Living in the shadow of his famous father --- a megachurch pastor and televangelist --- Paul Hudson takes his first pastorate in a small California town. He and his wife, Eunice, arrive to discover a church pretty much on its last legs. Paul begins a campaign to turn things around, and over the years he manages to add numbers to the congregation and dollars to the coffers. Eventually, the congregation outgrows its building and its budget, adding debt to the spiritual burden many members are already carrying.
Meanwhile, Paul's ego has outgrown his devotion to God. Disgusted with him --- and plagued by his attraction to Eunice --- Stephen, the church's building contractor, leaves town. After years of suffering verbal and emotional abuse, Eunice and son Timmy also leave, seeking comfort in the home of Paul's parents, David and Lois Hudson. Paul is left to deal with the consequences of his downward spiral into sin.
Did you notice all the biblical names just in those two paragraphs? And I haven't even gotten to Samuel and Abigail, faithful pillars of the church. There's nothing wrong with using biblical names, but here it's overdone, with the characters fitting their names too perfectly. Not to mention the fact that Eunice would have been born around 1970, when that name was not exactly popular. I had difficulty imagining her as the young woman she is.
The story, though, is believable in a general sense. Many of us have seen pastors' egos expand out of proportion to the growth of their ministries. We've also seen pastors compromise the gospel to make its message more palatable and manipulate people into doing their bidding. And we've seen pastors ignore longtime members once their churches begin to grow. Paul does all of those things.
The main characters, however, are not believable, starting with Paul. Don't get me wrong: I know Paul Hudson --- or rather, pastors whose resemblance to him is chilling. But not one of them was anywhere near as obnoxious as Paul eventually becomes. I can't imagine why anyone, even his most ardent admirers, would support him as long as they did. And the incident that finally gets his attention doesn't seem compelling enough to do the trick. The whole story wraps up too neatly and too quickly.
As annoying as Paul is, Eunice manages to outdo him. She should have smacked him upside the head when he smacked her, but no. She just takes it and makes excuses for him. Those excuses begin to wear thin early on in the book, and midway through I was ready to call Tyndale and beg them to arrange for an intervention to deliver Eunice from her delusional state. I've known my share of long-suffering wives, but this is a young woman who came of age by the time Christian women had figured out that they could speak up once in a while --- and that they could walk out a decade or so earlier than Eunice does.
On to David Hudson, the patriarch. I suspect that in my 30 years as a religion reporter, I've met more David Hudsons than most people have. In one of many scenes that ring true, Paul visits his father's first-class office complex. David tells his son, "If you're going to attract corporate types to your church, you have to look the part and you can't usher an executive into some tacky little hole-in-the-wall and convince him Jesus is the way to a good life." That may sound exaggerated, but I've heard more than one pastor say virtually the same thing. Still, David comes across as unreal --- too controlling, too insensitive and downright mean to his son.
Paul, of course, treats Timmy the way David treated him, at one point telling him, "I have more important things to do than go to an amusement park!" As infuriating as Paul is, he seems to have more sense than to say something like that to his son. To Eunice, yes, but not in Timmy's presence. Then there are problems such as Timmy's explanation for joining the Marines, which sounds much more like a speech than a believable snippet of dialogue.
Many of Francine Rivers's fans are likely to overlook this book's flaws. But if you're new to her work, AND THE SHOFAR BLEW is probably not the best book to start with.
Reviewed by Marcia Ford on May 1, 2003