an undergrad, and generally consider myself a conservative evangelical, I don’t really move in the circles Rathbun is aiming at. I don’t attend a mega-church, don’t listen to Christian popular music, and generally don’t mix in the world where evangelical faith meets cutting edge popular culture and modern marketing techniques.
Rathbun’s target seems to be an evangelical community who’ve sacrificed their spiritual principles in order to seem “with it” and in order to fill the pews. And on occasion his digs at those who seem to have forgotten what the Gospel is all about are sharp and insightful reminders. But for me the overall message got lost in all the satire and inside jokes. If you are a pastor or a lay leader who grew disillusioned with this type of community Rathbun’s critiques might seem more pointed.
From a technical perspective the literary device didn’t work for me. Finding Lamblove’s papers allows Rathbun to package his ideas as fiction and satire but it didn’t seem to help organize his thoughts or the plot (such as it is). Rathbun combines Lamblove’s writing with editorial comments and introductions, but these don’t bring any clarity to the book’s flow. Instead, I found the various entries disjointed and confusing.
The concept had the potential to work like a mystery – you work through the various documents compiling a picture of Lamblove and his ideas. The narrator guides you along and is there to provide necessary clues. But when I had finished the book I didn’t feel like I understood the point of the whole exercise. I didn’t feel like I understood Lamblove nor did I feel that reading through his journal entries and sermons was worth the work. There was a lot of build-up but no payoff.
I felt there were some good essays and sermons weaved into this fictional device that might have been better had they been presented in the form of a collection or compilation.
As I noted above, this just might reflect the fact that I am not the intended audience; that my perspective kept me from enjoying it. Perhaps, just like I don’t really “get” post-modern writing maybe I don’t get post-modern Christianity. Certainly Rathbun’s fellow pastors and authors from the emerging church movement seem keen on his work (see the glowing blurbs). In fact, one reviewer seemed to anticipate this problem and views it as a vindication of the books greatness:
There will be a number of people who simply “don’t get” the book, which to me only shows how brilliant the book really is (all great books are not understood by the masses).
Count me among the masses.