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A Review of the Happy Rant Book
Before I dive into the review, thank you to everyone who entered the competition to win Rembrandt is in the Wind last week and congratulations to Tim for winning! I will send you a message to collect the necessary details so I can send you the book.
Good comedians live in their audience’s gut, either it hurts by the end of the show because you’ve laughed so hard you spend the whole time clutching your stomach, or because a single right-hook comment came out of nowhere and left you reeling. There’s something about humour which requires a certain level of vulnerability which we’re not always comfortable with as Christians, especially not when it comes to the things closest to us. There’s good reason to feel like that too, if someone makes a joke at the expense of a Christian or the church it’s probably a pretty low blow, we’ve all experienced it. We need humour though, but it usually doesn’t happen in the Christian public square, rather, we learn it from others around us, in personal conversations and relationships. The Happy Rant podcast is the best example I know of, perhaps the only example out there, of one of these conversations making its way past the borders of a private discussion onto a podcast for all to hear. Ronnie, Barnabus, and Ted don’t do this as some others have though, as post-Christians looking to tear down what they left, but as committed saints, hoping to bring levity to some of the silliness of our sub-cultures, and perhaps to help demystify some of the things we all know are bizarre, but no-one talks about.
Ted Kluck puts it like this:
“A note about our humor, and consider this equal parts "statement of faith" and "Trigger warning": We all love God, love the Bible, love the church, and love each other. This is the baseline. However, we all love to laugh and occasionally make jokes at the expense of the church (because,let's face it, sometimes it's funny) and each other (same reason). But never about the other two things [God, the Bible]. We do this because we think it's fun but also because we think it can be healthy. For example, there is nothing "sacred" about the leadership industry or the Enneagram, and we savage both mercilessly in this book. But we also spend equal amounts of time goofing on Young Reformeddom, which is a subculture we have all benefitted and drawn paychecks from in the past. Still, it's funny.”
It’s Not a Funny Book
A few years ago a Welsh comedian toured with a comedy special named, “The Man with the Flaming Battenberg Tattoo” which exorcised his experience going through Anger Management, using his journal as source material. Gilbert is known for his angry jokes about everything from two-pack-potatoes to shampoo marketing strategies and he took that to a new level, grounding the show in one premise and subject, all the while delivering a variety of stories on different experiences he’d supposedly been subject to. On the flip side, I serve in the Kids work at my church, a wonderfully rewarding experience, but one which requires that I listen to the canon of bad jokes children have told since Cain and Abel were young. These jokes are ungrounded and often they don’t even understand them themselves. “Why’s a tomato red?… because it is… hehehe!”
This isn’t a funny book, you won’t find jokes to tell your friends, or zingers to win your next theological debate, instead, you’ll find real subjects discussed, as well as some non-issues, and you’ll cringe at some of the opinions and you’ll be happy to read others. You will also laugh, this book is humourous but that’s a reason to love the book, not the reason to read it.
Why should you read it then?
I’ve got two reasons for you.
1. Three Views
I’ve previously reviewed a couple of three/four-views/counterpoints books and I’ve found them tremendously helpful. I’ve also purposefully not reviewed others that, though they had helpful elements, were more of a competition to see who had the biggest theological library behind them so to speak, rather than discussing theology in order to further the kingdom. What none of them achieved, which this book speaks to, is the need we have for solid examples of familial discussion amongst believers about points of difference. If you’re talking with friends at church the likelihood is that none of them are allowing you forty pages plus endnotes to back up your points, but the best of them might include things like this:
“What I'm about to write is colored in large part by (a) my view of Scripture as inerrant and (b) my personal salvation experience in which I was saved from the hell-bound race I was running and brought from death to life by my Redeemer. Am I perfectly obedient now? Sadly, far from it.
Am I always happy in my circumstances? Sadly, no. But I know that I'm redeemed and that redemption allows me to be joyful and even hopeful in spite of the brokenness in the world and in my own heart.”
I don’t know about you, but when I attend family gatherings, meet-ups with certain groups of friends, or really anyone I know who disagrees with me, there’s always an unwritten list of subjects I don’t ever go near. As Christians, we shouldn’t live like that when it comes to our relationships with one another, to an extent most subjects need to be on the table because the enemy loves to dwell in the darkness, to get us alone with our thoughts. Bringing those thoughts into the light with others we trust, who we know will love us regardless no matter how stupid we feel, or how ridiculous the subject is can help to bring freedom. It might be something at Church you’ve never understood but you’ve always gone along with and now you feel it’s too late to say anything, perhaps you’re secretly a 50-year-old video game champion and no one at church knows, or you’ve been struggling with romantic thoughts towards someone in your congregation, you should be able to discuss these things!
Don’t study this book, I’m not going to give you questions to answer along the way like I sometimes do, but it might be worth reading or listening to some episode of the podcast, encouraging your friends to do the same and eventually one of you will say, “Did you read what they said in Chapter 5? I’ve always thought that, I thought I was the only one!”
2. Cyclical Cynicism
I’ve said this a hundred times, I will say it a hundred more:
If something is happening in the Church or the world right now it’s happened before. There are only well-worn paths in the history of the Church.
I went through the Klaas Schilder reader for four weeks because it’s worth reading because of it’s relevance to our lives today. Kuyper/Bavinck’s era (late 1800s) was very similar to “modernism → post-modernism” in the late 20th and early 21st century and what came after, unsurprisingly, had analogue theological positions and convictions to the ones we’re seeing crop up today. They aren’t exactly the same, but dang they’re similar. Knowing what came before can help us to know how to deal with what’s happening now, how it was dealt with in the past, and even how things might go moving forward.
What’s helpful about the Happy Rant book is that they’ve lived through some of these cycles already and can relate present struggles to past ones from within their own lifetimes. I’m only just old enough to remember some of these phenomena like “the emergent church” for instance, but these guys lived it. I’m not sure exactly how old the guys are, but here’s a recent picture of Barnabus Piper holding the book for reference:
The point is that if you can’t take my word, Schilder’s word, or any other theologians word for it, pick up this book and read example after example of the guys from the Happy Rant going through “new things” in the church, only to clue us into the fact that they’re all really “old things” happening again dressed up in a different way.
With that said, I do hope you’ll pick up the book. Both the Podcast and the book are well worth reading and listening to and I believe you’ll find yourself surprised by just how edifying the experience will be.
I’ll stop wandering to and fro between seemingly disparate commendations about the book now and simply say—as always—Grace and Peace, I’ve been Adsum Try Ravenhill.
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