Resurrection of Gavin Stone and Truth Wrapped in Church Language

A new Christian film just hit theaters, and all the usual problems seem to be present. I personally think that’s a shame since the concept sounded like it could work: a washed-out actor cons his way into a church play and then gets more than he bargained for.

Going off the criticisms and reviews so far,  the movie doesn’t take this idea and develop it organically, showing how a realistic character would deal with this situation and favoring character development over mini-sermons. Instead, the film apparently does what many Christian films do: smothering potentially good ideas in church language and attempts to sermonize.

Christian movies often apparently assume people will only understand Christian ideas (like salvation or reconciliation) if they’re expressed with lots of terms exclusive to Christianity.

What many Christians have forgotten is truth’s objective – it works in the real world, regardless of what label we use for it, and even if expressed in ways we’re unfamiliar with.

For example, forgiving people who hurt you allows you to heal, whether you’re a Christian overcoming child abuse or a Jewish Holocaust survivor. Religious backgrounds may affect how you perceive forgiveness, but forgiving makes you healthier regardless of what religion you identify with.

If truth is objective, then Christians can talk about Christian ideas — theology, Christ, redemption – without lots of church lingo and it will still work. We may even be able to take secular terms and redeem them to explain God.

This idea is present several times in the New Testament.

In Acts 17 , Paul spoke to a group of philosophers in Athens, Greece. Strangely, Paul didn’t use his favored approach, using Old Testament prophecies to prove Jesus was the Messiah. Presumably, Paul knew a Greek audience wouldn’t know the Old Testament or revere it.

Instead, Paul paraphrased and quoted pagan Greek philosophy — comments pagan philosophers had made about God which were accurate. It wasn’t until the end of his talk, when Paul referenced the idea of God raising the dead, that some people audience started sneering — probably, as Brian Godawa noted in his analysis of Paul’s speech, because they were Stoic philosophers and their philosophy didn’t support that idea.

Given that Paul was a Pharisee (and therefore a scholar), that some of the things he said were exact quotes, and that (as Josh McDowell noted) Paul quoted Greek philosophers in his other letters, it’s foolish to say this was just coincidence. Paul knew he was using pagan terms to explain God, and he used them as a gateway to explain who God truly was.

John begins his Gospel by describing Jesus as “The Word.” “In the beginning was the Word, and the word was with God and the Word was God…” The particular term John used in those sentences for “word” is Logos. Logos not only meant ‘word,’ it was an important concept in Greek philosophy with several meanings.

To one group, Logos was the principle which held the universe together.

To another, Logos was a principle that existed throughout reality.

To the Greek-influenced Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria, Logos was an intermediary between heaven and earth.

Since John’s Gospel was written in Greek, many of its readers would have been familiar with Greek philosophy – they might, as some scholars believe, have been non-Christians John wanted to reach.

Regardless, John was talking about a philosophical concept Greek readers would understand, and telling them that it was true, but manifested in a way they weren’t aware of. This would have helped them understand Jesus better if they came from a Greek viewpoint.

Another example of Christian truth in different packaging comes from the life of C.S. Lewis. Following his mother’s death when he was ten years old, Lewis ceased to believe in God and remained a strong atheist for many years. Several factors lead to Lewis’ returning to faith — interactions with Christian friends, reading works by G.K. Chesterton and George MacDonald — but one factor that finally pushed him over the edge was mythology. Lewis had a deep love of myths, but as a highly rational atheist, he had to view myths as nonsense.

One of his friends, fellow Oxford professor J.R.R. Tolkien, pushed Lewis to realize myths aren’t entirely false. As Joseph Pierce describes it, Lewis once told Tolkien that myths were just lies breathed in silver.

“‘No,” Tolkien replied. ‘They are not lies.’ Far from being lies they were the best way – sometimes the only way – of conveying truths that would otherwise remain inexpressible. We have come from God, Tolkien argued, and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God.”

This idea — that mythology has “echoes of grace,” as I once heard Inklings scholar Dr. Joseph Ricke describe it – helped Lewis see that Jesus sacrificing his life wasn’t a foolish idea. It was a classic mythology motif, a dying god who rose again, that actually happened.

As British author Colin Duriez explained it in a Christianity Today interview, “Suddenly Lewis could see that the nourishment he had always received from great myths and fantasy stories was a taste of that greatest, truest story—of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.

Seeing Christian truth as objective and hinted at even in secular culture frees Christian filmmakers and other artists to be more imaginative. It allows them to discuss Biblical and theological concepts in ways even secular people understand.

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