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Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
Fort Wayne author Dennis Hensley wrote “Jesus in the 9 to 5.”
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Local author imagines Jesus in 2013

What would Jesus do?

In his latest book, Dennis Hensley of Fort Wayne has an answer.

Jesus would be heading up a successful furniture company – “He’s a carpenter, after all,” says the head of Taylor University’s professional writing department.

And Jesus is managing the place using principles he taught 2,000 years ago.

If that’s not enough to pique interest, Hensley also has cast the book, “Jesus in the 9 to 5: Facing the Challenges of Today’s Business World” (AMG Press; $14.99) as a novella sandwiched between nonfiction chapters offering biblically based and management-tested business advice.

The odd concept started, he says, during lunch with a friend in the 1980s. The two were talking about what it would be like to have Jesus as your boss.

At first, Hensley, 65, says he thought it would be great – after all, you could take any of your problems to him and he would understand.

But on second thought, Hensley decided it might not be so wonderful – Jesus would also know if he left 10 minutes early or fudged a few nickels on his expenses.

It got him to thinking. “As Christians, we ought to have that as our attitude – Jesus really is our boss,” he says.

The idea led to a magazine article with the same title as the book.

“We got inundated with mail,” Hensley says. “It was, ‘Could you flesh that out a little more? How would Jesus hire people? How would Jesus discipline people?’ How would he handle finances?”

It took a while, but Hensley, who’d written other motivational titles, got a list of chapter topics together – on goal setting, time management, quality control.

Then he decided it would be fun to combine two forms proven popular with business readers – what he calls “high-content” nonfiction books like “Megatrends” and story-oriented books like “Who Moved My Cheese?”

His book starts with a story. The first sentence begins: “Jesus Christ walked into Decker’s Bar & Grill … .”

“When you’re a writer, you have to stun people,” Hensley says. “That opening line makes sense, although it shocks you.”

Jesus is actually on a recruiting mission for his company. He finds alcoholic Peter Fisher at the bar. Jesus is actually out “to pull him out of a drunken stupor and give him a job” and a second chance, Hensley says.

As the story progresses, Jesus turns wine into water and has Fisher find $50 in a fish trophy hanging over the bar – both twists on New Testament stories. The biblically literate appreciate the humor, Hensley says.

But the author also has a serious point. Jesus healed lepers and associated with prostitutes and poor fishermen in the Bible.

“If Jesus were here today, he wouldn’t just be at gigantic cathedrals. He’d be at AIDS clinics and soup kitchens and homeless shelters. And bars,” Hensley says.

But where the book belonged became something of a debate. When Hensley tried to market the book himself, publishers weren’t sure how to classify it. Was it fiction? Nonfiction? Business? Religion?

“They were a little confused. It really isn’t fish or fowl,” he says.

But then Hensley found an agent who ended up overseeing a bidding war among five publishers of inspirational books. AMG, based in Chattanooga, Tenn., liked it so much that Hensley got an offer to make it part of a trilogy.

The next in the series is tentatively titled “Jesus in All Four Seasons.” He’s going to add about 20 percent more to the fictional sections because readers seem to like them, he says.

And, he adds, he’s going to have to figure out how to write the crucifixion and resurrection stories in contemporary business terms.

Hensley, who has published 53 other books, has tackled thrillers, mysteries, romances, celebrity stories as a ghost writer and self-help and motivational topics. He even has published a 600-page annotated edition of Jack London’s 1909 novel “Martin Eden” that he considers the jewel in his academic crown.

But he’s never done anything quite like this, and he likes the writerly stretch.

“I wanted to show that everything Jesus advocated, everything he taught, would be applicable to today,” says Hensley, who’s now getting reader feedback on the book through guest spots on Christian radio and television.

“That was my whole job – to put Jesus in the 21st century and make him relevant to people today,” he says. “I’m glad that people seem to really enjoy that.”

rsalter@jg.net

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