/ Features E. Stephen Burnett

Andrew Peterson’s ‘Resurrection Letters, Vol. 1’: The Best Easter Album?

Andrew Peterson provides Christians joyous and sublime celebrations of Christ’s resurrection.
| Apr 22, 2019 | No comments |

Christian musician/novelist Andrew Peterson released his album “Resurrection Letters, Vol. 1” last year.

But only over this weekend did I finally listen to the full album. What a joyous experience.

After all, why should Christmas get all the good songs?

Peterson provides Christians joyous and sublime celebrations of Christ’s resurrection. With each song, I not only heard about resurrection truth. I also felt it. And that immediately begins with the album’s first entry, “His Heart Beats.”

As Matthew Gedars remarks in this YouTube comment:

Yet another example of why [Andrew Peterson]’s music has so much depth. The more you listen, the more things you pick up on. So many layers.

Since I first heard this song, I knew that the opening percussion, and indeed the percussion throughout, was mimicking a heart beat. I recently watched a video explaining how to cover Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” badly. Something clicked and I jumped back to this song. What I didn’t realize is the vocal melody is basically an EKG. It’s flat for the first few stanzas with only a “small murmur” in rise for one line before falling down “flat” again. Then the pre-chorus ramps up to a crescendo in “Crown Him the Lord of All.” That’s the first “lub” in the familiar lub-dub cardiac cycle. Then it slowly falls line by line in the chorus (that’s the “dub”) eventually landing on the same “flat” line again before moving to the next verse.

Everything about this song musically screams “His Heart Beats!”

Genius.1

I also loved Peterson’s ancient-tinged, New Earth longings of “Maybe Next Year”:

And his chorale-accompanied, call-and-response echo of Revelation 5 is simply sacred.

I’ll be getting the complete album, “Resurrection Letters Vol. 1” direct from Rabbit Room’s website, along with “Resurrection Letters Vol. 2.”2 And I plan to listen to these a lot. Not just on Resurrection Sundays.

  1. I’ve edited this slightly for style.
  2. Interestingly, according to my pastor, Matthew Breeden, Peterson actually recorded “Vol. 2” first, and with that title (Star Wars Episode IV style). It took him much longer to release vol. 1.

‘The Father’s Wrath Precise Will Blast and Slice the Priceless Master Christ as a Sacrifice’

Every Good Friday, I listen to Shai Linne’s album “Atonement.”
| Apr 19, 2019 | No comments |

Every Good Friday, I listen to Shai Linne’s album “Atonement.”

This spoken word/hip hop album includes a fierce meditation on Christ’s crucifixion. It’s titled “At the Cross.”

One YouTuber made this video, if you want to hear the song and ponder the words. Such as:

We’re now in the realm of the sublime and profound
With God at the helm it’s about to go down
The Father’s wrath precise will blast and slice
The priceless master Christ as a sacrifice
Willingly, He’s under the curse
To be treated as if the Son was the worst scum of the earth . . .

Notre Dame Aftermath: Yes, Jesus Cares About Stained-Glass Windows

Jesus cares about humans, and about stained-glass windows and cultural works made by humans.
| Apr 18, 2019 | 1 comment |

This tweet about Notre Dame has since been deleted. But, alack, too late, it’s been screencapped and shared all over the place:


Clearly the entire internet had some reactions to this. Which is why I don’t blame the author for deleting the tweet. (For more Twitter-related disclaimers, see this footnote: 1.) Still, since it’s out there, we can compare the thought with some milder versions voiced (or at least thought) by Christians.

Their thought may go something like this:

Well, church is more than a building, right? And wouldn’t it be better to use our resources to help the poor instead of invest in giant church buildings?2

But let’s reduce the question to the dichotomy:

Does Jesus care about humans or about stained-glass windows?

It’s a false dichotomy, of course. The answer is yes.

Jesus cares about humans, and about stained-glass windows and cultural works made by humans.

I answer this way for these reasons.

First, by that question, we may as well ask, Does God (in the Old Testament) care about the Israelites? Or does he care about the Tabernacle’s golden lampstands? Again, the answer is that God cares about his people and he cares about the lampstands and everything else he asked them to make for his Tabernacle.

Second, though, people could say that God told his people to make lampstands. He said nothing about making stained-glass windows.

But my objection would remain the same: whether it’s lampstands or stained-glass windows, we still can’t use the “poor people versus church buildings” dichotomy. In the Old Testament, God certainly made provisions for the poor (in a theocracy). But he also commanded the people to melt down their gold, collect resources, and call specially gifted artisans3 to make amazing things for his Tabernacle. Why? My favorite biblical phrase for creative purpose is “for glory and for beauty.”4 Skilled creative work glorifies God, just as poverty relief glorifies God.

Third, notice that I’m here doing something very counterintuitive. I’m making a God-directed argument. Sometimes I forget how revolutionary this may sound. But I must draw the contrast: per God’s written revelation, the Bible, and per its gospel, the universe is a God-centered universe. It’s not a universe centered on Good Deeds, or The Poor, or Human Charity. God is the axiomatic source of all goodness in the world. In him all these moral laws hold together.

Whereas, what happens if we try to make the universe all about these human-directed goals? As moral as this approach may sound, we’re actually trying overthrow all the laws of spiritual physics. If we ignore God, we can keep things together for only so long. But soon we’ll be shocked to find that the very molecules of presumed human morality will come flying apart.

Human beings versus human culture?

Fourth, it’s silly to pit God’s affections toward “people whom God loves” versus “things made by people whom God loves.” If you’re a parent, and your child draws you a happy picture, you value this precisely because your child made it. Only a foppish dolt would reply, “That’s very nice, dear, but I only care for you, not this absurd picture that is worthless.”

Fifth, that’s the shorter version of this argument: God made people to make culture. People’s culture-making both reflects God’s creativity, and brings glory to his name. For more, see Genesis 1:28, or any solid article about the “cultural mandate.”

Yes, since God gave this mandate, we’ve had a great fall into sin. Sin brought down hideous human suffering, including poverty. But God has not withdrawn the cultural mandate. If he did, then he would also need to withdraw that whole “be fruitful and multiply” command that he gave at the same time. Weird how our Lord is, instead, a multitasker. He lets people keep having children and making culture, with righteous and evil motives all tangled up either way. And in the meantime, he’s called out his people, the Church, for a special Great Commission. (More on this as we close.)

Sixth, no one can actually follow this “people versus created things” standard anyway. I note with mild amusement that our tweet-deleting author here is a creator of books. Shall we rudely inform her that she has quite enough money, thank you, and that it’s unspiritual to write books for a living, what with all this poverty and suffering in the world? Similarly, when a Facebook friend shared this screencap, I casually remarked that if we pursued this logic, we’d have to avoid social media activity, poetry, and any creative exercise.

Seven, alas, this “human beings versus human culture” line is a very familiar notion. Growing up, I caught scent of this. People were always trying to pass off the half-baked doctrine that claims: “Life is only about [my preferred moral or spiritual cause], and your creative work has no significance.” Evangelicals do this when they speak and act as if evangelism is man’s chief end. And religious believers from all factions do this to promote other moral causes, such as poverty relief.

Sure, if you over-value human cultural works, you might need a perspective check. That may include poetry, film, or stained-glass. But even if you came to this conclusion, you’d need to instead promote the Great Commission. Merely repeating “help the poor” doesn’t cut it. Instead, Christ’s mission for his people is centered on discipling other people. Yes, this includes goals like poverty relief. It also includes creative works such as writing, music-making, and crafting amazing buildings. Or at least finding the common grace that God has given to people who craft great buildings (whether or not they mean to exalt him).

What a great mission. What an an amazing, creative Savior, who is glorified both through overt evangelism/charitable acts, and through amazing artwork that draws the human imagination toward his transcendence. Which, by the way, also really helps The Poor. After all, why would we assume that The Poor only need life’s basics and not also art, beauty, and glory?

  1. First, Twitter isn’t real human culture. It’s both more so and less so, all at once. That’s the magic of social media. Second, people have the absolute right to remove their Tweets if the attention is getting in the way of their normal lives. Third, this Twitter-er, Kristan Higgins, seems to be a pleasant person, and has a book called Good Luck With That. Fourth, for pleasant or unpleasant people alike, everyone says things in reality that they wish they could unsay. Twitter merely freezes these moments in time, to the intrigue and detriment of all. Regardless, for God’s sake, let’s be charitable, even on Twitter, and even for the nasty people
  2. Conservative Protestant folks could take this criticism even further, almost sounding a bit “woke”: These cathedrals were built by suspicious characters. Some of them exploited the poor to build them.
  3. The two named are Bezalel and Oholiab (Exodus 31:1–6, 36–39). In fact, Bezalel, a skilled creative craftsman, is the first person the Bible describes as “filled . . . with the Spirit of God” (Exodus 31:3).
  4. Exodus 28:2.

Say Goodnight Kevin’s Podcast Made Me a Dallas Jenkins Fan

Kevin McCreary interviews “The Chosen” series director Dallas Jenkins, who has a great take on evangelical culture.
| Apr 17, 2019 | No comments |

Kevin McCreary just interviewed Christian film director Dallas Jenkins. Everything went better than expected.

Background: podcast host Kevin McCreary also hosts the Say Goodnight Kevin video channel. He reviews movies and makes occasional forays into even more perilous territory, like social issues and politics. But as he says in his podcasts, his Christian movie reviews seem to get the most attention. (May God preserve him from this particular pigeonhole for life.)

As for Dallas Jenkins, he’s director of upcoming biblical streaming series The Chosen. He also made a few evangelical movies, such as The Resurrection of Gavin Stone. I actually reviewed that film for Christianity Today‘s website, and liked a lot of its ideas:

For all its predictability, though, Gavin Stone also has charm. More than cringing, I found myself laughing aloud—and for the right reasons. And the filmmakers clearly want audiences to know that they empathize with criticisms of awkward Christian movies.

So in this podcast, I wasn’t at all surprised to find that Gavin Stone‘s director had exactly these intentions.

Jenkins and McCreary both mentioned that winning Cloud Ten Pictures “release the film to VHS and DVD first, then release to movie theaters” strategy. I wonder why no other film distributor has ever tried that?

Behold, Jenkins also showed me a mystery. What on the late great planet Earth happened to that 1999 Left Behind movie?

Looking back on Left Behind ’99

Jenkins said he actually worked for the studio behind Left Behind. (This was 1999 Left Behind, The One with Kirk Cameron, not The One with Nicolas Cage.) He said he gradually found out the film would be low-budget and probably not good. (This after early reports said that movie-Left Behind would have a multi-million-dollar budget and A-list actors attached.) Thus, Jenkins left that job, weeks before the makers began shooting the movie.

That’s when he started his own company. He had help from his father, none other than Left Behind coauthor Jerry B. Jenkins.

Dallas Jenkins also let slip another fact. Both he and his dad figured out in advance that Left Behind ’99 wasn’t going to be that great.1

Evangelical subculture: it’s not so terrible

Jenkins strongly professes faith in Christ, the gospel, the inerrancy of Scripture, all that good stuff. However, he does say that he’s moved on from some beliefs. He doesn’t say what they are, but does mention a “strict” evangelical culture.

But even better, Jenkins says that all that subculture doesn’t bother him as much as it bothers some people.

For instance, in local church services, Jenkins says he’s not anxious about who’s “faking it” in worship. He sees how God does work through things like music and emotion, rather than suspecting these things as being exclusively “manufactured.”

This sounds exactly like my view of Christian subculture. Listening to Jenkins articulate this so pleasantly gave me a near-“worship” experience. (I suppose that means that McCreary and Jenkins “manufactured” it for me, so it’s not Authentic.)

Why did Gavin sink like a stone?

Jenkins said he intentionally made The Resurrection of Gavin Stone to follow a “formula.” That’s by design, Jenkins explained, to help make the story accessible. But he also wanted to have some fun showing a “fish out of water” in evangelical subculture.

It didn’t work, Jenkins admitted, because Gavin Stone didn’t draw audiences.

But the idea was good and Jenkins said he still likes the movie.

By the way, Jenkins observed: ever notice how few Christian movies actually explore church itself?

I have noticed this. In fact, that’s why I insist that most “Christian fiction” is actually not Christian enough. Creators tend to stick with safer topics, such as unbelievers or backsliders—or high-school sports teams.

Jenkins has made one of those movies too. In fact, he said he made one of those before the genre was cool.

Finding The Chosen one

He’s also busy making The Chosen, a biblical drama series on VidAngel. The first episode is free. Jenkins said the series is designed to follow the real (fictionalized) lives of figures such as Peter, Mary, and other followers of Jesus, even before they met their messiah.

Based on this podcast alone, I’m suddenly very interested in the series. That’s because biblical drama is at its best when it’s both faithful to the main course of written Scripture and willing to explore fictional side-trails.

Over the resurrection weekend, I hope to see that first episode.

And I hope to hear more from Dallas Jenkins, a chap who already knows that many Christian movies aren’t that great, and wants to make them better.

  1. For all the faults of Left Behind ’99, at least its makers knew their limitations. Also, they roughly followed the original novel’s story, right up to and including antichrist-figure Nicolae Carpathia. Left Behind Caged! did not.

Mission Report, Supplemental: Photos from Lorehaven at Teach Them Diligently in Waco

We kept hearing people say things like, “I’m so glad you guys are doing this. There’s such a need!”
| Apr 16, 2019 | No comments |

At SpecFaith, I’ve shared a summary of Lorehaven’s time at last weekend’s Teach Them Diligently homeschool conference in Waco.

Our booth featured writer Marian Jacobs, creative relations Lacy Rhiannon (my wife), and myself (publisher/editor).

We met dozens of families. Usually we asked them, “Hi! Do you all like to read?”

Most people said, “Oh yes.” A few said, “Yes, but don’t have as much time as I’d like.”

I’d say perhaps 70 percent said something like, “Yes, but my children are reading like crazy. And far above their reading level. I can’t keep up!”

Then we shared our mission: Lorehaven finds truth in fantastic stories. . . .

Some parents politely nodded or said merely, “Thank you,” before moving on.

But for each one of these less-interested folks, three other parents or students immediately got our mission.

We shared favorite stories. We asked parents what their kids love to read.

And we kept hearing people say things like, “I’m so glad you guys are doing this. There’s such a need!”

During the event, we also shared photos at the Lorehaven feed on Instagram and at Lorehaven’s Facebook page.

Here are a few, including some newly shared photos.

In That Land No Good Thing Is Destroyed

Even if people never rebuilt the Notre Dame cathedral, why presume this good thing is gone forever?
| Apr 15, 2019 | 2 comments |

Today, Paris’s famed Notre Dame cathedral is all but gone.

Starting this morning, news spread like a fire itself, about the blaze that had swallowed the 800-year-old landmark.

As of this writing, Paris’s firefighters had said they’d at least preserved the building’s main structure. Paris’s mayor also promised the city would rebuild the rest of it.

While videos live-streamed and articles updated, several of my friends remarked how they had always wanted to visit the cathedral.

Others recalled a special trip when they had seen Notre Dame. Yet they regretted they’d never see it again, or bring their children there.

I’ve never seen the cathedral myself. But I can empathize with that sense of loss (even if not on such a human-historical scale).

That strange sense of distant yet personal loss

Last summer, my wife and I learned the fate of our old vacation cabin.

We’d vacationed there as newlyweds in spring 2009. Three years later, we returned for a more traditional vacation.

Then, last year, we had scheduled a return to that area. It’s Gatlinburg, Tennessee, a nature and popular-cultural vacation spot near Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I had tried to reserve the same cabin, but it had vanished from the internet. I called the company but heard no news, other than the very true fact that owners can pull their cabins off the rental market whenever they like. So I reserved another building, which I figured would be just as decent as the first cabin had been.1

When we arrived, we began to see the signs of the November 2016 disaster. A fire (started by vandals) had scorched the forest surrounding this tourist town. Gatlinburg itself had only barely escaped destruction.

Following directions in our memory, we finally found the site of our old cabin.

Yes, it was gone. Only stone rubble was left. Trees surrounding the cabin site still bore black scorch marks.

We felt a strange sense of loss, and also curiosity that we hadn’t even thought that “our” cabin could have been destroyed. All the cliches come true. You just don’t assume that such a disaster could happen to any place you know.

Will Notre Dame be restored?

Whether or not we’ve seen the French cathedral, maybe its presumed inevitable existence becomes as fixed in our minds as, say, the Grand Canyon. Or the moon. Or like history itself.

It’s been there long enough. Why should it ever go away?

But the existence of centuries-old historical buildings are full of interruptions. So-and-so destroyed this part during this war. This portion was rebuilt in 18-something after the earthquake. And, of course, the structure had to be restored after the terrible fire of (year).

Now for Notre Dame, that latest year is 2019.

And yet, even as I grieve the threat to Notre Dame’s priceless artwork and Gothic architecture, and the attack on history itself, I’m not sure I can agree with fears such as, “Now I’ll never get to see the cathedral.”

I think the Christian can safely add, “… In this life.” But even if people were never to rebuild Notre Dame, why presume it is gone forever?

Parisian historians might do their best to show us, in the future, what the cathedral once looked like. But only the universe’s Architect has power truly to restore the building, and anything else, right down to the exact, perfectly placed, even original molecule of wood or stone.

He can do it, but will he?

‘The glory and the honor of the nations’

Scripture promises that, for Christ’s people, eternity will be a physical, tangible planet. It will be this very Earth, renewed and restored, filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.2

The Bible doesn’t mention only one city in this New Earth (i.e., New Jerusalem). Revelation’s prophecies also promise:

And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.3

New Jerusalem itself, New Earth’s capital, has no need for a temple. That’s because the Church, Christ’s body, has inherited the “temple” role. But what about famous churches in other cities? Places like Notre Dame’s great cathedral (regardless of whatever false teachings or sins have been associated with it before) certainly qualify as “the glory and the honor of the nations.” And there it is right in Scripture: a direct promise that “the kings of the earth . . . will bring into [the city] the glory and the honor of the nations.”

Kings will come from outside the city, from their nations, and bring into the city their national treasures.

As Heaven author Randy Alcorn remarks:

Though John doesn’t elaborate in Revelation, Isaiah is specific about what will be brought to the Holy City. He mentions the cultural products of once-pagan nations: the ships of Tarshish and the trees of Lebanon and the camels of Ephah and the gold and incense of Sheba, which will be brought in by its people “proclaiming the praise of the Lord” (Isaiah 60:6). Treasures that were once linked to idolatry and rebellion will be gathered into the city and put to God-glorifying use. Both Isaiah and Revelation indicate that the products of human culture will play an important role on the New Earth.4

Very possibly, this could include the future Christ-worshiping kings of France, and/or the future Christ-worshiping rulers of France. They will bring into Christ’s new earth the glory and the honor of France.

So that’s why, even as Paris and the world mourns the loss of Notre Dame, I take some encouragement in this truth.

‘No good thing is ever destroyed’

Finally, lest all this seem too theological, fantasy fans will recall how C. S. Lewis imaginatively reflected this truth at the end of The Last Battle. In these concluding moments for The Chronicles of Narnia, our heroes have been drawn into Aslan’s country. This land unites not only the true and eternal Narnia, but also several other true and eternal places:

[Lucy] looked harder and saw that it was not a cloud at all but a real land. And when she had fixed her eyes on one particular spot of it, she at once cried out, “Peter! Edmund! Come and look! Come quickly.” And they came and looked, for their eyes had also become like hers.

“Why!” exclaimed Peter. “It’s England. And that’s the house itself—Professor Kirk’s old home in the country where all our adventures began.”

“I thought that house had been destroyed,” said Edmund.

“So it was,” said the Faun. “But you are now looking at the England within England, the real England just as this is the real Narnia. And in that inner England no good thing is destroyed.”5

I live in this hope: that Christ will return and renew all things. And in that land no good thing is destroyed.

Maranatha.

  1. Narrator: But in fact, the new cabin was not as decent as the first cabin had been. But that’s another story for another time.
  2. Habakkuk 2:14 (cf. Isaiah 11:9). For more biblical references about the physicality of the future New Earth, as opposed to an ethereal or “spiritoid” heaven, see Isaiah 60, 65–66; Romans 8; and Revelation 21:1–5.
  3. Revelation 21:22–26 (emphases added).
  4. Randy Alcorn, “Randy’s Response to a Former Professor’s Critique of Heaven,” Aug. 31, 2005, EPM.org.
  5. C. S. Lewis, The Last Battle, page 208.

Lorehaven Arrives at Teach Them Diligently in Waco

We’ll reopen with the exhibit hall Friday morning at 10 a.m.!
| Apr 12, 2019 | No comments |

Lacy Rhiannon, Marian Jacobs, and I have set up the Lorehaven shop in Waco this weekend.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

Ready for Teach Them Diligently!

A post shared by Lorehaven (@lorehavenmag) on

We’ll reopen with the exhibit hall Friday morning at 10 a.m.

When:

  • Friday, April 12, 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
  • Saturday, April 13, 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.

Where: Waco Convention Center, 100 Washington Avenue, Waco, Texas

What:

  • Subscribe for free to get every issue online!
  • Browse or purchase print copies of the magazine.
  • Grab a free bookmark, hot off presses, about discerning stories.
  • Win a copy of Thomas Locke’s post-post-dystopian novel Enclave.
  • Chat about fantastical fiction and learn how to find these amazing stories from Christian authors.

The Best Meme About That Black Hole Photo

After that black hole photo, Lord of the Rings fans have drawn clear comparisons based on color palette.
| Apr 10, 2019 | No comments |

By now you’ve all seen that “first photo of a black hole.”1

Of course, after that black hole photo, Lord of the Rings fans have drawn rather obvious comparisons based on color palette.

But you may not have seen this meme. Live, at the speed of internet (I saw it at the Middle-earth: Tolkien’s Legendarium page):

  1. Which I imagine wasn’t a photo per se. Previously these images have turned out to be a composite, or computer imaging derived from scientific measurements of a possible object.

Visit Lorehaven this Weekend at Teach Them Diligently in Texas

Lorehaven magazine exhibits at this weekend’s Teach Them Diligently conference in Waco, Texas.
| Apr 9, 2019 | No comments |

One of my greatest new joys is editor-in-chiefing and publishing Lorehaven magazine.

Our next event: we’re exhibiting at this weekend’s Teach Them Diligently conference in Waco, Texas.

Who: Fanservants writer Marian Jacobs, creative relations Lacy Rhiannon (my wife), and myself.

When:

  • Thursday, April 11, 7 to 9 a.m.
  • Friday, April 12, 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
  • Saturday, April 13, 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.

Where: Waco Convention Center, 100 Washington Avenue, Waco, Texas

What:

  • Subscribe for free to get every issue online!
  • Browse or purchase print copies of the magazine.
  • Grab a free bookmark, hot off presses, about discerning stories.
  • Win a copy of Thomas Locke’s post-post-dystopian novel Enclave.
  • Chat about fantastical fiction and learn how to find these amazing stories from Christian authors.

Why:

Lorehaven serves Christian fans by finding biblical truth in fantastic stories. Book clubs, free webzines, and a web-based community offer flash reviews, articles, and news about Christian fantasy, science fiction, and other fantastical genres. Magazine print copies are available by request and at special events.

Central Texas fanservants, we hope to see you this weekend at Teach Them Diligently!

‘If Only Christians Made Great Art!’ Ignores Real-World Criticism

Any Christian artist, no matter the label or quality of the art, will face criticism or even persecution.
| Apr 8, 2019 | 3 comments |

I like to advocate for Christian fiction. By name. By Christians, and for Christians.

And yes, I do this while recognizing that the label Christian fiction has a lot of silly definitions attached to it.1

But in response, some Christian-fiction-as-label critics offer some sentimentalist views of their own.

For example, I often hear an objection that goes something like this:

If only more Christians made great art! Then we could really influence the culture for the gospel.

That’s the best version of this objection. Lesser versions of it attach generalized riders like, Then more people would believe in Jesus, or Then we could do something about people’s nasty beliefs about Christians.2

I call these objections “sentimentalist” for at least two reasons:

  • It ignores the existence of existing, excellent Christian-made fiction;
  • It presumes the general goodness of popular culture “kingmakers,” who chase trends and agendas like any other human.

Exhibit A: ‘Strange Planet’ cartoonist Nathan W. Pyle.

If you have gone anywhere near social media, you’ve likely seen the comics of Nathan W. Pyle. Within the past month, he’s gotten hugely popular.

Who?

He’s the artist who makes those “Strange Planet” comics. They’re the ones that feature those little blue aliens, who practice basic human things and describe them with comically cumbersome big words.

As in, alien 1 says to another, about a salad, “YOU GATHERED LEAVES”.

Then alien 2 replies, “LEAFBUCKET! IT’S SOMETHING TO INGEST”.

These comics are whimsical, genuinely funny, well-done for their medium. They’re not “evangelistic.” And they’re not propaganda. They’re simple, accessible, and they speak to the basic human condition from a position that’s at once comfortable and challenging. Each four-paneled insight lets us laugh at ourselves but not in a mean-spirited way.

Well. Turns out Nathan W. Pyle could still himself be a threat-level-A alien menace.

For this crime, many of his fans are turning against him. They’re saying things like, “Damn. I really liked your comic, too. Shame on you.”

And, “oh yikes, the cute alien comics dude is anti abortion”.

The worst headline I’ve seen actually whimpered, “The internet’s favorite new comic strip ruined by old anti-abortion tweet.”

There’s more scuttlebutt about the web.3 But so far, from what I’ve seen, Pyle hasn’t been doxxed, blocked on Twitter, fired from jobs, or persecuted by human rights commissions in the nation of Canada or the state of Colorado.

This means: Christians should not be crying “persecution!” any more than Pyle’s critics should be crying “anti-woman!”

Also, I don’t here address the question of how Christians should respond to persecution. I’m not talking about whether Christians should grant any legitimate grievances along with the criticism we hear, or try to improve the church’s witness in the world.

That’s not my point.

Rather, I’m simply pointing out that any Christian artist, no matter the label or quality of art, will face criticism. Harsh criticism. They may even face persecution, if not now, then in the future. The loudest critics, because of their religious motivation, will only regret for a moment (if that) that they must now ignore excellently done art. After that, well, belay the art and all that. We’ve a Cause to support.

That’s enough of a caution to stop self-critical Christians from saying, “If only Christians made better art, then we could . . .”

“. . . Glorify God better?” That’s really the best way to finish the sentence.

But “. . . change the world? . . . impress non-believers? . . . improve the church’s witness? . . . get more people saved”?

Such statements are just as wishful-thinking as that sappy Christian novel where the main character finally gets saved and suddenly everything in her life becomes miraculously better.

  1. Definitions attached to Christian fiction include, but are not limited to: saccharine, shallow, sentimental, “not realistic,” Amish, romance, prairie romance, Amish prairie romance, derivative, uncreative, and such-like. For my part, I argue that “Christian fiction” simply means “a Christian made this fiction.”
  2. Some folks who make the objection attach more personal riders. They might think, Then I would feel more welcome at church. Or even, Then Christians could regain their cultural privilege in Western nations. I think either one of these ignores the ultimate purpose of art (to help us glorify God). It also hijacks a topic, like art or fiction, in service to a personal conflict—which is to say it takes art into the service of a kind of propaganda.
  3. This website overviews the scuttlebutt thus far. It “fairly” states that “even if Pyle personally opposed abortion, that was not evidence that his personal opinion matched his political stance.” This seems to leave an implicit, ominous warning that genuine personal or political opposition to abortion should not stand.