June 2, 2009

A Serrated Edge: A Brief Defense of Biblical Satire and Trinitarian Skylarking

Not afraid to offend the sensibilities of sentimentalist Christians, Doug Wilson claims in A Serrated Edge that satire is a thoroughly biblical form of proclamation and argumentation. Wilson demonstrates that biblical authors used satire and mockery as a godly way of demonstrating the foolishness of their target's transgressions. Many readers will be shocked at Wilson's frank fun-poking; at least a few readers will be refreshed.

Wilson, a pastor and educator, surveys both testaments to make his case that satire is a biblical form of argument. The reader will be reminded of the familiar story where Elijah mocks the prophets of Baal suggesting that their deity is either out of the office or catching a quick nap. Isaiah points his jabs at the fool who carves his deity out of the same fire wood he uses to cook his dinner. Neither did the New Testament writers shy away from satirical language. Paul didn't hesitate to voice his wish that the circumcision party would finish the job and castrate themselves. And lest the reader think the gospels are safe from satirical content, Wilson points to Jesus' critique of the religiosity of the Pharisees who are leading people in darkness like the blind leading the blind. Jesus warned that it would be easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. For a modern paraphrase, try to imagine a monster truck fitting down the drain of your bathtub. And don't forget, says Wilson, Jesus dismissed the theologians of his day as having graduated from Bag of Snakes Seminary (12). Indeed, claims Wilson, satire pervades scripture and is held out as a godly form of rebuke. (12).

As said, this book will offend many. Wilson points his serrated literary edge at what he calls modern evangelicalism's "axis of treacle - Christianity Today, The Christian Booksellers Association, Wheaton College and its environs, Colorado Springs and its environs, Thomas Kinkade and Jerry B. Jenkins" (13). And speaking of Jenkins, Wilson likens the well known work of Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins to the "Hardy Boys in the Apocalypse" (8).

Wilson will undoubtedly be criticized for criticizing other Christians. But he claims that, "Love that refuses to defend that which is loved is not biblical love at all" (115). And Wilson loves the glorious heritage of the Protestant Reformation, which he sees as tarnished by modern evangelicalism. Thus, he aims to defend historic evangelicalism by aiming biblical and satirical argument against those who would bring shame upon the house.

For those who find this type of thing refreshing, you can find more satire at Canon Press. Wilson's Contours of Post-Maturity: InterVarsity Press Comes of Age can be found for free on Google Books. I personally recommend Nathan Wilson's Right Behind: A Parody of Last Days Goofiness which can be obtained for as little as 1 cent at Amazon (of course, shipping will cost you $3.99). Though I have not read it, some will surely appreciate The Mantra of Jabez by Douglas Jones.

I end with a quote from A Serrated Edge:

"This is inescapable. In a sinful world, giving offense is one of the central tasks of preaching. When the offending word is brought to bear against those who have shown themselves to be unteachable, they are written off by that offending word. When this happens, or there is a threat of it happening, the natural temptation is to blame the word instead of taking responsibility for the sin that brought the rebuking and satiric word. Employing a scriptural satiric bite is therefore not 'rejoicing in iniquity' but rather testifying against hardness of heart.  This is why, in every controversy, godliness and wisdom (or the lack of them) are to be determined by careful appeal to the Scriptures and not to the fact of someone having taken offense. Perhaps they ought to have taken offense, and perhaps someone ought to have endeavored to give it" (102).

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