Dear Ms. Kinnard,
Despite absolutely loving the title of your book, I finished it with a sense of disappointment. And a feeling that if this is what contemporary Christianity is supposed to be, I want no part of it.
Matt Greenlee, Senior Pastor of New Hope Church, has a secret life. For years, he’s been writing a successful SF series under the pen name of Morgan Grimaldi. Now he’s just gotten the bombshell news that his trusty editor is in Nepal “finding himself” and Cairn Publishing is assigning him a new, and untried, editor.
AJ Mercer hopes to whip through the editing of the newest Jake Starborn novel. The series might be a best seller, but she has plenty of ideas to tighten this book up. Imagine her shock when she discovers the author is a minister. And that they’re slowly falling for each other. But there’s a snake in this garden which might just end not only their blossoming romance but Matt’s calling as a man of God.
First off, I wanted more about the Starborn books. After an opening in which Matt is working on finishing the latest one, we get almost zip. There are a few instances during which Matt “hears” his hero trying to give him life advice and a bit about AJ doing some red pen editing but not much more. I wanted to watch Matt get ideas for his next book or defend his opinions on AJ’s editing. How about his thoughts on cover art or back blurbs. Anything. And I thought that the publishing business was centered in NYC not Chicago. No? Are Matt’s thoughts about editors taken from your experiences? Hmmm, maybe you shouldn’t answer that.
AJ initially comes off as if she has something against Christianity, eg has been hurt/rejected/whatever in the past but then we find out that she’s just got an unconventional upbringing that has never included it. Her acceptance of Jesus in her life is fairly quick for someone with no background in the religion at all but then Saul’s conversion took even less time. I found myself puzzled by her idea, which Matt never seemed to take much time to correct, that she was so unworthy compared to the lifetime Christians at New Hope. If this is the feeling she’s getting from this congregation, then they’re not a bunch of people I want anything to do with.
I like that Matt doesn’t go all “hard sell” on her but rather lays out his beliefs, his enthusiasm, his openness to discuss faith with AJ and lets things go from there. I like that he prays not to convert anyone but for the Lord to give him the words needed to show his faith. But then, he seems to change slightly and makes comments about how he’ll help her change into her new identity as a Christian. I kept getting the subtle feeling that her old self was somehow being deemed “unworthy.”
But where Matt really loses me is when he goes into his crisis of faith and chickens out when he should at least call AJ and tell her why he doesn’t want to take her calls anymore. He just clams up and even gets his secretary to lie to AJ regarding his where abouts. Then when AJ pulls back, and rightly so IMO, he has the nerve to try and call her on it. What a hypocrite.
There was a fun early interaction scene of Matt with his buds playing hoops. But then what happens to all these friends of Matt’s when the elders attack him? Or for that matter, what happened to them on a regular friendship basis? It’s literally months later when the guys make another appearance.
And for a senior pastor, Matt seems to have relatively few demands on his time from his congregation. One crisis that does rock him but then after that, he seems to have all the time in the world to walk the beach with AJ, go to cons, reflect and pray for hours about how his life is circling the drain. And shouldn’t he have an associate pastor?
I find it hard to believe that Matt doesn’t know more about cons. Even the basics about them seem to be news to him. Wouldn’t the publisher have wanted him to attend some before now? I also find Matt’s belief that no Christian would read SF to be silly.
The initial attitude the elders have about Matt’s writing is what gives Christianity a bad name. What’s wrong with a Christian minister writing what he wants? Must they all write “rapture” novels? They, along with Courtney, make me furious. I realize that a minister is accountable to his congregation for matters of faith but I would hate to think that my private life, especially if not steeped in sin, could be dictated in such a way. At the end of the book, when the elders discover just how much of Matt’s authorial salary has been funneled into the Church, the greed that seems to change their whole attitude about his writing is sickening.
Matt’s secretary tells AJ that New Hope needs to work on its welcoming of new and potential members and all I can say is, amen sister. No church I’ve ever attended has seemed this cold to me.
But you didn’t portray all Christians as wonderful and all non-Christians as horrible. AJ’s mom at first seems as judgmental but then backs off and admits that she and AJ aren’t the same person and that one’s lifestyle won’t work for the other. The Church elders make me ill, but a few others in the congregation, mostly Matt’s buddies, appear to be warm and caring people.
I had hoped that this book would feature more of Matt’s writing as well as showing a different side to ministers. I’ve enjoyed the books which appear to fall between the inspirational cracks such as Beth Pattillo’s “Betsy” books and Cynthianna Appel’s “Preachin’ to the Choir.” It’s too bad that this book would be enough to turn me off of Christianity were I not already a member of the faith.