By Amy Sondova If you think Christian fiction is only comprised of romance novels and rapture stories, then you haven’t read The Almost True Story of Ryan Fisher (Zondervan) by Rob Stennett. Instead of a feel-good book about a hapless heathen who sees the light and changes his ways, Ryan Fisher is a satirical, humorous commentary about churches.
The tale starts when Ryan receives a revelation from watching televangelists on late night television—in order to sell more real estate, he must sell to Christians. Taking out an ad in the Christian business directory, Ryan pretends to be a Christian because he learns that Christians want to buy from, live around, and socialize with other Christians. Before long, he does good deeds and fakes being a pastor, which leads to his decision to plant his own church in Bartlesville, OK.
Using a business model, Ryan’s church, The People’s Church, attracts attention making him and his wife, Katherine, wealthy, successful, and respected members of the community. However, Ryan doesn’t actually believe in God or know anything about the Bible, so he has to constantly maneuver his way out of uncomfortable situations using wit and charm. Ryan Fischer is a charismatic leader who would stop at nothing to gain power—for the greater good, of course (and to make a few bucks here and there). What’s interesting about Ryan is that he learns that doing kind things for others makes him not only feel good inside, but also makes him popular.
The book functions as a satire on the way many Christians do church. Having little exposure to Christianity and church, Ryan fakes his way through his pastorate. His mistakes seem like a postmodern leader admitting that he doesn’t have all the answers. When in reality, Ryan doesn’t even understand the questions. Plus, his observations about church—the greeters, children’s church, worship music, lighting, stage, sound, and advertising are hilarious. Because Ryan examines Christianity from outside the box, he is almost like an alien studying the oddities of human behavior.
Despite deceiving his congregation about being a pastor, Ryan turns out to be a pretty good preacher—inspiring others to follow God. By watching others experience Grace, Ryan and Katherine wonder if they’re missing out on the bigger picture. Ryan easily shrugs off his feelings, acting as if he is a god, while Katherine seems to be seeking a faith of her own. A dynamic character that gets a little too friendly with the church worship leader, Cowboy Jack, Katherine is Ryan’s moral compass and the voice of reason in an otherwise insane and confusing situation.
The Almost True Story of Ryan Fisher is not only a great read on the surface, but a book that will enable Christians to think deeply about church in America. The questions that Stennett raises through Ryan, Katherine, and the other characters are timeless: What does it mean to be the church? How can a loving God allow such horrible things to happen? Why does worship music all sound strangely similar? Instead of offering pat answers, Stennett allows the questions to linger within the recesses of our minds long after the last page of the book is read. However, instead of writing a boring dialogue on theology, Stennett offers an amusing tale, too.