Deadly Viper Character Assassins

October 21, 2009 by

2009_10_21deadlyviper.jpgEditor’s Note: Due to an on-going controversy over culturally insensitive themes in the book’s design, the publisher of this book, Zondervan, has issued an apology and pulled the book from shelves.

“Don’t judge a book by its cover,” they say. I’ve heard it plenty of times but I’ve just never been able to buy into it. I do judge a book by its cover–and order food by its picture. You might have the greatest content ever, but if you don’t do something to connect with me, if I never pick up the book–it’s just words that are never read.

For me it doesn’t just stop there. I have a really tough time taking the time to read. I know I should do more of it but I get bored and distracted easily. Let’s face it, in a day of iPods and Kindles, why do I need to buy your pages of words?

That’s why I appreciate Mike Foster and Jud Whilhite’s Deadly Viper Character Assassins: A Kung Fu Survival Guide for Life and Leadership, the hardcover guide to their Deadly Viper initiative. It is engaging both with content and visuals, a book that’s more magazine than book, similar to Jesus for President by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw. It was almost as if they were watching me reading it and just as I’d begin to drift away–BAM–an image of nunchuks or an illustrated comic would pull me back in.

One caution: don’t skip the black pages. As you’re reading along you might flip the page to a white text on black. My brain marked that as an aside, an extra story, when in fact it was the continuation of the previous page. One of the challenges when creating a book that embraces design is to fully marry content and design.

And yes, the content is there too. If I told you there’s a book about leadership and character you’d probably think of the adjective “dry.” But like the art, the writing keeps you engaged and challenged (how can you get bored with ninjas?). At first, many of the lessons seem obvious and common sense but as you read into the pages it becomes clear that these issues of character are something we have indeed glossed over. Integrity and grace are vital to leadership–and to communication as well.

Sometimes I felt challenged, other times reminded. But thankfully this isn’t simply a list of the things not to do. Mike and Jud show you the habits they’ve put in play to fight these “character assassins.”

I don’t appreciate Deadly Viper Character Assassins just because it brings words and visuals together, but because it brings to light those things we’re not talking about but need look at on a daily basis.

Editorial Disclaimer: We received a complimentary copy of this book from the authors for the purposes of review.

Update: A separate conversation about this book and the Deadly Viper ministry as well as some comments on this blog have brought some racial stereotypes and insensitivity present in the design and marketing of the book to our attention. I apologize myself for being insensitive to never noticing this as being a problem. I will say that through all of this discussion I have learned some things and appreciate the dialogue and insight that have come from it.

Post By:

Michael Buckingham

With the goal of making the church the most creative place on the planet, Michael founded Holy Cow Creative, the church’s creativity and design studio. He is the former creative director for the Center for Church Communication and Church Marketing Sucks, and is currently the experience pastor at Victory World Church in Atlanta.
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17 Responses to “Deadly Viper Character Assassins”

  • Andy Wittwer
    October 21, 2009

    Hah – I’ve read several articles about the FTC’s new disclosure laws in the blogosphere – it’s good to see CMS following suit.

  • Klreed189
    October 21, 2009

    This is a great book and really enjoyed the creativity as well.
    Mike and Jud did a great job of tackling a lot of issues that seem to go unmentioned inside the church.
    I would highly recommend this book to anyone as well as I would recommend their blog:

  • Kyle Reed
    October 21, 2009

    This is a great book and really enjoyed the creativity as well.
    Mike and Jud did a great job of tackling a lot of issues that seem to go unmentioned inside the church.
    I would highly recommend this book to anyone as well as I would recommend their blog:

  • Jim Gray
    October 21, 2009


  • Vin Thomas
    October 21, 2009

    I got the audio book and it was great. It challenged me to take the call to be a “man” more seriously. I think there are a lot of boys out there…very few men.

  • mike
    October 21, 2009

    thanks michael for your kind words. glad you liked it. peace. mike.

  • dyang
    November 3, 2009

    i’m glad the exploitation of asian culture was so beneficial to you

  • Jennifer
    November 3, 2009

    Without trying to put words in the mouth of the person who posted the last comment, I’d like to add a bit more to the dialogue. Are you familiar with the hurt the Asian American community is experiencing? To learn more you can visit
    As fellow Christians, let’s take time to listen and consider the issues being raised by those who find the graphics offensive.

  • Wes
    November 4, 2009

    Although the goal of the book and some of the content seems worthy the stomping on Asian cultures does not seem congruent with the leadership integrity that the book is espousing. Marketing on racial stereotypes can seem inventive/creative from a majority culture perspective while unintentionally and somewhat obliviously being extremely hurtful to others. Integrity demands that we recognize our blind spots when they arise.

  • Wes
    November 4, 2009

    Marketing on racial stereotypes can seem inventive/creative from a majority culture perspective while unintentionally and somewhat obliviously being extremely hurtful to others. Integrity demands that we recognize our blind spots when they arise.
    It is important to realize that sin and the hurt it inflicts is often not our intent. There should be grace for that. There should also be integrity that is willing to lose face and lose profits when the error is brought to light.

  • Michael Buckingham
    November 6, 2009

    Please do note that we have attached an edit to the post.

  • joe
    November 15, 2009

    i think that a large number of christians have been offended by the use of the word “sucks” in the name of this blog. will that be changed?

  • Michael Buckingham
    November 21, 2009

    Note that they have closed deadly vipers…not just the book, but the whole site.
    I think Mike Fastor and the gang really showed the way to handle this. They handled it just in a way that was true to the content of the book (integrity).
    Zondervan…not as impressed. They handled it like a typical corporate body. Which, I think could have been avoided if they had decided to engage in the conversation.
    My heart hurts for Mike and Jud, it really was sad when I pulled up the site today and saw the notice. Please remember them in your prayers. I pray that their passion for integrity continues and grows.

  • Dave
    November 23, 2009

    I just want to know what the difference is between the silver and the black hardcovers. Same book? Same as the black paperback? No offense intended to anybody–I am a silver-haired person myself…

  • joe
    February 2, 2010

    As a Superhero I’m certainly offended! Cultural insensitivity goes well beyond racial. I can’t believe the authors were willing only to present these assassin murderers and ignore those efforts in defeating the forces of evil and upholding truth, justice, and the American Way. The theme and the application of that theme reveal a serious insensitivity to Superhero Culture and to the greater Hero Community as a whole. I praise you for the content of the book, we need to raise up mortal humans, like yourself, not to become cronies to the diabolical forces of darkness that continue to corrupt our metropolis. But the way in which you choose to co-opt Superhero culture in inappropriate ways is not acceptable.
    Due to the fact that you are mortals and not Superheroes, you have no business exploiting us in the marketing of your book. What gives you the authority to represent our culture as solely full of venom and diabolic? Don’t forget us good guys at the Hall of Justice, the most powerful forces of good ever assembled! Now, I perfectly understand that nobody will read it; certainly, no juvenile human male would dare to crack the cover, but can’t you just write a status quo book on character? You’ll notice that there are a number of Superfriends that take offense at the ways you misuse the category assassin. While there are Assassins from the Legion of Doom, there also exist Assassins of Justice that partner across the cosmic reaches of the universe to save the day! You also confuse aspects of the Superfriends Justice League with the X-Men. These are two very distinct and ancient cartoons that you should have taken the time to understand before using as a fun way to market your product.
    So what can we learn from this?
    #1) Only if you are from a particular culture can you write or even mention it. Yes, you should completely ignore or reject that cultural characteristics even exist to begin with.
    #2) I should be extremely offended by Larry the Cable Guy given the location I live and my cultural background.
    #3) Since cultural stereotyping is absolutely wrong; Christ needs to repent for stereotyping the Pharisees and Sadducees by their religious culture of the day.
    Yeah, it’s that stupid.

  • Holly
    September 4, 2010

    This is not hard to believe that Zondervan pulled Jud’s “Deadly Viper” book. I have attended Central Christian Church in Las Vegas (Jud Wilhite’s church) on numerous occassions. I have found that Church also makes fun of other ethnic groups, the Latinos and Italians, in their videos. During one of the Christmas videos (before Deadly Viper came out), they even portrayed Italians tieing up one of their family members, duck taping his mouth, and throwing him the truck of a car. They were portraying them as mafia. I tried to address the issue with the powers that be at Central. All I got was a backlashing from them, or a “go away” attitude from them. They just laughed. I don’t think that God is laughing!

    Jud preaches like Christianity is a product and not a personal relationship between you and God. It is very rare that they even pray at Central during a service. They treat the congretation of Central like they are farm animals – just milking them for their money. They even make their staff give back 10 percent of their paychecks. Whatever happened to God wanting us to take care of our family first – housing and food.

    Also, they play secular music which in no way worships God. They are worshipping themselves for being able to play the songs (such as I Want To Hold Your Hand, Rocking Around the Christmas Tree, and Don’t Stop Believing). I truly believe that those songs do not belong in a church. They show that they are of this world and not worship God, the Holy One.

    Needless to say, I no longer associate myself with Central. After attending there, it’s hard to believe that there is a God who loves and cares for you.

  • Christian
    September 27, 2011

    I’m sorry if i seem insensitive, but i think it was a fantastic book regardless of what anyone else might say. In truth i have not much weight in the ethnic argument because alas i am a Caucasian male. But the book was never meant to harm and thus shouldn’t be interpreted as such, because believe me if the authors had laid in with straight asian history it would have been much work than what i’m hearing as a cultural exploitation… but i digress. What I would prefer to weigh in on is why the book was great, and it wasn’t just for the fact it was aimed so wholly at getting your attention. It was that it wasn’t preachy in a church way. Jump all over me about it if you like, but i have plenty of friends and colleagues who will not touch a book if it is abut the church, or directly abut God or Christ. This book wasn’t and was much more about how you as a person can guard themselves from falling victim to themselves which is a helpful message to Christians and everyone else. And in truth any book that can have as strong a good message, for the church or it’s programs should be counted in high esteem, because it isn’t the people who chase people down with bibles that bring people to faith, it’s people who show them the love of Christ.

    thats all. i prolly won’t check back on this so slam me if you want, i’ll never know. But i’ll tell you this, i have more than a few asian friends and i intend to show them this book with no guilt because of whats inside. I believe they will appreciate it for what it is.

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