You’re sitting in a doctor’s waiting room, and likely about eight years old, and you pick up a children’s magazine. Remember those puzzles inside, based on two nearly similar drawings and the challenge: Find the Differences Between These Two Pictures?
If I weren’t already occupied putting together tomorrow’s interview with Blood of Kings trilogy author Jill Williamson, I might draw some actual pictures here. But try this:
He had it all. (Name), an aspiring (select one: dancer, singer, athlete, reality-television contestant, immigrant), is close to reaching his life’s ambition. Then (insert catastrophe or tragedy) occurs and that amazing destiny seems dashed. Follow along as he finally learns to pursue his dreams, no matter the cost, and believe in himself!
He had it all. (Name), an aspiring (select one: dancer, singer, athlete, reality-television contestant, immigrant), is close to reaching his life’s ambition. Then (insert catastrophe or tragedy) occurs and that amazing destiny seems dashed. Follow along as he finally learns to pursue his dreams, no matter the cost, and believe in Jesus!
Answer key: only the last word is different.
Now for the questions I’ve been pondering: does replacing himself with Jesus make that story a Christian Story? Second, even if that is a Christian Story, is this the best kind of story a Christian writer or film director could offer? Third: should we support that kind of story with money and word-of-mouth just because God’s or Jesus’ Name is somehow included?
I doubt I can answer all that here. Instead I have a few reminders while exploring the issue:
1. A Christian’s main story is not simply “fulfill your dreams with Jesus’ help.”
Last December I wrote more about Pelagianism in fiction (one definition: humanism with Christian labels). Those came after I was disappointed by a certain highly anticipated film.
In short: two popular ideas of why God does all things — either because He has a Wonderful Plan for Your Life or He Kept You From Going to Hell so You Can Tell Others — are both true in some senses. But they are partial truths without the far better purpose told in Scripture: God saves people, and does all things, for His own glory. Knowing that can help His people worship Him with even more amazing art forms, and have the freedom to tell new and unique stories that needn’t be constrained by some kind of Motivational Moral.
2. Still, not even the Bible tells its own complete story in every chapter or book.
Maybe knowing this can help keep a God-glorifying author from feeling he must include a Study Guide in the back, so readers don’t miss anything, or give a direct Gospel presentation, start-to-finish-with-John-3-16, somewhere in the pages.
The Psalms alone remind Christians: God-honoring art, inspired by God Himself, includes some tricky parts, and may only hint at the complete Gospel message. Rather it’s His full body of work, all of Scripture, that reveals the main story. And similarly, one should not expect any Christian-made song, book or movie to say everything about God, Christ or the Gospel; instead, an author’s full body of work should point to that complete Gospel account.
So if I am bothered about a movie or book labeled as Christian or Inspirational™, and its main message is only “fulfill your dreams with Jesus’ help,” I don’t want to be a jerk and overcorrect. Jesus does give us blessings in this life. And He can indeed, and often does, fulfill our dreams, if for no other reason than God will give us new and even better dreams:
Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
— Psalm 37:4
3. Nevertheless, why act as if these are the best kinds of stories we can offer?
I’m not as concerned about stories that include Gospel results as I am with the evangelical market’s evident obsession with only these stories as if they’re the greatest. And in response, thousands of evangelical readers or film viewers, eager to support Good and Decent Faith-Based Products in the Secular World, ignore compassionate-critical thinking (if they do find anything to criticize!) and simply go along with it.
I love some Christian films, such as Fireproof. For what it set out to be, it was great. I saw it with my girlfriend on opening night: Friday, Sept. 26, 2008. (The very next day I proposed as planned — not wanting to sit through a movie about Christian marriage without trying it!)
Yet is that all Christian-made movies can offer? Do we not have better stories to tell? Yes, I’d love to see more God-glorifying speculative films, though I know they’d need bigger budgets. But why not at least try for more artistic assaults in less-expensive genres that point to Gospel roots, not just fruits?
Otherwise, when yet another story comes along with the same “fulfill your dreams with Jesus’ help” theme, it’s not that much different from yet another “beleaguered team / family / music star makes good, thanks to Faith and the Human Spirit” story. It gets a little old.
And when so many other kinds of stories available, based on the Greatest Story Ever Told — the holy and loving God saves sinners for His glory and delight — I can’t help but think we’re being just a bit myopic and predictable.
Therefore, perhaps what I need to do is simply Believe in Myself and reach for new heights, be all I can be, write that different God-glorifying story, make that epic film, climb every mountain, ford every stream, until I find that dream thanks to Jesus’ help and His love in my life based on the promises of John 3:16, Jeremiah 29:11 and Philippians 4:13!
Or maybe I should instead apply my own thoughts consistently, and keep on doing what I think God wants me to do. Perhaps I can trust Him to know, better than I, when American Evangelical Pop Culture finally will turn to seek more of those greater stories.