Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Night of the Living Dead Christian, by Matt Mikalatos. March 2012 CSFF Blog Tour, Day 2

Night of the Living Dead Christian has a mix of reviews on Amazon.
The lowest rated review was a single two-star in which the person simply said he could not get into the book, which happens, of course. I’m sure there are many out there who would find it hard to get into the Harry Potter books, though I suspect they are related to Charles Winchester III.

I read several of the three star reviews. They generally came down on the favorable side, but often just barely. Questionable use of zany humor, an odd presence of werewolves and zombies, and an incoherent flow of the story were some of the reasons proffered for the unenthusiastic ratings. Regardless, there is one thing that they all seemed to get from the story, and that was the need for transformation.

I agree with that. Transformation, and more precisely, transformation that comes only from Christ is the essential message of the book.

But there are some serious problems. In a post for a previous blog tour I argued that a novel is robustly Christian only if it brings the salient truths of the gospel into the story (October 2011 Tour, Day Three – The Bone House. I restricted the scope of those truths to the reformed doctrines of grace defined by the acronym, TULIP (Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints). I believe the doctrines of grace are a correct and therefore biblical understanding of what the gospel is. As such, they are the measuring rod for what makes a story Christian. In my estimation, Night of the Living Dead Christian fails to meet that standard.

The failure is at the point of Total Depravity. Total Depravity is simply this, that every person born into this world is a sinner. Each of us are conceived in sin (sinners from the moment of conception) as David testifies, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me”, Psalm 51:5. There is nothing good in us, nothing that seeks after God or his ways. There is nothing in us that enables us to seek him because the spiritual things of God are things the natural man is incapable of understanding, 1 Cor 2:14. It is not that he tries to understand them but for whatever reason, fails to. It is that the things of God are foolishness to him and he does not want to have anything to do with them.

The werewolf Luther Martin, the character that the story centers on, is not like this. We catch this early on, in the werewolf’s own words:

None of use desire to remain wolves. All of us desire to remain wolves. It is the nature of the werewolf to be both man and wolf, and for many years I was satisfied – no, pleased – to be both man and wolf. (p 47)

The imagery (or allegory, if you will) of a werewolf as representing the unconverted man is wrong. Here is the picture: the base, amoral animal nature of the wolf represents the bad of human nature while the intelligent, sane and moral nature of the man represents the good. But the sinner from birth does not have a good side. In fact, a werewolf like the one in our story, who has two conflicting natures at war with each other, can only be true of the Christian, for the Christian alone is the one who has been freed from his sin which seeks to regain mastery over him –

For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do (Gal 5:17).

Luther Martin is no such Christian. Though he grew up in the home of a Lutheran minister, he rejects any claim to be a Christian. He paints some of the integral doctrines of the Christian faith in farcical terms. The reformed doctrine of Unconditional Election is treated this way, as well as the significance of the atonement:

Thus we come to the likewise ridiculous Christian sentiment that he [God] has “chosen” or “elected” us to be in relationship with him, and that he loves us and adopts us as his progeny. It is like saying I have tipped over an anthill and selected certain ones of them to be my children. Not merely that, but I have chosen to sacrifice my human child so their accursed anthill can be spared destruction, and that I am making this handful of ants the heirs of my vast estate – of my house, my car, my food, my clothes, my money. Certainly this comparison does not even begin to scratch the surface of the ridiculous claims of the Christian faith. (p 156)

This underscores that the gospel is foolishness to the sinner, and Luther Martin is such a sinner. Matt Mikalatos’s use of a werewolf to represent the condition of human beings without the grace of God in Christ is simply wrong.

One might counter by saying that any allegory is going to breakdown at some point and that you cannot expect a one-to-one correspondence between the allegorical character and the real-life one which it represents. I agree, but the werewolf was chosen because, in Mr. Mikalatos’s theology, the sinner is not totally depraved, just as the werewolf is not totally animal.

That is a serious flaw in the theology that underlies Mr. Mikalatos’s novel, and it has serious implications. I will address this more in my third post.

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.

Matt Mikalatos’s Web Page
List of CSFF Blog Tour Participants
Night of the Living Dead Christian on Amazon.


  1. So by your definition, no fiction by a Catholic author--- or other Christian author from a non-Reformed background--- can qualify as Christian?

    That would mean that even the Chronicles of Narnia wouldn't qualify as C. S. Lewis was an Anglican with Catholic tendencies rather than being in one of the Reformed churches.

    1. Matt Mikalatos asked a similar question in a comment below. See my reply to that comment.

  2. Thomas, I'd quibble with your understanding of Matt's werewolf. He isn't suggesting that Luther was somehow OK part of the time. Rather, I saw his condition precisely like all of ours--made in God's image, but marred. We can't become "human" until the wolf (or robot or zombie or mummy or whatever) is killed and that only comes as we submit to Christ.

    The lines you quoted from Luther are exactly what a non-Christian would think--the exact opposite of the truth. Quoting him at that point in no way supports your view of wrong doctrine because that's the view of one who sees these doctrines--sees Christ, actually--as a stumbling block.

    I don't do "TULIP," but I do believe what Scripture says--which certainly includes the teaching that we all have the nature of Adam, a "futile way of life inherited from [our] forefathers" (1 Peter 1:18). I found Night of the Living Dead Christian to be consistent with what Scripture says about our sin nature.


  3. Rebecca,

    I quoted those lines from Luther precisely for the reasons you say, to show that this wolf is not a Christian and that spiritual things are foolish to him because they cannot be understood by him. He is dead in trespasses and sins.

    Again, the intent of the quote was to prove unequivocally that Luther was not even a backslidden Christian who was desirous of repentance. I quoted it to show that it is incompatible with the notion that somewhere in this spiritually dead, unable-to- comprehend-the-'foolish'-things-of-God wolf, there lies a desire to be both man and wolf. To want to be both man and wolf is a contradiction - the wolf only wants to be a wolf and Matt's wolf is not like that at all.

    "None of us desire to remain wolves. All of us desire to remain wolves."

    For the unbeliever that simply is not true. We are all born wolves and delight in our wolfness; we by nature don't want to be anything but a wolf. Only until God's Spirit enlightens us to our wolfish condition does any of us even begin to realize what a horrible creature we are.

    I agree that the wolf must be killed and that comes as we submint to Christ. But who wants to submit to Christ? What man or woman ever born into this world ever submitted to Christ of their own doing? The call to submission to Christ is not the gospel call. The gospel call is to repent and believe which comes out of a Spirit-wrought devastating humbling before God - the sinner before the Almighty - broken in heart because of his sin, offering absolutely nothing to God and trusting only in God to save him from his sin. Not until then will there be any willingness to submit and follow.


  4. Nissa,

    If the doctrines of Grace are a correct and therefore biblical understanding of God's revelation to us, then what do you think my answer is? What else can it be?

    However, in spite of one's theology, there can be aspects of one's novel that do shine through and the truth is seen. But it is my opinion that the further one strays from the doctrines of grace, the greater the likelihood that one will contort not only the gospel in particular, but the whole spectrum of sound, biblical theology.

    Let me add that any writer who is a bona fide Christian - whether Anglican, Pentecostal, Baptist, Presbyterian, Reformed, Dispensational, Lutheran, et. al. - ought to put every ounce of his God-given talent in producing the best work of literature possible, regardless of any Christian content or not. The labor of writing and producing a work of literary art reflects the image of God in us and becomes a tribute to the beauty of God and thereby brings glory to God - which, hopefully, for each of us is the root reason why we write in the first place.


  5. So how do you feel about the conclusion that we all (even Hitler) have a spark of God in us, being made in God's image? I thought that's what the wolf/man thing was more about.

    1. I think you are right, that the wolf/man thing was to show us that because we have the image of God in us, there is the innermost desire to not be wolf (wolf - allegorically meaning our proneness to sin, to be the opposite of what God commands).

      I see a problem with that because the unregenerate man has no such thing, he is all wolf. Out of expedience, or guilt, or selfishness, or the desire to promote himself or others for a purpose other than to exalt God in the doing of it -- the unregenerate man may do things that appear to be a desire for holy things, but they are not.

      As an image-bearer of God, the unregenerate man has ineradicable attributes that he shares with God and thereby is able to do such things as think rationally, make decisions, invent, create, produce aesthetically pleasing paintings, music, literature, discern between right and wrong, etc. But because he is totally depraved (all wolf), everyone of those attributes are tainted such that he cannot and will not exercise them to the glory of God.

  6. I'd like to understand, Thomas, why Reformed theology is the watershed here. Can someone have incorrect/different doctrine and still write Christian fiction?

    So, just a few test cases:

    Flannery O'Connor
    John Bunyan

    Are their works Christian or not?

  7. I've classified what is intended to be Christian fiction as either anemic or robust (http://oerkenleaves.blogspot.com/2011/10/october-2011-csff-blog-tour-day-3.html), depending on how consistent it is to the doctrines of grace. If the doctrines of grace are biblically sound as I believe they are, and if they are at the heart of what it means to be Christian as I also believe they are, then I can only qualify one's writing as Christian if they are in line with those doctrines. Sorry if that sounds too narrow, but the gospel is quite narrow.

    That does not mean that there is no value at all in works that are anemically Christian. They can have other characteristics that are good -- the beauty and creativity of the work, for one, which reflects our creativity as (redeemed-and-know-what-it-means) image-bearers of God. They can portray truths about God that, though if examined more closely are actually implausible within a non-reformed theological framework, still confront the reader with that truth.

    As to your pointed question about the test case authors, I would say that they are Christian but obviously fall somewhere within the anemic-robust range. By the way, I would place NLDC somewhere midway, (probably closer to the robust side), because of what seems to me is an erroneous, inaccurate view of man's depravity. I have no qualms with your writing, I think it's good, far better than what has come to be the standard in the last decade or so.