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Andy Crouch


The Gospel According to ...

... Charlie Brown, Tony Soprano, and other unlikely spiritual guides

The early church was awash in gospels. Yet early bishops managed to winnow the field, and for well over a millennium, Christendom knew of just four "evangelists." In the gothic chapel of the seminary I attended, they stare down imposingly from niches above the altar, four carved figures with enigmatic expressions, sometimes looking a bit alarmed at the content of the sermons.

Do you suppose we could fit Tony Soprano in there somewhere?

On my desk, in addition to The Gospel According to Tony Soprano, are The Gospel According to Harry Potter, The Gospel According to The Simpsons, The Gospel According to Disney, The Gospel According to Tolkien, and The Gospel According to Dr. Seussa canon-within-a-canon of recent religious explorations of popular culture. Nearby is the coffee-table book The Gospel According to ESPN: Saints, Saviors, and Sinnersa cornucopia of photographs, charts, and essays on American athletes produced by ESPN itself. (Alas, restricting myself to nonfiction meant that I had to pass over Christopher Moore's 2003 novel Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal.)

Nearly buried under the pile is the book that started it all. In 1965 The Gospel According to Peanuts was a faintly scandalous title. Robert L. Short was not exactly the first to apply the phrase to writers other than the canonical evangelistsone Woods Hutchinson wrote The Gospel According to Darwin in 1898. But before Short, at least according to the Library of Congress catalog, no one had applied the phrase to an artifact of mass culture. Peanuts was an early breach in the wall, now reduced to rubble, between high and pop, sacred and profane, Sunday sermons and Sunday comics. It sold ten million copies, and has never been out of print.

The success of Peanuts must have been something of a shock to John Knox Press, now Westminster John Knox. It was eight years until Knox tried a similar volume, to which Short contributed a foreword, and I sense something half-hearted in the title alone: ...

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