Beginning of Preface: The book I am writing about was published by Tyndale House Publishers. I am employed by Tyndale House Publishers, and received a free copy of the book from them. While I have never written a book review that was more than two sentences before, and while my employer did not ask me to write a book review, I wanted to because this is truly a good book in so many ways. While it is nice that my pseudo-endorsement is used in the front of the book and the author mentions my name in the acknowledgements, that had nothing to do with why I am writing this post. End of Preface.
The first time I heard anything about Imaginary Jesus was probably about a year before the book actually came out. I was in a meeting where we were brainstorming titles for a book in production. This was the kind of brainstorming session where we were strongly encouraged to say everything that popped into our heads and say any title we could think of, even if it seemed outrageous or inappropriate. As I was leaving to get back to the rest of my day, someone stopped me and we had this exchange:
Book Person: Hey Adam, would you read a book where Jesus gets punched in the face in the first chapter?
Book Person: No, well, not really.
Adam: Oh. Well, yes, yes I think I would like to read that book, what’s it called?
Book Person: Imaginary Jesus.
Adam: Oh. (walks away confused and skeptical)
Note: I can’t fully remember the actual conversation word for word, but there were at least three people talking to me, and descriptions of Blue Like Jazz, Kurt Vonnegut and I think Cavalier and Clay were thrown out to help. This is like The Message version of that conversation.
I was immediately simultaneously skeptical and interested. My first reaction was that someone was trying to become the “Christian Kurt Vonnegut” or that Tyndale was trying hard to create the next Blue Like Jazz craze. I hadn’t read really any Christian fiction, and wasn’t really interested in reading any, so I pushed it to the back of my brain where it’s safe, warm, and cozy.
A few months later an intern approached my desk with several cover design images for Imaginary Jesus and asked me some questions about which one I liked the most. I ranked them, and became intrigued. This led me to see if I could track down a copy of the manuscript so I could take a look for myself. (At the time the current cover was not my favorite, but now looking back I can see that it’s the perfect choice out of the choices given).
My first impression of Imaginary Jesus? This is not like other Christian fiction books, this is not like other Christian books, this is not like other books.
I’ve read some reviews where people said they thought about quitting reading after a few pages but they were glad they kept going, or people who it took them awhile to catch on to what was going on. From page one I could see that Matt was writing the kind of book that was going to keep me hooked, and satisfy many parts of what I usually look for in a book to read.
I’m famously quoted on the third page of the endorsements in the front of the book: “When I read Imaginary Jesus, I laughed so hard milk came out of my nose…and I wasn’t even drinking any.” Adam Sabados – Just Some Guy
While Imaginary Jesus was extremely hilarious, and in that kind of way where you are laughing to yourself about something 3 pages back, or you see something while you’re sitting in traffic that reminds you of something in the book and that makes you giggle, or when you see something that was mentioned in the book it reminds you of ten other parts in the book that were funny, it’s not just all laughs. The book is heart wrenching questions, it’s cutting insights, it’s a stick that whacks at the crud on the sides of your brain, and when it’s all over you have that feeling like when you thought you had your head stuck between the posts holding up the railing to the second floor of your house, but you finally get your head unstuck, it took you ten minutes, but you managed to do it without your parents noticing, it’s like that feeling, but times ten. It’s like crucial knowledge, something you can laugh about later, and relief that you have survived to try figure out life a little more.
Besides giving me a chance to say the word “Jesuses” over and over, Imaginary Jesus helped me identify the imaginary Jesuses in my own life. I have many of these Jesuses, but I usually ignore them, letting them roam free and go about their days. I often like to use them to prove to people that I know a Jesus. “There he is back there,” I say, “man, does he like hummus or what?” A book like Imaginary Jesus can shake you to the core. Maybe I don’t use my imaginary Jesuses to justify decisions or make excuses, but I do let them fill up a lot of space, and boy it can get cramped.
Key takeaways for me:
“You mean, I’m not the only one that has had these thoughts?”
“Christians are allowed to talk about how they’ve had it wrong, but want to try to get it right even if it means getting it wrong a bunch more times?”
Both Christians and non-Christians will learn from this book, and learn about each other, and learn about Jesus.
My love for the book Imaginary Jesus is in danger of becoming its own Jesus.
I’m looking forward to visiting Portland again.
Favorite Part of the Book:
Part I wish I had thought of:
George Barna cameo
Attempt at flattering the author:
I have read a lot of books. Everything from Dickens to Hemingway to Vonnegut to Eggers, to Star Wars novels, to Harry Potter to the junior novelization of Jurassic Park. If I had to create a top 10 list of my favorite books of all time, I’m not sure I could create the order, but I know Imaginary Jesus would be in it.
I wouldn’t call this a book review, maybe it’s more of an impression. I’ve read this book two and a half times and listened to the audio book once – it’s that kind of book. Thanks Matt.
Thanks for reading.
PS: I wrote a story about the beginning of a fictional road trip that Matt and I went on with a chimp I borrowed from a zoo you can read that here. Imaginary Road Trip Part 1 and Part 2. Note: In that story I mention “Binary Jesus”; this is something I thought I cleverly made up as a nerd joke. It wasn’t until I listened to the audio book did I notice that in a list towards the end of the book Matt mentions “Binary Jesus” in a list of imaginary Jesuses. Not sure how I missed that when I read the book, but I thought I would take this time to confess that I thought I made it up, but I didn’t.