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Mikalatos: Imaginary Jesus

I picked up the Kindle version of this book for free with no strings attached. I’m writing a quick review here because I liked the book somewhat and found it to be a good value at the Kindle price [link]. Please note that I’m not saying it was fairly priced because it was free. I don’t read many novels, period, and very few Christian novels. This isn’t a book I would have read if it weren’t free. Still, if I were the sort who read theological novels this would have been a bargain, I suspect.

The basic premise is a take on the concept I remember hearing first from historian Kenneth Clarke: God created Man, and Man has been returning the favor ever since. Instead of presenting the usual folk theology that each of us has a Jesus we prefer to the real One, Mikalatos presents a fictional story in which the author realizes he has been traveling with a Jesus of his own making, one who is more like the author than the Jesus of Scripture. Most of the book has an absurdist flavor, where the author keeps bumping into other imaginary Jesuses (Political Jesus, New Age Jesus, Testosterone Jesus, Feminist Jesus, etc.) as the story crawls along. There’s a more theological section where the author encounters a Calvinist Jesus, an Arminian Jesus, and an Open Theology Jesus all at once. I won’t tell you who turns out to be closer to the Real Jesus, but here’s a hint: the author is a Baptist [link].

There’s also an appearance by market researcher George Barna. To my knowledge this is the first time Barna has appeared as a character in a novel; I’m sure this is significant somehow but I don’t dare guess how.

Finally there’s the payoff where the author manages to shake loose of his Imaginary Jesus and has an encounter with the Real Jesus via Scriptural stories and sacraments. I will leave it to the reader to decide whether this part of the book succeeds, or whether Mikalatos falls into the familiar Christian fiction trap of “there was never any real tension; we had all the answers all along, etc.”

There’s a lot in this book that works and a fair amount that doesn’t: Portland and Vancouver, Oregon are lovingly rendered, and the author pokes mild fun at a distinctly Pacific Northwest kind of Hipster Christianity; he also depicts Jesus in fiction, which may upset some readers; his wife in the story has a miscarriage, which crushes him emotionally, but the next day he leaves her and the children and goes off on a motorcycle trip in a way that doesn’t make sense. Etc. It’s very difficult to write a theological novel that works as both theology and novel; I think this one works reasonably well as a theological exploration, but at a cost to the novel. Characters appear and disappear without resolution, moods are built, abandoned, and resumed kind of at random, etc. Still the premise basically works, even if at the end Mikalatos’s fake Jesuses are sometimes more real than the Real Jesus he introduces us to at the end.

With these provisos I’d recommend this book. As theology it is eye-opening, and helpful for someone like me who is kind of a theological mutt.

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  1. March 8, 2011 at 5:59 am

    Sounds pretty interesting.

    Thanks for sharing, Mike.

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