A few weeks ago, before the rolling yellow opening credits of the latest Star Wars movie appeared in theaters across the land, the crazy theories began to fill my Facebook newsfeed.
I’m not just talking about theories about Episode VII. Before the movie came out, those were pretty much all just speculation, and could have been true. (Although – spoiler alert! – it turns out Kylo Ren is not actually Luke Skywalker.)
I’m talking about theories about the movies we had all already seen, particularly the original trilogy. Crazy, loopy, ridiculous theories seriously advanced on major news sites. There were claims that the Empire were the good guys, or that Luke actually turned to the dark side in the climactic encounter with Vader and the Emperor at the end of Return of the Jedi. I even encountered the outrageous, meticulously-defended assertion that Revenge of the Sith (in case you’ve forgotten, that’s the name of Episode III) is a better movie than any of the original trilogy.
Like I said, crazy stuff. The Empire were the good guys? Tell that to Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru. Luke turned to the dark side? Both he and the Emperor explicitly agreed that he remained a Jedi. Episode III was better than IV and V? Check out their relative ratings on RottenTomatoes.com.
The thing is, as all these articles started popping up on our collective newsfeeds, you could see the seeds of doubt taking root in people’s minds. Like me, most of my Facebook friends (and friends-of-friends) grew up with Star Wars. We’ve loved it all our lives. But as people encountered these new theories, some would start to question their previous beliefs and interpretations. What if the Empire wasn’t as bad as we’d thought? What if Luke didn’t actually overcome the lure of the dark side? Most insidiously of all, what if the original movies weren’t actually all that good? What if we all just got hooked on them when we were kids, and that early exposure has biased us so much that we see greatness where there really isn’t any?
As I watched these seeds of doubt taking root in my social network, I had the weirdest sense of deja vu.
You see, I’m a Christian. Not only that, I grew up in a Christian home. So did my parents. And their parents. I don’t know how far back you would have to go to find my most recent non-Christian ancestor, but it’s a long ways. Suffice it to say, I grew up steeped in Christianity, church, and the Bible. From the schools my parents sacrificed to send me to, to the camp I attended every summer, to the books I read and the songs I listened to, I was thoroughly immersed in a context that taught me to believe that Jesus loves me (the Bible tells me so), and that I should love him too. And so I did.
And then I grew up and left home and encountered ideas and theories that regarded the claims of the Bible as completely unreliable. I came across perspectives that offered complex and sophisticated alternative explanations for how the Bible came to be written and how people came to believe the crazy idea that Jesus was anything more than an unusually gifted religious leader, explanations that claimed to explain away the Jesus I had always loved. And so I watched as friends who came from backgrounds like my own began to question and doubt what they had always accepted as good and true.
Fast forward a few years, and here I am watching the same doubts crop up, this time around a beloved movie franchise: “Is my love for this just an irrational bias that comes from being immersed in it as a child?”
As a matter of fact, I think the bias actually runs the other way. Take the case of Star Wars. I would argue that our familiarity with these movies is actually what makes it possible for us to forget just how good they really are. Because we grew up with these movies, watched them so many times, and know them so well, they don’t hit us with the full impact that they would if we were seeing them for the first time. The reality is that Star Wars: A New Hope didn’t just mesmerize a bunch of impressionable youngsters; it took the Hollywood establishment by storm, earning six Oscars, as well as nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Actor in a Supporting Role. (Revenge of the Sith, by contrast, was nominated for “Best Achievement in Makeup.”) And despite all the special-effects advances of subsequent decades, it continues to charm unbiased first-time viewers.
Star Wars is the real deal. And, as it turns out, so is Jesus. Despite a multi-generational campaign to discredit it, the evidence for the historical reliability of the New Testament really remains unparalleled in the ancient world. While reasonable scholars may continue to debate many details, that doesn’t affect the overall picture any more than Star Wars is ruined by Luke whining about power converters. The reason the gospel spread across the ancient world so quickly is that it was backed up by credible evidence. And to this day, the message of Christianity continues to amaze, convince, and convert more people around the world than any other idea or philosophy in the history of humanity.
And yet, not everyone believes. Not even everyone who grew up in a Christian home like mine holds onto the faith they apparently embraced as a child. Some even become active opponents of the gospel, attacking the Bible and Christianity publicly and doing their best to plant seeds of doubt in the hearts of those who still believe what they have abandoned. And sometimes they succeed in making some believers question their ability to evaluate the claims of the Bible objectively.
Let’s make this personal. Perhaps you grew up in a Christian context and are now questioning whether the gospel is really true. Or maybe you’re way past questioning; you simply don’t believe any more in the Jesus they told you about when you were a kid. Of course you believed in Jesus when Christianity was the only thing you knew. You accepted it because it was familiar, but now you know better.
May I suggest that it may actually be the other way around? That it is precisely because the gospel is familiar to you that you no longer believe it the way you did when it was fresh and new? That you no longer see the goodness of the good news because it is no longer news to you? That if you could somehow lay aside the baggage of your assumptions and associations and open up the Bible like any other book, you would be blown away all over again by the message of God responding to your rebellion by sending his Son as a real man in real history to save you and bring you back into relationship with him?
Before The Force Awakens came out, I sat down and watched the original trilogy with my wife. I hadn’t seen them in a while, and it was great to see them again with fresh eyes, to remember how funny and exciting and moving and powerful they really are.
Maybe it’s time you did the same thing with Jesus. Give him a fresh look; you might find yourself surprised by just how amazing his grace really is.
Image Credit: “Jordan Peters Star Wars” by Huỳnh Kim Chí – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jordan_Peters_Star_Wars.jpg#/media/File:Jordan_Peters_Star_Wars.jpg