In the beginning the church was a fellowship of men and women centered on the living Christ. Then the church moved to Greece, where it became a philosophy. Then it moved to Rome where it became an institution. Next, it moved to Europe, where it became a culture. And, finally, it moved to America, where it became an enterprise.
That quote from Richard Halverson sets the stage for The Judas Gospel, yet another imaginative and intensely thought provoking novel by Bill Myers. Using the device of a supposed conversation between Judas and God we are quickly transported away from heaven to the stage of South Central Los Angeles where a cast of divergent characters offer a glimpse of the best and worst of the American church.
At the center of the story is Rachel Delacroix, a young woman with a troubled past that includes the death of her mother and sister in a terrible house fire, a stint in a mental institution and an abiding fear of anyone beyond her immediate family. Home just six months, she has backed off her medications and begun to have troubling dreams that always seem to end with the same two words, “Tell Them.” But when Rachel obeys the dreams and tries to pass what she has seen along to the police her troubles are only about to really begin.
Though her minister father does his best to protect her, Rachel comes under the influence of a new visitor to their church. Jude Miller knows Rachel has the gift of healing and he sees big things in her, and his, future. Unlike Judas of old, he doesn’t intend for this young woman’s gift to be squandered in small venues. As her notoriety grows Rachel becomes a star much too big for a tiny South Central LA congregation populated by the faithful few. And so, as she becomes the focus of a police investigation into the killing of a high official, thousands clamor for a healing touch . It all began as a simple dream and honest longing to serve God but becomes something beyond anyone’s control.
The Judas Gospel has many layers. On one level it is a straightforward thriller complete with distrusting police, a deranged stalker, unsolved murders and a ticking clock that foreshadows a dramatic conclusion. At a deeper level this is also a study of the American church small and great. At what point does the desire to reach a wider audience degenerate into little more than Madison Avenue marketing? When does a genuine desire to reach others become a performance rather than a service? Without dragging out his personal soapbox, Meyers allows the story and the characters to ask those questions and perhaps lead the reader to find a few answers as well.
Apart from Jude Miller none of the characters are two dimensional. Besides Rachel, the most interesting character is Sean, a rookie cop. He is an unbeliever strangely attracted to this mysterious young lady worlds apart from his upbringing. She has implicit faith. He has none. Yet together they will find their way to a conclusion that is both powerful and satisfying.
On a side note, Myers makes good use of illustrations from the world of fine art to drive home the point of the story. Most notable is Van Gogh’s Starry Night, a work in which light shines from ever structure except the church. And, at least in my NOOKcolor edition, links are provided directly within the novel to each of the paintings that appear in Rachel’s dreams. While a small addition, this is yet one more evidence of how seriously Bill Meyers takes his craft.
Reviewed by Tim George
Publisher: Howard Books
Publication Date: June 2011
This entry was posted on Wednesday, June 29th, 2011 at 8:10 am and is filed under Tim's Notes. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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