Doug Wilson’s novel is a piercing and direct critique of the uniquely American religious institution, the mega-church. Wilson takes the gloves off in this story and aims straight for the heart of a mega-church, its pastor. Make no mistake, for any Christian that reads this book there will be discomfort, and probably a lot. But it is worth the read.
From the very first paragraph Wilson sets his sights on the hypocrisy of “Christians” and let’s the bullets fly. While his critique is direct and relentless from start to finish, he also wisely gives us a proxy and example of realistic Christian struggles. By sitting Chad Lester, pastor of the enormous Camel Creek Community Church, opposite of John Mitchell, the pastor of the tiny Grace Reformed Baptist Church, Wilson shows a consistent view of two models. Through this point of view he takes direct aim at hypocrisy without inflicting collateral damage to faithful Christians.
Pastor Lester is the confident, smooth charismatic celebrity pastor caught in a sex scandal that threatens his career and church. Having been accused of molesting a young male counselee, he is outraged at the charges. The thing that really stings about this accusation is that it is false. He does of course sleep his way through the congregation, but he is absolutely straight and offended that anyone would think otherwise. From there a dense web of relationships bring Pastor Mitchell in and out of the narrative through to a fitting and true to life conclusion.
To many Christians I am certain that this sounds like a malicious hit piece, a blind and frantic attack, or simply something we should not take the time to consider since it is all just so low and, well, dirty. I assure you this is not the case.
Wilson’s attacks and criticisms land on deserving and valid targets. The hypocrisy on display here is not that of a well-meaning but flawed leader, or of someone at war with sin. Rather it focused on the blatant pandering leaders who willfully, intentionally and without shame lie through their teeth while pursuing the pleasure of this world off the backs of their people. From the philandering senior Pastor, to the web of adulterous elders, the church members outraged at the idea of confessing sin, to the church CFO who has zero faith or belief but has rather found the perfect target for embezzlement, Wilson creates a cast of characters who are disgustingly realistic and illustrate exactly how the major scandals we hear about every once in a while can take root in our churches. If you want a case study that inspires you to design an accountability and oversight process for your church I doubt you could better than this.
Wilson’s writing is on display in a very fine case in this book. His insight is great and his skill as a writer brings this story and its evil to light starkly and powerfully. Many times Wilson surprises with a clever turn of phrase, an unexpected laugh, or well crafted plot point. He crafts a fine story that was genuinely a pleasure for me to read.
I would heartily recommend this novel to anyone. Even if this in no way resembles the average mega-church, we would all do well to heed the warning present in this story. Sometimes it takes just the right fictional story to bring an undeniable truth to light in a way that directly hits home. I believe Doug Wilson has done just that.