‘Woe To the Scribes and Pharisees,’ by Daniel Taylor

And who or what is God anyway? A word they used to always capitalize but now is frequently printed in lower-case—god—as in, a god among many gods, none of them real. Personally, I’m sticking with the capital even when not believing there is such a being, because I want my nonbelief to be about something important. Who wants to disbelieve in a lower-case god?

Daniel Taylor is a Christian writer with whom I have theological differences. But I enjoy his novels. Which wouldn’t bother me if I weren’t an ideologue. If I knew the religious beliefs of most of my favorite fiction writers, I’m sure they’d give me a sudden appreciation for Taylor as a brother. It’s only among the brethren that I get all religiously partisan.

Anyway, Taylor’s Jon Mote series is an enjoyable sequence of mystery novels (this is the third) about a troubled and God-haunted man who was once possessed by demons and has been exorcised, but who still declares himself a skeptic. As Woe To the Scribes and Pharisees begins, he seems to be getting his life together. His wife Zee has returned to him, and he has a responsible editing job with a Minneapolis publishing house that specializes in New Age books. They have recently decided to tap into the huge Bible market, by publishing one of their own. This will be a Bible for the new millennium, a Bible acceptable to everyone. However, discovering the expenses involved in producing their own translation, they decide to license one that already exists. They go to Dr. Jerry DeAngelo, a retired TV preacher who appears to be sort of a cross between Pat Robertson and Billy Graham. Dr. DeAngelo published a paraphrase of his own some years back, and now he’s agreed to license it to Jon Mote’s company, with certain stipulations, including his own participation on the revision committee. Which will consist of Christians spanning the continuum from far left universalist to far right fundamentalist.

It goes even worse than you might expect.

They aren’t very far into their editorial meetings before one of their number, a liberal theologian, is found dead in a rest room, the apparent victim of a heart attack. Only Jon notices a cryptic message written in soap on the mirror, which makes him suspicious, though he can’t figure out its significance.

Then a celebrity pastor (sort of a Joel Osteen stand-in) who had agreed to endorse the translation (before it’s finished, of course) dies in what looks like an accident.

And that’s not the last of the deaths. Eventually, while snowed in in a northern Minnesota lodge, they will all realize that these deaths have been murders, and that the murderer is among them.

Author Taylor does an excellent job portraying the debates between liberals and conservatives, and he does it so well that I suspect every reader will think the author secretly agrees with him. The book as a whole consists largely of a series of Socratic dialogues, in which principles of biblical interpretation are hashed out pretty thoroughly and fairly.

What I fear is that Woe To the Scribes and Pharisees is too talky for the average reader, especially for non-Christians. I wish non-Christians would read this book, but I’m not sure they’ll tolerate all the God talk.

Christians, I think though, will take to it pretty well. I know I did.

As always, the real hero of the story is Jon’s “developmentally disabled” sister, Judy, who cuts to the core of matters through her pure and simple love of Jesus, unencumbered by doubts or sophistication.

I highly recommend Woe To the Scribes and Pharisees. Cautions for challenging and mature themes, and some rough language.

3 thoughts on “‘Woe To the Scribes and Pharisees,’ by Daniel Taylor”

  1. Unfortunately, I’m putting this novel aside at the halfway point. The narrator/protagonist goes on and on and on about his puzzlement regarding life, other people, faith, etc. The mystery element so far feels like something the author included out of obligation but in which he has no real interest. The satire seems pretty trite to me, like something I’d have appreciated more 25 years or so. I keep wondering who the editor of this wordy book was. If Christians are going to “tell the truth but tell it slant,” they’re going to need to do a lot better than this.

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