CSFF Blog Tour – Imaginary Jesus Wrap

Two tours going last week and I didn’t get the poll up for our CSFF June Top Tour Blogger Award. Thirty bloggers participated, posting over fifty articles. We had outstanding quality—thoughtful commentary, thorough reviews, touching personal accounts.

I hope lots and lots of readers discovered Matt Mikalatos and his challenging book, Imaginary Jesus. Let the buzz begin! Or continue, I guess.

Here’s how. Read one or more of the posts below or in the list from day one of the tour, then email at least two friends with the links. Or blog about the book yourself, including at least two links to reviews, discussions, or interviews. Or if you’ve read the book, tell at least two people at church about the book. Or, if you haven’t, tell at least two people at church about the blog posts you read about the book. Or ask for the book for your birthday. Or buy the book as a surprise summer gift for a friend. Or post something on Twitter or Facebook about the book or the posts about the book which you read. Or go to Amazon and comment about any of the reviews there. Or post your review at Amazon, Christianbooks.com, B & N—or any other review site you know of.

‘Nuff said. Here are the bloggers—and links to their posts (click on each check mark)—eligible to win this month’s CSFF Top Tour Blogger Award, followed by the poll. Thank you for making this Award possible with your vote. 😀 (This poll will close midnight, July 6, Pacific time.)

Published in: on June 29, 2010 at 2:34 pm  Comments Off on CSFF Blog Tour – Imaginary Jesus Wrap  
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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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CSFF Blog Tour – Imaginary Jesus by Matt Mikalatos, Day 2

For a humorous book, Imaginary Jesus by Matt Mikalatos (this month’s CSFF Blog Tour feature) generates a lot of thought. Take a look, for example, at D. G. Davidson’s post discussing a question Jesus raised with His disciples, recorded in Luke: “Who do the crowds say that I am?” Or Fred Warren’s post with the same verse as its catalyst. Then there’s John Otte’s post that quotes John Calvin AND Martin Luther as part of a discussion about the idols we create.

These discussions are important, helpful, necessary. Too many people in America today, and probably throughout the world, are following a made-up version of Jesus, (I met some professing Christians here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction back in January, you might recall, who were “re-imaging Jesus”) and the sad fact is, there will be a day when the Real Jesus will tell them He never knew them.

Imaginary Jesus is a book that can help us all see our own false ideas about Jesus if we will take a hard look.

Interestingly, the reason Matt Mikalatos’s work is so effective, I believe, is because it counters, by implication, some of the errors in postmodern thought, even as it employs the powerful “tell a story” method of communicating truth favored by that worldview.

For one, Matt assumes that the Real Jesus exists. He is not relative, not Someone to be molded to suit each individual according to his cultural situated-ness. In other words, Jesus has objective reality and truth about Him can be uncovered.

Which leads to the second point. Matt also assumes that the Real Jesus can be found. He is not a mystery that negates relationship. He is not an idea to ponder but a Person to know.

Third, because Jesus is a Person, we don’t need to “deconstruct” Him or the Bible that tells us about Him. Deconstruction either leaves a pile of rubble or requires reconstruction—the “re-imaging” I mentioned earlier—and it is the latter that creates the plethora of imaginary Jesuses Matt exposed in this book.

Along with his own custom-built Jesus, Matt, the character, encountered King James Jesus, Political Power Jesus, 8-Ball Jesus, Peacenik Jesus, TV Jesus, Legalist Jesus, New Age Jesus, Free Will Jesus and any number of others belonging to the SSIJ (Secret Society of Imaginary Jesuses). There are even those who people invent for a specific reason and then discard “when they don’t need him anymore.”

But here’s where this exposure of the imaginary led—to relationship:

“These came from different places. Lies you’ve believed.” Daisy [the talking donkey] pointed her snout at Unforgiving Jesus. “Lies that someone told you or you told yorself. Some of them are diabolical, and some are self-inflicted. A few are even well-intentioned. They’re constructs that tell you what Jesus will say or do, how he feels, or what he thinks, without ever having to get to know him.”
– p. 193

A humorous story? Absolutely! It is through the vehicle of story—and a funny one at that—by which Matt, the author, brings us to relevant Truth, challenging in the process some of the key components of postmodern thought.

Please take some time this week to check out what others on the CSFF Blog Tour are saying about Imaginary Jesus (see the list at the end of yesterday’s post).

Special thanks to Tyndale House Publishers for supplying me with a review copy of the book.

CSFF Blog Tour – Imaginary Jesus by Matt Mikalatos, Day 1

I’m actually scheduled to participate in two different blog tours today, both for books I loved. As a result, I’ll be double posting on Wednesday, which is fine since I shorted you a post last week. At any rate, for those looking for posts about Wayfarer by R. J. Anderson in conjunction with the Children’s Book Blog Tour, you’ll find those starting Wednesday.

Today I want to introduce Imaginary Jesus by Matt Mikalatos (Tyndale). I suppose the best approach is to start with first things first—the cover, and more specifically, the title.

I’ll be honest, when Matt first emailed me about CSFF touring his book I was … hesitant, to say the least. I mean, Imaginary Jesus? I know I’m not the only one to react this way. Once CSFF settled on featuring this book, one tour member emailed me and in parenthesis after the book title said it was hard even to type the words.

The fact is, those of us who know and love Jesus don’t want a book touting Him as imaginary. But I know Matt from CSFF, and I also know a bit about Tyndale House who published the book under the Barna imprint. Certainly this title could not mean the book was about Jesus being imaginary!

Later, when I received the promotional blurb for the book, I had additional concerns. Here’s the opening: “An hilarious, fast-paced, not-quite-fictional story that’s unlike anything you’ve ever read before.”

A hilarious story about Jesus?

OK, my hesitation grew.

But it’s Matt’s book, Tyndale’s book.

And reviews were in—good reviews from Josh McDowell and my Bible professor from Westmont College, Robert Gundry (Tremper Longman), from Publisher’s Weekly and CBA Retailers. I even read a piece about it in Writer’s Digest in the Debut Author section. Clearly this was a book the CSFF administrative team needed to consider.

How glad I am that we not only considered it but chose to feature it on the tour.

Here are my overarching thoughts:

  • Imaginary Jesus is laugh-out-loud funny, without being sacrilegious—no easy feat.
  • The book is one of the truest stories I’ve read, though it is completely made up.
  • Imaginary Jesus, because of its title, might either be controversial among or ignored by Christians. The latter would be sad because the book is the kind of challenging we need.
  • In essence, as I stated in a post at Rewrite, Reword, Rework ” the ‘story’ is primarily a vehicle to discuss theology.” But remember, it’s 😆 funny, therefore not boring!

So what’s the book about? This “not-quite-true” true story is an autobiographical account of searching for the Real Jesus, not the Jesus of our imagining or our re-imaging. Which makes this work incredibly relevant to our postmodern culture.

Here is the list of other CSFF members who will be blogging about Imaginary Jesus the next three days. Take some time to see what they thought about this very different piece of fictitious memoir.

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

Published in: on June 21, 2010 at 10:20 am  Comments (10)  
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