Why Evangelicals Struggle to Bring the Funny to their Art (Part Three): Soul Winning

Painting by Eduard von Grutzner

We’ve been exploring why it is that Evangelicals struggle to produce humorous pieces of art. Culture war creates demands levels of self-protection that gets in the way of laughing at ourselves. Historically, we see that our Reformation roots taught us to value hard work over a hard laugh. In these contexts a sense of humor is like an appendix. No one quite knows its purpose.

There’s a third reason that Evangelicals don’t produce much humorous art. We have a proclivity to commandeer artist forms for evangelistic purposes. This is true of many Christian art forms, not just comedy. Our music, movies, and books are often shaped by a drive to persuade outsiders of their sin and lead them to Jesus.

There is certainly a place for stories that illuminate what turning to God looks like. Jesus, himself, told the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The problem  is that we’ve elevated one story template and demanded that every piece of art we create fit that structure. And we’re willing to so these even at the  expense of violating the rules of any given genre. We end up creating contrived plot lines, characters with artificial emotions, zombie songs, and jokes that miss the mark.

Karen Spears  Zacharias pointed out this quote from C.S. Lewis that captures the need for “sacred writing” to respect the principles of any given genre:

“The rules for writing a good passion play or a good devotional lyric are simply the rules for writing tragedy or lyric in general: success in sacred literature depends on the same qualities of structure, suspense, variety, diction and the like which secure success in secular literature. And if we enlarge the idea of Christian Literature to include not only literature on sacred themes, but all that is written by Christians for Christians to read, then, I think Christian Literature can exist only in the same sense in which Christian cookery might exist… That is to say, its choice of dishes would be Christian. But there could be nothing specifically Christian about the actual cooking of the dishes included. Boiling an egg is the same process whether you are a Christian or a Pagan. In the same way, literature (or in this case a screenplay) written by Christians for Christians would have to avoid mendacity, cruelty, blasphemy, pornography, and the like and it would aim at edification in so far as edification was proper to the kind of work at hand.”

Author, John Blase, stole some of this post’s thunder when he made this comment on Part One of this series. He wrote,

“Larry, good thoughts here, I agree fully…I read something lately about moving from a redemption theology to a creation theology, one where the call is to simply participate in the world rather than always be trying to redeem/reform/rewhatever. I realize its not quite that simple but I felt it a valid point…much of evangelical theology has been/is cast in a redemptive light (that’s fair) but that leaves ground for many of its proponents to almost always be on the lookout for a fight.”

Sean Gladding, author of The Story of God, the Story of Us, gets at it this way. He points out that our story doesn’t begin at the Fall and end on judgment day. Instead it begins at a garden and ends in a garden.

There is something God-like in creating art for the sake of creating art. We imitate the creative God we meet in Genesis 1-2. A comedian, who can make stressed and discouraged people surrender a wide smile and a belly laugh are doing the work of the Lord. It’s an affirmation that God’s world, including our laughter, is indeed good.

So when the priest, rabbi, and pastor walk into a bar nobody needs to “get saved.”