Review: A Serrated Edge

Douglas Wilson, Canon Press, 2013, 121 pages, 4 of 5 stars

screen-shot-2017-01-11-at-4-37-12-pmIs sarcasm, ridicule and scorn a valid weapon of communication for Christians? Erasmus tried it; Luther perfected it. But what about today’s Christian?

Is satire like formal debates: fun to do but not persuasive to the masses? It isn’t the argument people hate but the vehicle in which it is carried. Right? Maybe Erasmus would have changed had Luther not been so cheeky. Why anger your opponent by angering him with mockery?

Douglas Wilson, pastor of Christ Church (Moscow, Idaho), argues satire is a lost art and is both legitimate and good. Jesus used it and so should we—provided we do so skillfully. He writes:

A common argument against the satiric approach is that it is counterproductive; it turns people off. The problem with this argument is that it is simply not true. A certain kind of person is turned off, that is true enough, but another kind of person is attracted to the ministry because of it and flourishes there (loc. 943).

Strengths and Weaknesses

The feelings of others are not Wilson’s main concern. This is certainly a strength. When people argue that satire doesn’t take into account people’s sensibilities, Wilson is incredulous:

[People say]: ‘If we continue to maintain that God created the world in six days, we will not be granted academic respectability.’ To which we must reply, well, who cares? Why should we care that the guardians of the academy believe that we are not intellectually respectable?

The book has weaknesses too. For example, how does mockery fit with the spirit of gentleness? “Be gentle,” Paul says (Tit. 3:2). Wilson only addresses this briefly. And what about our audience? Yes, Jesus used sarcasm with unbelievers like the Pharisees, but it wasn’t a common practice with his disciples. Is it just as valid for Christians? Wilson isn’t clear.

If you are looking for a politically incorrect book with biblical backbone and sass, read Wilson’s defense of the use of sarcasm in the public square.

Excerpts:

  1. Suppose you see an attractive Christian lady on TV who just loves to give people really bad advice. Can Dad lean over to his son and say: “That lady is like pig with pierced ears.” Solomon sure did (Prov. 11:22). Amos could call a group of greedy ladies “the Cows of Columbus” (Amos 4:1).
  2. If we are to imitate Jesus’ love with the rich young ruler, why are we not to imitate Jesus’ insults with the Pharisees?
  3. When modern evangelicalism has compromised fatally with the idols of the age…, and when someone points it out in a way that cannot be ignored, the basic defense of the idolatry is to attack the critic as one who is arrogant.
  4. Arrogance is never determined by examining the results of a survey or poll.
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