The Corner

Culture

My New Novel: A Modern-Day Martin Luther as an ‘Accidental Prophet’

I am thrilled to announce my new novel, Mad Jones, Heretic, about a modern-day Martin Luther — written 15 long years ago, but published (almost by happenstance) just in time for the October 31 commemoration of the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s posting of his famous 95 Theses on the church door in Wittenberg.

Published by Liberty Island Media, the imprint of the long-successful, conservative-friendly publishing duo of Adam Bellow and David Bernstein, Mad Jones, Heretic is available at Amazon at this link. It’s actually the first book in what will be the Accidental Prophet trilogy. (The other two titles will be Mad Jones, Hero and Mad Jones, Agonistes.) The central character (but not hero), Madison Jones, is a grief-stricken young history teacher in the late 1990s who, venting his pain, nails theses to church doors in Mobile, Ala., and New Orleans — and, with modern mass media, including the dawn of the Internet social-media age, he quickly and unintentionally develops a national following. Politicians, religious leaders, and the media all jump into the fray — allowing me to satirize modern media, religion, and politics, while underneath it is what I hope will be both an entertaining story and, more importantly in the long run, some serious explorations of theological themes.

I thought NRO readers would appreciate the Cliff’s Notes version of how this novel came to pass.

One of my two majors at Georgetown University was Theology, and my main concentration within the field centered on the Reformation-era debates. (I found myself somewhat more attuned to Erasmus than Luther, but that’s another story.) Somewhere along the line, I wondered what it would take for somebody in our modern world to cause even a simulacrum of the history-altering upheaval begat by Luther. Meanwhile, I also was continually struck by observing that the single biggest obstacle to faith, among the people I know who are agnostic or atheist, was the age-old problem of how a loving God allows so much pain and suffering. (Yeah, I know: not exactly an original insight.) I think I am not alone in finding theodicy — a vindication of God’s goodness in the face of so much evidence of evil — to be a difficult idea to which to bear witness, against a doubter’s deep reservations.

Somehow, literally over a single night back in 1998 or 1999, a scenario came into my head that combined these two themes — theodicy and a new Luther raging not against a corrupt church but (at least at first) against an apparently cruel God — in a storyline which, if kept satirical, would be entertaining rather than ponderously theoretical/theological.

So that’s how The Accidental Prophet trilogy came to be. I hope readers find the characters and plot, which is sometimes picaresque, to be intriguing, sometimes humorous, and well worth following.

(For a longer explanation of the psychological place where young Mad Jones begins the novel, and why I think a following might develop, please see this column.)

I hope to have more to say next week on the real Luther and the 500th-anniversary commemoration, completely and utterly apart from the fictional Mad Jones.

For now, however, let me invite all you readers to take a gander at young Mad and his crew of sometimes outlandish, sometimes embraceable followers — and to recognize in their fictional lives a number of personal redemptions, small and large, along the way.

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