For The Someday Book

Book Review: The Devil in Pew Number Seven

Posted on: July 27, 2013

The Devil in Pew Number Seven, by Rebecca Nichols Alonzo. Tyndale Momentum, 2010, EPUB file. (288 pages in paperback form)

TheDevilInPewSevenThis was my first ever experience with reading an e-book. I purchased an iPad the night before a major trip, and one of the things I most wanted was the chance to check out books from the library for e-reading. This was my first. In general, I enjoyed the experience of reading on the iPad, for fiction and light reading (I still need pen and paper for more intense texts). However, I learned quite a few things by checking out a book without having first been able to handle it, flip through it, and examine it carefully.

Sometimes, there are books that you are embarrassed to admit that you have read. Other times, there are books that you are sorry you wasted your time reading. Occasionally, there is a book that is both. For me, this book is one of those. Had I looked at it more carefully (in person, or as a more experienced e-book selector), I never would have checked it out, because I would have known by looking that it was not for me. However, there I was on the plane with only this option, and I read the whole thing and now must write up a review in keeping with my self-discipline.

I confess I chose the book because of the salacious nature of the story. A preacher’s daughter tells the true story of her growing up in a country church where one of the members was using all manner of violent threats and intimidation to try to get her father to leave the church. Her family endured bombings, stalking, random gunfire, and finally a murderous shootout that took the life of her mother and almost her own. The book tells that story, along with the story of how her life has unfolded since.

I thought the story would be exciting and dramatic. I thought she might offer an indictment of her father’s refusal to protect them, or the church’s mishandling of the offending member, or the real sickness of a community. I thought she might offer insight about how this kind of violence starts with a tolerance for smaller misbehavior, and strategies for churches to avoid it. I thought she might offer a witness for how God could be present in the midst of such terrible followers. I was wrong.

This book falls in the genre of Christian personal memoir, the “how I overcame by the power of God,” that you can find in Christian bookstores everywhere. The early parts are highly romanticized and poorly written accounts of her childhood, followed by a good story told in mediocre style, followed by life lessons she learned (and you can too!) about how God works in the worst of circumstances. The tale is horrifying, with devastating costs to the author and her entire family. Yet the ending and the outcome is syrupy sweet and nice. The book tells the details of the crime, but does not probe into the depths of cause or cost. It is a shallow telling, and left me feeling sticky rather than saved. It conveys a version of Christianity that does not speak to me, and I’m sorry to have wasted a good flight on it.

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About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

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