by Chuck Colson
There's a new book out by Norman Mailer retelling the Gospel story and
from what critics say, it sounds like another scandalous production that
will cause Christians to rise up and picket bookstores.
Newsweek calls it "manifestly batty." The New York Times derides
it as silly and self important, and the Arizona Republic calls the book
'a sort of novelized Jesus Christ Superstar.'
Yet, if we listen to what Mailer himself says, it appears he was writing
out of a sincere 'if very flawed' spiritual search.
The book is called The Gospel According to the Son, written in the literary
form of an autobiography, as though composed by Jesus Himself. And it's
no wonder critics have been so harsh: Jesus' miracles sometimes fall flat,
and He struggles with various sins.
Yet, despite the liberties Mailer takes with the Gospel texts, he says
his underlying goal was to make Jesus come alive as a character. The book
grew out of his admiration for the writings of Pope John Paul II, which
prompted Mailer to read the Gospels again for the first time in 50 years.
Mailer was also influenced by attending Bible studies in the church of
his father-in-law, a Southern Baptist deacon.
"The feeling I had about Jesus," Mailer said, "is what a difficult
life, what a noble life, and I had never written about a person I considered
noble before." His goal was to show why the Gospel remains what he calls
"the keel of Western civilization."
What this tells us is that Jesus Christ '2,000 years after He walked
the earth' still has the power to capture the imagination of even a jaded
literary lion. Remember, Mailer helped kick off the rebellious sixties.
In his early writings, Mailer urged people to break out of their inhibitions:
Forget "the single mate, the solid family, and the respectable love life,
" he wrote, and enjoy the life of "Saturday night kicks," of
sex and drugs. But now, as he nears the twilight of his own life, this
former "hipster" is drawn to the life of Jesus Christ.
I am not recommending that you read Mailer's book; it is full of egregious
theological errors. Yet it is also a poignant reminder that we are all
in a spiritual search, right up to the end. There is a spiritual hunger
for God imprinted on every human soul, and no one is beyond redemption.
In Norman Mailer, we see a man who seems to be genuinely struggling to
understand Jesus and interpret Him for today's readers.
In our post-Christian age, the bookstore shelves are loaded with books
that debunk the Scriptures and try to capture Christianity for some alien
ideology. As believers, we need to be more discerning than ever. But while
we point out the theological heresies, we also need to grasp the author's
The publication of Mailer's book reminds us that we must never give
up on the possibility of salvation for anyone. As Augustine put it some
16 centuries ago: 'Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.'
May Norman Mailer find the rest that he so obviously seeks.