No one would mistake Ned Flanders, the goofy next-door neighbor in “The Simpsons,” for a polished televangelist like Joel Osteen. But over the past two decades the zealous cartoon character has become one of the best-known evangelicals on America’s small screen. With Americans spending exponentially more time on their sofas watching television than in pews listening to sermons, this is no insignificant matter.
In the inevitably intertwined world of religion and commerce, it’s only natural that the man portrayed as “Blessed Ned of Springfield” on the cover of Christianity Today magazine should have his own “new testament.” And so he does. “Flanders’ Book of Faith,” by “Simpsons” creator Matt Groening, is a slim, illustrated entry in the show’s “Library of Wisdom” series.
For years, the TV show’s writers, fiercely protective of their reputation for irreverence, denied that they were in any way sympathetic toward sincere belief, as embodied by the Flanders character. But releasing the book under Mr. Groening’s name puts an imprimatur on that kind-to-religion interpretation, long held in younger evangelical circles.
A fundamentally decent true believer, Ned is firmly in the theological tradition of Mr. Osteen,