4 out of 4 stars
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What would happen if Jesus arrived today instead of 2,000 years ago? Would you risk your reputation and give up what you had to follow Him? These are the questions The Chest of Visions by Tim Ferguson seeks to answer. Not only does the book tackle these difficult questions, it does so in a unique format - the book is written via a pen pal-like dialogue between a few youths.
Mattpaul is nearly done with school and already his future is set. His father is an assistant to the Ruler of Caperston and has a great, prestigious job for him once he graduates. However, one day he learns a man named Chihaysu is coming to speak nearby about someone named God. Intrigued, he and his friend Huchfee ditch class to go listen. In the meantime, Mattpaul comes across a news report written by Tim on his compol (a device much like our computers) and writes to him, asking him about what the Bible, Christian youth and Jesus are. Tim is shocked when he discovers that Mattpaul's Caperston is in an alternate universe, one in which there never was a Jesus or Bible or even prophets. The two manage to communicate via a website Tim sets up, and Mattpaul tells his story via dated entries.
Chuhaysu's teachings often mirror those of Jesus, and it's interesting to see some of my favorite Biblical stories take on a new slant. One, for example, is about a man whose boat sinks. Forced to use a broken off piece to float, he can't do anything but wait to be saved. Two men pass by in powerboats, each giving excuses as to why they can't help him, before a third comes by in a paddle boat. He explains that he'll have to dump the fish he spent all day catching for his family, but that the fish are nowhere near as valuable as him. This is a great retelling of the Good Samaritan, and it leads to great discussion - what types of setback would you suffer if it meant helping someone? Returning home without dinner? Being late to work?
For the majority of the book Mattpaul writes and Tim replies. However, eventually a boy named Alex starts replying as well. Alex wishes he could be in Caperston and could speak to Chihaysu himself, and eventually has Mattpaul relay a question for him. Alex was part of a youth group and Kevin, another member, was killed while purchasing plates to help feed the homeless. He asks why God would allow such a faithful follower of Jesus die. This brings up one of the biggest questions people have when it comes to religion - if God is so powerful, why does he allow bad things to happen? I REALLY enjoyed how this answer was settled, and it's great that Tim (the author, not the character) is able to fill the book with such great situations, questions and lessons.
Mattpaul's writings often contain sketches. These sketches (by José Carlos Gutiérrez) are absolutely fantastic! They'd fit right in with a fantasy novel and seem to be done entirely with pencil. There's great shading and even the words on each, that tell what's being depicted in the image, have a fancy banner to make them easy to read. They really help illustrate what's going on and show off Mattpaul's adventures.
Finally, after the story is over there are two appendices. The first deals with "the science of the story", how Mattpaul in an alternate universe can communicate with Tim and Alex. The explanation is quite heavy, involving the birth of the universe, elements, atoms and strings (the incredibly tiny bits of energy that make up everything in existence), but written in a way that's pretty easy to follow. The second appendix is for youth leaders and gives numerous methods and lessons for using The Chest of Visions for discussions. The lessons are quite fantastic, making it clear that provoking thought and discussion were the purpose of the book and that the author is experienced in doing so.
While I did find a couple errors (one of which was an odd formatting error), I can't help but give The Chest of Visions by Tim Ferguson 4 out of 4 stars anyway. It was very enjoyable as a story while also being an excellent tool for provoking thought. Even as I read it alone I often wondered if I would be brave enough to follow Chihaysu. There were also a few surprise twists that made me happy with the direction the book went. I'd absolutely recommend the book to any Christian, but especially to kids or those who lead youth groups.
The Chest of Visions
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