In Lieu of Heaven, Kevin Archer’s first-person allegory of disenchantment with his spiritual journey, is an ultimately enjoyable tale, drawing in the reader with smooth prose and accessible protagonists. Interest is sustained by thought-filled examinations of biblical precepts, all of which are artfully couched in an entertaining fictionalization of what might be called an atheist’s apologetics.
A lone drifter, wandering a parched desert, happens upon an oasis occupied by a single inhabitant we soon discover is no other than the original Adam. The ensuing conversations between Adam and our drifter become a veritable deconstruction of biblical teaching, Adam insisting all the while that our drifter’s quest to encounter God will never be met, since God is dead. Adam knows; he claims to be the one who killed Him, committing the murder as revenge for His having allowed Eve to die.
Exactly why Adam never died is not made clear, but the crux of the tale—aside from pointing out many of the ironies and hypocrisies of biblical teaching—centers around our waiting to have Adam explain precisely how it was he murdered God.
Enter the book’s main flaw, stage left.
Archer’s dénouement involves Adam and Judas being one, a resolution that had a difficult time gelling in my brain. Perhaps if Archer’s Adam had conspired with Judas and claimed complicity in the death of Jesus I might have found In Lieu of Heaven slightly more cohesive. Of course, reading any manner of speculative fiction requires that the reader apply a hefty dose of what in drama has been dubbed “suspended disbelief.” This doesn’t mean, however, once the speculative fiction author has established the parameters of her “universe,” that she can change them at any turn—or toss them wholesale out the window—without losing the reader’s acceptance of said universe.
The other problem is, of course, that we all know Jesus died, but His death has never been equated with the death of the triune God. In Archer’s work, the concept of the Trinity is not first deconstructed, as is so much else in biblical teaching, and therefore to accept the death of Jesus as equivalent to the annihilation of God requires a leap of, shall we say, faithlessness, that Archer has not wholly prepared us to accept.
He has, however, set us up to accept much, and has done it well. As a former missionary, his knowledge of the bible would seem fairly thorough, and he footnotes his references (citing chapter and verse) for the reader’s convenience.
I first selected In Lieu of Heaven because I mistakenly thought it was going to be a scholarly approach to biblical deconstruction; I didn’t realize I had ordered a novel. But if anything, In Lieu of Heaven was better than I anticipated precisely because it was a work of fiction. I say this because, in fictionalizing his thoughts, Archer’s appeal becomes accessible on multiple levels and his intellectual acuity proven the keener for his approach. And yet by no means is to characterize In Lieu of Heaven as a scholarly work off the mark. Archer knows his subject well and evokes in the reader frequent and introspective thought-provoking pauses. I suspect this was one of his goals and he achieves it almost poetically.
In Lieu of Heaven is a brief 155 pages that will give readers more than 155 pages worth of impact, at least for those valuing well-written prose packing a punch that teeters on profundity. Overall, well done. Earns three out of five possible stars.Powered by Sidelines