"Hear No Evil" is a collage of stories from Matthew Paul Turner's past. A former independent fundamental Baptist (IFB), Turner chronicles his spiritual journey with special attention to the role his love for music played.
As a former IFB myself, I could identify with many of his experiences. I was raised KJV only, and also used my Bible as an autograph book (for the great men of God who I was privileged to hear). One of Turner's memories is particularly relevant to the audience of my blog. Sadly it rings true, to some extent, of my own experience and many others. He recounts:
"I didn't study God. I just memorized Scripture verses and practiced Bible trivia. I could have told you the names of the twelve sons of Jacob or offered you a biblically accurate play-by-play of the events that led up to King David sleeping with Bathsheba. I learned facts. I knew a thousand Bible verses by heart, but I couldn't explain why God's story was important to me, personally. (pg. 122)"
Clear and extremely well-written, the book makes for easy reading. In a light-hearted manner, with equal parts humor and candor, Turner recounts his escapades expertly. The stories are interesting and to some extent comical.
Unfortunately, Turner's tone is rather disturbing. As I read the book I was struggling to find a point in it all. Some of the stories seemed a bit over the top. Even granting for some authorial exaggeration, some of the scenarios he described stretched the limits of reality. Often the humor seemed self-serving. And Turner spared no punches in his shots of fundamentalists and other wider segments of Christianity.
Several scenes were painted without a clear resolution. What really is Turner's assessment of all of this? Where did he end up on the other end of the story recounted in the book? He was not timid in his insinuations about the state of Christian rock music. A Christian bass player ejects from his group and considers himself agnostic. Turner doesn't try to win him back, rather he empathizes with the pressure the Christian rock industry puts on its performers to remain virgins, albeit only in a "technical sense". Biblical literalists like the stern publisher of CCM (the magazine Turner edited for a while), have an agenda and aren't to be trusted. A gay former worship pastor, who visits his church on Easter Sunday indiscriminately receives Turner's cheerful welcome.
I do want to be careful not to judge the book too harshly. It is a personal recounting of events and nothing more. Perhaps I'm expecting too much from it. The flavor of the book is perhaps best captured in the following excerpt. Speaking of a fellow Amy Grant aficionado and staffer at CCM, Turner says:
"The story of Michael's early years is nearly identical to mine. Different parents, different churches, different states, but our experiences were the same. Both of us were raised Independent Fundamental Baptists. When we met people who hadn't heard of our form of Baptist, we told them it was Christian for 'scary beyond all reason.'
"By the time we turned twelve, Michael and I were convinced we knew everything there was to know about God. If that information wasn't already stored in our brains somewhere, our parents had flashcards to help us memorize it. People who told us that God was more or less than what we'd been taught were liars sent by Satan to deceive us. Our teenage years brought questions, college brought doubt, and we spent the better part of our twenties in therapy, trying to reconcile our understandings of God, sex, relationships, and what we believed to be true.
"But there was one consistent thread of grace in our lives, a trail we could follow all the way back to when our memories began: music. Music reminded us that we could trust God even when "his people" failed us.
"And at some point, our paths crossed with Amy's music, which gave both of us hope that God wasn't nearly as hateful as we'd been taught. (pg. 200-201)"
This book will resonate with many. But some will be emboldened by it to continue along a trajectory outside of confessional Christianity and orthodox faith. The book is good reading, but must be read with a discerning eye.
Disclaimer: This book was provided by Waterbrook Multnomah publishers for review. I was under no obligation to offer a favorable review.
Matthew Paul Turner is a fabulous story teller and does a great job mixing pop culture references in describing the various situations of his life. The book itself was very entertaining and it also had a serious undertone of how we all deal with questions around our faith. I like the lightness in which he approached his upbringing and the ways in which he dealt with all the challenges being brought up in a Fundamental Baptist church posed. This book is not going to part any great biblical wisdom, it is simply a well written, funny, story about a man, his life and his faith.
MPT's writing is clearly good. A guy that shoots it straight. Saying things out loud, that most of us are thinking and afraid to say. It's funny. An easy read. The jabs and digs at Christianity's subgroups are point-on most of the time. From the tent-meeting evangelist to the quirky piano teacher, we are introduced to a variety of characters and situations surrounding Matthew Paul Turner's Reformed Baptist upbringing. There isn't a denominational group forgotten in his cynical twist on church life and theology. His observations as a young boy, through teen years and adulthood will leave the reader cringing at the shallow judgements of those within his boyhood faith-community. An isolated upbringing, where calling it the proverbial bubble would be putting it lightly, the author shares not a time-lined look at his life, but instead stories along the theme of music. Although good, I feel like this book is missing something. The point of the story perhaps. What is the central lesson that the author has learned that we the reader can take with us into our own lives. Judgement? Cynicism? Looking at the world differently? Is it a story of going from one extreme to the other? Or is he still searching? As the reader I was left hanging, wondering what does this all mean for MPT now? Did he learn anything? Isn't the point of an autobiography even in essay form to draw the reader into your life experiences and show the common thread that formed what you are now? If music is that common thread, are we to surmise that now that the author appreciates a wide range of music he is closer to understanding man and God? Am I looking for too much? We don't just need to know all of the ways that the Christian community past and present is doing things wrong, give us an idea of how to do it right. A lot of criticism without a real solution. This book was provided for review by the WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group.
The first half of the book had me laughing out loud; I could relate to him, having myself come from an IBBC. If you've ever been to one as a visitor, a member or are a recovering IBBC member, then you'll understand the humor in this book. If you aren't a follower of Jesus Christ, this book is not for you.The author is involved in the Christian music scene & writes from a purported insiders view. Christian rock music was not allowed in my church or house, when I was growing up. Amy Grant was the devils right hand gal, Sandy Patty just "fatty Patty", & Petra, they were about as close to satanic music as you could get. I connected with the author & got his dry humor; I shared his experience with all that stuff. Some of the authors recollections are laugh-out-loud funny. In my opinion, about two-thirds of the way through the book the authors views changed from mine. He found the grace & freedom that I did in Romans 14, but my opinion of the rest of the book, is that this author pushes that grace which Romans 6:1-2 warns us not to do.In particular I disagree with his sarcasm of abstinence before marriage. I don't care for the off-handed, lackadaisical manner in which he describes he & his friends "experimenting" with sex, but not having intercourse, so its ok & not sin (according to the author). And why bring up the M word if you are not going to deal with it. Seems to me the author is just glorifying the situations -- why not leave that to the TV sitcoms.Sure the Christian music industry is not perfect. Neither is the IBBC, nor any other denomination for that matter. Still, I do have friends in the music business in Nashville & their lifestyle doesn't condone homosexuality &/or sex outside of marriage.Bottom line, I enjoyed pages 1-120, but pages 120-231 left me deciding this is NOT a book I would recommend to anyone. Hear No Evil was provided for review by the WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group.