For the unacquainted, the “Church of the Rock” is a church in Canada that puts on a yearly Christian play to allegorize Easter. Of course, they’re a little different in that they take popular movies and television shows and use those as the settings. I was going to write about how this is just wrong both from a creative standpoint and a theological standpoint, but it ended up being a comment to them on their website. Thus, I decided to just reprint my comment here:
Well, the only act of “blasphemy” I see is comparing your plays to C.S. Lewis (who, by the way, wasn’t writing an allegory; “Pilgrim’s Progress” is an allegory, the Chronicles series is just Lewis creating a Socratic exercise, a “What if ____”, where the blank is filled by “…Jesus went into a world where animals ruled?”).
The problem with what you’re doing is that it does cheapen the Gospel; not because it’s entertainment, but because it’s not all that creative. You’re taking well-established characters and simply “tweaking” them. If nothing else, it’s similar to a copyright violation, not creation.
Being made in the image of God means that Christians are called to be creative, not copy-cats. This is why we respect men like C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the like; they created entire worlds. While it’s true that they borrowed from Greek and Norse mythology, they didn’t full on steal from Aesop’s Fables or from the mythological stories; they simply used the creatures in those stories and put them in a new world.
If you want to do a play on Easter about the Resurrection, then wonderful, good luck, blessings, and mazel tov. But at least be creative, be original, produce a work of art; don’t simply ape and copy from the world, put a Christian twist on it, and say, “Viola!” If you want to do a story about a super hero who dies and comes back from the dead, then make him original. While the super hero motif isn’t original, but what you do with that motif can be (just as paint colors and a canvass isn’t original, but what is done with them can be).
Furthermore, you seem to defend what you’re doing by saying, “It gets the unchurched into our building!” Maybe so, but so what? While entertainment isn’t wrong, when you try to get people to come to your church by entertaining them, or performing some type of venus fly trap for the unchurched, they’re eventually going to get bored. It’s why even great shows have to come to an end; at some point, you either jump the shark and lose your audience, or you have to bring the story to an end. Either way, entertaining your congregation as a means to build your congregation is self-defeating.
If you really want to attract the unchurched to your church, perhaps you could offer them something real. Entertainment isn’t wrong, but we should call it for what it is; a temporary vacation for the mind. This is necessary sometimes, especially in our world. But ultimately, it lacks proper substance (hence my previous point of people getting bored and entertainment running its course). If you really want to shock people, then serve them. If anyone has a problem with this, or is turned off by it, then it’s not up to us to trick them into wanting to come to church.
The problem with your approach is that it ignores the fundamental aspect of Christianity, the central tenet of our soteriology; we are to die to ourselves. When we try to attract people to church and keep them there by entertaining them or offering programs that make them happy, we’re not teaching them to die to themselves, we’re simply taking materialist narcissists and turning them into spiritual narcissists.
In the end, more churches should engage in drama, in paintings, in creative music; more churches should engage in the arts. God is creative and being in His image we too are called to be creative. But this creativity should, you know, actually be creative. Not to be crass, but simply to get my point across, taking famous movies and using their characters and plot-lines while changing a few aspects is what pornographers do; it shouldn’t be what Christians do. A pornographer looks at a movie title like “Men in Black” and thinks, “How can I make this about men who wear black suits and get women?” A Christian shouldn’t look at a movie title like “Men in Black” and think, “How can I make this about priests who bring people to Jesus?”
That’s not to say that you’re anything like a pornographer and I hope you didn’t take it that way. I’m simply underlining my point that simply changing a few things and adding a Christian theme isn’t creative, just as changing a few things and adding a sexual theme isn’t creative; it’s simply a bastardization of what art happened to be there.
Ultimately, what will win this world over isn’t Christians copying the world and sanctifying the art that we see. What will win this world over is Christians actually living like Christ; that is, helping those who need it. A church of 50 who volunteer to help the people in their neighborhood will speak more to the message of Christ than a church of 5,000 who puts on a play about Jack ‘Saviour.’ The world will not follow a man who is in love with his creativity, rather, the world will follow a man who is creative with his love.
The only thing I’ll add as a subscript that I didn’t add in the comment is that I really don’t mind Christians being artistic. There’s nothing wrong with Christians who want to write good songs (and they don’t even have to be about Jesus or Christian themes). I happen to write poetry and take pictures as a hobby (many of the pictures I’ve been using lately are pictures I’ve taken). Other Christians want to produce movies. There’s nothing wrong with this at all; “Christian art” shouldn’t be a genre. But we don’t do ourselves any favors when we ape the world or take someone else’s work and simply add Jesus to is. We cheapen the Gospel, cheapen the creativity of the person, and cheapen ourselves. Anytime we use “Christian” as an adjective, chances are we’re ruining something.