Review: How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth
How do we Christians understand the Scriptures? Is it simply…
For some people, any conversation about Christian beliefs and practices should be solemn in tone and avoid any levity, lest offense be given or disrespect shown.
Then there are the rest of us.
Fortunately for us, Perry Cotham has tried to obey his own personal 11th Commandment throughout his life, “Thou shalt not take thyself seriously,” and his book, “Please Don’t Revive Us Again! The Human Side of the Church of Christ,” lives up to that commandment.
Cotham, a retired professor who taught at Lipscomb University and a longtime pulpit minister for Churches of Christ, treats the reader to a rich feast of stories and observations — a few serious or poignant, but most light-hearted, funny, even satirical — all drawn from a lifetime of Christian ministry.
He wisely opens his narrative with a fundamental point that echoes throughout: he respects the people whose stories he tells and has no desire to denigrate them or their walk of faith in any way.
Having kept a diary for more than 50 years, Cotham enjoys a phenomenal recall of people, places and events that vividly color his narrative, and the delight he takes in writing about them is infectious. Cotham maintains that by unveiling our tradition’s foibles and poking fun at them with humor and satire (but never sarcasm), we remind ourselves of the messiness of human lives and the humility that should be our mindset in following Christ.
Although Cotham suggests that his book may not be of great interest to those outside the Church of Christ tradition, the first chapter provides a witty introduction to it for those unfamiliar with our “peculiar” traits.
For example, a column of “Good Words” contrasts with “Words of Ill Repute” used by our friends in other traditions (i.e., “the denominations”). Those of us who are cradle Church of Christ members will smile in recognition at the pairings: “minister” versus “pastor,” “chorus” versus “choir,” “singing only” versus “organ/piano,” etc. Younger church members (those born in the 1990s or later) will not necessarily recognize all the situations that Cotham describes, but this book should deepen their understanding of the tradition that has been passed on to them.
Chapters on preaching, congregational singing, pastoral counseling, weddings and funerals, and other aspects of a minister’s career all feature vignettes ranging from:
• Gently satirical (advising catchy titles for sermons, such as calling a sermon on Noah “When Giggling Turned to Gargling”)
• Ruefully funny (concluding his sermon early during football season when an audience member pulled out his Detroit Lions game tickets and fanned them in front of his face)
• Mildly subversive (changing the words to the hymn “No Tears in Heaven” to “No Beers in Heaven … all will be dairy products there” as a complement to a sermon on a liquor referendum).
Some stories feature almost unbelievable legalism: a flat-bed truck with a piano on it outside of a church window for wedding music, or a guest song leader who refused to lead Easter hymns on Easter because that would be “denominational.” Cotham allows such stories to speak for themselves and thereby manages to keep his touch light so that the reader’s wince is mercifully brief.
The foundation that undergirds these stories is always visible: it is Cotham’s deep and abiding love for the church that nurtured him.
KIMBERLY REED is professor of English and French and chair of the Department of English and Modern Languages at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tenn. She worships with the Woodmont Hills Church of Christ in Nashville.
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