CSFF Blog Tour – Imaginary Jesus by Matt Mikalatos, Day 3

Since I’m participating in two blog tours today, this post reviewing Matt Mikalatos’s Imaginary Jesus for CSFF will be the first of two (remember, I owe you one from last week anyway).

The Story. Because Imaginary Jesus isn’t your typical novel, “story” is actually a frame for a theological discussion. Matt, the character, meets a time-travel version of the Apostle Peter—fondly referred to as Pete—who informs him the Jesus he’s hanging out with isn’t the real Jesus.

Thus embarks a journey of discovery, first to expose not only Matt’s customized version of Jesus but a host of other false models, then to find the Real Jesus.

Strengths. Without a doubt, one of the great strengths of this book is the humor. Matt, the author, has done a wonderful job of producing laugh-out-loud lines that simultaneously point to false ideas many of us have clung to from time to time.

The fact that the humor is not sacrilegious is an amazing accomplishment given the subject matter. That it actually works to expose error makes it all the more powerful. Any good writing device should not exist for its own sake but for the sake of the story, and Matt’s humor is just such a device.

Probably more important, however, is the truth revealed in the content of Imaginary Jesus. If the book was funny but full of theological tripe, it would be empty at best and misleading at worst.

Matt, the author, navigates that minefield by staying true to Scripture. His one time-travel scene in which he, the character, visits first-century Palestine and sees the real Jesus in action had the potential to be as imaginary as the Jesus he conjured in the twenty-first century. Instead, Jesus only spoke what the Bible says He spoke and only did what the Bible says He did.

Best of all, in broaching the subject of evil and its effects on the world, Matt, the author, does so with sensitivity and Biblical accuracy.

I think he has written the kind of story—perhaps best classified as an extended parable—few can pull off. C. S. Lewis did so in The Screwtape Letters and The Great Divorce. More recently Paul Young wrote the commercially successful The Shack though his theology puts him in a different camp from both Lewis and Mikalatos.

Weakness. The one problem I had with the book is this: I thought in the end Matt, the author, missed an opportunity. Because he adhered to Scripture so closely, I hoped he would be able to lead Matt, the character, to a place where he would find the Real Jesus within the pages of the Bible. Instead he experienced him in what he termed a vision.

To my mind this opens the question, how then do you know this encounter was with the Real Jesus since he’d been fooled time and time before? What’s to make him think this vision was any different than his other imaginings?

Matt, the author, gave one brief explanation—truthful, but too easy to miss, I think:

I wanted more moments [with Jesus] like this one—these rare, inexplicable visions. But even as I thought this I realized it was a difference in kind, not in quality. I’ve had mystical experiences many times in prayer, when his quiet voice has shaken me with his truth. The Bible, prayer, church—these were places where he met with me often and spoke clearly.

– p 216

In essence he’s saying the character’s encounter with Jesus was more of the same he’d had in the Bible—and in prayer and in church—not different.

Because of the objective reality of Jesus, I think it’s a main point, not a side issue, that our experience of Jesus is anchored in Scripture. It’s the only way we can get out from under imaginary Jesuses, and I think this point could have been made with power rather than squeaking in through the back door.

Recommendation. My criticism of Imaginary Jesus involves revelation—where exactly can any of us find the Real Jesus—not the Real Jesus Matt, the character, finds. The main point of the book isn’t centered on this issue, however.

Primarily the book uncovers the propensity for any of us to make Jesus after our own likeness. It’s an important lesson, and worthy of review even for many of us who nod in agreement upon hearing the distilled concept.

Plus the humor is great. It’s rare to read something so inspiringly funny. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants a good laugh and to anyone who wants to think more deeply about who Jesus is.

Once again I invite you to stop by the other blogs discussing this excellent book. You can find links to specific posts here.

Special thanks to Tyndale House Publishers for supplying me with a review copy of Imaginary Jesus.

Published in: on June 23, 2010 at 10:03 am  Comments (10)  
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  1. My husband just ordered the book and we are excited to explore its contents 🙂


  2. I hope you aren’t disappointed. When expectations are high, sometimes it’s hard to see them met. I went into it not knowing what in the world I’d find, so it’s hard for me to imagine what I’d think if I was expecting the book to be funny and truthful both. 😛

    Let me know what you both think.



  3. Becky, thanks so much for this. I’m thrilled that you liked the book. I mean, actually thrilled. Thanks.

    Trying to make the normal ways we get to know Christ clear in this book took a lot of work, especially because I wanted to take the reader to a question (“Do I know the real Jesus?”) instead of a point (“This is who Matt says the real Jesus is”).

    A question for you: How did you see Pete, John and Daisy functioning in the book? What did they represent to you?



  4. I know what you mean about expectations. What caught our attention is all the Jesus labels. My husband preached about this a year ago, how we can re-image Jesus into what we want him to be and he used the term genie Jesus and got into trouble. So the book’s contents resonate with us (that and that we lived in Portland for a couple years, so we want to see if we recognize the places in the book ;P). I’ll let you know what we think…


  5. Matt, thanks for your involvement in the tour—your comments and interview with Rachel, and of course for your book that gave us all so much to think about.

    I think it was while I was reading Rachel’s question to you about the end that I started pondering how hard it must have been for you to write that to your satisfaction. And yes, I thought it came out that what you were bringing the reader to was a question rather than to a point. That’s important.

    Pete and Daisy clearly seemed to be prophetic voices. Early on you made me believe Pete was the real Apostle Peter who had somehow time-traveled into the future (though he wasn’t affected by the change in culture, which I never considered—he just never seemed like a resurrected being, and since character Matt could travel back in time, and donkeys could talk, well … I accepted him wholly as the real deal and therefore a reliable witness).

    And I had no trouble with Daisy because as you reminded your readers, God had used donkeys to communicated (to a hard-hearted prophet, no less) in the Old Testament.

    John? Was that Motorcycle Guy? I vaguely remember him being identified. I thought for a while there he might be the Real Jesus (but was pretty glad he wasn’t). He didn’t come alive to me as much as Pete and Daisy did (maybe it was because of the helmet which kept me from seeing his face 😉 ). Anyway, he definitely gave Character Matt truth too.

    And Truth, as I read it, always squared with Scripture.



  6. Morgan, I can see why this book would strike you as one you and your husband want to read. John Otte, a Lutheran pastor who participates in CSFF tours, said he was recommending the book to his congregation! I think it would make a great book to discuss in a book club or a home fellowship group. I mean, there’s a lot of content packed into a few pages.

    After you’ve read it, you can post your thoughts on your new blog! 😀



  7. […] Number three – Imaginary Jesus by Matt Mikalatos (Tyndale). If you’d like to know more about this hilarious and spiritually thought-provoking book, you can read my review at A Christian Worldview of Fiction. […]


  8. […] The CSFF Blog Tour is featuring Matt Mikalatos‘s second novel, though I use the term loosely. Night Of The Living Dead Christian is like no other novel you’ll read, except perhaps his debut novel, re-released under the title My Imaginary Jesus. (You can view the original cover and read my review here). […]


  9. […] years ago under the title Imaginary Jesus. CSFF toured it back then; here is Becky Miller’s review and her list of participants and posts. Word to the wise: If you click on a name, it will take you […]


  10. […] humor novels–My Imaginary Jesus and Night of the Living Dead Christian (see my reviews here and here). In both books Matt appears as a central character–either as the protagonist or a […]


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