Evangelical filmmakers who hope to break past the “be a better you” genre into one more profitable — subhuman effects-laden action blockbusters! — have I got a show for you:
EXT. IN THE VALE – AFTERNOON
Bland Hero arrives and GAZES with GRITTY DETERMINATION at a LITTLE BROWN CHURCH. Then a FLASHY SPONSORED SPORTS CAR arrives. Its door opens to reveal an ABSURDLY SEXPOT FEMALE CO-STAR.
That’s it. That is where They have hidden the Hard-to-Find-ium MacGillicuddy All-Spork Mystic Sword of Destiny and Simplistic Motivation.
Oh, Bland! Be careful.
She bends over LOW, just because.
(with roguish smile)
It’s just a small building. What can possibly go wrong?
SUDDENLY the camera lurches, and then our heroes. We pan UP, FAR UP to the distant tiny church, suddenly not so distant and NOT SO TINY. It leers up out of the earth, sod and rock crumbling about it, walls swelling, boards breaking out, Fellowship Centers turning to extra limbs, STEEPLE ELONGATING into a terrifying face with gleaming red stained-glass window slits for eyes. Tossing away several trees and cars for good measure, it roars into the sky:
Come to meeee! I have childcare! I have coffeeee. I have uplifting messages! I have solutions to your marriage and career problems. Have felt needs? I will take care of them!
BLAND and ABSURDLY scream and duck for cover.
You are special! You have self-worth and value and purpose! You have a God-shaped hole in your heart that only I can fill!
The legends were true! Run. Run! The Megachurchian Empire has awakened!
No, I’m not a fan of Megachurchians, at least not the ones that talk like that. In reality those monsters are at worst, heretical. In fiction they’re also annoying. And they’re one of the worst spawn of the extraterrestrial menace in focus during this adventure serial.
Yes, God has appointed some churches to stay small and some to grow large; He chooses some pastors to remain “obscure” yet faithful and others to face the challenges of fame and wider platforms. Here I mean only a religious mindset that emphasizes programs, uplifting messages, solutions to “felt needs,” affirming self-worth, and anything except the Gospel.
In reality, this is pathetic. Why reject the thrilling, life-changing, God-honoring, beautiful, and imagination-inspiring Story of Scripture in favor of plain “nonfiction” users’ manuals?
That’s just what the Megachurchian menace does. And it’s done this for a few decades. Yes, I’ve rehashed old real-life protests. But few identify this infection in fiction. In this realm, Megachurchianity assumes that characters are conformist life-forms who think like this:
Charis wanted to cry. Did Michael really mean it? Was he really saying there was a good God who loved everyone in the world — everyone, including her? But he could not mean that, she thought. After all, she was not important, beautiful, wealthy, or special. No one could love her after all the bad things she had done. Not even God.
— Original dialogue, based on that of a Christian contemporary/speculative novel
Once again you could be grumping in response to my grumping. C’mon, there are plenty of people who think like this, and it’s absurd to criticize such people as “conformist life-forms.” But that’s just it: there are only “plenty of people who think like this.” So some people don’t think like this. That’s reality, a reality too many (not all) Christian novels ignore. On the other planet from which these fiction Christians hail, the world is divided into easy groups:
- Childlike beings whose beliefs are limited to blind faith and voices from beyond.
- Wicked villains who are beyond redemption, despite the many chances they’ve had.
- Sympathetic people who don’t believe because of personal struggles or because they simply Haven’t Been Told. They never (horrors) know the Gospel and still reject it, showing that they don’t seek God (Rom. 3: 9-18) and are dead in sin (Eph. 2: 1-3).
Why do some authors think like this? Here are some possibilities, based on novels I’ve read:
1. It’s non-controversial.
In popular evangelicalism this is the default view. Critiquing it sounds nasty and unloving. Alas, despite his positives, even America’s most popular Christian pastor, Rick Warren, is known to focus mainly on people who fit “seeker-sensitive” manuals’ character profiles.
2. It comforts Christian readers.
Thinking that non-Christians may know the Gospel and still reject it, simply because they love their own darkness rather than God’s light (John 3:19), is a scary thought. We’d much prefer to assume better of our neighbors. That is a nice motive — but is it a Biblical one? Is it the best corrective to anti-Biblical judgmentalism? Does it really show love to others?
3. Popular Christian “nonfiction” implies this is how most pagans think.
“Seeker-sensitive” manuals speak with one voice: non-Christians (at least the ones we care about) have “felt needs” for comfort, life and career help, and community. They don’t know Jesus because they’re ignorant, feel worthless, and have not heard about God’s love. Also someone (we don’t know who) has already told them of that whole nasty you-are-a-sinner part of the Gospel. Now we can be Good Cop and share only the story’s Good Parts Version!
I can only say to fiction authors who’ve believed this propaganda: you need to get out more.
Yes, some pagans do think like Megachurchian seeker-friendly manuals say. But many do not. They hate God. They crave idols. They don’t fit Christians’ comfortable profiles.
So authors, wake up and acknowledge those kinds of people. How else can you love them? And how else can readers “meet” them in your stories, and wrestle with their refusals to conform to Megachurchian personality profiles? If we only ever “meet” pagan characters overcome by platitudes like “Really? There’s a God who loves — me?”, the author has gone beyond corny and into semi-digested corn. Worse, our Hero looks ridiculous, for in such stories we see only a sort-of Gospel that only works on sort-of people only in sort-of reality.