Before I became a Christian, I thought Christians were not free to have fun. After I became one, I’ve been having the fun of my life. Somehow, strangely, as a Christian I have freedom to have fun. And in today’s book, the author brings out the funhouse mirror so that we can poke fun and laugh at ourselves.
Hi, my name is Terence and I’m your host for Reading and Readers, a podcast where I review Christian books for you. Today I review “The Retreat: A lighthearted and humorous story about a soul searching pastor” by Kees Postma. 197 pages. I don’t know who published this book, that information is not listed in the Amazon page. But it was published in January this year. It’s available in Amazon for USD3.99.
Challies, “New and Notable Christian Books”
Normally I would never come across this book. I don’t know the author. I read many far too serious books. And I didn’t even know I needed this until I read it, that I needed a lighthearted and humorous story about a soul searching pastor.
All thanks goes to Tim Challies and his blog. He has this monthly “New and Notable Christian Books”, where he lists around 8 or 10 newly published books. I always look forward to his list for the unexpected gems. And that’s where I got today’s book. So go to challies.com.
Hero’s Journey from Holland to Ireland
Back to the book. According to the author information in Goodreads:
Kees Postma (1982) is a pastor and church planter. He and his wife and four kids live in the rural Northern part of Holland called Friesland where he pastors a Baptist church. Next to that he works for European Christian Mission, helping churches plant new churches. His favorite movie of all time is Dumb and Dumber and he loves the harmonies of the Everly Brothers, the thought provoking lyrics of Andrew Peterson and the fact that he is and always will be a sinner saved by grace.
This is a lighthearted book so I will take a lighthearted approach for this review. This is also a spoiler-free review.
I can tell you that this is a hero’s journey, where the hero is a pastor.
My fall took place in slow motion, away from the sight of others. No adulterous relationship with a church member or a financial scandal. No public outburst of anger or straying from sound theology. No, knowledge about God replaced knowing God. Academically intellectual Christianity replaced my times of prayer and my long walks in the Dutch forests interacting with the Most High. The ministry became a burden, people became a burden, and the cracks grew bigger and bigger.
Pastor Case Parker needs help. And where do pastors go when they need help? They go to a pastors retreat, of course. And the book follows Pastor Case and his motley crew of fellow pastors as they travel from Holland to Ireland, to find something, someone, to help them in their hour of pastoral desperation.
Big Bang Clergy
We sometimes wonder whether the author is revealing far more than he intended. I remind you, the author of this book is himself a pastor. And he reveals the sub-culture of the pastoral ministry. The closest pop culture reference I can think of is this is the Big Bang Theory for pastors.
It’s full of insider humour. In the Big Bang Theory we have jokes about science, science fiction, gaming, comics and all things in geekdom.
In the Retreat by Kees Postma, we have jokes about denominations, hermeneutics, rituals and all things in Christendom.
Listen to this. Pastor Case and his fellow pastors are on the plane heading to their destination:
In Row 14, two of my Dutch reformed brothers have started an exegetical and hermeneutical debate on the application of Psalm 121. “Let me ask you this, Brother Vincent. Do you think we can still wholeheartedly pray Psalm 121, traveling at 30,000 feet? After all, we are not lifting our eyes to the mountain, but we are looking down on them.”
That may be too much theological geek for you. I thought it was funny. And if the insider, sometimes slapstick, humour is what Big Bang Theory and this book have in common, then satire is where they differ.
I have this quote from G.K. Chesterton:
A man is angry at a libel because it is false, but at a satire because it is true.
And as we read this book, we will laugh, maybe not laugh out loud, we will smile knowingly whenever Postma winks at us, we get the joke, it is nice to be in on the joke. But it is satire.
Pastor Case observes and records his thoughts. And it’s funny but it’s true. I mean, it’s funny because it’s true.
It can be uncomfortable as we see how Pastor Case squirms as he justifies certain actions. Or when we see the flaws and foibles of his fellow pastors and the people around them. It is sometimes cutting edge humour, cutting to the heart because it is uncomfortably absurdly true.
So in that sense, there are moments in the book, where you wonder, “Hmm… what do I think about this? Why am I laughing?” Am I supposed to agree cause I don’t know what to think. And that I think is humour at its best.
Simultaneously Saint and Sinner and Narrator
Another feature of the book, and it is a feature, is the untrustworthy narrator. The narrator, Pastor Case, is sincerely reflecting on his past. He is honestly recording his observations. But he is also trying to justify himself. He is using the measure of the world, not the Bible, to interpret the world. We are reading, the inner thoughts, of a man who is simultaneously saint and sinner.
For example, when Pastor Case is reading the reviews on the retreat, he makes this conclusion about the pastor in charge of the retreat:
Funnily enough, I can’t find anything about Cornelius online. Google, Instagram, YouTube, even the more debatable online platforms, none of them have any of this modern monk’s sermons or seminars. Not even a biography of some sort. This makes me question if he is as good as other shepherds say he is. If you’re going places as a spiritual giant, you should invest in online visibility, shouldn’t you? Otherwise, you will never go global! What’s the point of preaching if others can’t praise you for it?
Cue laugh track. Also cue cringe. We do think like that even though we shouldn’t, and it’s absurd we should even think in this way, hence why we laugh when our thoughts are outed in this book.
Pastor Cases’ companions are an unpredictable bunch. I don’t want to say too much, this is a spoiler-free review, but Postma’s all time favourite movie is Dumb and Dumber. And there are certainly scenes in this Christian book written by a pastor and church planter that would fit in a Dumb and Dumber movie. And that’s a sentence you probably never heard before.
I won’t give you the context behind this paragraph, you’ll have to puzzle it out or read the book for yourself. I’m quoting this because I like how the paragraph ends. And it’s a sample of the zingers Postma throws at the reader:
Although my co-workers knew about my acrophobia (fear of heights) and bathophobia (fear of depths), they had decided to save the best for last. The only alternative was to turn around and suffer in silence, walking all the way back. But since I suffer from monophobia (fear of being alone) as well (you’ll never see me at prayer meetings in church for that reason) I decided that wasn’t a viable option.
So here, the jokes are thrown as an aside. And it throws us off guard. He confronts us as Christian who take pride at our immediate access to God through prayer, Christians who celebrate the formation of the church, and yet at the same time, make prayer meetings a scary place for the monophobic.
Make It A Series
When the book ends, I wish it didn’t because I wanted to read more. I wanted more of Pastor Case. I wanted to know more about his best friend. What did he say to his wife? How did his church in Netherlands welcome him from his retreat? Did he ever own up to Father Henry on what happened that first night?
Thank goodness, in the epilogue, Postma tells us there will be a sequel. The title is: “The Heaven and Earth Conference: The Wondrous Diary of An Ordinary Pastor”. I don’t know when it will come out but I’ll definitely get it when it’s out. I think this could be the beginning of a series. At least I hope so.
There are lots of material in Christendom to mine. More awkward truths for us to laugh at ourselves.
For fun, let me throw some ideas for future books.
We have Book 1, “The Retreat”. We will have Book 2 “The Heaven and Earth Conference”. Maybe Book 3 can be titled “The Church Family Camp” or “The Vacation Bible School” or “The Christmas Concert”. Many long time Christians can imagine the possibilities for humour and tragedy.
And if dysfunctional get-togethers have lost their charm, Kees Postma can try ‘dark humour’ or perhaps more accurately, morbid humour? What about “The Funeral” or even worse, more deadly than a funeral, “The Split”. Can our hearts take it if a satirist takes a hand at church splits?
Kees Postma, if you are listening, I hope you continue to write a whole series. Show us how our conflicts are sometimes, maybe it has always been, absurd.
Make us laugh so that we do not cry.
Make Us Laugh, So That We Do Not Cry
In the epilogue, Postma comments on the source material for this book. He writes:
I would love to say that every similarity between you, your church, and your shepherd is based on mere coincidence, but maybe you’ve recognized a little bit more than you hoped while reading this book. Maybe you don’t have the gift of exaggeration that I have myself, maybe your can’t appreciate the satire. But I hope you will be able to read between the lines to discover a nugget of truth here and there.
And that’s why I think you should read this book. Sure, it’s entertaining. It’s lighthearted. But as is true for all great fiction, especially ones written by Christian authors, it is soul-enriching.
I just had a thought. When John Bunyan writes Pilgrim’s Progress, it’s obvious that the reader is in that journey. For we are all pilgrims. I just realised when Kees Postma writes The Retreat, the reader is in need of a retreat, for the reader is also soul-searching alongside the hero of this journey. Read this and laugh, so that you do not cry.
This is a Reading and Readers review of “The Retreat: A lighthearted and humorous story about a soul searching pastor” by Kees Postma. 197 pages. Available in Amazon Kindle for USD3.99. Once again, special thanks to Tim Challies for bringing this book to everyone’s attention. You can and should visit his website at challies.com.
The next book I’ll review is the Faithlife Free Book of the Month, “The Sacred Us: A Call to Radical Christian Community” by Justin Kendrick. I’ve just finished it and you can listen to my thoughts on it soon.
You can get this book for free from faithlife.com. Another website, logos.com has their own free books. The February free book is The Broadman Bible Commentary on Matthew and Mark. My church is going through an expositional series on Mark, so I told my pastor about the free commentary. So, tell your pastors.
In the Logos free book page, there is a list of discounted books. 10-12 discounted books. I bought one book, “Puzzling Passages in Paul: Forty Conundrums Calmly Considered” by Anthony Thiselton. Looking at my schedule I don’t know whether I’ll get to review this book.
But I put it out here so that you know there are good resources at good discounts out there. And if you like that, subscribe to Reading and Readers, a podcast where I review Christian books for you. Thank you for listening. Bye Bye.
- “The Retreat: A lighthearted and humorous story about a soul searching pastor” by Kees Postma. Amazon.