Thursday, December 15, 2011

Review of Night of the Living Dead Christian by Matt Mikalatos

Night of the Living Dead Christian is a spiritual allegory that attempts to answer the question of what a transformed life looks like.  The story centers around Luther Martin (yes named after Martin Luther) a werewolf that desires change before everything that matters to him is stripped from him.  The book is filled with werewolves, vampires, zombies, mad scientists, robots, and basically anything else you would expect from a cheesy monster movie. 

This is my first experience with reading Matt Mikalatos.  The back cover hails him as “Monty Python meets C.S. Lewis.”  The first chapter started out slow for me.  The jokes seemed like cheesy pastor jokes that I tell.  They made me smile but it wasn’t quite Monty Python.  I could tell that he was going somewhere and I appreciated his exploration of Christian transformation using monsters, so I continued.  But I was far from agreeing with the Lewis/Python acclaim. 

Something happened, though, around the third or fourth chapter.  I began slowly entering the world that Matt had created.  I began seeing the depth to many of his analogies and I was quickly hooked.  I started caring about the characters and longing for their redemption.  Then I began seeing myself in the book. 
Yeah, C.S. Lewis may be a little bit of an overstatement (as might Monty Python) but there is some pretty serious depth to this silly little tale.  Just when you begin to think this book is too ridiculous to even make a point Matt will drive home a very profound insight concerning transformation.  His analogies are very helpful to understanding the struggle that we often have living this side of Eden. 

There are two things that Matt does in this book that are quite interesting that I want to mention.  The first is that Matt puts himself (even as the author of Imaginary Jesus) into the book.  It provides for really interesting reading and it builds rapport with the author for those times he drives home a penetrating theological insight. 
The second thing that I loved about Matt’s approach is that he leaves the story “broken” but broken in the hands of Jesus looking toward redemption.  I do not want to give away anything about the ending but I was shocked at a couple of the choices he made in ending the story.  I am glad that he ended it the way that he did because it is far more realistic than the cheery “yeah the Christian team won the game, every relationship is restored, all is right with world, etc. etc.” that we usually see in Christian movies/fiction.

His choice to leave the story somewhat broken but in the hands of Jesus shows me that Matt really gets what redemption/transformation looks like this side of Eden.  At risk of sharing too much of the story I have to share with you the transformation of the werewolf.  It made me a little teary because of how beautiful a picture it is of the redemption that Jesus accomplishes:
He took hold of my snout and forced his fingers between my teeth, and with a terrifying speed and surprising strength, he yanked my jaw open, then pushed it farther until I felt my jaw begin to crack.  I tried to shout, to tell him to stop, but he kept going until my jaw snapped like old firewood.  I collapsed under his hands, sobbing, and he pulled my werewolf lips back and tore them.  And he was not finished.  I felt a hand in my side where the knife had wounded me, and then the excruciating pain of the tearing there, and I whimpered and closed my eyes.  A last momentary regret washed over me as I realized that the burning man was killing me, and I was powerless to stop him.  But it was, after all, what I had agreed to.  Let him do as he will.  I let my body go limp and felt my mind wander and then go free.  And then only the heat and the flames and the dark.  (205)
That’s a beautiful picture of how the Lord often wounds us or breaks us and then provides redemption. 

A Caution

There is one part of the book that concerned me.  And though not a pervasive theme it did seem to be an underlying thread that ran throughout the book.  I do not know this for certain but Mikalatos may be a “red-letter Christian”.  I get this from the dialogue between the main characters in the story and Clockwork Jesus—a robot that had been programmed to only give the answers of Jesus. 

From this Matt seems to struggle through the connection between right believing and right living.  It seems that Jesus is more concerned about right living than right believing.  Deducing this from the words of Jesus, Luther says, “So what we do is more important than what we believe.  Or so it seems”.  To this Matt protests, but eventually it seems that if we are to listen to Jesus then it’s less about what you believe and more about how you live.  This statement was especially alarming to me:
“Clockwork Jesus is programmed to give the most direct response from Jesus’ answers.  He doesn’t go into Paul’s letters or the other letters to the churches.  He’s purely the words of Jesus” (181)
That’s good and all, and it makes you sound like a fuddy-duddy to throw up a red flag and say, “wait a minute isn’t this creating a false dichotomy?”  If we really believe that Jesus is the author of all of Scripture (and I’m not sure where Mikalatos stands on this one) then to pit Jesus against Paul as Clockwork Jesus is programmed to do seems unhelpful. 

Having said this I think that Mikalatos is making a point that bare belief in Jesus is not sufficient for salvation—that is not what transformation looks like.  That, to use his analogy, would be more like zombies following doctrines of men instead of Jesus himself.  His point is well taken, I just find his approach in this section a little clumsy and a tad murky concerning the benefit of all of Scripture as Jesus’ words. 

Should You Buy It?

If you like Christian fiction that makes a good point this is one of the better works that I have read.  Of course, I am not a Christian fiction guru either so there may be better stuff out there.  As for me I really enjoyed this and found myself considering a purchase of the authors other books. 

In my opinion the mark of a good Christian fiction book is one that makes you hope there is a sequel (that means the story is engaging) and that you are thinking about it a couple of weeks after you read it (that means it makes a profound statement).  To me this book, though rather silly, accomplishes both of these goals.  Great book, I’d suggest it. 

You can buy it for 10.94 or 8.99 on your Kindle.  Get it here.

Or you can enter to win a free copy of the book

I received this book from Tyndale in exchange for a review.  The review didn’t have to be positive, but fearing a zombie attack I made it positive anyways.  Find more at Matt's website or Tyndale.

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