A Different Jesus

Names of Jesus2In one of the Apostle Paul’s letters to the church at Corinth, he wrote something that struck me as odd:

But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ. For if one comes and preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted, you bear this beautifully. (2 Cor 11:3-4)

I’m referring to the part of the above passage in which he says “another Jesus.” Did he have in mind, another “Christ?” I could understand that–already there had been various people claiming to be the Messiah. So if Paul would have said, if someone claims to be another Christ, don’t be deceived, that would have made perfect sense to me.

But he chose instead to say “another Jesus.” And of course that word choice was as inspired by the Holy Spirit as all else he wrote, so I wanted to grapple with what “another Jesus” would look like.

In truth, I think it is probably easier to understand today than it was in the first century, because a number of “other Jesuses” have shown up.

Take for example the Mormon Jesus. This is a Jesus who is not a person of the One True and Triune God. Rather he is a god, like all of us–one of the Father’s spirit children, special only because he is the first begotten (not the only begotten as John 3:16 says). He is brother to Satan and Plato and Paul himself–the son of god and god, as we all are and can become.

This Mormon Jesus is decidedly different from the Person Paul wrote about who is the image of the invisible God, who created all things and by whom all things hold together.

The Mormon Jesus isn’t so very different from Example Jesus–the person some believe to be such a good person he should be our model for living. If we could only love as he loved, serve as he served, our lives and those of the people around us would be so much better. We simply need to commit ourselves to being like Jesus.

The problem with Example Jesus is that he is only a shadow of the real Person. Jesus didn’t come to show us how life is done. He came because no matter what we do, we can’t make life work. We don’t need an example to follow; we need a Redeemer to rescue us, to set us free.

Example Jesus is pretty close to Kinder, Gentler Jesus. This is the person some believe came to right the wrong of the angry god of the Old Testament who needed to repent for venting on people and committing genocide. Hence, Kinder, Gentler Jesus showed up, loving others and giving his life to make amends and to prove that god was different now–loving and willing to forgive instead of judge.

Kinder, Gentler Jesus misses the mark because he doesn’t have any explanation for all the stories the true Jesus told about “outer darkness” and a place where there was “gnashing of teeth.” The true Jesus also graphically described the day of judgment on many occasions–a day when goats and sheep will be separated, when wheat and weeds will be divided.

Some people counter with Mythical Jesus. He wasn’t a real person at all–simply the idea of a bunch of first century Jews who were dissatisfied with the status quo. They envisioned a Messiah who could do all kinds of amazing things like heal the sick, feed thousands of people with a few loaves of bread, walk on water, order demons out of possessed people. Not that they for a minute believed he really did those things. They were creating a myth like Pecos Bill or Paul Bunyan.

Mythical Jesus stands in contrast to Historical Jesus. This is the person some scholars who disdain the miraculous discover by stripping Scripture of all the “signs and wonders” the True Jesus says were evidences that He had in deed come from the Father. But no, the Historical Jesus was a wise teacher who stirred up many followers who later embellished his actions to make him worthy of acclaim as they went about talking him up. The Historical Jesus was pretty unremarkable. And of course, he never actually came out of his tomb alive.

I’ve only touched on some of the many different Jesuses that have arisen over time. And as I began writing this post, I realized there’s a whole book about them–My Imaginary Jesus by Matt Mikalatos. I gave an idea of the number of Jesuses Matt discussed in one of my CSFF Blog Tour posts about the 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.”

How quickly I forget. Or perhaps I never connected the idea of “re-imaging” Jesus with this passage from Paul in 2 Corinthians. In reality, he says, anyone preaching a different Jesus is using the same deception that Satan used against Eve.

In the garden, the issue was “Has God really said . . .” Because Jesus is the Incarnate Word of God, Satan really hasn’t changed his tactic. He’s still questioning God’s Word: “Is Jesus really . . .”

Peter, who was in the perfect position to know, had this to say, which pretty much answers Satan’s charge:

For [Jesus Christ] was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God . . . for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God. (1 Peter 1:20-21, 23)

Is God’s word reliable? Both His written word and His Incarnate Word are reliable and true and enduring–the first for revelation, the second for salvation. There is no other Jesus whereby a person may be saved.

Published in: on July 11, 2013 at 6:59 pm  Comments (2)  
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CSFF Blog Tour – Storm by Evan Angler, Day 2

BadBeginning-coverI like blog tours that give me lots to think about–such as the current one for Storm by Evan Angler. The downside, of course, is that I have to decide between a variety of topics, and today, I’m having a hard time choosing.

I thought I’d delve a little more into the political intrigue that plays a significant part of the Swipe series, but instead I want to talk a little about the author, or the character, Evan Angler.

One reviewer remarked about how unusual this book was that the author was a character in the book. Ah, I realized, it may be unusual, but it’s not unique. It has been done before.

Most famously, the middle grade books known as A Series of Unfortunate Events (Book one, The Bad Beginning) were written by Lemony Snicket, a pen name for American novelist Daniel Handler, as well as the name of the character in the books who narrates the story.

To my knowledge, this technique has not been copied widely, if at all.

I do know of another short series that used a similar device, though I don’t know if the Lemony Snicket books were influential at all. I’m referring to Matt Mikalatos’s two Christian speculative 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 secondary-character narrator.

What does all this have to do with Storm and the Swipe series and Evan Angler? The author has used the same device, though I suspect there is an intentional borrowing or overt influence from the Lemony Snicket books.

Part of me thinks, it’s about time. I mean, The Bad Beginning first appeared back in 1999. And no one else has used this author/character device in all this time?

Another part of me wonders if readers familiar with the Lemony Snicket books will think the Swipe books are derivative. It’s hard to think so, though, because the tone of the two series is vastly different as is the subject matter. The only commonality I can detect is this author/character device.

The question, then, is whether or not the device works. I think there’s a lot of intrigue created with the use of this kind of pen name. The pretend writer has his own persona and history and interaction with the story events. But in the case of the Swipe books, it appears that the real author is determined to remain behind the curtain. At least I have yet to locate any information about the person behind the pen name.

So yes, I’d say, for me, the device worked to spike my interest. There’s an accompanying tactic that I think may have backfired, however, but I’ll address that in my review tomorrow.

For now I suggest you check out the various posts from blog tour participants discussing and reviewing the Swipe books.

Shannon McDermott posted a review of book one, Swipe yesterday, and book two, Sneak, today. Chawna Schroeder has a two-part review of the series as a whole (see Part 1 and Part 2). Emma and Audrey Engel have a giveaway for Storm over on their blog. And don’t forget to check out the ever delightful Tuesday Tunes put together by Steve Trower.

You can find the entire list of participants at the end of my Day 1 post, and I suggest you take a few moments to check out a couple of these articles. Why not leave a comment as well? Tell them Becky sent you. 😉

Fantasy Friday – A Review: The Sword Of Six Worlds

sword of six worlds coverMatt Mikalatos, known for his humorous quasi-autobiographical contemporary adult fantasies, Imaginary Jesus and Night of the Living Dead Christians, has shifted gears, proving yet again how talented he is. His latest book, released last December in paper, is a middle grade fantasy entitled The Sword of Six Worlds, Book One in the Adventures of Validus Smith series.

The Story. Validus Smith and her best friend Alex Shields know something is seriously wrong when their substitute teacher takes the side of the class bully. When he changes into a creature with fangs and tries to attack Validus, they escape by following two new students through a hole into a different world–one in which animals talk.

The “new students,” in fact, are animals–a tiger and a horse–who only took human form to bring Validus back to their world. They have been informed that she is the new paladin, and they desperately need her help in fighting the Blight which is bent on turning a series of worlds into dead planets. And so the adventure begins.

Evaluation. The Sword of Six Worlds is a delightful story. Both Validus and Alex are well painted. In their own world they are smart, obedient, polite, and survivors of the constant torture Jeremy Lane inflicts upon them with his words and his fists. In other words, they are sympathetic characters.

They aren’t perfect, and they have quirks. For example, Alex doesn’t text Validus to let her know he’s coming over, or even ring the doorbell. He tosses rocks at her window. Validus’s mother is always checking her temperature, worried she has a fever, and her dad is constantly reminding her not to lose her temper at school.

While Validus discovers she is the paladin, Alex discovers he is unique as well. They both have larger-than-life callings and they grow into their roles as events demand. They’re also fiercely loyal to one another, in spite of fears, and end up making other friends that are just as faithful.

The plot moves at a quick pace, with lots of tension. The story is not predictable, until perhaps towards the end–but then, it’s the end, so you can hardly say the story is unsurprising. As a matter of fact, I thought there were several unforeseen events.

I also like the cool fantasy elements. The talking animals worked, and Mikalatos played with them at times to give the story a bit of his humor.

The armadillo settled his monocle onto his needle nose, giving him an enormously magnified right eye. He twiddled his claws together in a nervous gesture, then motioned for the rat to climb back up with the scroll. Just as the rat reached the top, Benjamin [the tiger] cleared her throat and said, Yorrick.” The armadillo was so startled he knocked the poor rat to the ground again. The rat squeaked his displeasure and then lay on the ground, wrapped in the scroll like a toga. The armadillo slowly peeled his fingers from his eyes and peered out at Benjamin. “Ah,” he said. “You must learn not to use someone’s name without warning him.”

Better still was the Rock of Many Names and the things the rock mage could do. In all, the setting adds to the enjoyment of the story.

The plot certainly held my attention, but there were a couple places where I could see a need for improvement.

One is a situation that arose because Validus didn’t speak up. She was asked to speak up and she gave an answer, but when it became apparent she’d been misunderstood (and it should have been apparent right away), she did nothing to correct the mistake. This not speaking up continued for several chapters and actually led to a major plot point. Characters that don’t speak up generally irritate me, and I was feeling frustrated with Validus because a major dangerous situation could have been avoided if she’d answered the questions clearly, or at all.

The other point I thought could be strengthened was the climax. Up to that point, I had abandoned myself to the story and it proved to be as believable as discovering a world inside a wardrobe or having tea with a Faun. I loved it. The end, however, seemed a tad rushed, which made some of the elements seem not as believable as those at the beginning.

Recommendation. I’m excited to find this wonderful story that introduces the Architect who created the passageways between worlds and who guides the paladin. It’s a delightful tale middle grade children will enjoy, whether they read the book themselves or whether an adult is reading it to them. I highly recommend The Sword of Six Worlds to parents who want a fast-paced fantasy for their middle grader. This one will hold their interest and entertain from start to finish.

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher free of cost.

CSFF Blog Tour Wrap – Night Of The Living Dead Christian

Thirty of us were talking, and we ended up with sixty-seven posts — all about Night of the Living Dead Christian by Matt Mikalatos. So much conversation is a sure sign that the book stirred something in those who read it. Was it controversy? I mean, an allegory comparing Christians and monsters could get a little dicey. Was it praise for the author? After all, his work has received some heavy-hitter endorsements.

No and no — well, OK, somewhat, in that last one, but that wasn’t the most popular subject. The main topic of discussion that came up most frequently was how the book — the message of it — affected the reader.

Here are a few samples:

  • Bruce Hennigan: All in all, “Night of the Living Dead Christian” is a powerful allegory of what most Christians are like today, including me. It is well worth the reading, well worth the laughter, and ultimately, well worth the tears of joy.
  • Steve Trower: there were plenty more like it, snippets of dialogue that contained real thought-provoking truth. As a writer, moments like these serve to remind me of the power that stories can have – even silly stories about vampires and zombies. As a flawed and arguably monstrous human being, this particular moment was really a little closer to home than it had any right to be!
    • Theresa Dunlap: Yes, you will find zombies, werewolves and vampires and even a mad scientist and a robot – um – android, but there is such a powerful message hidden in the story that one is likely to not forget it easily. To put it as simply as possible, this book is a story about transformation – a true transformation.
  • Thomas Fletcher Booher: something Mikalatos did very well was point out that faith must involve works, and he pulls from the book of James to support this. True faith is a working faith, and a faith without works is not a true saving faith.
    • Tori Greene: If I really believe that Jesus is God become man to save us from sin, if I really believe in the things that he taught, then the way I live my life should reflect this. Jesus calls us to live in a radical way – to put Him first, to love our neighbor, to reject the false promises of the world. My life should be transformed as I seek to pick up my own cross and follow Him

    Not that the participants were unanimous in their opinions, by any means, but that so many focused on what the story meant is unusual for a book also recommended because of its humor.

    One last part of the tour remains — choosing which blogger to recognize as this month’s Top Tour Blogger. And to add a little something, Matt has kindly offered a prize for the winner:

    to sweeten the pot this month I’m giving the winner of the blog tour a free, signed copy of the book as well as a limited edition NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD poster (the image of which does not match the book cover, is beautiful, and that the publisher has asked me not to share publicly).

    And now those eligible for the Award:

    We definitely can use your help. Take time to look over these posts if you haven’t already, and then come back here to vote for the blogger you think deserves to be recognized as this month’s CSFF Top Tour Blogger. You have until April 16 to vote.

    Published in: on March 30, 2012 at 7:27 pm  Comments Off on CSFF Blog Tour Wrap – Night Of The Living Dead Christian  
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    A Review: Night Of The Living Dead Christian – CSFF Blog Tour, Day 3

    The CSFF Blog Tour for Night Of The Living Dead Christian by Matt Mikalatos is winding down. What a ride!

    We have a book giveaway at Beckie Burnham‘s site, a quiz to determine what kind of monster you are at Chawna Schroeder‘s, reviews of My Imaginary Jesus, such as this one by Shannon McDermott, and theology discussions by the Boohers — Thomas Fletcher and Thomas Clayton. That’s only scratching the surface. There is much, much more to enjoy.

    A bonus has been the posts by our host author who is offering several goodies to the winner of the Top Tour Blogger Award and who has graciously shared a portion of his book proposal so writers can see a bit of how he presented his story to his publisher. He also has linked to chapters with bonus material so we can see how the story changed from an earlier conception. It’s great stuff.

    But now, on to what you came to read.

    The Review

    The Story. Unlike My Imaginary Jesus which was fairly episodic, Night of the Living Dead Christian has a basic plot.

    Matt Mikalatos is once again a character in his own book. This one, however, is really his neighbor’s story. Luther is a werewolf. He doesn’t want to be one because his wife left him, taking their daughter with her. He is desperate to find a way to stop being a werewolf, so Matt and a couple other buddies determine to help him. The story, then, is Luther’s quest for change.

    Strengths. This short description of the story, or the one on the back cover, or any of those I read from tour participants doesn’t really give an adequate representation of the book.

    First, it is funny. Matt is a bit bumbling (which ends up playing a significant part in the story), and his humor, self-deprecating. As several commenters pointed out in my day one post about the use of spoof in the book, this technique is disarming, allowing readers to sit back and chuckle without feeling defensive.

    But this isn’t simply a romp with vampires and mad scientists and zombies popping in and out for no rhyme or reason. It’s actually a very authentic, incredibly sad and serious story. It’s very “real life.” Luther’s werewolfishness, as it turns out, is no laughing matter. He has every right to want to be rid of it for good. Except he doesn’t want to be rid of it.

    And therein lies more truth and reality. This book is full of such insight, but also of answers. Yes, answers — the very thing that so many Christians think we ought not be giving in our stories. But Matt is faithful to Scripture, so his answers aren’t easy, nor are they quick. They paint the picture of the seed dying in the ground in order that it might begin to grow.

    What’s more, this book, so full of Biblical teaching, is not preachy. In all the fifty-some articles I’ve read about this book over these past three days, I don’t remember any saying the book was preachy. In fact just the opposite. How can a book be so overtly Christian and not be preachy? You’ll have to read it for yourself and see.

    So what are the strengths of this book? It’s easy to break down: it is funny and truthful.

    Weaknesses. I don’t really have anything I’d call a weakness. Because Matt is doing something so different from other novels, it’s hard to evaluate it on the same terms.

    I did realize as I read various tour posts that some people might be expecting a different book simply because it’s about monsters. This is not horror, not even close to horror. The monsters are a device. Will that disappoint some? Perhaps, but I think it will relieve a good many more, and it makes the book accessible to a wider audience.

    At the same time, the back cover announces that the book is an allegory. Will that drive away readers expecting a fairly standard, predictable story? I hope not. It is most definitely a twenty-first century allegory, so it’s not like anything you’ve read before.

    So the only weaknesses I can think of are the things people might expect, leading them to think the book is something it is not.

    Recommendation. My first instinct was to say this is a must read for everyone, but I realize that’s not the case. Instead, I’ll amend my recommendation and say it’s a must read for those who want to think about spiritual things and who are willing to take a look in the mirror. Along the way you should plan to laugh a bit.

    As an example, look at the front matter. Before the title page, as is typical of Christian fiction, there are a number of pages with endorsements, first of this book and then of Matt’s debut novel, Imaginary Jesus. The list of endorsers is impressive: Chris Fabry, radio host and bestselling author of Almost Heaven; Mike Duran, author of The Resurrection; Publishers Weekly; Relevant Magazine, CBA Retailers; Josh McDowell; Pete Wilson pastor of Cross Point Church in Nashville, and on and on. Finally, at the end of five pages of endorsements is this: “Adam Sadados, just some guy.”

    Stay alert. When you read Night of the Living Dead Christian, you’ll find chuckle-inducing moments when you least expect them.

    In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

    Transformation: CSFF Blog Tour – Night Of The Living Dead Christian, Day 2

    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).

    The subtitle of Night Of The Living Dead Christian is “One man’s ferociously funny quest to discover what it means to be truly transformed.” The tag line on the back cover is, “What does a transformed life actually look like?”

    No beating around the bush here. This novel is less about the story and more about what Matt wants to say than any others I’ve read since I finished his first one. I like that about his books. It’s the same approach used by fathers of fiction such as John Bunyan. Few others besides Matt are doing it today. But I’ll discuss my reaction to it and why I think it works when I write my review tomorrow.

    Today I want to focus my thoughts on the subject of transformation. As Night Of The Living Dead Christian clearly portrays it, the need for transformation is vital. We all are monsters of one variety or another.

    Some people struggle against their monster-ness and seek transformation in any number of places — false religion, charitable activities, psychoanalysis. None of these activities, external or internal, can accomplish true transformation. At best we pretty up the monster to make him appear more respectable or hide him as best we can.

    In the end, what we need, is the transformation that only Jesus Christ can bring. But what exactly does that mean? Some professing Christians say the change Jesus enacts is instantaneous and total. We have new life; the old has passed away. Consequently, the true Christian no longer sins.

    That certainly would be radical transformation, and I think we all long for such. All we need to do is confess, and Jesus will do the rest. The fact is, anyone who claims he is living a sinless life is deceived.

    Yes, absolutely Jesus gives new life, but like physical birth, becoming a new creature in Christ is a starting place, not a finishing place. It’s as if at the point when we turn to Jesus, we’ve crawled back up on the Potter’s wheel and laid our lives before Him so that He can remold us into the image of His Son.

    The remolding process isn’t finished in a day. There may be days we don’t think there’s been any progress at all. We may look into the mirror of God’s word and be dismayed by all we see that needs to go. But that’s the nature of growth.

    When we were little we couldn’t always tell that we were getting taller or more responsible or more independent. As Christians we can’t always tell when we are less selfish or prideful or unloving. We see Christ and we know we aren’t there yet, but that doesn’t mean God isn’t at work. That doesn’t mean He isn’t ordering our lives in such a way as to bring about transformation.

    Sometimes the growth comes in spurts, and we see dramatic change — which can then turn into a bit of a problem that can stunt our progress because we might think we’ve arrived, or we’ve figured this transformation thing out.

    The truth is, it’s not actually a mystery. Paul says in Colossians that growth comes by holding fast to the head, which is Christ (see Col. 2:19). Peter says growth comes from God’s word:

    like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation (1 Peter 2:2)

    In fact, the word of God and its importance to the Christian is a theme in any number of books in the Bible. James says we are to abide in the word. Paul says we are to let the word abide in us, or “richly dwell within” us (Col. 3:16).

    Is transformation some kind of instant cure for our sin nature? Yes and no. Christ’s righteousness is now my righteousness, but I still don’t have any of my own. My motives are twisted, just as Paul described in Romans 7:

    v. 15 – For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate.

    v. 18 – For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not.

    v. 19 – For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.

    In chapter 8 Paul happily states that there is no longer condemnation for those who are in Christ. That’s the good news. But there’s still the matter of living transformed lives. After some digression, Paul comes back to the issue in chapter 12:

    And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (v. 2)

    Renewing our minds certainly seems consistent with abiding in the word of God.

    Paul addresses the issue of transformation in his second letter to the Corinthians also, this time in respect to our looking to Jesus:

    But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart; but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit. (2 Cr 3:15-18, emphasis mine)

    To summarize, transformation can’t happen apart from new birth, but it is resultant growth, not an instantaneous change. It comes from looking to Jesus Christ and engaging His word with our minds, with our lives. It’s also important to note that as long as we are alive we should be growing, so transformation isn’t a done deal here and now.

    Tomorrow in my review I’ll let you know if my conclusions about transformation match up with those presented in Night Of The Living Dead Christian.

    Spoof: CSFF Blog Tour – Night Of The Living Dead Christian, Day 1

    This month the CSFF Blog Tour is featuring Night of the Living Dead Christian by Matt Mikalatos.

    Who writes spoof these days? Matt Mikalatos, that’s who. Matt Mikalatos, author of Imaginary Jesus, which is being repackaged and re-released by his publisher (Tyndale) as My Imaginary Jesus — a much better title, in my opinion.

    But I’m getting far afield. I was talking about spoof — “a humorous imitation of something … in which its characteristic features are exaggerated for comic effect.”

    Spoof is precisely what Matt writes, as his newest book, Night of the Living Dead Christian, demonstrates.

    The interesting thing with Matt’s writing, though, is that he has married spoof with allegory. Now that takes some doing! Yet, in my opinion, he’s pulled off the upset. He’s writing this quasi memoir-ish, urban fantasy-ish spoof that has blatant, purposeful, in-your-face spiritual parallels, and it works.

    The thing about spoof is that it taps into what’s going on in pop culture, but also exploits an undercurrent that most people might not realize exists. In this case I call it vampire fatigue.

    For some time, in a large part because of Twilight and company, vampire stories were white hot, but as happens with more frequency in our capitalistic society, what sells, promoters stuff down the throats of the public until we are gagging with the excess.

    Enter the spoof. At that point when society has had it’s fill, the subject is then ripe for a little ridicule fun-poking.

    Matt’s brilliance as a writer is that he spoofs himself as much as he does the vampires, werewolves, and zombies he writes about. His humor is contagious, and I found myself laughing out loud in places, while chuckling out loud in others.

    But there’s more. The addition of allegory spreads the spoof. Not only is there fun at the expense of the fantasy/paranormal elements he uses as the foundation of the story, he’s also doing an adequate spoof of the Church.

    In this case, however, the ripe-for-ridicule tendencies are a result of the ways in which the Church and individual believers have been infected by tradition and the distillation of God’s Word into systems of thought superseding the way of Life.

    Matt taps into this expanded material in a manner that does more than raise a few laughs. His spoof/allegory hammers home weighty thoughts about weighty subjects, even while cushioning the blow.

    Tomorrow I’ll take a look at some of those weighty subjects, then Wednesday I plan to give my review. In the meantime, see what others participating in the tour for Night of the Living Dead Christian are saying. (Check marks link to articles that have been posted already).

    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.

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