In what may have been surprising news a few years ago, potentially the most influential media brand today is a comic book publisher. With the hit movie franchises, successful TV shows and other business expansions, Marvel has taken nerd culture to the mainstream.
Because of their success, there is already discussion about which movie studio is in the best shape to duplicate what Marvel has been able to do with the Avengers and all the related franchises.
While the church is not trying to sell tickets and should not be attempting to uncritically copy strategies from a movie studio, it would be unwise for us to not recognize what culture is gravitating toward and evaluate the way we do things.
1. Grand stories grab listeners.
Marvel is not the only one who has recognized that our culture is moved by stories, particularly large ones that have a sense of wonder and greatness. But they have been one of the few to have done it well.
Whatever you think about the Marvel movies, they are nothing if not epic stories. They stretch across time and space with battles between good and evil. People want to be a part of that.
This resonates with us because God has placed us within the grandest of all stories, “the true myth” as C.S. Lewis calls it. The story of creation, fall, redemption, restoration is cosmic in its reach and endless in its depth.
The church should be the home base of storytellers going out to share a good story that happens to be true and the most important story ever.
2. Connections inspire people to dig deeper.
Instead of putting out an Ironman movie, a Hulk movie, a Thor movie and a Captain America movie that all exist within their own separate worlds, Marvel placed them all within the “Marvel universe.”
Each Marvel film and TV show reveals a little more of the entirety, another facet untouched by the others. These connections keep the stories together, but they create affinity with the viewers. They see how they fit together and they want more.
God recognizes our desire for connectivity and coherence. We want things to fit together. That’s one of the things that makes Christianity so appealing. When told properly, it communicates a faith that makes sense from every perspective and holds everything together.
When people see how things fit together they want to know more. Helping others see the pieces as a whole will encourage them to seek even more truth.
3. Creative faithfulness allows for growth.
Making a movie from an already established work requires a balance – keeping enough of the source material that people recognize it, but not slavishly making a visual reproduction of something not made for film.
If Marvel isn’t faithful enough to the comics, hardcore fans become vocally upset and refuse to be involved. On the other hand, if it is too much of a comic book turned into a movie, many casual viewers will never be engaged.
The church has a similar, but much more important task. We are presenting the unchanging truth of God’s word to an ever changing culture.
I coined the term “creative faithfulness” to describe the way my denomination could creatively speak to modern people without abandoning our theological foundation, remaining faithful to our heritage.
We must present God’s timeless truth, but we must do so in a timely manner. Every method of sharing Christianity flows from and naturally to some form of culture. Unless we are time travelers, our methodology should reflect our current context.
The task placed in front of the church is much more vital than the one Marvel faces. Entertainment choices come and go, but Christ has promised the church will remain. But that promise to the church at large does not extended to each individual church.
In Revelation, Christ threatened to remove the lamp stand from some of those first century churches. For various reasons, they were no longer making an impact on those around them with the gospel and for Jesus.
May that not be said of your church or mine. Let us tell the great story and how their life connects with it, all the while remaining faithful to the biblical text.