Tuesday, December 08, 2009

"A Serrated Edge" - Book Review

I love satire...always have. My sense of humor resonates with irony and cynical, even sarcastic under-tones in both comedy and drama alike. I find satire to be incredibly clever, powerfully direct and a tool that portrays life with crystal clarity. Yet, I have been brought up in a church culture that believes the use of satire (particularly with a sarcastic bent) is socially unacceptable.

I know that sarcasm itself is often referred to as 'the lowest form of wit'...and perhaps it is. I must admit I've always teetered between the acidic destructiveness of sarcasm and it's cleverer cousin, irony.

But being a relatively cynical satirist has gotten me into all sorts of trouble within church circles. It's got me off-side with church leaders and members alike; has been the cause of many misunderstandings and accusations of arrogance; and at times has even lead to outrageous verbal attacks by some of the sweetest 'Christians' I knew. So ‘user be warned’ – appropriate satire with caution!

Therefore it's with little wonder my attention was instantly grabbed when I came across the book A Serrated Edge by Douglas Wilson (2003, Canon Press). Wilson puts forward an insightful case for the valid use of "biblical satire" and "Trinitarian skylarking". He asserts that when it came to commenting on our world, engaging 'the powers' and especially in communicating the gospel of the Kingdom, satire was one of Jesus’ most effective tools.

The book is a most entertaining read, if you like satire and have a fine-tuned sense of humour. But aside from it validating my own bias toward the love of satire, the book also presents a profound analysis of Scripture that justifies the biblical use of it in our conversations and commentary, as followers of Christ. Wilson defends biblical satire in the face of today's all-too-sanitised, sickly-sweet Christianity that is often present amongst large parts of western evangelicalism.

The book claims to provide a "godly pattern for giving offence". And that it does! Perhaps it’s a much-needed word to hear? Especially in times when over-censored political correctness has pervaded much of Christ's church; taking what is supposed to be salt, and turning it into “heavenly-washed sand”.

But there is a strong warning.

The Christian satirist will always be unpopular. As Wilson says, "In an age where folly reigns, the lot of a satirist is frequently very difficult." (p 41) However, for those who are tired of squeaky-clean, don't-rock-the-boat Christianity, I would thoroughly recommend getting a copy of this beauty and reading it.

Who knows? You may discover that perhaps people who enjoy satire have more in common with Jesus than what their Sunday School teachers could ever have imagined! So, if you're someone who has all but given up on their God-given gift of biblical prophecy, please don't. We need you...the church needs you. Take up your cross...and bear it!

For what it’s worth, both Wilson and I salute you...


Ian Packer said...

The lowest BUT FUNNIEST form of humour!

Regarding the difficulties of the satirist, does he talk much about Kierkegaard?

Chris Thornhill said...

No, it's largely an analysis of the gospel narratives, and broader Scriptural occurrences of the technique.

Doug Wilson publishes 'Credenza Magazine' which is him in satirical action.

It's also worth checking out Canon Press for their other satirical publications: 'Right Behind' and 'The Mantra of Jabez' are classic parodies for example.