I just finished Matthew Paul Turner’s Churched: One Kid’s Journey Toward God Despite a Holy Mess, a sort of memoir (though he seems too young to write a memoir) about growing up as a fundamentalist. His story, at least early on, is striking similar to my own, except I grew up in a Pentecostal church, and he certainly drew a line between holy rollers and his Baptist brethren.

I used to subscribe to Turner’s blog, which I was drawn to by its name, “Jesus Needs New PR,” but there seemed to be too many posts that poked fun at the church. I’m certainly one to criticize churchyness, but he seemed to take it a bit too far. (The difference, I’ve read, between mockery and satire is that satire seeks to motivate change, where mockery can be just cruel.) Now that I’ve read Turner’s story, I can understand a little more where he’s coming from.

Turner can be downright funny and even informative, as he describes the fundamentalist’s preoccupation with hell—a timely subject for me since I just finished Rob Bell’s new book and one by N. T. Wright. Some quotes:

  • “A good fundamentalist worth his weight in guilt was quick to remind any skeptic that the world was going to hell in a handbasket.”
  • “Once we got to heaven, Pastor Nolan promised, we would be rewarded for how much we hated living on earth.”
  • “The church started holding us accountable for our actions on our twelfth birthdays—and that was the age we officially became eligible for hell … old enough to receive eternal punishment but too young to drink Mountain Dew.”
  • “Being a fundamentalist was pointless without hell. With no hot and fiery pit existing somewhere below the soil, our views and beliefs lost a good deal of their meaning. It was our fear of hell that fueled our motivation for living the way we did.”
  • “Believing in hell was just as important as believing in God. Sometimes more important.”
  • “I wouldn’t have been a Christian without hell. I guess it’s kind of like sex—it sells.”

He is critical of his Baptist church and their pastor, culminating with the time he looked around during the gospel invitation to see that actually, no, no one had raised a hand, notwithstanding his pastor’s acknowledging several—“I see that hand.” But he speaks well of his family, saying that his father was “one of the few fundamental Baptists who actually valued context while reading the Bible,” and he understands his mother’s attraction to fundamentalism, saying “she wanted security and structure, and who better to organize her life than God?”

I’m not sure at what age Turner left the church or even how he returned, if he left at all. He ends his story rather abruptly but with a wonderful “Benediction,” telling how despite his skepticism of church and even distrust of pastors he still feels the pull to be a part of a community of followers of Jesus.

Turner’s Churched is utterly hilarious, though at times he seems to narrate from the perspective of an eight-year-old and other times as the adult remembering being a kid (as in The Wonder Years). I imagine it’s difficult to keep your tense tidy when you’re telling how you used to make out with the Bible or how a clip-on tie would lick your neck or how you were assured of your new barber’s eternal damnation.

I recommend Churched, and I may just revisit Jesus Needs New PR.

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