Feature

Book Review: Coffee with Jesus

No, No! I'm Laughing WITH You

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Was Jesus fun to be around? To sharpen the question a bit, was Jesus funny?

The Jesus depicted by David Wilkie in his “Coffee with Jesus” online comic strip has a sardonic wit, a keen sense of the absurd and a genuine warmth and love for even the silliest of the people he bonds with over a cup of java.

The strip started as a one-shot joke published on Wilkie’s blog, www.radiofreebabylon.com. But more comics followed, and Wilkie’s Jesus quickly gained a following, with eager “internetters” sharing the strips on Facebook. Soon, “Coffee with Jesus” became a daily strip. (I’ll confess; I have five of them tacked to the cork board outside my office!) Delightfully, some of the best of Wilkie’s strips have now been collected in a paperback book published by InterVarsity Press. (Note: A copy of this book was provided to the author for review purposes.)

Following in the satirical footsteps of the now-defunct Wittenburg Door and the religious “news” Web site LarkNews, “Coffee With Jesus” features four-panel conversations between a business-suited Jesus and several recurring characters: three somewhat addled Christians, a vapid ex-Christian, a harried Pastor and, occasionally, the Prince of Darkness himself. Jesus and his conversation partners sip coffee and talk about their daily lives, with Jesus offering a gently humorous nudge in the last panel.

Elton Trueblood, in his classic book The Humor of Christ, pointed out that Christians often do not see the faith as appropriate grounds for humor. “Religion, we think, is serious business,” he wrote, “and serious business is incompatible with banter.” In the Bible, God is occasionally said to laugh (Psalm 2:4, 37:13, 59:8, possibly Proverbs 1:26), but in those instances he laughs in derision or judgment, not out of mirth. More positively, Sarah says in Genesis 21:6 that God made laughter for her, and that all who heard of her joy would laugh over her—definitely a happy, contagious laughter. Ecclesiastes tells us that there is a time to laugh (3:4), but Proverbs acknowledges that there are times when laughter is inappropriate (29:9). Finally, in Luke 6:21, Jesus assures us that laughter is a blessing from God.

So how do we tell the difference between appropriate and inappropriate humor? Trueblood’s answer is clear and helpful: “The only kind of laughter which can be redemptive is that which goes beyond scorn to recognition of a common predicament.” By that standard, Wilkie’s Jesus is redemptively funny. He points out the foibles of believer and pagan alike, while never deviating from a deep love of the humans he’s talking to. Jesus is not laughing at them, he is laughing with them and we laugh along too as we recognize ourselves in their foolishness. Wilkie’s Jesus sees each person’s blind spots but loves them unconditionally. Wilkie’s Jesus makes you laugh, even as he makes you think.

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