Given my current blog series and the EPIC series we’re doing (Encounters with Jesus), I couldn’t have come across this book at a more opportune time!
Imaginary Jesus opens with the author, Matt Mikalatos, at his favorite Portland vegan restaurant with none other than Jesus. They’re chatting about life when a big, smelly guy named Pete walks in, introduces himself and asks Jesus, “What do you want with my friend Matt here?”
Apparently Jesus’ answer isn’t good enough because Pete punches him square in the face and then chases him out of the restaurant.
Matt quickly discovers that Pete is none other than the Apostle Peter and “Jesus” isn’t really Jesus at all, but an Imaginary Jesus. And if Matt wants to meet the real Jesus, he has to find and face down his Imaginary Jesus. Along the way, he meets a whole host of imaginary Jesuses, from Men’s Retreat Jesus (whom he must pacify using Braveheart quotes), Magic 8 Ball Jesus (who only gives a few vague, stock-answers to every question) and Political Power Jesus (who gets into a fight with Hippie, Peacenik Jesus).
And as hilarious as Matt’s adventure is, it’s also choke-full of biting critiques of American Christianity at its best and worst. Matt’s critiques never come across as cruel because he consistently lampoons himself before anyone else, and always with clever, self-effacing humor.
Besides, who hasn’t wanted to see King James Jesus negotiate a hostage situation?
If you’ve tried to follow Jesus for any length of time, then you need to read this book. At its heart, it’s all about how often and easily we trade the real Jesus – the Jesus we meet in the Gospels – for someone who agrees with us, who won’t challenge us.*
Imaginary Jesus is no joke, and I guarantee you’ll read it more than once and pass it on to friends. You’ll want to tell them all about your favorite moments. Mine is the inner-tube race down the side of a mountain between Calvinist Jesus, Armenian Jesus and Open-Theist Jesus (though Matt is shrewd enough not to label them that).
Bottom line: A great summer read that gets you thinking while you’re laughing – it’s narrative theology at its best!
*I’m ashamed to admit that Matt got me several times with some of the Jesuses he encountered. I was so pleased with what this or that Jesus said I was certain he had to be the real deal. Curses!