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For the first two months of 2018, I will be using this space to interact with “This is our time” by Trevin Wax, a book that appeared on many “Best of” Christian book lists of 2017. In this book, Wax looks at the myths our culture teaches us, affirms the good longings underneath those myths, and then challenges those myths with the gospel. I believe this will be a good exercise for us in how to be discerning as we live in our world, so that we might be as Paul exhorted the Ephesian church: “Be very careful, then, how you live-- not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is.” (Ephesians 5:15-17)
The second chapter of “This is our time” is entitled Hollywood is after your heart. In this chapter, Wax examines a few of the common themes that show up in the stories, movies, and songs we see and hear in America. He contends that “we love a good story because we want it to be true. And the longings in many of our most beloved tales are true, good, and right.” As Christians, many of us are rightly asking questions of the content of what we consume: is there anything objectionable that is contrary to God’s will? But there are deeper questions to ask as well: what are the good longings in the stories we are consuming? What are the lies that need to be exposed? And how does the gospel provide the answer to the longings?
Wax highlights three common themes in today’s stories. The first is the American Dream, the story of a self-made person who journeys from rags to riches, from being a nobody to being a somebody, usually through grit, determination, and a little bit of luck. Think of the popular competition shows on TV like America’s Got Talent. The good longing we see in these stories is the longing for significance and fulfillment. The lie, however, is that significance comes through being famous, and fulfillment comes through individual willpower and determination. The gospel teaches us that we are significant not because of what accomplish, but because we are made in the image of God and redeemed by His Son. And it also teaches us that everything we have, even that which we have worked for, is a gift of God’s grace, not due solely to our own hard work.
A second theme he points out is that traditional morality is oppressive, and that the way to freedom is through embracing sin and rebellion. As Christians, we may be quick to reject such a story, but first we must realize that the longing for freedom and knowledge is a good one. The lie, however, is that the road to freedom is through sin and rebellion, and that we can have any freedom apart from God and living the way He created us to live. The gospel teaches us that sin leads to slavery, and that true freedom is found in embracing who God has created us to be and living in right relationship with Him.
A third theme, found in just about every popular song and movie, is that fulfillment is found primarily in romantic love, and that unless you have another person, you aren’t whole. The longing for love is good, as we were created to know and love God and be in a community of love with Him and others. But the teaching that if we have not found our soul mate, then we are living an unfulfilled life, is a lie. The gospel reveals that in Jesus, we have the love and fulfillment our hearts have been longing for.
There are other common themes in our American entertainment: the longing for the world to be made right, for good to defeat evil, for a hero who will die to save others. As you look at the stories our world is telling through the lens of the gospel, you will see how the world is longing for Jesus, even if they are unaware of it. Instead of simply boycotting or critiquing the stories of the world, we can listen to the longings, affirm them, expose the lies, and point people to the true answer of Jesus Christ. And for those of you who are creative types, you can tell a better story, that captures the longings or our culture and points people to Jesus.
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