The Great Good Thing:
A Secular Jew Comes to Faith in Christ
by Andrew Klavan
“I was forty-nine years old and about to be baptized a Christian. No one could have been more surprised than I was. I never thought I was the type. I had been born and raised a Jew and lived most of my life as an agnostic…”
These lines are from the introduction to a fascinating story of a modern, sophisticated city dweller’s conversion to Christ. The book, The Great Good Thing: A Secular Jew Comes to Faith in Christ, (Thomas Nelson, 2016), is a memoir by Andrew Klavan, American novelist in the “tough-guy” tradition of crime fiction, whose work has been praised by Stephen King, Clive Cussler and Janet Evanovich. Again from the introduction Klavan writes, “This memoir is, to some extent, [a five-month] meditation remembered. I don’t mean it to be an autobiography or a psychological confession….Nor am I trying to preach or argue with or prove anything to anyone. I’m not a theologian or a philosopher. I am just a barefoot teller of tales…” The tale that Klavan tells in The Great Good Thing is a soul-baring, passionate, and captivating account.
Klavan opens his memoirs by describing the household in which he grew up in Great Neck, NY in the 1950’s. Klavan was born into a moderately wealthy Jewish family. He was the second of four sons whose father was a well known New York radio personality. With sensitivity but also great honesty Klavan tells of the troubled relationship he had with his father. Klavan writes that his Dad was so unkind to him that it actually frightened his older brother. While the boys were young, Klavan’s mother was at home with her sons but remained emotionally distant from them. Klavan describes his Jewish mother as a firm atheist and an anti-Semite, who disdained but participated in Passover and Hanukkah observances in their home. His father was secretive about his religious beliefs, never truly expressing what he thought about God. Despite the friction and mixed-messages occuring at home, Klavan said he thought his was a happy childhood — until he reached a point as an adult when he began to lose sight of reality and started a journey into mental illness.
In The Great Good Thing, the stories that fill the years between Klavan’s childhood in Great Neck, NY and his conversion to Christianity are often touching, sometimes disturbing and frequently funny; one that contains elements of all three is about the afternoon when Klavan, a teenager still living at home, decided he was going to read the New Testament. He had no interest in scripture for spiritual reasons, but it had occurred to him that a good writer, which he aspired to be, should be able to say that he had read Shakespeare’s plays, and the Bible — both Old and New Testaments. As he began reading, “[My]father made his way to my room, and threw open the closed door without knocking to announce that dinnertime had come.
“And what, to his absolute shock and horror, should he discover but his own son lying there on the bed reading… The Gospel According to Saint Luke!
“Oh, he was furious. Furious.…When I set the book down… he immediately snatched it up to examine it. Worse and worse! There, practically leaping off the page at him, were the words of Jesus Christ himself piously highlighted in red.“
“…Today, this memory makes me laugh. The idea of a father bursting in on his son and recoiling in horror to find him reading — the Bible! The incident almost seems like a sketch from a television comedy show.
“But I do want to be fair to the old man. He’s no longer here to defend himself for one thing…. We were a bad father-and-son combination. It happens.”
As Klavan tells his story he reveals the role that reading and writing played in his life as he, even as a teenager, followed the call to be a novelist, but it was also books that helped direct his path to Christ. In an interview done in June of 2009 with World e-zine editor Marvin Olasky, Klavan listed the various ways in which he had tried to find meaning in his life, then Klavan says this:
“In keeping with the way my life has worked, I was reading a novel by the guy I think is probably the best English novelist in the last part of the 20th century, Patrick O’Brian, who writes sea adventures. I was reading in bed and got to the scene where one of the main characters, Maturin, said a little prayer before going to sleep. That’s the one thing I’d never tried. So I said a very brief prayer of thanks and it went off in me like a bomb. There are really no words to describe it. I have always thought it was a tribute to the generosity of God that even such a prideful, arrogant little prayer in some sense would be answered.”
In The Great Good Thing: A Secular Jew Comes to Faith in Christ, Andrew Klavan writes about the many life changing events that revealed the actuality of God to him. Over time, Klavan also accepted the historicity of Jesus and his redemptive work, and this is ultimately what caused him to be baptized. Fast-moving and very well written, The Great Good Thing is a poignant testimony to what Klavan calls the “hilarious mercy” of God.