Back on January 17th, I promised I’d return to reviewing Stuff Christians Like once the book actually hit the shelves, which I realized on the weekend is now. This puts me in a rather precarious situation, since my last book review here was Flanders’ Book of Faith. I promise my next review will be all 38 volumes of The Early Church Fathers. Nonetheless…
“Christianity is in an ‘imitative’ mode.”
So said Larry Norman when we sat down together at midnight in a California recording studio. He was thinking more about the arts 25 years ago when he noted that. We tend to borrow forms and concepts from the world and then ‘Christianize’ them.
That was the original premise of the blog, Stuff Christians Like. Author Jon Acuff — he goes by the more formal Jonathan on the cover — will tell you how the blog borrowed its title from Christian Landers’ Stuff White People Like and then went on for the past two years to become a Top 5 Christian blog listing all the other ways we Christianize things from the broader culture.
But the book version — Stuff Christians Like — is really so much more than that. It’s the kind of book that comes around every generation or so that totally nails it when it comes to spoofing Christian living in general and church life in particular. Unlike a number of other books that have recently taken on this challenge, Stuff Christians Like is written by someone within the Evangelical culture, although to my recollection, the book never actually uses that E-word.
Somewhere in our house is a copy of the book Games Christians Play by Judi Culbertson and Patti Bard, published by Harper & Row in either 1967 or 1973, depending on what online source you check. It is a hilarious title and the time-specific references are overshadowed by the authors ability to get at the underlying motivation for why we do the things we do. I’ve always wanted to see someone do a modern version of this title, and found it interesting that Harper & Row became HarperCollins which owns Zondervan which published Stuff Christians Like, which continues the tradition.
As I noted in January, the paperback version of SCL is considerably different from the blog, with much new material added, and themes contained on the blog mashed up in concise way. But at over 200 pages, there is a lot of content to read here, something you don’t always get in books that are shelved among the ‘humor’ genre titles at the Christian bookstore, such as the Youth Specialties title from the 1980s, 101 Things To Do During a Dull Sermon by Tim Sims and Dan Pagoda, recently re-released. Rather, SCL is funny, but in a ‘makes-you-think’ kind of way.
There are three strengths that Stuff Christians Like has that I want to mention.
Timing. This book is hitting the stores as North America pulls out of a couple of years of recession, mortgage failures, job losses, etc. We could use a laugh right now, and there’s never much in the way of competition in the ‘humor’ genre of Christian publishing.
Insight. The book is partly autobiographical, and Jon Acuff is both a really funny guy and the son of a pastor. He may attend a megachurch, but apparently it doesn’t stop him from being signed up — “voluntold” — to help with the dishes after a church banquet. There’s an “everyman” quality to his writing so you might argue that anyone could have written this book, tough I doubt anyone could do it as well.
Fearless. A lot of Jon’s blog readers are younger; in their teens, twenties or thirties and therefore a lot of them are single. I thought at one point single readers might wince at the section on ‘the gift of singleness,’ but as an author, Jon isn’t afraid to take risks, or say what everybody else is thinking but afraid to say.
But there’s one giant feature about this book I saved for last. It’s not overt, in fact it’s buried in a phrase about two-thirds of the way through, where he mentions, “I’m the token Christian at work.”
Think about it… Given the number of Christian books out there published by theologians, seminary professors, pastors and John Maxwell, it isn’t all that often that you come across a book by someone whose nine-to-five gig is the same of yours; who is living out life in a cubicle, or on the shop floor or behind the cash register just like you are.
To this reader, that’s Stuff Christians Like‘s main asset. It’s a book about you and me written by someone who is so eerily similar to you and me that it resonates fully. The book’s major sections deal with God, the Bible, prayer, family life, church, witnessing, etc., but also a section called “My Bad” which is an honest, transparent look at ways we mess up. The theme in “My Bad” returns with five or six short articles at the end of the book that indicate there’s a lot more depth to this author; I really hope it’s a clue to what future Jon Acuff books might contain.
Buy this book. Jon’s wife and two daughters need to eat more than just Skittles. If you’re not a reader of the SCL blog, click here and bookmark the site, which is updated daily.