When it comes to a plot concerning Jesus and time travel there are about a million ways this will go horribly wrong. Some authors have already explored those paths to failure. On one side you could get the skeptic concerned more about debunking than storytelling and on the other side a Christian who is just is not a good storyteller or writer. So normally a book with this premise is one I would pass by.
With those caveats being made, when a book is called “The Christus Experiment” and it is written by Rod Bennett those concerns mostly go away. The title sounds like one of those B-movies on the SyFy channel on Saturday nights. Going beyond the title when it comes to Rod Bennett I simply loved his book “Four Witnesses: The Early Church in Her own Words” which so engaged the words of four of the Church Fathers. Still this idea even in the hands of a gifted writer like he is can still go wrong. Mr. Bennett seems to be totally aware of this and I really appreciated his introduction which displayed, I believe ,the right attitude to approach this.
This book is a spiritual and psychological adventure story full of wild and irresponsible religious conjecture, equally indefensible whether taken as theology or speculative fiction.
There’s really no excuse for it at all, unless perhaps it’s the same excuse Chesterton once offered for his own paradoxical religious writing: “There seems to be some sort of idea that you are not treating a subject properly if you eulogize it with fantastic terms or defend it by grotesque examples…I think [on the other hand] that the more serious is the discussion the more grotesque should be the terms…So far from it being irreverent to use silly metaphors on serious questions, it is one’s duty to use silly metaphors on serious questions. It is the test of one’s seriousness…It is the test of a good religion whether you can joke about it.” The Christus Experiment, then, is offered as a serious joke, so to speak, in the Chestertonian vein, with hopes that no one will be tempted to mistake either its “silly metaphors” for actual theology or its serious questions for mere tomfoolery.
So as to the story itself it has many typical elements involving time travel. In this case it involves a private compound owned by a Christ-haunted billionaire and skeptic. A group of scientists are able to successfully bring Jesus into the present and the story involves the bringing in a various experts to study and interact with him. Some of the experts brought in are Jesus seminar types along with a Rabbi and a psychic. The Science Fiction side of time travel is explored as you would expect regarding changing the past, multiple time lines, time lines splitting, etc. What I so enjoyed about this book is that when I tried to guess ahead at how the story would go or how a character would develop I was almost always wrong, but it goes in a truer direction than I imagined.
Including Jesus as a character is also a difficult task to pull of right. In this scenario you just can’t resort to only scripture as he is interrogated. I liked the way this was done and how it invoked Jesus being questioned by Herod, the Sanhedrin, and Pilate. Still it goes beyond just Jesus being silent in response to hostile questioning by answering them at times. The way this was done with theological nuance was quite satisfying and never took you out of the story.
Beyond just the time travel scenario the plot contains many tensions as it builds as an adventure story. The characters are complex and so is the situation as they try to decide if they have really brought the biblical Jesus forward into time. Whether there is anything more to him than the simple man of that era he appears to be. There are also other forces at hand that reveal themselves.
This book is really not what I expected, but it is what I wanted. The ending is certainly not what I expected, but quite interesting as “wild and irresponsible religious conjecture”. There is a spiritual depth to this book and little touches I admired. Like I said at the beginning of this review, this book could easily have gone horribly wrong. Instead it went splendidly right. This novel displayed a theological deftness in regards to the plot and an authentic feel concerning the situation and the characters.