Note to leader: Prior to this class, provide for each student the article "Myth Matters" from Christianity Today magazine.
[Q] The musical version of Victor Hugo’s foremost literary work, Les Miserables, has consistently achieved great success in the major cities where it has played. People flock to see it, resonating deeply with its themes of forgiveness, victory over evil, reconciliation, and resurrection. Les Miserables is a magnificent work of art. It is also profoundly Christian, stirring longing in its viewers and moving them to compassion—even perhaps to personal change.
More recently, the film version of J.R.R.Tolkien’s Fellowship of the Ring has filled theaters with eager crowds. What played before the audience was an epic account of good and evil in all its complexity—the power of evil to seduce and destroy and the superior power of good to transcend darkness.
What is the difference between your response to a great movie or play such as Les Miserables or Lord of the Rings and your response to a sermon, Bible study, or theological discussion? Jot down some of your thoughts about this. Be honest. Discuss the differences as a group. Do you see any connection between these two very different kinds of expression: story or art and exposition? What is the importance of each one? How does leaving out one hinder the other?
[Q] As we look at Scripture, we see that God included artistic expressions in creating his world and in giving instructions for the design of his dwelling places. He included poetry, drama, story—even what looks like fantasy (the Book of Revelation) as well as teaching and rules for living in his Word. The works of great thinkers, particularly C.S. Lewis, as noted in “Myth Matters,” challenge our ways of living and worshiping by raising some important questions. How much room have we allowed in our lives for imagination? How much have we encouraged our sense of wonder? How much interaction do we have with what Markos calls the myth that satisfies the “heart that yearns for God?”
Teaching point one: Christ is the Lord of the whole person—mind, soul, and body.
Have someone read Genesis 1:26-27 to the group. Then ask, what do you think it means to be made in the image of God? What do we have in common with God? As creatures bearing the image of God, Adam and Eve were placed in charge of God’s creation. They tended the garden and the animals, caring for everything around them and preserving (presumably enjoying, too!) it all before the Lord who had made them. Creation, the handiwork of God with all its color and variety and beauty, was crucial in their lives. They weren’t just given things to theoretically learn and process; they were given a world to delight in. The implication is that in delighting in that world, they would be delighting in its maker.
If we merely understand biblical facts and principles and are not moved by them, those facts and principles will not inspire us to obey God with our hearts and minds. As Markos says over and over, both the yearnings of the soul as well as the reasoning power of the mind must be involved for faith to live and grow. The two are meant to be connected, to balance each other. Evangelicals have grown increasingly successful in defending their faith, but they are sadly neglectful of the power of imaginative language and art to move a bored and restless generation that’s turning to increasingly more bizarre behaviors, paganism, and New Age thinking.
Think back to your conversion experience. What would you say was the primary emphasis of your salvation—your soul (yearnings and creativity), your mind (intellect and imagination), or your body (activities and condition)? Was one part of you addressed more than the others prior to conversion? What was most influential in getting to this part of you? Talk about this as a group.
In the first section, you were asked how you reacted to the teaching of biblical truth in sermons and Bible studies in contrast to the artistic presentation of these truths in plays, movies, and novels. Making the connection between these artistic works and what goes on in churches Sunday after Sunday in theological discussions, defenses of the faith, or biblical exposition may prove difficult for many people, especially those who regard artistic expression as less important. As Markos points out, when Christianity Today publishes an issue devoted to fiction, many Christians write that such an emphasis is a waste of time. They make a distinction between theology and art, finding the first vastly more important. They believe the intellectual understanding of faith is superior to the aesthetics of belief.
Interestingly, C.S. Lewis, who spent many years writing careful and compelling apologetic works, wrote fiction in his later years. He found fiction more powerful because it could captivate the reader, and, in his words “steal past a certain inhibition which had paralyzed much of [his] own religion in childhood.” He explains: “Why did one find it so hard to feel as one was told one ought to feel about God or about the sufferings of Christ? I thought that the chief reason was that one was told one ought to. An obligation to feel can freeze feelings. And reverence itself did the harm. The whole subject was associated with lowered voices; almost as if it were something medical. But supposing that by stripping them of their stained glass and Sunday school associations, one could make them for the first time appear in their real potency. Could not one thus steal past those watchful dragons? (“On Fairy Stories,” in Of Other Worlds. Edited by Walter Hooper. New York: Harcourt Brace Janovich, 1966)
In other words, while the mind must understand what is true, the heart must also ache and rejoice. All the senses must be engaged. Ask the class to talk about a book, play, musical, or movie that taught them a powerful spiritual lesson. What contributed to that impact? What elements of that experience could the church use to teach eternal truths? What might be some objections to that? Why do you suppose churches of an earlier era prohibited the reading of novels, watching movies or television, or going to stage plays? Besides objectionable content, what else might they have found objectionable in those art forms? Were those valid concerns? If so, how can we guard against the dangers when encouraging these art forms?