Flywheel, Eustace, and Redemption
“I made Jesus Lord of my life.” Jay Austin in Flywheel
“The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right to my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off…Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off—just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt—and there it was lying in the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been.” Eustace in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader after Aslan had torn off his dragon skin.
I recently watched the movie Flywheel, which was the first movie done by Sherwood Pictures, the men who also went on to do Facing the Giants, Fireproof, and Courageous. I also recently finished reading The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. After watching Flywheel, I asked myself why do I learn more about my redemption in Christ from a fictional story about a British boy who turns into a dragon than I do from a real story, set in a real place with a real conversion? Why does Flywheel seem less real? I am not talking about production values or acting. I understand that the men who did Flywheel are creating a path for Christian movies. Their subsequent movies have improved. I am grateful for those movies. But even with movies like Fireproof or Courageous the point still stands. Why do movies that preach an overt Christian message seem less realistic, less true to life, than movies that don’t, but have an underlying Christian message? Is my perspective too shaped by fiction and metaphor? Am I ashamed of seeing an overt gospel message presented on the big screen? Have I departed from a biblical view of true religion and conversion because I empathize with Eustace and not with Jay Austin?
I don’t think so. C.S. Lewis understood how to convey the Christian message better than the men who did Flywheel. And that is not because C.S. Lewis was a better writer or a better Christian, though he may have been both, but rather because C.S. Lewis understood that painting pictures with words is how God normally describes our redemption. That is why his Space Trilogy or the Chronicles of Narnia resonate with those who love Jesus and hate evil.
One reason Christian movies and novels often fail to accurately picture our redemption is because we have come describe conversion in ways that are foreign to the Bible. Thus when we put a conversion on screen or in a novel it rings hollow to someone whose mind is filled with biblical imagery. It may come as a surprise to many Christians, but the Bible does not talk about conversion in terms that most evangelicals use. Never are we told to “Ask Jesus into our hearts.” Never are we told to “make Jesus Lord of our lives.” Never are we told to “Accept Jesus.” Never are we told to even kneel down and pray a prayer to be saved. These pictures which almost completely define evangelical thought on conversion are absent from the Bible. Even the term “born again,” which is standard fare in evangelical circles, is only used in two places. (John 3 and I Peter 1:23) So most evangelicals have come to describe and define conversion by words and phrases that are not even in the Bible. We are supposed to be people of the Bible, but when it comes to conversion we talk in language foreign to the Scriptures. That is why Jay Austin’s conversion is not as convincing as Eustace’s. Austin’s conversion, while maybe giving a real picture, is not as true to the Biblical story.
The Bible describes conversion almost entirely by metaphor. The Bible tells us what happens at conversion, not what we are supposed to do at conversion. For example, the Bible does not say that the converts at Ephesus knelt down and asked Jesus into their hearts. It says, “You were dead, but now you are alive.” (Ephesians 2:1) The converts at Thessalonica became “followers of [Paul, Silvanus and Timothy] and of Jesus.” (I Thess. 1:6) They also turned from idols to worship the living God. (I Thess. 1:9) Christians are described as those who have left darkness and come into the light. (Ephesians 5:8, Colossians 1:13, and I Peter 2:9) Paul describes conversion as reconciliation in Romans 5:10. We were enemies of God. Now we are his friends. In II Corinthians 5:17 Christians are described as a “new creation.” In the Gospels, Jesus uses pictures like a feast or a son coming home or sheep being rescued or a man taking up his cross or finding a pearl or choosing a narrow way or listening to the words of Christ.
So we use unbiblical (not anti-biblical) language and thought patterns and therefore we end up putting conversions on the screen which use real people, really repenting, but are ultimately not true to the Bible’s picture of redemption and salvation. We would be better served in our movies and novels to give a picture of conversion instead of trying to show a real conversion. The dragon skin being torn off of Eustace is me in all my sin. It describes the pain of my sin being torn off. Lewis even describes my pathetic attempts to deal with sin outside of Christ. We need more men like Lewis. They do not have to be as skilled as he was (though that would help) but they need to have the same understanding of Biblical truth that he did. We should preach in the pulpit and during evangelism. But we should use movies and novels to picture the gospel. Two men who hate each other and are reconciled is a picture of the gospel. A long lost son who returns is a picture of the gospel. A beautiful bride who prepares and longs for her husband is a picture of the gospel. A slave being set free is a picture of the Gospel. A hero rescuing an undeserving princess is a picture of the gospel. Even a movie where the ending is bitter can be a picture of man outside of Christ, hopelessly lost, bound for Hell.
Movies are not sermons and therefore should not be aimed at conversion. Men are usually converted through the preaching of God’s Word (Romans 10:14-17, I Peter 1:22-25) not through seeing a picture on the screen. A Christian filmmaker should not try to convert through his films, but instead should try to give an accurate picture of the world God has made, of man’s relationship to God, and to each other. These films should aim to make non-Christians think and feel differently about the world and God, perhaps preparing the way for the preaching of the Gospel. Christian films should also help Christians rejoice in who God is, what he has done for them, and the world God has made. A film can do this in a hundreds of different ways. But a film is not a sermon. Don’t preach to us on the big screen. Give us a picture that shapes our hearts and minds. When we do this we will see more movies with characters like Eustace and fewer with characters like Jay Austin. And to our surprise we will find that our salvation becomes clearer by watching a boy lose his dragon skin than by seeing a man kneel down and pray in his living room.