Here is a fun adventure romp, a first novel by former Newsday columnist Ray Keating. Stephen Grant is an ex-CIA agent with notches on his pistol who, with a little bit of angst, turns his back on his secret life and becomes, get this, a pastor of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.
We first meet Grant as he dispatches an opposing agent within the nave of a French Catholic church (because for discreet meetings between rival spies, the empty churches of Europe are ideal). Grant next shows up as pastor of St. Mary’s Lutheran Church on the east end of Long Island, where he slays an eco-terrorist who is trying to shoot choir members at rehearsal (not, from the description in the novel, that choir’s rendering of A Mighty Fortress didn’t give the effort some merit).
Well, after that, one thing sort of leads to another thing and pretty soon Pr. Grant saves the life of Pope Augustine from a knife-wielding priest shouting “apostate,” shares “decaffeinated black currant tea” thereafter with same (um, the pope, not the assailant), and at different stops along the way vanquishes liberal theologians, spars with arrogant media-types, and incidentally helps the Vatican advance an ecumenical initiative called “A Public Mission of Mere Christianity.” St. Mary’s, by the way, seems to be a parish that functions well in the pastor’s absence.
Somehow, honest, it all seems to hang together. This sort of protagonist, after all, is not entirely unknown. The “Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod pastor/member as hero” genre was introduced to American literature by Paul Maier, a present vice-president of the LCMS. He has previously introduced readers to Missouri Synod figures of sizable proportion. Of course, in the real world, there have been Missouri Synod pastors, former at any rate, who did once or twice take lunch in the papal apartment at the Vatican.
Oh. I said it hung together. It does, almost. While Pr. Grant does read Touchstone magazine regularly, apparently he has never heard of First Things. On this point, obviously Keating’s novel is, like, way, way removed from any plausible reality.
Russell E. Saltzman is pastor of Ruskin Heights Lutheran Church in Kansas City, Missouri, and was once, while press secretary to a congressman, chewed out by then U.S. Senator Bob Dole.