Review: Churched by Matthew Paul Turner

When Matthew Paul Turner was five, his parents informed him that they were becoming Baptists.  And not just your regular-old, run-of-the-mill, Just-As-I-Am, Billy-Graham-type Baptists, either.  Independent Fundamental Baptists.  The kind that think the Southern Baptists are liberal.  The kind that don’t like Billy Graham because he’s “too ecumenical”.  Think Bob Jones University.  Think Pensacola Christian College.  OK, you’ve got the picture now.

Matthew gives us, in his own voice, what it was like growing up in an environment in which going to movies (even “Bambi”) was a sin, as was listening to any kind of “secular” music (which would include any “worldly” music with a rock beat, even–or perhaps especially–if it had Christian lyrics).  He tells us of Pastor Nolan, at turns ridiculously weird and frighteningly oppressive, whose sermons were more harangues than reflections on biblical passages.  Pastor Nolan tells his flock, for example, that it is an abomination for men to have long hair, so Matthew’s dad takes him to a barber shop to get his hair cut “like a Baptist.” Whatever Pastor Nolan says is law among his flock.  And boy are there laws:  lots and lots of laws.  Oh yes, Pastor Nolan also gets in a wrestling ring once a year and fights the devil.  (I am not making this up, and neither is Matthew.)

I did not grow up Independent Fundamental Baptist, or any kind of Baptist for that matter, but I found many points of contact with Matthew’s world, and I have known enough people in that world over the years to know that Matthew is not exaggerating.  Reading Churched was, for me, a little like reading Dennis Covington’s Salvation on Sand Mountain.  Not that the books, or the religious cultures they depict, are similar, but because of the effect they had on me.  Before reading Salvation, the “snake handlers” were just a rumor I’d heard:  something they do in some country churches “out towards Jasper” or “up there past Oneonta.”   Now, thanks to Dennis, I’ve experienced a part of that world, and it frightens me.  Matthew does for the Fundamentalist crowd what Dennis did for the snake handlers.  Except where Dennis Covington’s tone is intense, emotional, and even sympathetic at points, Matthew Paul Turner’s is laugh-out-loud funny.

Even though Matthew’s upbringing was in what we would call “evangelical” Christianity, there is precious little “evangel” (Gospel) in his life.  Instead of justification by faith, there is justification by moralism.  Being a true Christian, in Pastor Nolan’s church, had little, if anything, to do with loving God, much less with being loved by God.  Instead, a true Christian was someone who dressed a certain way, listened to certain music, “separated” from the world by avoiding such things as movies, etc.  Sometimes, true Christians even have to call their mom into the living room so she can place her hands on the TV screen to cover an actress’ cleavage.  Ah, the dedication of the true believer!

The most amazing thing of all is that Turner is able to relate this without once sounding mean or bitter.  That is miraculous, considering he was denied the most amazing treasure–grace–throughout his childhood.  I’m glad that, once he discovered that grace, he decided to extend grace to those who had withheld it from him all those years.

Churched:  One Kid’s Journey Toward God Despite a Holy Mess is now available in paperback.  It’s an easy, hilarious, and memorable read.

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About revjatb

I am a father of six who is trying to do his best! My interests are varied. I have one blog, KnowTea, that is primarily focused on liturgy and worship and another one, Bengtsson's Baking, that is about, well, baking! I hope you enjoy both of them, and if you have any questions, please contact me!
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6 Responses to Review: Churched by Matthew Paul Turner

  1. Brandon Marshall says:

    I grew up the same way. Found Grace, kicked law to the curb and loving Jesus more than ever. I remember going to church members houses on Sunday for football and we always had to change the channels during commercials as not to see a beer commercial. Also had to have the remote control aimed and on cue at all times lest it go to a shot of the cheerleaders! I KID YOU NOT! This isn’t made up. The real deal with IFB’s

  2. Brandon Marshall says:

    Oh yeah, follow me on twitter (how I found this book review) @fivestringbass

  3. cap'n says:

    You forgot Jack Hyles, definitely not run-of-the-mill!

    Phil Donahue used to have on people from Fundamentalists Anonymous who were so sad, hurt, and traumatized. (Remember that–is F. A. still around?)

    It’s a blessing that MPT emerged with humor intact.

  4. RevJATB says:

    Cap’n we might also mention another Jack, “Brother” Jack LeGrand, longtime pastor of B’ham’s own IFB church, Glen Iris Baptist. They had (have?) WGIB radio (and television).

    Mark, if you’re reading this, I think you need to tell Matthew Turner the “Do Lord” story.

  5. RevJATB says:

    My grandmother is Southern Baptist, but she held a soft spot in her heart for a lot of IFB types, including Bob Jones, Sr., Jack LeGrand (she would listen to WGIB round the clock), and Lester Roloff, a certifiable nut who had some very strict homes for “wayward girls” out in Texas or Oklahoma somewhere (and the inevitable abuse allegations to go with them).

  6. Mark says:

    Yes RevJATB. I will be glad to testify. I only have ten minutes to write this so please excuse my lack of editing.

    Sunday Night Fellowship with the LeGrands

    I attended Samford University in the late 80’s. One of the traditions that I cherish is that a circle of my friends would listen to the Glen Iris Baptist Church’s radio broadcast, Sunday Night Fellowship. It aired on WGIB Radio.

    The Sunday Night Fellowship radio broadcast was a call in show. Various shut-ins, mentally handicapped, and old time gospel people would call in and share their talents with Bro. Jack and Mrs. LeGrande.

    Let me give you an example of the type of fellowship that went on during the show. I remember a guy that was in some sort of home, that would call in and play the harmonica. He would say that he was going to play Amazing Grace, but it sounded more like a three year old picking up a harmonica and playing it for the first time. After each act Mrs. LeGrande would say, “Bless your heart.”

    The LeGrands were an exciting radio couple. They proclaimed the gospel with all the fervor of Droopy the Dog. They were the slowest talking folks I have ever heard in my life. They also spoke in a hilarious monotone. I am sure if the unchurched had heard this radio show, they would want to immediately fall on their knees and accept Jesus as their personal savior

    In 1989, the LeGrands went big time. Glen Iris started broadcasting on WAY Channel 49. They broadcast a TV simulcast of their radio ministry’s Sunday Night Fellowship. The LeGrands who neither had the face nor the personality for radio were now thrust into the limelight as TV hosts. Did they glitz it up? Did they make it more exciting? No. Did they make it more entertaining? Absolutely. Now not only could we hear that they were corpses. We could see that they were. They were absolutely expressionless. However, the TV broadcast brought out even more “talent”.

    One Sunday night in late July of 1989, I went to a Birthday Party for a dear friend. ( I have changed his name to protect him. I will call him Skip Rolee. ) So, we were partying College students. We could’ve been drinking, smoking, or dancing. No, we were hardcore. We decided to watch Sunday Night Fellowship on TV in living and barely breathing color.

    That night the show featured a regular cast of characters. Many of the partygoers were viewing the LeGrands for the first time. They all felt the show was as awesome as I did. I remember one girl laughing to the point of tears. She asked, “Are these people totally for real?”

    So, I don’t know who had the idea. but we decided to call in to the show and share the love of Jesus with everyone. As it turns out, Skip Rolee was able to play a mean Southern Gospel Boom-Chank-Chank piano. As Mrs. LeGrand answered our call, someone told her that we were a youth group having an afterglow. They also told her that we were watching the television program, and that we would like to testify through song.

    Skip Rolee cranked up the piano, and all of us sang “Do-Lord” in our twangiest country voices. BTW, all of us were members of the Samford Acappella Choir. We had some mad 4 part harmony going on there.

    Mrs. LeGrand’s face showed expression for the first time. It was not of an expression of approval, but rather one of disdain. at which point our perfectly blended 4 part harmonies were muffled by laughter.

    As we finished, Bro. LeGrand looked at his wife and said in monotone voice, “Looks like some youth are out playing tricks on people tonight.” She replied in kind, “Yes, Bro. Jack, but at least they are watching quality Christian broadcasting.”

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