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Book Review: Evangellyfish

Did you know Douglas Wilson writes fiction? I didn’t either. But he does. And he’s good at it, too.

First serialized online, and now officially published, Wilson’s novel Evangellyfish concerns Chad Lester, the wildly successful head pastor of Camel Creek church. He’s written multiple bestsellers, hosts his own radio show, and leads a congregation of thousands. Heck, his church even has escalators.

But Chad is notorious for his *cough* indiscretion. He’s a character who – to borrow a phrase from Tim Challies – “makes Bill Clinton look positively chaste.” Yeah, that kind of indiscretion.

So when Chad gets embroiled in a scandal, the accusation itself is not as shocking as it might have been: what’s shocking is that the accuser is a man. Now, there’s no denying Chad’s sexual proclivities, but he’s as straight as they come – and horrified that anyone would suggest otherwise. Then again, why should anybody believe him?

John Mitchell is also a pastor… but without all the bling-bling. He shepherds his small flock with care, and the most trouble he’s had is dealing with petty choir feuds. He has his faults, of course; and when Chad Lester comes crashing down off his high-and-mighty throne, Mitchell feels more than a tinge of joy. But all that changes when Chad calls him for help. Seriously?

“How low can grace go? Whores, thieves, and junkies, sure. But pastors?” 

This book is a terrific read. Packed with colorful characters, darkly humorous situations, and cringe-inducing insight, Evangellyfish successfully satirizes the sort of Christ-less Christianity so prevalent in contemporary evangelicalism.

Wilson’s writing is stellar, which should come as no surprise. I’ve enjoyed his wit and wisdom in the past, and this book is no exception. Wilson aims his pen primarily at the seeker-driven church and prosperity gospel movement, and skewers them both with incredible accuracy.

While steeling yourself for this onslaught of savage humor, you should also get ready to highlight like crazy. You’ll want to catch all the clever word pictures and funny turns of phrase. The story is a goldmine for nuggets like this:

Chad Lester was appalled by this dishonesty as only a dishonest man can be. For those who have never seen this phenomenon in action, he was the kind of man who was entirely unaccustomed to looking at lies from this end of the barrel. He was now counting the rounds in their chambers. (p. 137)

As indicated above, this is a funny story. And not only funny, but consistently funny. Wilson’s humor is fresh and interesting, and whenever he takes a shot at something, he hits it. The way he pokes fun at the travesty of today’s youth ministry struck me as especially grin-worthy:

[Johnny] was one of seven assistants to the main youth minister, who was off doing stuff and never around anymore, and [he] had been told many times that he had a promising future ahead of him in this “most important work.” He had short blond hair, and a diamond stud earring – big enough to give him street cred, so necessary in youth work these days, and yet the earring was small enough to not worry the small handful of people at Camel Creek who might possibly have a problem with it. At one point in the church’s history there might have been a handful of people disturbed by this kind of thing in the church, but they had all died and gone to heaven quite a number of years before. Frankly, none of these people cared about it now, apparently having better things to think about. But Johnny still agonized over such things – what size earring would the apostle Paul have worn if his mission had been to the skateboarding and pants-droopy youth of today? Not an easy question to answer. (p. 92)

But don’t get too comfy. You might not be a youth pastor or mega-church minister, but there’s plenty for the average pew-sitter to think about here as well. Amid the humorous savaging of some of the worst in modern evangelicalism, Wilson calls his readers to examine themselves. We’re all in need of grace, and lots of it… even if we aren’t involved in the latest sex scandal.

Evangellyfish gets a hearty recommendation from me, though I’d reserve it for readers over the age of 16. The themes throughout are quite mature, and there’s a smattering of crude language and wink-wink nudge-nudge humor.