Engaging Stephen King's It with the Gospel

(PHOTO: NEWLINE/WARNERBROS)A promotional image for the film adaptation of Stephen King's "IT"

*For a detailed analysis of this movie from a Christian worldview, from the perspective of two Southern Baptist pastors, See episode 3 [click here to stream now] of my new podcast Pop Culture Coram Deo. Subscribe (iTunes, Stitcher, acast, Player.FM) for more interaction with pop culture from a Christian worldview.

Why engage popular culture? Why watch a horror movie about a terrifying supernatural killer clown?

1. First a note about horror as a genre. Oftentimes in movies, there is a blurred line between good and evil. But in horror, there is usually a distinct good and a distinct evil, and good usually wins out.

Second, consider this quote by Brian Godowa about the horror genre from an interview with Tony Reinke (Look up the Scripture!):

The moral purpose of the horror genre is to expose what evil is, reinforce our need for courage to fight evil, and to have a healthy righteous fear instead of naive innocence when it comes to discernment in the world.

Sounds like the Bible.

God uses the horror genre to solicit righteous fear of evil, and encourage repentance and righteous living. Beyond your examples, the books of Daniel and Revelation are epic horror fantasies of blood and gore using symbolic horror monsters as an analogy for real life. That's what all horror does. It works as metaphor for something else, like social commentary (Underworld), spiritual truth (Jekyl and Hyde), or man's hubris (Frankenstein).

God uses zombies and vampires as metaphors for spiritual evil in Scripture — I kid you not (see Micah 3:1–3; Ezekiel 39:18–19). God uses Frankenstein monsters as metaphors for political and social commentary (see Ezekiel 11:19; Revelation 13:1–2). One of God's favorite horror metaphors is cannibalism as a literary symbol of spiritual apostasy (see Ezekiel 36:13–14; Psalm 27:2; Proverbs 30:14; Jeremiah 19:9; Zechariah 11:9)

This does not justify all horror stories ever told. Far from it. It simply establishes the genre, in broad terms, as one that God uses; therefore, it can be used with moral purpose (Source).

2. Popular culture reveals the ideologies of your neighbors. It often presents the "pulse" of your culture and shows you the future as well. We need to engage popular culture in a similar way as Paul did when he wondered around Athens "observing their idols" (Acts 17:22-28).

3. God's image still remains in man (Gen. 1:26-28). Therefore, man creates much that is true, good, and beautiful. Yet, man often wrongly disconnects these good things from God. When Christians take what is true, good, and beautiful made by God's image bearers and connect it back to God in light of the finished work of Christ, they can enjoy God, they can worship God.

4. Christians are watching these movies. The It movie [2017] is the highest grossing horror film of all time. Engaging popular culture helps us disciple other Christians to engage popular culture well. If Christians learn to apply a Christian worldview to popular culture, they will be equipped to apply a Christian worldview to every aspect of life.

5. Unbelievers are watching these movies. As Christians engage popular culture with the gospel, they will be given a bridge through which they can engage their unbelieving neighbors with the gospel. They can discuss the good from God's image bearers and how sin distorts the good causing a false diagnosis of what is wrong with the world, and thus a false answer to how to remedy what is wrong. Knowing what unbelievers enjoy and why they enjoy it provides Christians with an avenue through which to share the gospel. What unbelievers long for is Christ, not false gospels. What they long for in fiction (the defeat of evil, a hero, a Savior), God has actually provided in Christ!

Now, let's dive into Stephen King's It Movie [2017]

SPOILER ALERT! Proceed at your own peril.

Conscience Report/Know Your Heart Report

*This report is not exhaustive. For an exhaustive report, check out the Plugged In Review.

*We don't want any Christians to violate their consciences. Therefore, Christians have a responsibility to know what they can and cannot watch. If you believe you shouldn't watch this movie, then do not watch this movie.

Language – Basically every word you can imagine is said in this movie. Much foul language; much use of the Lord's name in vain.

Sexual Language – There is much sexual discussion among these teenage boys. They say inappropriate things to one another. It reminds me of when I was in middle school, when I was a "nominal" Christian, a Christian in name only. I don't like that the boys are talking this way, but I believe it's true to how many middle school boys talk.

-Beverly is called many inappropriate names. Many rumors about her promiscuity are spoken about by the boys. But, she's only kissed a boy.

-It's also hinted at that Beverly's father is sexually abusing her. He says creepy things to her, and shows affection for her in a creepy way as well.

-At one point all the boys and Beverly go swimming in their undies. So, all of them are seen in their undies, and at one point, Beverly is laying in the sun and the boys are staring at her.

Violence – Some serious graphic violence in this movie. Some gore; not as bad as other movies; not gore for gore sake. But the goal of the movie is to terrify you, and it does a great job at it. This is probably top 10 for scariest movies I've seen.

*The Questions that follow come from Ted Turnau's approach to popular culture as detailed in his book Popologetics: Popular Culture in Christian Perspective.

What's the Story?

In the town of Derry, children in large number and even some adults are being killed. Early on we learn that a sinister clown is murdering these children. Seven kids who are bullied find the courage through friendship to band together and go from victim to victor. They go from the hunted to the hunters, being willing to lay down their lives for one another and for other kids and adults in Derry.

Where am I in this story?
If I was dropped into this world, I would be one of the outcasts, a part of the loser's club. I think that's King's goal. He wants the audience to identify with the loser's club. After all, we all feel like outcasts in this life at one point or another.
This is a world of outcasts and bullies. The outcasts are the heroes. The bullies are the bad, the evil. And there is an ultimate evil that is encouraging the bullies; "It," Pennywise the Dancing Clown.

What's good, true, and awesome here? Behold common grace.

A. This movie gets man's need for community right.

1. All men, women, and children, regardless of age, need community. We need to belong. We need to be accepted.

2. And we are stronger together with people who love us than we are alone!

B. This movie gets coming of age right.

1. Most coming of age movies argue that sexual activity is what makes a person an adult. But this movie is different. Pre-marital sex is not what makes someone an adult. Puberty is not what makes someone an adult. This movie argues that what makes someone an adult is facing and overcoming your fears.

2. This movie argues that we must take responsibility for our fears. We cannot control what is outside of us, but we can control our reaction to it. We often cannot control what happens to us; but we can control how we respond to what happens to us.

C. This movie gets responding to evil right.

1. Where there is evil, it should be fought, to the death, if need be.

D. This movie gets grace right.

1. Friends giving their lives for one another should be praised! Exalting others above oneself is true love!

What's distorted, evil, and false? How can I subvert idolatry?

The false gospel in this movie is made up of 2 realities: 1) The evil is misdiagnosed as outside of us. When, in reality, we are part of the evil. Evil is not only a problem outside of us but a problem within us. 2) Because the evil is misdiagnosed, the remedy is misdiagnosed as well. Our friends can sacrifice themselves all day long and we can face our fears all day long, but neither of us can ever save us from ourselves. Stephen King wants you to identify with the heroes in this movie, the loser's club, but the Bible does not place mankind as the heroes, it reveals us as monsters. In the Bible, we are "It," not the heroes.

We need a Savior who is outside of us, who is other than us. Someone who is like us, yet who is not a monster like us.

How does the gospel apply?

The It creature is within us, not outside of us. We, not the world, are our greatest enemy. I see "It" in the mirror looking back at me often. Therefore, if we're to be saved, salvation is not going to be found within us. Our friends, our community cannot save us. Every community is full of its own "It's" as well. "It" cannot save itself from "It." We cannot save ourselves because we are "It."

Our salvation is found in Someone who is not a monster, but someone who was treated like a monster so that the true monsters, sinners, you and I, could go free! In the legal sense, Jesus became a monster for us, because God "made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor. 5:21). Christ bore the full legal guilt for His monstrous enemies so that he could call them friends, brothers, and his Father can call them Sons and Daughters!

Reader, think of John 3:16 in light of this reality, think of God looking at His creation, looking at a world full of "It" creatures, and instead of giving us what we deserve, He sends Son to be treated like an "It" creature in our places so that we wouldn't perish.
We often think of ourselves as innocent doves, but Jesus didn't die for innocent doves, He died for sinners! He died for monsters! And He was treated like a monster so that we could be treated like sons and daughters of God!

And because of this reality, although I see "It" in the mirror often, I also see Christ in the mirror often. For, "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal. 2:20).

And, "For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son" (Rom. 8:29a).

"It's" penalty has been satisfied, "It's" power is being diminished in me daily by the Spirit through the Son to the Father, and soon, "It's" presence will leave me forever due to the coming full realization of my union with Christ!

"It" has been, is being, and will be defeated by Christ forever!

Jared Moore was dead in his sin and God raised him to life in Christ Jesus. Because of Christ's finished work, he will live forevermore. Jared has served in pastoral ministry in a Southern Baptist context since 2000. He currently pastors Cumberland Homesteads Baptist Church in Crossville, TN. He is married with four children. Jared has authored several books. He is also a PhD candidate in Systematic Theology and a Teaching Assistant for Dr. Kyle Claunch at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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Enjoy God Through Popular Culture: https://t.co/Bm6YFmRh9q

All Truth is God's Truth Podcast: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/all-truth-is-gods-truth/id830829832

Pop Culture Coram Deo Podcast: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-pop-culture-coram-deo-podcast/id1332025685