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Saturday, September 19, 2009

My Review of Lost Mission

Lost Mission: A Novel Lost Mission: A Novel by Athol Dickson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I had read The Cure and River Rising by Athol Dickson—and loved them, so I was looking forward to Lost Mission. Once again the writing was superb, the characters fascinating, and the storyline engaging with one exception. Spanish history and Mexican culture have never appealed to me, so the historical storyline was a bit challenging to get through, though Dickson deserves special notice for how deftly he wove in a past storyline involving Catholic monks establishing a mission in old-time California. I must admit that I sometimes found myself wanting to skip these parts and just get back to the modern storyline. It just wasn't an interesting storyline for me. Mexican culture is pretty foreign, so I couldn't really appreciate much of the local color.

This well-written and often poetic novel raises complex ethical and spiritual issues that make readers think. He tackles illegal immigration and appears to be sympathetic toward it by the fact that Lupe, the main character, is an illegal immigrant from Mexico. Tucker, who is running his own mission, takes water to the desert to help illegals who may be crossing the desert to California. Another theme has to do with mega churches who seek to separate themselves from the world, especially from illegal immigrants, and live in their own utopia. It's clear that these churches, overflowing with wealth, aren't doing enough to reach out to those who truly need help, even the basics like food and clothing. The complex issues are thought provoking and make the reader grapple with the moral dilemma of reaching out to people who according to our laws shouldn't even be in our country.

One aspect of the novel that disappointed me was Dickson's sympathetic treatment of Catholicism. Catholic doctrine does not embrace the true gospel due to its works-based salvation. Yet the novel's main character is Catholic at the beginning and Catholic at the end; she even "preaches" to those who need to hear the truth, yet I'm baffled as to what that truth could be. If she's a devout Catholic, she doesn't personally possess the truth of grace alone by faith alone. If I personally met a Lupe who loved God and wanted to serve Him, I would first challenge her faith to be sure she wasn't depending on works for salvation. If she did depend on grace alone, then I would have strongly encouraged her to leave the Catholic Church. The novel is highly sympathetic toward Catholics, a disappointment for me. Don't get me wrong: I love Catholics, but I want them all to experience saving grace alone by faith alone. I kept hoping that Tucker or someone would probe Lupe's faith and tell her the truth about Catholic false teachings, but no one does.

In the end, the novel is superbly written and often poetic, and the complex modern storyline kept me reading. But due to complex and controversial issues that deserved a clear biblical answer, I felt divided over the novel's final message. Athol's message is clear that mega churches that seek to separate from the world and ignore those who need help are bad and that Christians who run a small mission and help illegal aliens are good. In the end, neither those who run the mega church are completely wrong, and neither are those who help illegal aliens completely right. Still, Lost Mission was a fascinating, if not tragic, read. Athol presents some of the best writing I've ever seen in Christian fiction, and I'll certainly read him again.

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