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BOOK REVIEW: Memoir recalls mixed memories about Churches of Christ

New on The Christian Chronicle’s website:

Memoirs are supposed to inspire and encourage.
They share true stories of how a person overcame great obstacles to become the strong, interesting person he or she is today.
Most of all, they examine a life, so that readers are inspired to examine their own.
A new memoir by Mike Allen, son of prominent, now retired, Church of Christ evangelist Jimmy Allen, has the potential to do all these things, but it ultimately fails.
In “Growing Up Church of Christ,” self-published this year, the author presents a string of snapshots from his life, some almost short enough to be nothing more than a photo caption, all conversational enough to be a blog entry.
Brevity and casual tone are fine, but these memories fail to achieve what personal writing must do: show the significance of the memory in shaping the person the writer is now.
There’s simply not enough examination of each memory to add up to anything meaningful.

Read the full review.

  • Feedback
    Saying that a Memoir is “supposed to inspire and encourage” seems an arbitrary assertion, grounded in no fact.
    If the Reviewer wishes for memoirs to “inspire and encourage” then this needs to be stated. However, to make the blanket assertion is to mislead those in the readership who take “newspapers” at face value.
    Such statements do a disservice to Truth. They lower any esteem outsiders might have for the objectivity and scholarship “in the Lord’s Church.” In short, they are irresponsible.
    A memoir, by its categorization, is to accurately reflect the author. Not all authors write with the flowing expression of a gifted rhetorician. So, while it may be “thin” in many places (which the reviewer seems to imply), and the reviewer may wish for greater detail and expression which “inspires and encourages”, still the reviewer leaves unstated whether this is an honest effort by its author.
    The book may be thin, but if it is honest then the question is “does this book help or hurt the cause of Christ.” Unfortunately, the reviewer failed to touch on this vital matter.
    Jim Gammon
    December, 13 2011

    Interesting review. I also hoped for more from this book than it delivered, but I do not think it deserves quite the harsh treatment it received here. As I noted in my review (http://johndobbs.com/2011/10/20/review-growing-up-church-of-christ), he wrote the book he wanted to write. Mr. Allen was under no compulsion to expound on every topic that might have been of interest. His purpose was more miscellany than memoir. It is primarily interesting to members of the Churches of Christ … I doubt anyone outside of our faith family will understand the issues being referenced. Mr. Allen grew up more than “Church of Christ”…he grew up as “Jimmy Allen’s son”. While the author seeks to escape that shadow, it is probably the only reason the book is of interest. And I found it interesting enough that once I started it I didn’t put it down until I was finished.
    John Dobbs
    December, 13 2011

    I disagree with the reviewer – I really enjoyed reading this book and appreciate Mike’s search for a faith community where Jesus is central over and above institution or biblically-flimsy tradition.
    Wes Woodell
    December, 15 2011

    Memoirs are not just designed to inspire and encourage. Memoirs remember – and those memories may be positive or negative or in-between. Memoirs can convict – raise issues of wrongdoing – inspire social change – instruct.
    Lindy Adams
    December, 15 2011

    Having read the book, I’m not sure that Mike will always be happy in the same church over an extended period of time. But he does come across as a smart and well meaning person, one from whom I can learn.
    In reading his book, I felt fortunate that the congregation with which I associate does not have at least some of the problems he describes. Churches of Christ are so congregational that forming an overall judgment of them is fraught with the risk that stereotypes fail to be universal predictors.
    But I can certainly understand Mike’s concerns about being, wherever he went in the fellowship, inexorably identified as “Jimmy Allen’s son.” Others would go from there to capitalizing on the name recognition. I’m uncertain on whether either reaction is right or wrong, but I have seen both.
    Mike writes that he “left.” Actually, what he “left” is an earthly fellowship, what Alexander Campbell called “the church terrestrial.” Only the Lord knows who are the members of “the church celestial,” the names written in the Lamb’s book of life. Only that, in the end, is the Lord’s church.
    Finally, Mike indicates that one thing he misses about the church in which he grew up is acappella singing. To some, nowadays, that seems to be a strange attribute of our branding, our quality. But the fact is that, if you lose your distinctiveness, you also lose your raison-d’�tre. He didn’t leave to take up the sounding brass and the clanging cymbal.
    David Ramsey
    December, 15 2011

    I enjoyed reading the here-set-forth “review” of the review. Kimberly Mauck obviously was not inspired nor encouraged in her Church of Christ walk and also gave the reader a not-so-inspiring or encouraging review of the book, “Growing Up Church of Christ”. The author, however, had something to say of his personal experience and it probably struck a heartstring in every young person growing up in a church leader’s home. It sounds like the young man gave a sincere account of his experience. An honest testimony of one’s firsthand experience is helpful, whether for validating another’s experience or for encouraging the church to make a change by a reality check. I would like to read the book and wonder where it can be purchased under the price of Amazon which is about $13.
    Linda K
    December, 16 2011

    I agree with the reviewing editor. I kept thinking there will be a point to all this. I saw more about tensions between Mike and his father than an exploration of “growing up Church of Christ.” Maybe he should treat this work as an outline and go ahead and say what he was afraid to say in print. There is a reason that the book is self-published.
    T. Mark Jones
    December, 17 2011

    I enjoyed this very short read. I also grew up in the church and would have loved to hear more of the interesting and unique particulars of a life in the CofC. No discussion on Christmas expressed only in the summer or obsessing on the five acts of worship. His leaving and going to another church resonated with me since I did the same. Overall I would recommend this to anyone in the church. Especially the Harding grads since I also fall into that category.
    Andrew Shadel
    December, 17 2011

    Oh how I remember Jimmy Allen!! I think it’s great that his son has written these memoirs. I’m not here to criticize only to reflect on his father. I think I’ll read the book.
    What I remember about growing up in the Church of Christ was listening to his father’s LP vinyl record “What is Hell Like.” Our church listened to it at a Sunday night worship service. It scared the life out of me. His definition of eternity still haunts me today. He said “If an ant started walking around the earth and did it for so long that the earth would be cut in half by the path of the ant that is just the beginning of eternity.”
    So, what’s my point? It didn’t scare me from God it scared me to God. Back then the church of Christ was one of the fastest growing churches in the United States. So what happened? We started fighting over things that had nothing to do about the cross of Jesus.
    The result was the creation of the evangelical movement. By the way, the word evangelical isn’t found in the Bible. Instead of doing what Paul says to do in Romans 12:3 (Start with your thinking and the way you are thinking about yourself) we started with others. (By the way at one time we were told not to study the book of Romans) We wanted to tell others what they should be thinking and doing and how they should act. We were critical and judged others.
    I guess what goes around comes around.
    Thomas Sutton
    Thomas Sutton
    December, 19 2011

    I thank Kimberly Mauck for posting her review. It directly resulted in my reading Mike Allen�s book. Like others that have written here, I find the initial premise she uses in defining the purpose of such a work unnecessarily narrow.
    As one who grew up C of C in the period Mike chronicles I find the book inspiring. There are many good things about our C of C heritage. Regrettably, on occasions we have passed judgment on one another in disputable matters, putting a stumbling block in many a brother�s way. Mike handles both the good and error we share with Grace the Holy Spirit has place within him.
    Mike portrays one who has and continues to strive to meet the Goal set before Timothy by Paul, �Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.�
    As for being self-published � I applaud Mike�s faith in the Spirit�s call to share this work when others failed to catch the vision. I encourage others to purchase the book to read and enjoy, moreover to ensure the message Mike brings has a strong voice among church leaders.
    C. David Buchanan
    December, 27 2011

    Memoirs aren’t always inspiring, that’s for sure if you look at Mommie Dearest. Where’s the inspiration or the feel good nature of a memoir in that book?
    Memoirs are also sometimes therapeutic. I’ve written one of those on ministry along with suggestions on how to cure some church ills.
    The only way it will be published is to do it myself, something I’m unwilling to do.
    Sounds like from the comments above, Mike Allen’s book is one I’d like to read.
    December, 28 2011

    So simply stating that a memoir �inspire and encourage� misleads and does �a disservice to Truth?� I believe that rhetorical device is called �opinion.� Last I checked, book reviewers were entitled to those.
    How exactly is the reviewer to know if the writer is putting forth �an honest effort?� And what exactly does that mean?
    I would like to hear, like the reviewer, more details on why Allen left the CoC� and it seems like this sort of book would have to get around to that eventually. An external editor might have demanded that from him.
    JR Cash
    January, 3 2012

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