The Tulip Driven Life Podcast

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Night of the Living Dead Christian: A Review

Thanks to Saltriver (Tyndale House Publishers) for kindly providing a copy of Night of the Living Dead Christian for review on the March 2012 Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog Tour.


Night of the Living Dead Christian.                                               My Score: 3.5/5 stars. 








It is a shame that I am a busy Bible college student, and that I will only be able to post once for this blog tour. I just finished this book, at 2:30 in the morning, and read it all in one sitting. I have a class at 8 AM and have much to say regarding Matt Mikalatos' wonderfully well written, zany, comical spoof and biblical allegory, Night of the Living Dead Christian


Firstly, when I read Mikalatos, I do not think of C.S. Lewis. Not because Mikalatos is a poor writer, he is a very good writer, but because this style of writing is nothing like Lewis. It's comparing apples and oranges, but it seems every Christian fiction writer coming down the pipe has an endorsement on the back of their book that compares themselves to Lewis. It has become a turn off for me. I was glad, however, to see that Mikalatos hopes that the comparisons to Lewis are in reference to his book being "about God that I enjoy reading." And in that regard, I can agree with the comparison. 


For the sake of time, I am going to post a paragraph from my Dad's review so that readers can understand what this book is about without me having to come up with an awesome way of stating it myself: 


Matt Mikalatos, the author and first person protagonist, has assumed the responsibility of neighborhood watch. On the particular evening in which the story opens, Matt comes across Dr. Culberton, the stereotypical mad scientist who, especially at this first encounter, has a remarkable resemblance to Dr. Emmet Brown of Back to the Future. Culberton is assisted by his android, The Hibbs 3000. Together they are in search of werewolves, not to kill, necessarily, but to study and cure if possible. Their mission, in the words of Culberton, “is both a spiritual and a scientific endeavor.

The back cover of the book explains that Christians can often act like werewolves, zombies, or vampires, meaning we still wish to hold on to our base, sinful desires, our "dark side" if you will. Luther is an actual werewolf who is struggling with this very thing. His werewolfness is his sinful desires stirring within him, and he cannot seem to shake its sway, though he wants to be freed of it. The story is Luther's quest to find freedom from being a werewolf, freedom from the tug of sin within him.

The good news is that Mikalatos does not teach salvation by works. The good news is that Mikalatos gives a wonderful portrait in the story of Jesus tearing off our beastliness and setting us free from the sin that enslaves us. At times I did get the impression that Mikalatos was teaching that we must commit our lives to Christ in order to be saved, to choose to follow Him. Yet then, when it came down to it, we have Mikalatos (he is a character in his own story) realizing that he is powerless to convert the unconverted to Christ. Here is what he says on p.218:

I didn't know how to conquer a giant horde of zombies. There weren't enough chain saws and flamethrowers and brooms and grenades in the world. I could sit them down one by one and argue with them, or write a book, or try to shake them out of it and say, 'Are you really following Jesus?' But in the end it would require God himself to do something, to open their eyes and make them see, just like I saw myself in the mirror. I dropped my head and, defeated, I prayed, 'Dear Jesus, please fill Bokor's church and all the churches like it with your followers. Clear out the zombies, and fill our houses of half-life with your overflowing life.

Grant it, it does seem as if zombies might be baby Christians who haven't grown to maturity. I am not sure if Mikalatos has in mind believers or unbelievers here, but another quote should solidify my point that in the end he recognizes the need for God to do a work in man before man will come to Christ for salvation. From p. 216:

But zombies... they're like an entire race of people who think they are following Jesus but are actually following a moral system... a list of what should and should not be done. And instead of knowing Jesus, instead of introducing people to Jesus, they're exporting a morality onto people who aren't able to follow that moral code... people who aren't in relationship with Jesus and don't have the help of the Holy Spirit. 

By that definition, I would argue that zombies are not true believers. They are Pharisees. The point is, Mikalatos thankfully teaches that we cannot obey the commands of God to be holy as He is holy without first being in relationship to Christ and receiving the Holy Spirit. Unfortunately, he seems to be an Arminian, stating that deep down unregenerate people can and do long to be freed from their sinfulness. This, he argues, as I understand him, is due to the fact that everyone still retains the image of God and thus has an island of righteousness, of goodness, that seeks out God and desires to be freed from the wicked sinners that they are. He says on 220 in response to another saying that because we are totally depraved, God must be completely depraved too:

I don’t think so. It might mean that we’ve misunderstood what it means to be sinful. Or that we’ve emphasized it so much that we’ve simply lost sight of the fact that in our deepest, most horrific actions, some piece of us is still outside of that, some part of us is made in God’s image, and that’s not something we can ever completely eradicate.
The back cover states, "But through it all we long to stop being monsters and become truly human- the way Christ intended. We just can't seem to figure out how." The confusing thing is that the back cover says this is what we as believers desire. Yet in the book Luther, the unbelieving, unregenerate werewolf has this desire. I will need an explanation from the author on this one. Scripture teaches that no unbeliever desires God, no one seeks Him, no one is righteous, and no one does good in Romans 3, which was one of the key passages that led me to accept the doctrines of grace as the plain teaching of Scripture. And Romans 3 says this quite plainly. Jesus Himself says in John 6:65 that no one can come to Him unless it has been granted for one to do so by God the Father. And it is clear from all of John 6, the entirety of the book of John, and the entirety of all Scripture, that God does not grant everyone to come to Christ, but only the elect.

Further, Jesus says that all the Father has given to Him He will receive, He will save. It is clear from John 6 alone that God has not granted that everyone can come to Jesus:

John 6:35-40, 44, 65:

35 And Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst. 36 But I said to you that you have seen Me and yet do not believe. 37 All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. 39 This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. 40 And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”
44 No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.
65 And He said, “Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father.”

In these passages, Jesus equates coming to Jesus with believing in Jesus. This is clear from verse 35 alone, which says the one who comes to Christ will never hunger, and the one who believes in Christ shall never thirst. Hunger and thirst. Our Daily Bread and The Living Water. Christ is both of these for us, and we eat the bread and drink the water when we are compelled/drawn by God to do so (v. 44 and 65). There is no wiggle room here. Jesus says in the same chapter in v. 54-56:

54 Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 55 For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. 56 He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.
There we have it again, eating and drinking. To come to Christ is to feed on Christ, to believe in Christ is to drink of his blood. But who can come to Christ, who can believe in Him? "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him" (v.44). "No one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father" (v.65). And out of all who God has granted to come to Christ, how many actually come, how many are actually saved?  "This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day" (v.39). The answer then, is all. All whom God grants to come to Christ, will come to Christ.

So why doesn't God grant all to come to Christ? That would lead into a longer discourse and too far off topic for this book review, but suffice to say the ultimate answer is for His glory, according to Romans 9:14-24. The question I want to focus on for the purpose of this book review is this: Why can man not come to Christ on his own?

The answer to that question is because fallen man does not have a piece apart from his depravity that actually seeks God and desires to be saved from his or her sinfulness. Yet Mikalatos advocates just the opposite in his book with Luther the werewolf. There is only one Seeker, and that is God. God irresistibly draws sinners to Christ by changing their hearts, changing their wills, so that they are made willing to be saved from their slavery to sin and becomes slaves of righteousness, slaves of God (Rom. 6). This is why in John 6 it reads that no man can come to Christ unless God grants it, not that no man may come. It is not as if there are many who are seeking salvation, but God is a big meanie and doesn't allow them to come. No, Scripture is clear. Man cannot come because man will not come. No man can come because no unbeliever, no unregenerate person wants to come to Christ. Christ must take out our heart of stone and give us a heart of flesh before we desire to be saved from the wretched beasts that we are. Luther the werewolf is a poor depiction of what it means to be a sinner. The beauty of the cross, the beauty of the gospel, which is what Calvinism illustrates for us, is that for all that Christ died for, He actually saved. Faith is a gift of God, not of works so that none may boast (Eph. 2:8-9). Regeneration must necessarily precede faith, because it is God's changing of our hearts, changing of our wills, that leads to our faith in Christ. Thus, Christ died for all His elect, He died for all whom God gave Him, and it was His death alone that brought about our salvation. His blood was not spilled in vain. If Christ bore God's wrath for His people's sins, then none for whom Christ died can go to hell, the place where God pours out His wrath, since God's wrath has already been propitiated, it has already been satisfied through the atoning work of Christ. Thus, Christ's death on the cross secured saving faith, it guaranteed saving faith, for all whom He died for. It is impossible for Christ to have died for any man that ends up in hell where God pours out His wrath, because Christ satisfied God's wrath already for them when He died for them!

This is not nitpicking- it is the difference between Christ dying to make salvation a possibility for everyone, or Christ actually saving all that He died for. It is not Christ's death plus my faith that saves. It is Christ's death for me that saves and grants me faith as the gift that joyfully receives the salvation won for me.

Now it seems Mikalatos thinks that in order to be made in the image of God, we have to have a part of us that still seeks God. Nowhere is such an idea purported in Scripture. In fact, I would argue that all people, regenerate and unregenerate, are fully made in the image of God, and there is no change of degree in that. Rather, those who are unregenerate never rightly reflect the image of God, or at least they never do so from a heart, from a will, that intends to do so. It is true though that an unbeliever can craft a beautiful painting, make beautiful music, and do outward good deeds, but they never do it because they love God with all their heart, soul, strength, and mind, and as Mikalatos points out, that is the command of Jesus- the summation of the law is loving God with all that we are, and loving our neighbors as ourselves with all that we are. The unbeliever never does that rightly, because the unbeliever never does that to truly please God. He cannot please God, because He is not born again, He has not received the Holy Spirit:



Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. 8 So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
9 But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His.

So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. Which is to say, those who have not received the Holy Spirit, those who have not been born again, never reflect the image of God rightly, never for His glory. If they did, that would surely be pleasing to God. On that I rest my case.

Now to be clear, I am not a Universalist. Scripture says that Christ died only for His sheep. Jesus says in John 10:

15 As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.
25 The works that I do in My Father’s name, they bear witness of Me. 26 But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you. 27 My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. 28 And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.
 
Now something Mikalatos did very well was point out that faith must involve works, and he pulls from the book of James to support this. True faith is a working faith, and a faith without works is not a true saving faith. However, I think his gospel message will undoubtedly become obscured and fuzzy because of his views on the sinfulness of man. Romans 3:10-12 says that no one does good, no one is righteous, and no one even seeks God. I believe he would hold to a doctrine of prevenient grace, which from my understanding claims that God has worked in everyone the ability and perhaps even the desire to seek Him, and I would bet that is the reason we have Luther the werewolf seeking God. However, as we have seen from the above Scriptures, God only draws His elect, Christ's sheep, to Christ for salvation. While Mikalatos would likely appeal more to the will of man, to "choose Christ" and "choose life," I would seek to point out that while Christ commands that you follow Him, that you trust in Him for salvation and repent of your sins, you are morally incapable of doing so because you are unwilling to do so. And like Charles Spurgeon, these two pincers must be closed in on the unbeliever- the command to repent and trust in Christ for salvation and the reality that unless God does a regenerating work in their heart that they will not want to- until the sinner by God's grace sees his or her utter helplessness and sinfulness and has received that regenerating work whereby they then cling to the cross of the Christ, knowing that their faith and love for Him was wrought by the love and mercy of God Himself provided through the atonement of Christ alone, and not by an island of righteousness or goodness that either was inherent to them or was restored to them by God.

And here's the best news- when a person realizes that they came to Christ not because they chose Christ, but because Christ, and God the Father, chose him or her, they will be far more thankful and joyous for their salvation. They will have a greater desire to follow and obey Christ, knowing that it was Christ who chose them to be holy and trust Him in the first place, and not they themselves. This would promote what Mikalatos wants- namely, for Christians to live more like Christ by looking to Christ and drawing from the power of the Spirit to do so. But in the end, his errant theology only works to undermine what he, I, and all true believers so desperately want. Which is why I have to give this book 3.5/5 stars instead of 4.5/5 stars. But I do recommend it, because, besides from being quite funny and well written, it does rightly point to our need to come to Christ to have the shackles of our sin removed, and that we ourselves are incapable of doing this. Just realize that Luther the werewolf only came to Christ to have his shackles removed, not because he created some desire within himself to do so, not because he truly wanted to be freed from his wickedness in the first place, but because God created the desire within Luther to do so through Christ's salvific work on the cross and chiseling out our rebel wills and hardened hearts, replacing them with a heart and will for following Christ. So praise Him for your faith! Give Him all the glory! Be humbled by this great truth, as I was over three years ago, and the Spirit will use this marvelous truth of God's sovereign, electing love to stir in you a greater zeal and passion for following Christ and proclaiming the gospel.


Purchase Night of the Living Dead Christian on Amazon here.

March 2012 Blog Tour Participants (Night of the Living Dead Christian - Matt Mikalatos)
-------------------------------------------------------------------------
Gillian Adams
Julie Bihn
Red Bissell
Thomas Clayton Booher
Thomas Fletcher Booher
Keanan Brand
Beckie Burnham
Morgan L. Busse
Theresa Dunlap
Amber French
Tori Greene
Nikole Hahn
Ryan Heart
Bruce Hennigan
Janeen Ippolito
Becky Jesse
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Leighton
Shannon McDermott
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Nissa
Joan Nienhuis
John W. Otte
Crista Richey
Sarah Sawyer
Chawna Schroeder
Rachel Starr Thomson
Steve Trower
Fred Warren
Shane Werlinger
Nicole White
Dave Wilson


























3 comments:

  1. True dedication, Thomas, to stay up so late reading, then to write this thoughtful review and interaction with the book.

    I'll just suggest one thing.SPOILER ALERT


    ***

    ***

    ***

    I don't think Luther was seeking God. He was seeking an end to his werewolfishness because it had driven his wife and daughter away. He was pretty clear he didn't think he would find an answer in Christianity but was desperate and willing to try anything.

    It's when he stopped trying, when he lay all he had and was at Jesus's feet, allowing Christ to do the work of transformation, that he showed any regard for God at all.

    And about the zombies. Matt referred to two different groups in that zombie church--zombies trying to look as if they were alive, and humans dressed up like zombies. I read that to mean that the zombies were not Christians and the humans dressed up as the undead were the ones he was praying for in that passage you quoted.

    Anyway, thanks again for being a part of the tour and adding an interesting perspective.

    Becky

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hey Thomas! I'll echo Becky above and say way to stay up late reading the book!

    A couple of quick thoughts to ponder:

    1) I'm not an Arminian. :)

    2) As Becky points out, Luther desires transformation. That's not the same as desiring God.

    3) As near as I can tell from scripture, all people are created in God's image, even unregenerate people. That doesn't mean that they please God or that they desire him, but that somehow, in some way, even the worst among us are in his image. How is that possible? What does that mean? I don't know. Theologians have spent very little time (comparatively) asking the question.

    4) I do believe in depravity and the inability of people to come to God without him drawing them in some way.

    5) Discovering an author's theology or point of view in fiction can be tricky. Who knows when I am expressing my (the author's) opinion or the character's opinion or setting something up for a fictional payoff somewhere else in the story? It's complex, at best. So, for instance, even if Luther (the werewolf, not the Reformer) said "All men desire to become like God because of prevenient grace" that wouldn't necessarily mean that I, the author, agree with that comment. Or disagree. The character's opinion and my own may not be connected....

    Anyway, I appreciate the thoughts and your passion and hope the Lord blesses your time in Bible school!

    ReplyDelete

Loading...