When the gospel turns up in a strange place

I went to see Dr. Strange last week. For the sake of my eleven year old son, of course. I made some other sacrifices for Niall’s sake as well. I helped him to eat his popcorn.

The film was a strange one for me. I never really got the whole Marvel thing as a child. We were too busy re-fighting world war two. And of course, as good Pentecostals we didn’t “do” the cinema.

The Dr. Strange experience got even stranger. To begin with, I was concerned that the whole thing was a bit too occultic for comfort. And to be honest, if you wanted to make a case for it as a subtle promotion of occult / new age ideas you probably could.

Once I hung up that particular hang up, the whole thing became quite intriguing. I’ll not spoil it for you by telling the whole story. The basic plot however is that an incredibly successful young surgeon crashes his Ferrari and sustains such serious injuries that conventional medical practice is unable to fix him. He travels east, joins a kind of monastery, develops superhuman powers and then…I promised I wouldn’t spoil it for you.

What really did intrigue me was why this sort of film has such appeal. Obviously, escapism is a huge reason. A couple of hours away from the real world never did anyone any harm.  But let me give you three other– possible – reasons for the enduring appeal of the Marvel world and what that might be telling us about Western culture.

Firstly, there is always a hero.

We still look for heroes. A political landscape that is currently in such disarray, has intensified rather than diminished our quest for a hero or heroes. Whether they are local, national or global. I’ll stop short of saying that anyone in Dr. Strange is a Christ-figure, but the themes of sacrifice, servanthood and humility, are evident throughout the film.

In the gospel, Jesus embodies all of those themes in Himself and, if you like, is the human race’s true hero.

Secondly, there is an acknowledgement that materialism does not and cannot provide the ultimate answers to life. Dr. Strange had the kind of lifestyle and intelligence to go with it that would surpass the stuff of our most ambitious dreams. But when he was in real trouble his seemingly perfect world fell apart.

The strapline of Western culture for so long has been “You can do or be anything you want”. Dr.Strange indicates that a more fitting mantra would be something like “Life is wonderful as long as, well, life is wonderful”.

Western materialism is a powerful force indeed. Stronger than many an ideology. And no wonder, behind it lies the spiritual power of what Jesus called mammon.

Finally, there is the fight.

These kinds of films would never work if there was no big, world-threatening battle. And it’s that kind of battle into which Dr. Strange is inducted.

It’s a battle between good and evil, light and darkness. The battle can’t take place without that kind of moral certainty.

Despite the moral relativism of our culture, in our hearts, we still think in terms of right and wrong. And somehow we still believe that there is a battle between right and wrong, good and evil.

As Christians, we would do well to think of the good news of Jesus as a call to battle as well as a call to salvation. I think that kind of call is not only faithful to the Bible, but is also something that would resonate with those who do not know yet know Jesus.

I discovered after the event that the director of Dr.Strange grew up in a Christian home. Perhaps what he learnt as a child and young person has shaped his film making. I don’t know. One thing I do know is that if you wanted to use Dr. Strange as a bridge builder in a conversation about the gospel, you’ll have no shortage of material. The gospel turns up in all sorts of strange places.

For a far more informed Christian review of Dr.Strange, see this piece in Christian Today.

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