Dallas Morning News Interview


Author is honest, funny and full of doubt. Adrian Plass' walk of faith has been two steps forward, one step back.

07:48 PM CST on Friday, March 31, 2006
By SAM HODGES / The Dallas Morning News

Adrian Plass' walk of faith has been two steps forward, one step back. Also, he falls down a lot.

The British author is upfront about this.

In his new book, Jesus: Safe, Tender, Extreme, he even declares that he has "won the gold medal in three consecutive Doubt Olympics."

"I'm very optimistic about being vulnerable," Mr. Plass, 57, said during an interview at the recent National Religious Broadcasters convention in Grapevine. "I think it's quite helpful."

Mr. Plass' candid, funny books about Christian life are best sellers in the United Kingdom, where church attendance is slight. So far, though, they haven't sold particularly well in the United States, where church attendance is greater and the Christian book market is vast.

His publisher, Zondervan, insists it's a marketing problem, not rejection of a writer who often tweaks the church and writes about the valleys as well as peaks of born-again Christian experience.

"It's fair to say we're making a significant investment to introduce him and sustain him in the United States," said Lyn Cryderman, a Zondervan vice president. "It just hasn't proven to be as easy as we thought."

Mr. Plass grew up Catholic, but with wife, Bridget, now attends a small Anglican church near their Sussex home. At 16, he said, he committed to Christianity, trusting his sins were atoned for by Jesus' death on the cross.

Since then, Mr. Plass said, "I've always been a bit of a Jesus nut. ... I've never been able to shake him off."

Mr. Plass and his wife met in acting school. They gave up theater for teaching careers and raising a family. Mr. Plass eventually left his job, because of what he describes as a stress illness.

At home, he began to write.

"I actually started by writing humorous books, which was really a way of covering up or perhaps opening up my illness," Mr. Plass said. "One large component of that was my frustration with the church. Humor was a way of expressing that."

In 1987, Mr. Plass had a big hit with The Sacred Diary of Adrian Plass Aged 37 ¾ , a cheerfully flagrant imitation of British author Sue Townsend's best-selling The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾ .

Although he used his own name, Mr. Plass' work is actually, like Ms. Townsend's, a novel. And like hers, it consists of brief, funny journal entries from an innocent struggler, only Mr. Plass' is a middle-age husband and father trying to be a good Christian, despite neurotic tendencies and the confusions of ordinary family and church life.

Here's the beginning of a morning entry, written when the narrator anticipates a night of trying to bring strangers to Jesus through sidewalk witnessing:

"Silly, sweaty quiet-time. Started by asking God for a sign that it would go alright this evening. Then remembered that bit about '... it's a wicked generation that seeks a sign' and felt guilty. Then remembered John the Baptist losing his confidence in prison, and felt alright again, then remembered about Doubting Thomas and felt guilty again, then remembered Gideon's fleece, and felt alright again.

"Might have gone on like this forever, but Anne called out that it was time for work."

The popularity of the first Sacred Diary book led Mr. Plass to write three more. The series has sold more than a million copies.

Since the '80s, Mr. Plass has written more than 20 books, including the novel Ghosts; a commentary on the gospel of Mark titled Never Mind the Reversing Ducks; and an affectionate satire of the Church of England called A Year at St. Yorick's.

He and his wife have also become popular speakers, mixing comedy and serious commentary on faith and the church.

Norman Nibloe, owner of six Christian bookstores in southeast England, said in an e-mail interview that some conservative evangelical readers consider Mr. Plass' humor disrespectful.

"Also some on the extreme charismatic wing of the church feel uncomfortable with his honesty about unsubstantiated claims of miracle, especially in the healing area," Mr. Nibloe said.

Such critics are, Mr. Nibloe continued, decidedly in the minority.

"His popularity has grown with each title," he said. "His candid, incisive and humorous thinking makes him among the most popular authors in the UK."

Zondervan recently brought Adrian and Bridget Plass to the United States for a two-week tour to promote Jesus: Safe, Tender, Extreme. They spoke at churches as well as to the religious broadcasters and the National Pastors Convention.

"Our primary [marketing] strategy would be to get him over here," Mr. Cryderman said. "He does well where people can see and hear him."

The new book describes the joys and satisfactions of a Christian life, but Mr. Plass also writes of times when he has felt fraudulent in his faith, wondering if any of what he has publicly professed could possibly be true.

The book is more serious than many of his, but is never stuffy, concluding with a series of prayers for such occasions as "when we feel like an idiot."

Mr. Plass's humor and themes will connect with American readers, including evangelicals, if Zondervan can get his books sufficient attention in a highly competitive Christian book market, said Mr. Cryderman.

"Doubt is very much part of an honest Christian walk," he added. "We feel he should be able to make it in the United States."

E-mail samhodges@dallasnews.com