Pop Culture Catechism, (Part 1)

Recently, I have been having conversations with one of my children about the differences between fiction and reality. This has led to poignant conversations about themes from a cartoon called Max Steel. Our conversations have spanned topics such as fostering/adoption, morality, and Jesus. I've used some of the direction in our conversations from the following article. As we head into the Christmas season, our kids will most likely be bombarded with Christmas-themed stories. Take a moment to read Derek Heibert's article below and don't let an easy opportunity to shape your children's thinking pass you by.

Patrick

Your kids need to see how the story of Jesus’s redemption is distinct, unique, better, and greater.

Taking stories from popular culture—especially movies—and relating them to the story of the gospel is one of the best forms of catechism. (By catechism, I mean that process of training a young person in the biblical story and core truths of the gospel.) Here is why pop culture stories are helpful in this process:

First, the entertainment industry is delivering stories to us by the truckloads. Unless you live in an Amish community, chances are your children and those in your church are engaging these stories on film at least on a weekly basis, or they are hearing about them from their peers. As parents, we should be intentional about how we use these pop-culture stories to train our kids in the Christian faith.

Second, we might as well enjoy the fact that we have such a thing as stories and appreciate them as the natural outgrowth of humanity and culture. The human ability to create stories is one of the benefits of being created in the image of the storyteller God, who invented the whole idea of story. Every human being, young and old, naturally loves stories. In light of this, we should not dismiss or escape them but engage them well for the sake of discipleship.

Third, stories from pop culture are always exploring important questions and ideas. Most good stories, whether a movie, TV show, or book, are created not merely for entertainment but for teaching. They are telling their story to say something meaningful and significant about life, about the world. Much like Jesus’s parables, the authors of these stories have an agenda: They are telling their stories in such a way to ask thought-provoking questions and offer ideas to those questions. In light of this, it is important to become skillful in understanding how stories work, what to look for in their question-asking and ideas, and how to compare and contrast them best with the biblical story.

Here is a three-step method I seek to practice in our household:

Step 1: Before the Movie

First, ensure you know the essential storyline of the Bible: Creation—Fall—Redemption—New Creation. This storyline is found more or less in every story common to humanity. Others may use different words, but the core movement of this plot is the foundation of every story.

Creation (beginning): God creates a perfect humanity and world to be in close relationship with him.

Fall (problem/conflict): Humans do not trust God’s goodness and love. As a result, they rebel and set into motion a death-curse of decay and brokenness that affects every human and all of creation. Death, not good and perfect everlasting life, is now the reality.

Redemption (solution): God in Christ comes to redeem and forgive, reversing the curse and recreating a new humanity. As the hero, he achieves this victory at great cost to Himself and by the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit. Those who believe this story are brought into this new life and future.

New Creation (“happily ever after”): God recreates the entire universe into a “new heavens and new earth” that can never die. He and his new humanity are united forever in perfect relationship.

Prepare your kids for the conversation before the movie starts. Let your kids know you’d like to have a short conversation with them after the movie. Encourage them to look for, if possible, these main parts of the story:

Creation: The beginning of the story. What does life look like in terms of the characters’ family and community? What does the story say, if anything, about the origins of life?

Fall: What the main problem is in the story. With what do the characters come into conflict?

Redemption: The hero’s solution to the main problem in the story. Who is the main hero, and how does he or she solve the problem?

New Creation: What everyone experiences now because of the hero’s solution. What is the “happily-ever-after” ending of the story? (“Happily-ever-after” may be more useful language to use with children, depending on their ages.)

 

Step 2: During the Movie

As you watch the story unfold in the movie, be on the lookout for the Creation—Fall—Redemption—New Creation themes played out through the main character—who typically is the hero—and the situations in which he or she finds himself or herself. The most important themes in every story are the main problem, the hero, and their solution to the problem. No good story exists without a clear picture of these themes. Then think through how this compares and contrasts to God’s storyline in the Bible.

Step 3: After the Movie

Ask your kids what they thought was the Creation—Fall—Redemption—New Creation themes in the story. Then do step two with them, helping them connect the biblical storyline with specific details of the movie storyline. Help them to contrast the story of the movie with the Story of God, pinpointing the difference between Jesus as our true Hero with His solution to our problem of sin, and the hero and solution offered in the movie’s story.

Comparing and contrasting the Hero Jesus with the hero of the movie’s story is the most powerful part of this process. Your kids need to see how distinct, unique, better, and greater the story of Jesus’s redemption is compared to pop cultural stories. When lining up any story with the true Story of the Bible culminating in our redemption, that story is ultimately shown to pale in comparison because it fails to solve the most universal problem of humanity and the whole world: sin and its brokenness. Furthermore, most stories will tell of a hero who saves the day through personal strength, ingenuity, or some kind of magic. The biblical story, however, is unique and compelling because it offers us an upside-down example of a hero, one that is so counter-intuitive to what we usually imagine in this world: a hero who wins through weakness, self-giving love, suffering, and ultimately death. The Hero Jesus then achieves total victory over sin and death through His resurrection by the power of God.

In part two of this series, I will provide an example of how to do this engaging a recent family movie.