Away with the Manger: A Spiritually Correct Christmas Story, by Chris Fabry (InterVarsity, 96 pp.; $10.99, hardcover). Reviewed by David Neff.
Evangelical wit, like conventional wisdom, may be an oxymoron. Or it may simply be a rarity. In any case, when you find either one, celebrate it.
Away with the Manger, Chris Fabry's satirical tract for our times, is to the nineties what Joe Bayly's Gospel Blimp was for the sixties and The Sacred Diary of Adrian Plass was for the eighties. Bayly examined the evangelical proclivity for substituting modern technology for personal evangelism. Plass displayed British evangelical discomfort with the charismatic invasion. (He was amused.) Fabry's fable exposes the excesses of evangelical crusaders in the culture wars of the nineties.
Away with the Manger is set in the mythical Middle-American town of Harville. The narrator is Jackson Grim, a newspaper columnist. The players, however, are the Christians (Pastor Marty Karlsen, and Deacon-cum-hardware store owner Immer Wright) and the forces of secularism (Dierdra Bergman Freep, president of Atheists Against Mangers, and the complicit city council). The crux is the crèche. And when the columnist/narrator publishes a reader's parody of a favorite carol (hence the book's title), public discussion and Christian activism are galvanized.
The book offers many moments of gentle humor and embarrassing self-recognition. In addition to the somewhat lame carol parodies, there is some very nice prose. A sample:
Christmas is an endless winter of expectations. The child thinks, I hope I don't get clothes, while the parent thinks, She's really going to like the turtleneck and leggings. The mother ponders all the possibilities. I just don't want him to put it off ...1