Monday, October 03, 2016

Maybe Our Churches Need More Comic Books

A lot of believers shy away from theology and worldview discussions. They all seem so heady and boring. A lot of people don't feel "smart enough" to engage in wrestling with issues of theology. Others feel the whole thing is too abstract. That's why it should come as no surprise how researchers from Ligonier Ministries and Lifeway Research found evangelical Christians hold to some heretical beliefs. In a recent study, 70% of those who would be defined as evangelical agreed with the statement that Jesus was the first and greatest creation of God.1 That's a heresy that separates Christians from non-Christian sects, such as the Jehovah's Witnesses.

So, yes, theology is a big deal. But sometimes it isn't the concept that's difficult or boring; I find a lot of people are interested once we're in a conversation about theological issues. It may be the presentation that's problematic. If we added a bit of fun into our question, it may become more engaging.

Would Nightcrawler be blue in Heaven?

As a recent example, I offer a question a friend asked me the other day on Twitter: "in his glorified body, would Marvel's Nightcrawler still be fuzzy & blue?" For those unfamiliar, Nightcrawler is a character from the Marvel X-Men franchise, all of which are defined as genetic mutants that give them super abilities. One byproduct of Nightcrawler's (his given name is Kurt Wagner) mutation is his decidedly unhuman-like appearance: blue fur, three digits on each hand, and a tail among other things.

Here's the thing, though. When we start thinking through the question, we begin to learn something about what it means to be made in the image of God. For example, if Kurt's mutation is a genetic defect, either natural like the skeletal dysplasia that causes dwarfism or environmental, like the damage thalidomide inflicted on developing babies, then one may assume it is a consequence of sin. When the heavens and earth are renewed (2 Peter 3:13, Rev. 21:1), those consequences will be removed (Rom. 8:21). I believe one can infer from these passages that thalidomide babies or those suffering from dwarfism will have perfectly healthy bodies as they would have been without their afflictions.

There's another possibility. What if this "mutation" is given to Kurt by design? In other words, what if it isn't a bug but a feature? For example, height doesn't run in my family. I'm only 5'6". I don't at all expect to be 6 feet tall in my resurrection body. My height has been given to me by God and it has contributed to the person I am today. If Kurt's blue, fuzzy appearance falls into that kind of category, then one would expect him to be blue and fuzzy for eternity!

Of course, one of the benefits of the new creation is that people won't be so shallow as to judge others by their physical appearance first. We will relate to one another in perfect relational love (John 17:20-21) and we will be "partakers in the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4). We will see one another much more like the way God sees us.
The question isn't as strange as it first appears. In the comics, Wagner is actually a Roman Catholic priest and holds to orthodox positions on salvation and redemption. Making the connection from Wagner reading "I am the Resurrection and the Life" to "what kind of resurrection body would this individual have if he really existed" is a small step.

What Does This Mean for Me?

These are the kinds of thoughtful discussions one can engage in even starting with a "silly" question. But we don't have to stop even there. Here are few more thoughts given the framework I've laid out above: how does something like plastic surgery fit into one's resurrected body? If surgeries are corrective, then they fall into the former category. That may not be the case if they're simply trying to fit some current standard of beauty, though. Just as I don't believe I'll be six foot tall in heaven, I find it hard to hold that someone's breast augmentation would become a permanent part of their anatomy. As I said, I don't think the physical will be the primary way we judge one another. But then, what does that say for tattoos?

I'll let the reader wrestle with those issues. I do want to encourage you to think about ways you might be able to make theology a bit more fun by asking "silly" questions. You might get a surprisingly good conversation out of it!


1. Lindgren, Caleb. "Evangelicals' Favorite Heresies Revisited by Researchers." Christianity Today. Christianity Today, 28 Sept. 2016. Web. 3 Oct. 2016.


  1. There's a lot to be said here about the church and the arts as a whole.

    The Christian artist often feels a pressure to always include some sort of religious imagery or explicit teaching in their work, fearing that it won't glorify God otherwise. In the end, too many fall into the trap of sacrificing the work for the lesson and end up creating awkward characters in blatantly manufactured situations. If the message comes across at all, it comes across so heavily that the reader just feels preached at. It's not real, the characters aren't compelling or relatable and we end up with another pile of "Christian comic books" in the discount section.

    That's not to say that it can't be done. I think Tolkien and C.S. Lewis are great examples of two different approaches to telling Christian stories that are brilliantly executed and appealing to a large audience even outside of the "Christian fiction" subgenres. The Chronicles of Narnia are blatant allegory and it's clear that The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe was written with the intent of retelling the biblical narrative. Aslan is an obvious Christ figure, his death is a clear picture of penal substitution, Edmund's time with the witch are blatant metaphors of temptation or the bondage of sin, etc. On the other hand, Tolkien's work is rife with pictures of the death, resurrection and glorification of Jesus (Gandalf), the incarnation and earthly mission of the atonement (Frodo voluntarily taking the ring to Mt. Doom), the second coming (Aragorn), yet all of these images are fluid and don't align as perfectly with the Christian narrative as Lewis's do. Aragorn is reluctant to take up his rightful throne, Gandalf is not all powerful, Frodo starts to look more and more like Gollum as the story progresses. The images are there, you just have to do a little more digging to find them. In the end, both are timeless classics of western literature.

    But works like these are disgracefully few and far between. Instead we have industries saturated with recycled Amish Romance, Casting Crowns rip-offs, etc. Even super popular songs like Chris Tomlin's "Good, Good Father" have lyrics that, intentionally or not, reflect some questionable theology. And, let's be honest, as ubiquitous as Chris Tomlin is in the western church, his stuff is really just not that good most of the time. It's repetitive and shallow.

    I'll be honest, as an armchair theologian, a beginner artist and hobbyist fiction writer, I would love to be "that guy" who can actually provide the church with something worth reading, but sometimes I feel like the training and skill requirements of doing so are beyond what I may ever be able to achieve in my lifetime. Most artists who focus on even a single field will spend years or decades honing their craft. The greatest secular comic book artists often create characters that are flat and cliche with awkward dialogue for the simple fact that all their skill is in the artwork. They don't know how to structure a story or create dynamic characters. In short, they don't know how to write. Someone that can create a story worth reading that delivers accurate theology, wrap it in eye-pleasing artwork and not make the reader feel like they're being "preached at"... that's a tall order. Worth aiming for, but tall.

    At this point, I'd settle for a comic book that I can give to my 8 year old. That is, something worth reading that isn't going to perpetuate the narrative she'll already receive from the world about how she needs to dress like a whore, have a Jessica Rabbit figure and be able to fight off a squad of 15 trained soldiers by herself like Black Widow.

    1. Great comments, Revynn. I completely agree.