[ 3 minutes to read ]
A Serrated Edge: A Brief Defense of Biblical Satire and Trinitarian Skylarking by Douglas Wilson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Self-defense books are always tricky. When you know neither the cast of characters nor the conflict, it is like catching only the middle part of a movie. You might see some good visual effects and hear a few good lines, but what it all meaneth you wot not. To cut straight to the soup, such books do not stand on their own very well.
If you are not familiar with Doug Wilson, Credenda Agenda, or any number of dust clouds surrounding the former and latter, then some parts of this book will be more helpful than others. Some parts will seem like listening to one-half of a conversation. Now on to the generally beneficial.
The OED online defines satire thusly:
The use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.
Wilson cuts satire roughly into two pieces: Horatian and Juvenalian. Both are ways of exposing folly or evil. Horatian is the kinder, gentler approach that uses subtlety, nuance, irony, and humor. It’s generally light-hearted and more winsome. juvenalian is more abrasive and heavier on sarcasm and ridicule. The humor has more of an edge and tends to be more polarizing.
His main point is to show that Jesus and the biblical writers did employ various forms of satire and, through application, that it is a legitimate mode for Christian speech today. His basic point is sound. How far the satire can be taken and remain legitimate is a different question. Let’s consider one example. Paul used the Greek word skubalon in Philippians 3:8. It is translated dung in the AV. The word means refuse and can refer to animal excrement. Wilson equates Paul’s statement here to a modern profane slang term. The word is strong and not genteel, but the case to make it equivalent to street profanity today is not compelling and such use not justified.
Yes, I’m going to pick at things here and there throughout the book, but I still believe the main point is solid. I’m going to question just how far things can be pushed out from that main point though. Aside from that, I see two areas where the book’s usefulness could be improved greatly for a more general audience. The first area is about who should use satire and the second is on whom satire should be used.
Let’s take the first first. Who should use satire? Wilson rightly points out that satire is a useful weapon or tool for Christians to use. More development here could be helpful. For instance, satire is a tool that requires some maturity and wisdom to use rightly. Let me illustrate. A hammer is a very simple tool to understand and to use. It has a handle to be held and it has a head to pound stuff with. Very simple. In fact, a three-year-old can grasp the concept, sometimes without a demonstration. However, when proposed tot lays hold, he will commence to hammering everything within reach: tables, floors, walls, or the doors of your car. He will be so proud of himself for using the tool and helping Dad out all at the same time. Point taken? Without maturity and wisdom, satire can be a blunt instrument that does a lot of damage.
The second area also needs elaboration. On whom should satire be used? I have heard Wilson make some such distinctions, but not in this book. It is important to discern who you are dealing with. Are you dealing with a traditionalist, a legalist? Then fire away. Are you dealing with an apostle of evil? Then get to it, man. Are you dealing with a refugee, whom has been spat out after being chewed up by evil? Then deal more carefully. Are you dealing with a weaker conscience brother? Proceed delicately.
Again, the book’s general usefulness could be helped greatly with more spadework in these areas. I don’t know that it is for everyone, but this book does address a topic that is often untouched.