By J. F. Alexander
Resource Publications, 2021
Paperback, 221 pages
Reviewed by Mark M. Mattison
What if? What’s wrong with the church, and what would a divine incarnation look like in the not-so-distant future?
J. F. Alexander’s book, I Am Sophia, is a delightful and gripping story of religious science fiction. Its genre almost defies categorization; it reads like a seamless blend of hard science fiction and theology. However, the target audience soon becomes clear enough. It’s not so much a faith-based book for science fiction fans as it is a science fiction book for people already interested in theology – essentially, a progressive Christian parable for the contemporary church, like The Shack for intellectuals concerned about the church’s spiritual anemia.
Like all good science fiction, this novel is filled with its own futuristic jargon. Notable examples include the term “feme” (instead of “female”), “nun” (for “Isnotists,” nihilistic suicide bombers), and “lowcontribs” (the homeless).
Though nominally dystopian, I Am Sophia nevertheless radiates hope and expectation. Alexander effectively paints a compelling picture of a world in the not-so-distant future where humanity has reached a crossroad, teetering on the brink of unrestrained consumerism, catastrophic climate change, and rampant materialism. Religion, known as “metafiz” (metaphysics), has entered its twilight; Christianity exists only in the vestiges of a quaint, dying cult of “Christworshippers,” whose mythical hero is popularly known as “G-Zeus” (the name “Jesus” having virtually vanished from the collective secular memory of humanity). Reminiscent of the video rental chain Blockbuster, all of Christianity has been reduced to a single church in Sanef (San Francisco), where ten congregants are led by the only remaining bishop (appropriately named Peter). Into this bleak environment emerges Sophia, an enigmatic spiritual woman who rekindles the imagination of the church, sparks a revival, and captures the heart of Peter, whom she lures to Meres (Mars) to sojourn in the desert where he eventually experiences a spiritual awakening that could change the destiny of humankind.
Who is Sophia? Jesus incarnate? The Holy Spirit? A mentally ill lowcontrib with delusions of grandeur? Often, the novel feels like the thriller series Messiah, the Netflix story about a charismatic figure who’s either a savior or an accomplished con artist. But unlike Messiah, I Am Sophia conveys a message inspired by Joseph Campbell, Elizabeth A. Johnson, and Richard Rohr. Its Christian theology, deeply informed by the Perennial or Wisdom Tradition, explores the practical spirituality of the most arcane doctrines: the Trinity, theodicy (the problem of evil), and atonement. Combining that type of theologizing with the drama of a well-told story is difficult, but Alexander has largely managed the feat.
Granted, the novel occasionally breaks into expository infodump, as when characters tell each other things they both already know for the benefit of the reader (as on pages 23 and 24) or lose their individual voices to the intrusive voice of the overeager author, which takes on the artificial character of a monologue shared by two sock puppets (especially during a series of teachings beginning on page 144). However, these literary fumbles are few and far between.
The story held enough intrigue to keep me turning the pages and savoring the spiritual gems while anticipating the resolution of the plot line. As a writer who has experimented with the genre with less success, I can fully appreciate the challenge and can enthusiastically recommend this novel. Feminist Christians in particular will find it compelling. Profound discussion questions at the end of the book make it ideal for small groups.
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© 2021 by Christian Feminism Today.
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I enjoyed this unique book on Sophia, and your review, Mark, gets me headed back over to re-read it!