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A theology of Christian geekdom} ?>
Geek (gēk): A person who is very interested in and knows a lot about a particular field or activity; a person who is socially awkward and unpopular; a usually intelligent person who does not fit in with other people.
Christian (krĭs′chən): A person who believes in and follows Jesus Christ.
North American Evangelicalism doesn’t have the best track record of embracing the arts. From Puritan iconoclasts to 20th-century fundamentalists, the arts and artists were historically pigeonholed with the worst sectors of high church legalism. More recently, the arts have been associated with dangerous flirtations with worldly culture manifested in film, television, comics, and video games. Some even go so far as to suggest that Christians who engage with the geek arts shame God and open themselves to demonic attack.
While it is entirely possible for people to be “geeky” about sports or the hard sciences, there is a subset of geekdom that focuses primarily on the arts. Books? Television? Movies? Video Games? Anime? These are storytelling arts.
Art (ahrt): Something that is created with imagination and skill and that is beautiful or that expresses important ideas or feelings.
Certain geeks—say, the people who regularly read this site—are actually art lovers. That’s right, kiss the cheese doodle dust off your fingers and give me a high-five, because I’m looking at you!
In some ways, Evangelicalism’s rejection of the arts has often implied a rejection of geeks. Those of us who love video games, movies, comics, fantasy stories, and all the rest have felt misunderstood, belittled, or in the worst cases, outright rejected by our families and church communities for frittering away our time and energy on these pursuits. In his critically-acclaimed autobiographical graphic novel Blankets, author Craig Thompson includes these frames that characterize the sort of responses he received about his artistic interests growing up in a fundamentalist church in rural Wisconsin:
Blankets is a brilliant [NOTE: Also explicit.] piece of art, with some truly heartbreaking insights into the failure of Thompson’s particular church community to engage with his real questions about the Bible and theology and to support his artistic interests. Thompson eventually walked away from his faith for those very reasons.
These sorts of responses to the arts and the geeks who love them are misguided first in that they create unnecessary tension between geek and non-geek Christians and second in that they create unnecessary evangelistic hurdles. Barring idolatry, blatant sin, or a special and specific call by God, people need not be saddled with unjustified spiritual criteria or told that their talents and hobbies are on a lower spiritual plane than forms of worship specifically mentioned in the Bible (singing in Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16) and the gifts of the Five-Fold Ministry (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers; see Ephesians 4:11-13).
So here are five facets to help outline a theology of Christian geekdom.
1. God called artists to create works of art in the Old Testament.
Exodus 31 describes God calling his people to work on a variety of artistic projects—including creating designs, setting stones, making clothes and carving wood—to make the tent of meeting and ark of the testimony.
God did not call a couple of guys to mass-produce Thomas Kinkade paintings for your church’s lobby and your grandmother’s front room to spruce things up a bit. He called them to build the Tabernacle—the very place of God’s dwelling among His people from the Exodus to the time of Solomon. It wasn’t the prophetic leader Moses who built the tabernacle, or the priesthood or Levites. It was the artists and craftsmen. Clearly the “geeks” of Moses’s day were not second-class citizens performing irrelevant spiritual lip-service.
2. The Bible is a work of literature that is full of poetry and hymnody.
And if the Bible is full of poetry as a medium of communicating its message, God is obviously okay with poetry as a medium of communicating spiritual messages. SEE: Almost every book of the Old Testament, especially the Psalms, Job, the Prophets, and major portions of the Torah.
Additionally, many scholars believe the famous passage in Philippians 2 is actually an early Christian hymn, and for that reason it is typically set off in modern Bible translations.
(PS: Poetry is widely considered a form of literary art.)
3. The apostle Peter encouraged the glorification of God through all kinds of God-given gifts.
1 Peter 4:10 reads, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”
The Greek word for “gift” here is “charisma.” It means… drum roll… “gift.” And by “gift,” it doesn’t mean “stuff you got for your birthday.” It’s specifically talking about God-given abilities (1 Cor 12:9, 28; Rom 11:29; 12:6). These gifts are pivotal to the work of the ministry and the growth of the church, but they’re not necessarily for everybody. We’re not all called to be elders and deacons or itinerant apostles.
There is a clear need and recognition in the New Testament for the whole scope of the Christian life to be redeemed by Christ, sanctified by the Spirit, and used for the Father’s glory. Of course this applies to arts and geekdom, which segues into the next point:
4. Our culture’s theologians are its storytellers.
In his book Questioning Evangelism, Wheaton College Professor of Evangelism Rick Richardson writes, “Our culture’s theologians are our storytellers.” By this, Richardson doesn’t mean to imply that doctrines of God are decided by Michael Bay. He means that in 21st-century Western world, values, ideas, and beliefs are often transmitted through popular media. The people who write the TV shows, books, and movies you watch have worldviews. These varying worldviews affect what appears in the stories we write (I addressed this at some length in my Legend of Korra article).
Our media-saturated culture is constantly transmitting competing philosophical, religious, political—you name it—ideals, typically with little to no filtering except for (in the US) four-letter words and nudity on television. Watch some old reruns of Friends or even more recent sitcoms like New Girl; sexual promiscuity, provided the participants are consenting adults and practicing “safe sex,” isn’t even on the discussion table any more. In fact, season three of New Girl features two characters having a conversation in which it’s assumed that living together outside of marriage is a normal and healthy step in any relationship.
Christian geeks and artists have a unique niche to communicate with and reach demographics of people who would otherwise never step foot into a church or download your favourite pastor’s podcast. Christian geeks have a genuine inroads to converse with fellow fans, both Christians and non. And if you’re like me and prefer producing art, you can’t hide the lamp of your beliefs under a bowl for long.
5. No, this does not mean “anything goes.”
Enjoying the various geekdoms is not a license to indulge in everything under the sun. The making of idols—clearly an artistic venture—is forbidden and condemned throughout the Old Testament (Exodus 20; Isaiah 44) and is at the least cast in a bad light in Acts 19 and 1 Corinthians 8. More generally, Paul exhorts the Philippians to meditate upon things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy. And Peter, in our above-quoted text, not only encourages his readers to exercise their God-given gifts, but to do so with holy intent.
So while God clearly has a place for the arts and artists in the Kingdom, we must recognize that like creation itself, the arts are fallen. If we uncritically embrace everything that intrigues us, we will inevitably find ourselves flirting with things that contradict our faith and are counter-intuitive to a healthy walk with Jesus. This is precisely what our (sometimes overzealous) pastors and family members worry over. Let’s not give them a reason to worry, and let’s show them that we geeks can contribute meaningfully to the Kingdom of God not by hiding our talents and interests under a bowl, but by letting the light shine.
This article first appeared on Geeks Under Grace. It is re-published here with the author’s and the GUG editorial board’s permissions.