Monday, June 27, 2011

A Review of the audio book ‘Churched’ by Matthew Paul Turner

I first became aware of the writer Matthew Paul Turner (MPT from now on) when someone I follow on Twitter re-Tweeted one of his tweets. I was curious to read more about him, not because I agreed with what he said, quite the opposite in fact. I don’t remember exactly what the comments said but I seem to remember it was making fun of either Reformed Theology or possibly John Piper. Anyway it was enough to peek my curiosity so I started to follow him on twitter and read some of his Blog 'Jesus Needs New PR' (The blog title may give you a hint of his agenda).

It wasn't long before I stopped reading his blog and some time later I stopped following him on Twitter. The reasons will become clearer.

Any way a few months ago Christian Audio gave away his book ‘Churched’ as their free monthly download. So, since it was free, I downloaded it to see if I could try and understand where MPT was coming from. The book has the following description:

He spent his childhood trapped within the confines of countless bizarre, strict rules. And lived to tell about it.

In this first-hand account, author Matthew Paul Turner shares amusing–sometimes cringe-worthy–and poignant stories about growing up in a fundamentalist household, where even well-intentioned contemporary Christian music was proclaimed to be “of the devil.”

is a collection of stories that detail an American boy’s experiences growing up in a culture where men weren’t allowed let their hair grow to touch their ears (“an abomination!”), women wouldn’t have been caught dead in a pair of pants (unless swimming), and the pastor couldn’t preach a sermon without a healthy dose of hellfire and brimstone. Matthew grapples with the absurdity of a Sunday School Barbie burning, the passionate annual boxing match between the pastor and Satan, and the holiness of being baptized a fifth time–while growing into a young man who, amidst the chaotic mess of religion, falls in love with Jesus. (Cited from

churched The Audio Book version that I listened to was read by MPT himself which I guess added to the experience as His reading of his own book clearly added extra weight and humour to the words.

Several things struck me after I had finished listening to the book:

Firstly I have no experience first hand of that kind of Fundamentalism. The only thing that comes close was an evening when my first church invited some man to talk about secular music to the youth group. I was about 18 at the time. He was a nutter quite frankly and saw the devil in everything. I quickly learnt to filter out that kind of nonsense.

I have heard about that kind of US fundamentalism and have read the odd article from people with that kind of viewpoint. Not growing up in a Christian home I cannot imagine what it would be like to be a child in a grace filled Christian home let alone one so rigidly moralistic and graceless.

There are some areas of UK Christianity that are very moralistic in nature but I have not personally come across that level of Fundamentalism, described by MPT, in my 22 years as a Christian believer. There were some friends at university that came from a fairly moralistic, Baptist upbringing and struggled to cope living outside of that bubble. With some predictable results of going off the rails a little.

Secondly, although I do not in any way doubt the sincerity in which the book was written, I struggle to accept that much of what was written has not been embellished by MPT’s adult self. I struggle to remember conversations that happened last week let alone detailed conversations I had as a child. Since this book is a series of narratives of various stages of MPT’s growing up it is full of these conversations.

We all filter and interpret our memories through the life lenses we are currently wearing. That is not to accuse MPT of lying or making stuff up. However he has clearly been deeply affected by growing up in such a strict environment and many of the subtle points he is making come through narratives that are time wise his childhood but message wise most certainly his adult self.

Thirdly it can only be by the Grace of God that he is even a believer today. Some of the incidents described are literally ‘you could not make this stuff up’ stories. Enough to crush and stifle the life and soul out of any person.

However, back to the reason I could no longer stomach reading his blog or following him on Twitter. It is fully understandable to be angry and frustrated with the Fundamentalism in which he grew up. Who wouldn’t be? But much of his twitter stream and blogging is filled with poking fun at and maligning anyone who could be broadly categorised as Reformed or Calvinist. Particular targets are the likes of John Piper and Mark Driscoll (which is odd as the fundamentalism that MPT experienced, Driscoll pokes fun at all the time). That is not of course to say that they are above criticism as no one of course is. However Piper, Driscoll and the pastors, teachers and groups they are associated with are as far from MPT’s fundamental experience as you can get. Their whole message is ‘Grace’ which of course is anathema to moralistic fundamentalism.

What saddened and yes annoyed me most was the comments that others made on his blog. Now Calvinists have a reputation for being harsh, but I have never read more angry, insulting and blatantly Un-Christian views than I read from people on his blog comments against anyone in the Reformed camp.

I use twitter and read blogs for one main reason, to learn more about and grow in my Christian faith from gifted and wise teachers and writers. If I find the blogs of the people I follow on twitter no longer serve that purpose or in fact have a negative affect on that purpose I no longer give them my attention or time. Different views on theological issues are welcome, but when those views are nothing more than childish digs why waste time with them.

MPT if a gifted writer and communicator. Sadly however his childhood experience has so blinded him that he seems to now lump anyone who he does not agree with and is on the more conservative side into one category, Fundamental.

No MPT, Jesus does not need new PR, that is a very arrogant. The Church is Jesus’ body on earth despite itself. What everyone needs is to know, understand accept and experience is the unconditional Grace which he freely offers to all. That is the message of true Reformed theology which you seem to so dislike!

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