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Pam Dewey’s new book tells the Wild West of the story
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Pam Dewey’s new book tells
the Wild West of the story

By Gavin Rumney

The writer, a former member of the Worldwide Church of God, founded and operates This article is a version of a book review at that site. Mrs. Dewey’s book, Field Guide to the Wild World of Religion, Wasteland Press, Louisville, Ky., 260 pages, is available in The Journal's bookstore. See also Bill Stough’s interview with Mrs. Dewey in the March 31 issue of The Journal.

AUCKLAND, New Zealand —This is the review that didn't want to be written. Most of my columns pretty much write themselves, but this one has bitten, kicked and screamed at every step of the process. So I'm going to take the easy option and put things together in a bullet list. Maybe that's appropriate.

Those of us who've been "on safari" in Pam Dewey's Wild World of Religion know that a few bullets, or at least tranquilizers, can definitely come in handy.

She's a she

Let's begin with Pam herself. I think it's fair to say that she's a remarkable individual: researcher, webmaster, Bible teacher and now author, more remarkable for the fact that she is, well, a she.

  • How many prominent women can you name in the patriarchal culture of the Church of Gods? I think it's interesting that two of the most important books to come out of the ex-WCG community recently have been written by women (the other is Dare to Think for Yourself, by Betty Brogaard, a very different work from this one).

    Pam is one of those rare individuals who brings a sharp intellect and a down-home dose of common sense to the Church of God experience, and she manages to do so while remaining firmly part of that tradition. It's a balancing act that few can manage (I certainly couldn't), yet she carries it out with aplomb

  • The book is not just readable, it's well written, which is a slightly harder craft to master, and it's both up to date and full of relevant information.

    Issued in quality paperback format, it's the kind of book I'd want to give to anyone searching for a spiritual home in the sometimes chaotic contemporary Christian marketplace.

  • Pam knows her readership, and that makes her a gifted communicator. I chuckled when I read the first chapter. It had the flavor of Ambassador College journalism. I mean that as a compliment.

    It isn't at all hard to get into, but, once you're hooked, don't be surprised to find yourself being pushed well up the learning curve.

Broad-brush script

Wild World is not primarily about the Church of Gods but takes a broad brush to American Christianity. I learned, for example, a lot of things about TBN (the Trinity Broadcasting Network) and the "Word of Faith" movement in the process, and I'm delighted to say that I've added "Holy Ghost glue" to my repertoire of theological curiosities.

Pam is at her strongest when dealing with Church of God-related themes. I'd gladly have paid the price just to read the final chapter, in which she relates a little of her and George's story of involvement, then separation, from the WCG and CGI.

Two of the shortest chapters are among the most valuable, proving once again that it's almost always easier to be effective with fewer words than a wall of print (somebody should tell the guys who write those ads for The Journal).

Chapter 7 lists warning signs that indicate potentially harmful groups (four pages) while chapter 8 gives excellent advice to those worrying about the involvement of a family member in a group that may be dangerous (two pages).

The book is intended to complement the Web site, but the content is not identical, and I have to say that there's a certain pleasure in holding a solid book in one's hands rather than staring at a screen.

Helpful reference

This isn't the sort of book you'll read once then file away in a forgotten spot on the bookshelf. Once read, it'll become a reference work you'll want to use again and again.

Two sections particularly stand out: the "Religious Lingo Lexicon" (chapter 9) and the "Who's Who Digest" (chapter 11). A couple of minor reservations:

As a New Zealander, I found Wild World lacking in any real international perspective (something unlikely to worry U.S. readers). The hugely influential John Nelson Darby, for example, merits only four lines compared to someone named Jack Deere, who gets 16 on the same page, as does Ron Dart. The "Reverend Moon" slips below the radar entirely.

But, then, as Pam has said elsewhere, the choices were "totally, unabashedly idiosyncratic . . . Too many twits, too little time."

Remembering when

The use of the 1950s as a reference point for "the way it was" may place limits on the effectiveness of an otherwise outstanding book. Most of those who'll read Wild World will be people under 55, with no memory of those years.

That's a shame, because this book would be a superb gift for any young person who seeks to make sense of the Technicolor carnival of 21st-century religious options on offer, and needs some sound, lucid, nonthreatening advice from someone who knows whereof she speaks.

But these are quibbles. This is a book that deserves wide circulation and should promote genuine discussion and growth.

Unlike some other books, Wild World isn't designed to make sense only to those in the select niche market known as the Churches of God. Other Christians will find also this a useful resource. If you can afford it, order two copies, one to keep and the other to give.

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