June 14, 2007
New book chronicles the revenge of David "Children of God" Berg's "spiritual son."
Don Lattin is right. In the introduction to his forthcoming book on the Children of God cult led by David "Mo" Berg, Lattin says, "Some Christians may take issue with the title of this book, Jesus Freaks: A True Story of Murder and Madness on the Evangelical Edge." He then defends the title and subtitle by pointing out that Berg was "deeply rooted in the Christian tradition" and that he "came straight out of American evangelicalism."
Ah, well, the key word is "out." Berg was not "in" American evangelicalism, but rather "came ... out." He wasn't even close to "the Evangelical Edge."
So yes, I'm one of those Christians who will take issue with the title of Lattin's book (due out from the newly rechristened HarperOne in October.) The copy is designed to sell the book to those who think of "evangelicals" as dangerous and deluded. And while the term "freak" wasn't at all pejorative at the time of the Jesus movement, it's combination with "murder," "madness," and "evangelical edge" reinforces its more current and decidedly more lurid usage.
Nevertheless, the topic of the book and Lattin's reputation as a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle make me want to spend more time with the uncorrected proof we received in today's mail.
I encountered the Children of God in '74 or '75 in San Diego's Balboa Park. Fortunately, they did not try out their "flirty fishing" free-love recruitment techniques on me. (I probably didn't look like a good candidate since I was with my wife and two preschoolers.) So they just gave me some of their free literature. But even that was scary stuff. It reeked of the paranoid and delusional.
By the way, there is one erratum to watch out for in the book's introduction.
Lattin says that Berg was trained as an itinerant evangelist and began his "late-blooming ministry" in the Christian and Missionary Alliance, which he identifies as "one of the nation's earliest networks of Pentecostal churches." But the C&MA is not Pentecostal. Classical Pentecostalism teaches the gift of tongues as the "initial evidence" of the reception of the Holy Spirit. The C&MA explicitly denies this, while allowing for members to speak in tongues if they are so moved by the Spirit.
The C&MA should instead be classified as a Holiness denomination. It teaches entire sanctification - though it understands that as a combination of crisis moment and ongoing process.