Featured Book: The Comfortable Pew

A “groundbreaking social criticism” [The Georgia Straight]; a “scathing report” [Canadian armed forces chaplain Stephen Bedard]; a “blistering critique” [Ronald Robinson, for radiolink.com]; a book that “caused a scandal” [Anglican Journal]. The Comfortable Pew raised a lot of eyebrows when it was published 57 years ago. But its author, Pierre Berton, wanted nothing less: “[T]his book was conceived by the Anglican church,” he explained, “as a catalyst to provoke healthy discussion.”

His take on Anglicanism, and Canada’s Protestant churches more generally, became “a runaway bestseller, selling over 200,000 copies,” B.C. congregational rector Christopher Page noted in a 2012 retrospective, insisting, “[I]t still makes interesting reading.”

Acknowledged by the Anglican Journal as “the best-known and most controversial journalist, commentator, and author, in Canada,” and as “Canada’s master storyteller,” Berton had been commissioned by the organization’s religious education department to write a report on the state of the church. In The Comfortable Pew, “he was solidly critical” of how its members demonstrated “little or no zeal for the church’s edicts, dogmas, and liturgies,” Robinson reported. “Most were simply going along to get along.” A Library Journal review asserted, “This book, written with biting sarcasm, should be a challenge to every complacent Christian.”

The Comfortable Pew
By Pierre Berton
J.B. Lippincott Company, 1965