JOHN GRISHAM AND THE CHURCH OF CHRIST
John Grisham is a lawyer turned author who has written 35 legal novels, one work of non-fiction, and seven novels for young readers. He is an excellent writer and always tells a fascinating, page turner story. I have read most, if not all, of his books and seen a number of the movies based on his works. My closest high school friend, college roommate, and best man at my wedding—Wayne Emmons—had a bit part in one or two of Grisham’s movies. I recently completed Grisham’s latest book, A Time for Mercy, a Father’s Day gift from my son and daughter-in-law. I keep thinking that Grisham cannot top his last one, but he always seems to manage to do so.
Grisham was born and bred in the South and most of his novels take place in southern settings. He even worked the name of my boyhood hometown of DeFuniak Springs, Florida into one of his books. Grisham is a Baptist and apparently quite devout. While he uses some colorful and descriptive language in his books, including plenty of four letter words, he steadfastly refuses to allow any of his characters to take God’s name in vain. For this I commend him.
Grisham is acquainted with the church of Christ. In various ones of his novels he has referred to the church. Of course, he sees it as just another denomination; he does not see it in its New Testament sense. In this he reflects the common view of the masses. For example, on page 335 of A Time for Mercy he has this dialogue between Jake Brigance (the main character of the novel) and another lawyer regarding a prospective juror: “White male, age sixty-two, lives in the country on Pleasant Valley Road, raises organic chickens and sells them to the best restaurants in Memphis. Married for forty years to the same woman, three adult children, scattered, a bunch of grandchildren, Church of Christ.” / “What does ‘Church of Christ’ mean?” / “Devout, clannish, conservative, fundamental, strong on law and order with a dim view of violent crime. Almost certainly a teetotaler with no use at all for alcohol and drunkenness.” While reflecting a sectarian view of the church, the dialogue is a backhanded compliment to the church. He knows what most members of the Lord’s church (though not all) stand for. His statement reminds me of the charge leveled against Paul and his companions concerning their preaching in Thessalonica: “These who have turned the world upside down have come here too” (Acts 17:6). While it was intended as a criticism of Paul and his companions, it actually was a compliment to the power of the message they preached. The world was already upside down in sin and lawlessness, but it had been that way so long that most people thought that was the norm. When Paul and his companions preached the gospel among them, it turned their warped view of the world upside down, but in reality it was actually putting the world right side up. Sin turns the world upside down, but the gospel puts it right side up! That is what Paul and Silas and others were doing in Thessalonica.
As in New Testament times, the church today is viewed by many (most) as a sect, a denomination. Paul was accused of being a “ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes” (Acts 24:5). He acknowledged that “according to the Way which they call a sect, so I worship the God of my fathers” (Acts 24:14, emphasis mine, hf). The leaders of the Jews in Rome declared: “…concerning this sect, we know that it is everywhere spoken against” (Acts 28:22). So even in New Testament times the church was misunderstood and thought to be just another sect of the Jews. And so it is today. Most of the world today cannot think in undenominational, non-sectarian terms. They cannot envision a church simply being composed of people who have become Christians only without any denominational affiliation. They cannot imagine a church without a creed, a catechism, a church manual, earthly headquarters, and a hierarchy of earthly administrators. Simple, New Testament, undenominational Christianity is beyond the comprehension of most folks. Unfortunately, John Grisham falls into this number. How we do wish, work, and pray for it to be otherwise.
Grisham apparently has also moved from a view of believing in capital punishment to a rejection of it. In another dialogue between Jake Brigance and Portia, his black paralegal, we hear this: “Why do so many white people love the death penalty?” / “It’s in the water. We grow up with it. We hear it at home, at church, at school, among friends. This is the Bible Belt, Portia, eye for eye and all that.” / “What about the New Testament and Jesus’s sermons on forgiveness?” / “It’s not convenient. He also preached love first, tolerance, acceptance, equality. But most Christians I know are quite good at cherry-picking their way through the Holy Scriptures” (page 439).
Grisham does not see his own cherry-picking of the New Testament. Is he not familiar with Paul in Romans 13 where he speaks of civil authorities as having been appointed by God (verse 1), that resisting them is resisting the ordinance and authority of God Himself (verse 2), that those who do so bring judgment on themselves (verse 2), and that the officer of the law “is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain (a weapon to be used in the punishment of the disobedient), an avenger to execute wrath on him who does evil” (verse 4)? Is Mr. Grisham not acquainted with Paul’s defense before Felix the Roman governor in which the apostle clearly stated, “For if I am an offender, or have committed anything worthy of death, I do not refuse to die” (Acts 25:11)? Paul clearly believed in capital punishment and was willing to have it administered to him if he deserved it. ‘Tis a pity Mr. Grisham and our culture have grown weak on this vital Bible principle!
I like John Grisham. Once I pick up one of his books and start reading I find it hard to lay it down. I usually knock off one of his books in two or three days. I read other stuff, primarily the Bible. But I like Grisham. His works are a diversion from what I spend most of my time reading. He knows Southern culture. He is one of “us.” But like the vast majority of people, he does not have a true view of the church of Christ, nor of the Bible’s plain teaching on such matters as capital punishment. Read him for enjoyment and entertainment, but do not read him to become informed on the New Testament church or of New Testament teaching. He misses both too badly.
Hugh Fulford, July 6, 2021
Speaking Schedule: July 7, Shackle Island Church of Christ, Goodlettsville, TN, 6 p.m.