Books sporting titles that parody other titles normally leave me cold, especially when they're Christian books doing a take-off on general-market books. I often get the feeling that the authors aren't creative enough to come up with catchy titles on their own. Not so with Dave Burchett. His title may be a parody on WHEN BAD THINGS HAPPEN TO GOOD PEOPLE, but it's a highly creative one nonetheless. And it certainly is descriptive --- unfortunately, we all know what he's talking about.
Burchett opens with a full admission that he has been a very bad Christian who happened to some very good people. In other words, he has been the kind of Christian who gives other Christians a bad name --- a judgmental, hurtful person who often could not see the damage he was inflicting on others. Because of that, and because of the pain that has been inflicted on him, he writes with authority about the problems we have treating others as Christ wants us to.
Thankfully, he writes with an acerbic wit and a healthy dose of humor, injecting a droll comment when you least expect it ("Of major Christian denominations," he writes, "the Catholics and Lutherans have the lowest rate of divorce, perhaps because they can drink."). It's Burchett's humor that helps elevate this book above other gripe-fests about the sad state of relationships among Christians; he recognizes the intrinsic value of offering comic relief to readers who have just been hit with some fairly ugly truth about themselves and their brothers and sisters in the faith.
Given the treatment Burchett and his wife, Joni, once suffered at the hands of the church, it's a wonder that either of them have a sense of humor --- or that they even bother with Christians anymore. Born with a severe birth defect that meant certain death, their daughter Katie lived several months, significantly longer than the medical authorities expected her to. The Burchetts made adjustments to their family life to accommodate an infant that they knew would not be with them for long. Then, as Burchett writes, "the church entered in…[and did] what I would not have thought possible: They made our pain worse." Fearing that Katie might die during a church service or somehow affect the health of the other children (with whom she had no contact), the mothers in their small congregation held a secret meeting and decided --- without the Burchetts' knowledge or input --- that she was not welcome in the nursery.
As appalling as that is, Burchett quickly points out that similar stories are not all that hard to come by. He's right, of course; many of us can recount horror stories about the pain Christians have inflicted on each other and on the culture around us. But he doesn't leave us holding the problems in our hands with no idea of what to do about them. He offers solutions and guidance on how we can change our ways to become the kind of Christ-followers who would make others want to follow Christ as well.
That will require Christians not only to correct our penchant for intolerance, unkindness and downright cruelty, but also to overcome our tendency toward, um, flakiness. In an absolutely hilarious chapter titled "Godly or Gaudy?", Burchett strolls through a Christian bookstore with Jesus, who "stopped at the What Would Jesus Do? bracelet display. I found out what Jesus would do. He moved on." After the stroll, he does make some serious comments about responsible consumerism --- right before letting us in on his pre-recorded message for the Talking Tombstone that will grace his grave.
Bottom line is this: If you're thin-skinned, you probably won't consider this book to be "edifying" (though you would clearly benefit from reading the chapter on "CSL: Christian As a Second Language") or even funny. But for the rest of you --- the rest of us --- this is a wonderful and challenging read.
Reviewed by Marcia Ford on November 13, 2011