Next up for review, courtesy of WaterBrook Press, is Churched: One Kid’s Journey Toward God Despite a Holy Mess by Matthew Paul Turner. Turner is a speaker, author, and former editor of CCM Magazine. Churched is written as a memoir of Turner’s growing up in a independent fundamental Baptist church.
In what will feel familiar to anyone who has been around that sort of church, Turner tells stories about dressing the part (complete with clip-on tie) and getting his first “Baptist haircut” (only a flat-top will do!), paints pictures of weird Sunday School teachers and loud, aggressive preachers, and who can forget the weekly altar calls? The stories hit a humorous note and manage to recount the frustrating times without coming across as cynical or cutting. In chapter 8 he recounts a third-grade Sunday School teacher named Moose teaching about hell:
[One morning] he looked at us and screamed, “BOYS AND GIRLS, DO YOU KNOW HOW HOT HELL IS?” He was serious, as if speaking to a room full of Christian meteorologists. “DOES ANYBODY HERE KNOW?”
As soon as Moose asked the question, I looked at my friend Angie. If anybody in our Sunday school class had visited hell and remembered to take a thermometer, it would be her. Not only was Angie always well prepared and organized, but she also claimed to make frequent visits to farr off places when she slept. One time, during a nap, we heard her mumbling in tongues. When she woke up, she told us she had taken a vacation to Montreal and been able to speak in French. When she saw me looking at her, she raised her hand.
“Mr. Moose, the temperature of hell is 666 degrees,” said Angie with the enthusiastic confidence of a demon. “Everybody knows that! Or should.”
I thought her answer was brilliant – possibly even correct – despite the fact i never believed she’d gone to Montreal.
Moose grew quiet. He didn’t tell Angie she was wrong, but he didn’t tell her she was right either. He just walked over to the door and shut off the lights. Moose’s Sunday school helper, Penny, placed large sheets of fabric underneath both of the doors to block the light coming in. The room became almost black. Moose stood behind his pulpit and found his Dollar General bag.
“This morning, I want to talk to you about hell.” His voice was quiet and low. He wanted it to sound spooky, and it did. “What’s hell like? It’s black down there. Much blacker than what you’re experiencing right now. Imagine a black so thick you can almost feel it. That’s what hell is like.”
I heard Moose rummaging through his paper sack and then the distinct sound of a Play button being pushed on a tape recorder. The crackling noise of the tape began. And then voices.
“It’s hot down here!” said the tape recorder. “We are thirsty! Very thirsty. We need Jesus.”
“Do you hear that, boys and girls?” asked Moose. “That’s what you would hear in hell. There would be a lot more of them, though. And some of the voices you wouldn’t be able to understand because they’re from other countries.”
While I assumed Moose was right, that his tape of sound effects could have been a live audio recording of hell, I was also convinced that if I closed my eyes during the church fellowship time, when a long line of Christians waited for Ho Hos and fruit punch, it might have sounded similar.
Turner’s stories are amusing and will provide laughs, grimaces, and knowing nods along the way. I felt like the story ended too soon, though. I would’ve liked to hear more about how Turner found his way out of the fundamentalist culture and where he is now. Still, it was an entertaining little book.
You can purchase Churched from Amazon.com.