Tag Archives: Daniel Taylor

‘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.

Bible Translation Can Be Murder

John Wilson describes Daniel Taylor’s new novel Woe to the Scribes and Pharisees, the third in a mystery series featuring Jon Mote, an amatuer dectective in the Minnesota area. Mote is something of an academic and is currently working as an editor for a publishing house. Wilson writes:

When his employers decide that they want a piece of the lucrative if already crowded market for Bible translations, Jon is drafted to serve as a non-voting member of the committee that will oversee the new translation. “The word is, Mr. Mote, that you grew up among the fundamentalists. Those are your people. We need someone on our side who understands them.” Of course, Jon didn’t grow up among “fundamentalists,” but his bosses aren’t interested in such fine distinctions.

Wilson calls it hilarious, but having not read it myself I can’t say how light-hearted or overall comical it is. It’s new today.

Daniel Taylor’s first novel, Death Comes for the Deconstructionist, won the Christianity Today 2016 Book Award for fiction. Lars reviewed it and Do We Not Bleed? in earlier posts.

‘Do We Not Bleed?’ by Daniel Taylor

Do We Not Bleed?

The joke is that I was the one who was retarded. I’m the one lagging behind. I have a moderately higher IQ than Judy. I don’t have any extra chromosomes. I can tell time. But she knows how to live and I don’t. She knows how to treat people and I don’t. She knows how to be happy and I don’t. She knows how to give and receive love and I sure don’t.

Daniel Taylor’s second Jon Mote mystery continues a superior, unconventional Christian mystery series. In the first installment, Death Comes For the Deconstructionist, Jon, a former English scholar who heard self-destructive voices in his head, solved the murder of his former academic mentor. He also experienced an exorcism – though he probably wouldn’t call it that. It’s true that the voices have stopped and show no signs of returning, but he knows Scripture well enough (as a lapsed Baptist) to know the story of the swept and garnished room.

As Do We Not Bleed? opens, Jon’s mentally retarded sister Judy, who lived with him in the last story, has returned (by her own choice) to New Directions, a group home in Wayzata, Minnesota. Having no better prospects, Jon has taken a job as a counselor there, permitting him to spend time with her. He finds that life in a care facility for Specials (the current favored euphemism for the retarded) has some similarities to life in the English Department. Everyone is obsessed with politically correct language, as if you can change reality by making up new names. But Jon enjoys working with his group, who are colorful individuals and see the world in interesting ways.

Then one day one of the residents, the brain-damaged daughter of a very rich man, disappears. Soon her body is found in a nearby wetland. Neighbors are inclined to blame the group home residents. Tragically, after the woman’s body is found, evidence is discovered pointing to J.P., a member of Jon’s group. Jon finds it impossible to believe that gentle J.P. could have done something like that, but it takes a troubling conversation with an old nun and the innocent (and legally useless) testimony of another resident to persuade Jon to take the risk of confronting the true murderer. Continue reading ‘Do We Not Bleed?’ by Daniel Taylor

‘Death Comes for the Deconstructionist,’ by Daniel Taylor

Death Comes for the Deconstructionist

Dr. Pratt helped me see that I had simply left one fundamentalism for another. I had moved from relying on Holy Writ to relying on Holy Reason, and the difference between the two was far less radical than I had thought. Both assumed a stable, knowable world. Neither, therefore, understood that the god of this world is Proteus, the shape-changer, giver of multiplicity.

Years ago, I read a book called The Myth of Certainty, by Daniel Taylor, who taught at Bethel University (it may have still been Bethel College in those days) in St. Paul, Minnesota. It was a controversial book, attracting critics and defenders. After finishing it I was definitely in the camp of the critics. The message of the book (so far as I understood it) was, “We can’t say that anything is absolutely true. We can only say that it’s true for us, personally.” It seemed to me a direct attack on the philosophy of Francis Schaeffer (in fact a fictionalized Schaeffer surrogate appears in the book). I believed then, and still believe, that if we can’t make a claim to absolute truth, we might as well drop all our church work except for acts of charity.

I didn’t realize until I had downloaded Daniel Taylor’s Death Comes for the Deconstructionist that it was by the same guy. But I figured I’d give it a chance. I’ve enjoyed many novels written by authors with whom I have philosophical disagreements.

I’m glad I did. This is a splendid Christian novel.

Jon Mote’s life is falling apart. Once he was a promising English scholar, but he dropped his doctoral studies when he clashed with his mentor, the distinguished Deconstructionist professor Richard Pratt. Now he lives in squalor aboard a small houseboat on the river in St. Paul. He makes a tenuous living doing research for law firms. His divorce from his wife is nearly final. And, oh yes, he hears voices in his head, goading him to self-harm.

His only anchor is his sister Judy, who lives with him. She is mentally retarded, and serenely clings to all the verities Jon abandoned long ago. She loves Jesus and she loves her brother.

Recently Dr. Pratt was killed, found dead with a stab wound on the sidewalk below his hotel window. Dr. Pratt’s widow calls Jon and asks him to investigate the crime. The police, she believes, are making no progress, and Jon’s familiarity with her husband’s world and professional circle might give him insight. Continue reading ‘Death Comes for the Deconstructionist,’ by Daniel Taylor