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Saturday, June 30, 2007

TRIBULATION HOUSE: Whacked (and wicked funny) Christian novel is a must-read!

A short while after finishing my review of Kingdom Come (thank heaven that's the last we'll ever see of Left Behind... hopefully) I found out about another book that was coming out around the same time. This one also dealt with Pre-Tribulation Rapture theology, but with a twist: it's story was about what happens when Christians obsess about the Rapture to the point of ignoring the work that God has provided to occupy ourselves with until He does come. That alone would have piqued my interest. That the book's page on Amazon described it as a "quirky apocalyptic gangster novel" only fueled my desire to know more. And that this was a Christian satire novel that was - gasp! - said to be uproariously funny settled it in my mind: I absolutely had to read Tribulation House by Chris Well.

It wasn't until two days ago that I found a copy: at the Books A Million in the Concord Mills Mall. Tribulation House is such a genre-bending story that most bookstores, even Christian ones, don't seem to have it in stock. They should though: especially the Christian outlets like LifeWay and Family Christian. With Tribulation House, Chris Well proves that Christian fiction can not only be rollickin' good entertainment when it really wants to be, but that it can share profound wisdom and insight that leaves a person more enlightened for the time spent reading it.

Did I mention already that Tribulation House is also the most hilarious Christian novel that I've ever read?

Did I also say that after the dreck that Left Behind became, that Tribulation House is the most spiritually refreshing Christian fiction that I've read in a very long time?

I can't believe how much more I hate Left Behind now. Not just that series, but a lot of stuff on the "Christian culture" front. We should be giving God nothing short of our best efforts, in everything that we do. Including the entertainment we create. Instead for years now we've had this bass-ackwards approach where we give a blunt-force sermon some thin veneer of "enjoyment" and then expect people to be hooked by The Message, as if that is what's going to draw the crowds. Except it doesn't work and those we are trying to witness to only end up laughing at us that much more. But I'm beginning to sense that a lot of Christians have realized what we're doing wrong, and are now actively working to do something about it. The recent movie Facing the Giants (read my review here) and now Chris Well's Tribulation House "get" it. And I'm especially glad that Well makes a good commentary about that in his novel: maybe others will pick up on it also.

Tribulation House has a number of storylines, at the center of which is Reverend Daniel Glory, the prominent minister of a Kansas City church. Reverend Glory has confidently announced to the world that he has calculated the exact date and time of the Rapture: on October 17th at 5:51 a.m., Jesus will come for the true believers. Which is joyful news for church member Mark Hogan. And since his days on Earth are numbered, why not enjoy them a bit? Hogan immediately begins an insane spending spree that culminates in his lust for a $22,428 dream boat... which he can't get right away because his credit was declined at the showroom. No worries, figures Hogan: he'll just borrow the money he needs from the mob. Then he can buy his boat and enjoy clear sailing right up to the Rapture. And when Jesus comes, he'll be in Heaven and won't have to fret about the gangsters coming to collect what he owes them. And that's exactly what Mark Hogan does.

And then the Rapture doesn't happen. And the details of Pre-Tribulation theology aren't something that organized crime figures usually care to hear about.

Rife with slick dialogue and rich in pop-culture references, Tribulation House is an engrossing tale about family squabbling, Mid-West mafiosos, urban politics, whodunit murder, and an American brand of Christianity that's much too fixated on the Second Coming for its own good. With that much craziness poured into one book, Tribulation House can't help but be a joy to read. This wasn't just the funniest Christian fiction I've read: Tribulation House was one of the funniest books that I've ever read! And the part of me that seeks out opportunity for spiritual growth in this kind of literature... well, I finished Tribulation House feeling quite satiated on that front, too. Chris Well seems to be a Christian writer who is seriously tuned-in to my wavelength (which may or may not be a good thing): some things that he writes about in Tribulation House, in a lot of ways they affirmed a number of things that I've thought about lately. I definitely feel blessed in that regard to have read his book.

Chris Well is the Elmore Leonard of Christian fiction. I don't know if Christian literature realized it had such a vacuum, but I am thrilled beyond belief to discover that Well has found it and filled it. This isn't Well's first book, nor will it be his last: Tribulation House ends with an opening for a sequel, and apparently this is Well's third book set in Kansas City featuring two police detectives - Griggs and Pasch - who investigate organized crime. I will definitely now seek out Forgiving Solomon Long and Deliver Us from Evelyn, along with his next volume when it comes out. I especially like the character of Charlie Pasch, who I identified with a lot so far as Christian struggles go. And in regards to Hank Barton, the candidate for public office in a race filled with over a dozen characters and who also has a wife named Lisa... well, let's just say that my jaw dropped more than a few times at reading about what he goes through (see my posts about running for school board if you want the full skinny).

The last really good novel that I remember reading was Michael Crichton's Next (you can also read my review of that here), and after that has been a six-month run of turkeys like Hannibal Rising and Empire (which was ESPECIALLY disappointing for me, given that it was an Orson Scott Card novel) and Kingdom Come (the Left Behind book by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, not the DC Comics graphic novel masterpiece). Tribulation House by Chris Well finally breaks the streak. I give the biggest props that I can muster to this book. Absolutely recommended!