We are living in a post-Christian world, my friends. It’s time that we accept it. It’s time we stop tilting at certain windmills and accept the fact that the greater part of American culture no longer looks to the Church for what is right and what is wrong. Culture is over us… but that’s okay. We still have a voice. Culture can’t help but feel the effects of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. The echoes of that massive event are still reverberating and making themselves known in our culture.
This blog post is a new application of one of my favorite and most eye-opening classes at Seminary: Literature and the Gospel, taught by Rev. Francis C. Rossow, lovingly known as simply, “Rev.” “Rev.” was a literature aficionado. He had more Shakespeare memorized than probably anyone I’ve ever met. I got the feeling he taught every other class on his assigned list just so they would let him teach this one every other year. He had a love of literature that didn’t quite catch on with me, but the premise of his class has never left me.
The “Course Thesis” for P-433–Literature and the Gospel, taught in the spring of 1995, was this:
The central event of history called the Gospel-event has hit our world with such impact that it has spilled beyond the bounds chosen by God to contain and convey it. Incarnation, vicariousness, resurrection are often recorded, reflected, foreshadowed, in varying degrees of accuracy in the following areas: nature, man-made phenomena, pagan religions (beliefs and practices), mythology, art, music, and literature.
To that concluding list I have added another genre that is particularly powerful to me: movies.
In my last post, The Saving Story, I applied the above thesis to the movie Saving Mr. Banks. The movie in question had no overt Christian tone to it. There were (to the best of my recollection) no Biblical references. And yet the very tone and nature of the story immediately drew me to the new story written for us when we are written into the Lamb’s Book of Life through Baptism. How did that happen? Because the life, death, and resurrection of Christ have had such an impact on our world that nothing can contain it.
This process has another Rev. Rossow idea at it’s core: the Gospel-handle. In his book, Preaching the Creative Gospel Creatively, Rev. Rossow defines a Gospel Handle as this:
A ‘Gospel-handle’ involves the selection from a Biblical sermon text of a word (or words) which in itself contains no Gospel but is used as an approach, transition, or handle to an account of the Gospel outside the text.
Rev. Rossow uses the term “Gospel-handle” to refer to mundane words from the Biblical text. I’m using the term to refer to non-Biblical events that ring with a Biblical truth. In Saving Mr. Banks, the non-Biblical event is Walt Disney promising to save the legacy of Mr. Goff. There’s nothing at all salvific about that action. But that action rings with an echo of the promise given in Baptism as laid out in Romans 6. The two ideas are harmonious so the jump from one to the other is a small leap.
There are four reasons why this is a such a great way to talk about the Gospel:
1. The Gospel-handle approach uses cultural images to communicate the Gospel in a world that is largely ignorant of the Bible. As I said at the outset, the world is moving past Christianity. It’s mores, beliefs, doctrines are considered old hat. But, by using the ever-changing popularity of movies as our images, we can keep the Gospel in the mix. I may never see the Church return to the influence it had 30 years ago when I became a Christian. But this is a way for a faithful remnant to continue to engage with the world, rather than shrink away from it.
2. The Gospel-handle approach engages people where they are. If you look at any church’s calendar, you’ll find very little scheduled on Friday nights. There’s a reason why this happens: the Church can’t compete with the Culture. Every Friday, Hollywood introduces some new film into the mix. If given the choice of a two-hour movie or a one-hour Bible study, folks choose the movie. It’s just how it goes. There are more people in movie houses than the Lord’s house on a Friday night. So, if that’s where they are, then I engage them there. I see what they see. And as I do this I listen for the faint echoes of the Gospel rebounding around the plot, dialog, and morals of the movies, looking for a way to harmonize.
3. The Gospel-handle approach shows that Christians aren’t that different. Christians have gotten a bad wrap when it comes to Jesus movies. In 1988 they called for the boycott and banning of The Last Temptation of Christ. In 2004 they bussed people to see The Passion of the Christ. Yes, I understand why; I didn’t agree with anything in The Last Temptation of Christ, but, to the average movie-goer, they didn’t see the difference. When I hear people telling me what a Christian should watch or not watch, I get what they are saying. But I also understand where my faith lies, so I’ll just try to make sure that no one sees me in these movies so that I don’t tempt a weaker brother. (1 Cor. 8)
4. The Gospel-handle approach gives me an excuse to go see movies. This way, I can always talk my wife into calling dinner and a movie a date. Even if she doesn’t know I’m really doing research. Hmm… gotta find a way to deduct movie tickets as a business expense.
Church attendance numbers are dwindling, no matter what research you reference. People are starting to move past the Church looking for new sources of morality, hope, and joy. I’m going to join them in some of these sources, namely movies, so that I can find a way to harmonize the love between a man and a woman who finally hook up in a romantic comedy with the love that Christ, the Bridegroom, has for His bride, the Church. I’m going to movies so that when a man sacrifices his life by diving on a live grenade I can synchronize that with the sacrifice of Christ. These great Gospel themes are still present in our world, we’ve just got to find new ways to share them with people.
What do you think? What echoes of the Gospel do you hear all around us?