Sunday, November 6, 2016

Book Review: The Cross and the Switchblade

Title: The Cross and the Switchblade

Author: David Wilkerson

Author's web page, co-founded with surviving son Gary Wilkerson, still active:

Date: 1963

Publisher: Fleming H. Revell

ISBN: none

Length: 172 pages

Quote: “People who don’t believe in miracles shouldn’t pray for them.”

Officially the “postwar baby boom” has to be defined as having started nine or ten months after the end of the war…early spring of 1946. Actually, of course, many of the babies born in 1946 were younger siblings. In 1958 a lot of people were teenagers. If they were poor ghetto residents, a lot of those teenagers were in trouble with drugs, prostitution, theft, and gang wars. David Wilkerson, a young pastor in a nice little town in Pennsylvania, read a Life magazine article about the street kids and felt moved to minister to them.

The rest is history. The Cross and the Switchblade became a full-sized mission. Wilkerson wrote other books and directed a movie about his ministry to the juvenile delinquents.

There are, nevertheless, people who have not already read this book. They are the ones for whom it’s worthwhile to say more than that I have a copy for sale.

So, to them I’ll say that this early report from Wilkerson’s holy war on the delinquent lifestyle is an exciting adventure story. Though told from the viewpoint of the pastor who summarizes each teenager’s story in terms of “needs,” it’s a story about gangsters who stop fighting and robbing old people, prostitutes who stop hustling, and drug addicts who achieve sobriety—at least temporarily—through faith in the healing power of God.

Some of the addicts stay sober. Some of them don’t. Wilkerson counts it as a healing miracle that they get through withdrawal the first time. He does not cover or sugar-coat the fact that some of them, even after having gone through the misery of withdrawal, think they won’t have to go through the same pain all over again if they take just one more drug trip and then stop…and they’re wrong.

If you are or know an addict (to any drug, legal or illegal) The Cross and the Switchblade will probably seem quaint to you. Does anybody shoot up heroin any more? Is there not a consensus that meth and cocaine are where it’s at? (Do young people even say “where it’s at,” in the sense of where most of the action is, any more?)  Are there still private missions where homeless people accept the rule that “We get all of our food by praying for it,” or have all the homeless shelters been taken over by the government by now?

So it’s history. There are lots of alternative drying-out programs that help, and there are twelve-step groups for ongoing moral support, these days…but withdrawal still hurts, and faith in God still gets people through it. Wilkerson lived in a different world but he was onto something. 

He died in 2011 but associates, including his son Gary, have been trying to carry on his ministry. The stores and missions used to be called Teen Challenge; the web site has expanded into World Challenge. It's a somewhat controversial charity, because Wilkerson's insistence that addicts pray through the pain of "quitting cold turkey" rather than easing off drugs with (profitable) legal-drug-cushioned rehabilitation programs works for some people and not others. It's legitimate, in any case. People love or hate Teen Challenge (W Bush was partial to it) but it's been helping those who are capable of being helped by it for two full generations.

Wilkerson was an interesting man who had a long and interesting ministry, and wrote many books after The Cross and the Switchblade. Eventually I'll post reviews of more of them, having inherited several volumes of his writing. None of them will be Fair Trade Books. 

The usual price rule applies to this ongoing bestseller, if not to some of Wilkerson's more contemporary and thus dated books: $5 per copy, $5 per package, $1 per online payment. (If you send payment through Paypal, you send me $11 to cover a surcharge Paypal will deduct. If you send payment through the U.S. Post Office, which is recommended for security reasons, you send me $10 and pay the surcharge directly to the post office.) Probably four or even six copies of the Cross and the Switchblade would fit into a package, for a total of $25 (or $26) or $35 ($36) respectively. You could also mix in other books, and as long as they fit into one package you pay only one $5 shipping charge.