I first met Bekah Stoneking when she was about eight years old. My family had accepted an opportunity to serve at a small mission church in North Georgia and her family had come to help be a part of the re-start. They were incredibly faithful and sacrificial in their dedication to Christ, driving 30 or so miles every week to teach and minister with a lot of snotty nosed kids and a few lower-income adults.
Fast forward a number of years, and Bekah is a student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, filled with passion for Jesus.
Yesterday she left a comment on Facebook regarding my post on “The Hunger Games.” It touched on the other side of the coin of Christian reaction. While my concern were those who would write off the movie and book series for insufficient reasons, her concern was that other believers would try and turn them into an allegory for the Christian life. Sort of “The Lion, the Witch, and The Hunger Games,” if you will. I asked her to write a post addressing those concerns. It follows immediately below.
Like others, I devoured The Hunger Games in a single afternoon, and completed reading the remainder of the trilogy in less than a week. This dystopian tale of violence and scheming government officials is definitely outside of my typical diet of chick-lit and theology books, but there is something so gripping about this series that I just couldnʼt bring myself to walk away from the story. After mourning the conclusion of the series (yes, mourning. Iʼm still dying to know what happens next!), I realized that no element of God, religion, or faith is mentioned or even hinted at in any of the books. There isnʼt even a friendly neighborhood spiritualist or District guru. There is absolutely no mention of genuine hope or assurance of freedom, salvation, or even a plan. These citizens simply live without hope, slave away hopelessly for the Capitol, and die. The sense of hopelessness is overwhelming.
The hopelessness and Godlessness of Panem serves to make the reality of the Games seem plausible. Audiences that shun the books and movie can neither imagine such a reality, nor can they fathom that their own culture would accept “entertainment” based on this reality. Some cultural separatists are quick to shun this series and consider it a worthless and corrupted form of entertainment and they either do not take the time to understand the greater story, or they allow the violence and brokenness of children killing children to overwhelm and overshadow the rest of the work. This quick rejection and refusal to “see” the bigger picture makes me wonder if similar reasons are to blame for the general lack of understanding many Americans have regarding social issues worldwide.
Most recently, Americans have experienced shock and outrage regarding the Kony 2012 campaign. The issue surrounding Kony is not a new or unique one, nor is human trafficking a totally non-American issue. But, if we believe that art imitates life and if we continue to reject some art forms, we by default are turning a blind-eye to some truths of life. An ignorant lack of understanding of culture and world issues, especially on behalf of one claiming to be a Christian, is disturbing.
But even more disturbing than a Christian who rejects cultural awareness and interaction is one who manipulates pop culture in an attempt to force it to speak regarding the Divine. The Godlessness of The Hunger Games becomes all the more apparent when considered in contrast to what I like to call, “The Gospel According to The Hunger Games”. I have heard rumors of multiple sermon series being based on the movie, which may or may not be appropriate. However, what I find to be wildly inappropriate and uncomfortable is the outright forcing of The Hunger Games into a biblical mold. Iʼve seen some draw a parallel between this story and the biblical metanarrative (as if it conveys the Gospel simply because it follows a exposition- conflict-solution-restoration pattern similar to the Bible). Even more scandalously, Iʼve heard Katniss described as a “female Jesus” because “she saves people”. Gracious! This nearly makes me want to run and hide (and I really like both Jesus AND The Hunger Games!).
As one who actively lives a life redeemed by Christ within my cultural context, I think that if I am so freaked out and turned off by the well-meaning “Super Christian” who is stretching to make these connections, I can only imagine how awkward and uncomfortable we cause those outside of the Church to feel. Are these (presumably) good-intentioned efforts to understand and relate to our neighbors appropriate ways to contextualize the Gospel and reach the world for Christ? Or do these efforts diminish our intelligence and authority? Do they weaken, corrupt, and change the Gospel message? Do they imply that the Gospel, or Scripture in general, is incapable of standing on its own? Are we manipulating the truth and communicating that it is only powerful when attached to pop media? To the latter set of questions, my answer is a resounding “Yes.”
Culture is an absolutely wonderful thing, including best-selling books and blockbuster movies. God ordained culture (see Genesis 1-2) and creativity is a unique characteristic of the Imago Dei. Therefore, we should be aware of and even appreciative of culture and creativity. What we should not do, however, is hijack the “square-peg” aspects of culture and force them into the “round holes” of the Bible, thus equating the two or making connections that simply do not exist. As members of the redeemed community of Christian believers, we should create forms of “Christian culture” (cultural expressions that worship and honor God) while simultaneously living Christianly within our cultural contexts and communicating with our neighbors in a way that is both faithful to the Scriptures and meaningful to our audience. We must seek to protect the integrity of the message we share and we must take care to love our neighbors well by accurately and effectively communicating the greatest story ever told.