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Making sense of Christian life with a little humor

Despite the proverbial reminder that “a cheerful heart is good medicine,” our fellowship has not always been known for its collective sense of humor.

Gary Holloway identified some outliers in his 1989 work “Saints, Demons, and Asses: Southern Preacher Anecdotes”; one might also point to Gary Freeman’s 1969 novel “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Heaven” or his “Balaam’s Friend” column in Mission as prominent examples of how humor has shaped our history. But still, these are exceptions proving the rule.

Fortunately for us, Perry C. Cotham’s numerous interests include the relationship between the comic and the Churches of Christ, as shown most clearly in his 2020 book “Please Don’t Revive Us Again! The Human Side of the Church of Christ.”

In the wider-ranging “Everyday Christianity: Theology with Common Sense, Practicality, and a Touch of Humor,” wit is only part of the equation, but readers will still recognize Cotham’s sense of humor amid the often- serious topics of the book.

Inspired, in a sense, by his reading of the late 1990s doorstop “The Complete Book of Everyday Christianity,” Cotham has set a more manageable target here: “taking a select number of biblical and theological topics and then interpreting and applying them in a way that makes sense in both our thinking and in our everyday life.”

Cotham has largely succeeded in this endeavor.

He acknowledges that readers will likely disagree with some of his conclusions (which was the case for this reviewer), but the journey remains a valuable one all the same.

Addressed along the way are subjects as varied as the purpose of prayer, the relationship between the testaments, aging and the interchange between theology and philosophy.

What ties the topics together is Cotham’s consistent approach to asking tough questions despite the possibility of finding even tougher answers.

“Doubting can be a sign of strength instead of weakness,” he observes in the introduction, “a sign that we are willing to probe and ask questions rather than simply accept what’s been pre-packaged and handed to us as unquestionable.”

Related: Six podcasts to keep your mind on things above

Where the book is somewhat less successful is in the technical execution.

“Everyday Christianity” checks in at roughly 350 pages, which might undercut the book’s effectiveness in providing encouragement to some readers. Numerous typographical and minor factual errors also have the unfortunate cumulative effect of drawing the reader’s focus away from the content.

Page 9, for instance, both describes Aaron as Moses’ cousin (they were brothers) and lists Cecile (actually, Cecil) B. DeMille as the director of “The Ten Commandments.” These kinds of small mistakes continue throughout.

Even so, “Everyday Christianity” is a valuable read, precisely because it is so wide ranging.

One might not agree with everything Cotham says or find every topic equally relevant, but there is likely something here for everyone, and we could all do worse than to follow Cotham’s lead in thinking critically — and, yes, comedically — about our common convictions.

JOHN YOUNG is an associate professor in the Turner School of Theology at Amridge University.

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Filed under: book review Everyday Christianity Features Humor Perry Cotham Reviews theology Top Stories

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