The story of Jesus has been told in any number of ways and in any number of forms. There have been films made of it, there have been various translations of the Bible and even your school's nativity play is a re-telling of part of the story of Jesus. As well as some of these telling are, none of them really help put the story into a modern context. The Message translation of the Bible may put it into more modern language, but doesn't really bring it into modern times. But recently I stumbled across Dave Hopwood's "Sons of Thunder", which brings the story of Jesus completely up to date.
In the Bible, the names "Sons of Thunder" is given to two of Jesus' disciples, James and John. Here, it refers to the whole group of disciples, including our narrator, Tom. Tom is long term unemployed and spends his days drinking away his benefits and watching porn on TV. He has no friends and his one attempt at making something of himself by borrowing money to set up his own business was wasted. One day he meets up with a group of guys in the pub and goes to a gig where something amazing happens, but he thinks little of it and loses track of these guys for the next three years.
When he meets up with them next, he finds that they have all moved on and grown and left him behind. These guys are a disparate group, with seemingly nothing in common apart from a mutual friend called Josh. Soon after Tom rediscovers this group, a biker called John states that something major is about to happen around Josh and then strange, miraculous things start happening. Somehow, although involved at the edges of the group, moments such as a wedding becoming awash with wine when it looked like supplies had run out and a couple of burgers feeding an entire crowd manage to pass Tom by.
For me, the story had a couple of points of familiarity which made it feel quite welcoming. As a Christian, I'm reasonably familiar with the life of Jesus as recounted in the Gospels, the first four books of the New Testament. As an inhabitant of modern times, I'm also familiar with the world as depicted here; one of Sky TV, mobile phones, TV chat shows and global warning. However, despite the belief of the modern church that Jesus lives on today and that Christianity can still have relevance in the modern world, the combination of the two never site quite right with me in this novel.
I think part of the problem here was the scope of the novel. It only followed Josh when he was already older and beginning his miraculous works, not from his birth. Whilst this wasn't too much of a problem for me, any reader unfamiliar with the Gospels or the life of Jesus may struggle to realise at first that this is what the novel is retelling. At a couple of points, the moving of the story into the modern world didn't quite fit and even I had to think and resort to checking my Bible to see exactly how the story matched up with the Gospels. Again, whilst this is less of a problem for someone like me who has a Bible easily to hand, if you're coming into this book without much knowledge of the Gospels, it will be slightly confusing.
However, despite my occasional confusion, I did enjoy reading "Sons of Thunder". The style it's written in is very laid back and casual, which made for an easy reading experience and indeed the main advantage of the book is that the modern setting and language make it an easier read than the Bible. Admittedly, there are Bible translations available - "The Message" springs mostly readily to mind - which update the language and make it more readable, but they fail to update the setting, which does mean the language can feel a little out of context. Here, the combination works a lot better, but the part of the story which would have really made it obviously a re-telling of the Gospels is missing and this is the great failing of the book.
For an established Christian such as myself, this is a decent enough read, but it is lacking a certain something. For someone new to the faith, it may just be a little confusing and the Gospels themselves, whilst harder to read, would prove a more valuable place to start. Sadly, that alone makes the book of little use to part of its target audience. Those who may find it more useful may consider the cover price of £8.99 a little hefty, given than a Bible can often be found far more cheaply. The Amazon Marketplace price of £4.92 is a little better, but still expensive when you can buy a New Testament for £1.99 and get just as good a story and better insight.