Book Review: Imaginary Jesus by Matt Mikalatos
I've always been intrigued by the song Personal Jesus (the 363rd of the 500 greatest songs of all time according to Rolling Stone Magazine), particularly the rough-hewn and raw version by Johnny Cash.
Your own personal Jesus Someone to hear your prayers Someone who cares Your own personal Jesus Someone to hear your prayers Someone who's there
I believe in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and I believe that as believers we are His, and He is ours. He is personal and He is personal to us. Nevertheless, there is always the danger of Jesus getting too personal if you will. In such a case, Jesus becomes a wax figure that we shape to our personal preferences. Jesus is not personal in that sense. He is the Jesus of Nazareth presented in the four Gospels, the Messiah foretold by the Old Testament, and the Lord of Glory declared by the Apostles. He is that Jesus and not another.
Matt Mikalatos's Imaginary Jesus is about this problem in our approach to Jesus. This short, breathless, semi-autobiographical novel is a raucous comedic chase through time and space (mostly Portland) as one man's mental idols of Jesus are destroyed and he comes to meet the real Jesus of Nazareth. And there are a lot of imaginary Jesus's in this book: hippie-Jesus, conservative-Jesus, liberal-Jesus, televangelist-Jesus, masculine-Jesus, and a whole lot more. To see how it all works you're going to have to read the book.
I don't read many books in one sitting, but I did this one. It's not a perfect novel. I don't know what Mikalatos has written before, but this is a good showing. In the midst of some whiplash leaps in the story, there are flashes of great insight, profound points, and worthy dialogue. It is pointed, purposeful fiction with dashes of apologetics, rebuke, and exhortation combined. Yet it holds together well and keeps you turning pages because you simply have no idea what is going to happen next nor how the story will end.
I will warn you that if talking about Jesus in the midst of satire and sarcasm smacks of sacrilege to you then this book is not for you. Mikalatos is comedic, satirical, and witty. Lots of so-called Jesus's herein meet their demise. But their demise is justly due. One of the chief reasons preventing people from meeting the real Jesus is that they have a false image of Christ in their mind.
This is an exercise we need to be prepared for, one that even Christ himself warned us of: "See that no one leads you astray. 5For many will come in my name, saying, 'I am the Christ,' and they will lead many astray." - Matthew 25:4b-5 (ESV). It could be that the false Christ we follow is one of our fabrication.
Thus, Mikalatos gives us this parable to parade all our possible false "personal Jesus's" before us and show us our mental idolatry. He challenges us that the real Jesus may be very unlike the one we have constructed. The point is that at the end of the day there is only one true Jesus, and He is not one of our own making, but is the King of Kings crowned with thorns, wounded, crucified, and resurrected for our healing.
Imaginary Jesus by Matt Mikalatos is available here. This review is voluntary, I did not receive a review copy, though I did read the free Kindle version.