The story begins at the Red and Black, a Communist coffee shop in Portland, Oregon, where Matt (our hero) and someone he thinks is Jesus are just hanging out. Enter the Apostle Peter, a.k.a. “Pete,” who recognizes Matt’s Jesus as an imposter and quickly instigates a fistfight. Imaginary Jesus takes off running, Pete and Matt take off after him, and thus begins a story that’s funny, unpredictable, and would be irreverent if it didn’t actually have so much respect for the real Jesus, as He was in history and as He is in Matt’s life — and in ours.
As Matt, Pete, and Daisy the Talking Donkey chase Imaginary Jesus across Portland in an effort to unmask him and help Matt get back to the real Jesus — the one he actually loves, and who really loves him — they run into a host of other Imaginary Jesuses, figments of imagination and theological constructs that sometimes come close to being like Jesus but aren’t Him. They include such memorable figures as Magic 8-Ball Jesus (good for quick guidance, but rather predictable), Testosterone Jesus (who mostly goes to men’s mountain retreats and watches Braveheart for inspiration), and Portland Jesus (who likes art, social justice, jeans, and house churches).
Matt’s journey also takes him back to the first century, to locales all over Portland, into encounters with a pair of Mormon missionaries, a former prostitute, and the Atheists Bible Study, and finally into contact with an event in his life that hurt him deeply and led to the creation of his Imaginary Jesus in the first place. It’s witty, but also surprisingly moving and insightful at times — the honest, if quirky, journey of a man struggling to reclaim an authentic faith and reestablish relationship with a real Lord.
And that’s where my caution comes in: this book should not be read as a theological treatise on “the real Jesus,” but as the spiritual journey of a real Christian. Every one of Matt’s Imaginary Jesuses shares characteristics with the real thing, and this is where things can get hazy: this isn’t a book about discovering objective truth about who Christ is. It’s a book about getting out of our comfort zones and self-made safety nets and seeking to encounter Christ in our own lives. It is autobiography. It is not theology.
Also, it pokes fun at just about all of us. I don’t think it actually crosses the line into poking fun at God (the real one), but be prepared to squirm a little.
End of caution. Overall, this is a heartfelt call to seek truth and relationship with God. It has the potential to raise some great questions, and I think to point us to the source of the real answers.
Matt Mikalatos (the real one) has given me a great interview, which I’ll be posting tomorrow — so check back!