Excerpted from “Creature of the Word: The Jesus-Centered Church” by Matt Chandler, Josh Patterson and Eric Geiger (B&H)
The Creature Multiplies
Every Christian is either a missionary or an imposter.
We are not old men.
We are in our mid to late thirties, but the world has radically changed in our brief years of life. When we were kids, for example, cartoons came on television at specific times of day. You could watch them in the morning, in the afternoons right after school, or on Saturday mornings. That was pretty much it, except for the annual prime-time, holiday showings of things like Charlie Brown, Rudolph, and Frosty the Snowman. Prevailing logic said that cartoons at night made no sense at all because the children would all be in bed. The idea of a twenty-four-hour network that aired only cartoons was about as absurd as a TV show where twenty-five mostly insecure women with loose morals try to make a single man fall in love with them.
Besides having limited cartoons, we also didn’t have any such thing as a remote control. If you were fortunate enough to have cable, a box sat on top of your television with a little sliding bar that gave you access to thirty or forty channels, at most. But if you wanted to change the station or adjust the volume, you had to get up out of your seat, walk over to the television set, and make your selections from there. How primitive.
Reach back in your mind and remember some of the simple implications. Commercials were (and still are) broadcast as much as ten times louder than the television shows they were interrupting. So without having a remote at hand, a person could get a stitch in his side running back and forth from the television to the sofa. It wasn’t pretty.
We also had no capability of recording something on TV to watch later. That was the stuff of Tomorrowland and futuristic legend. If Alf or Magnum P.I. happened to come on while we were out doing something else—or at the same time as another program we wanted to watch—well, that was just too bad.
We did have video games. They were in arcades at the mall, and they cost a quarter to play. Imagine how cool it was when Atari came out. Wow, being able to play video games right there in our own homes! There were some drawbacks, though—like, for example, every game on Atari made the same exact noise, and over time the incessant beeping would drive you mad. Today, as one of the signs of my aging, these culture-changing creations are now considered retro and hip.
From the arcade to the theater—on the average weekend only one or two new movies would come out, not ten or twelve, like today. Of those, maybe one or two a year were cartoons. There was no Internet, no smartphones. Sports had their own seasons, and you didn’t have pictures to color at restaurants.
So … what did we do with ourselves in that apocalyptic setting?
Shocker alert: We played outside.
How crazy is that? “Go outside and play,” our parents would tell us, meaning we didn’t have to be, nor did they really want us to be, home till dark. And so up until sunset, we ran, we rode our bikes, we made up battles with kids from other blocks. It was anarchy. It is amazing that we’re still alive today to tell some of the tales.
Today, we’re the most entertained generation the world has ever seen. There’s more to do, more to participate in, more to connect with, more to read about, and more information to digest than at any other time in history. And yet having so much access to so much stuff still hasn’t filled our need or our desire to be part of something bigger, something grander, something beyond even the wonders that come to us on our phones, laptops, and tablets. Like kids creating and competing in afternoon conquests, we still want to be involved in bigger undertakings, bigger challenges, bigger things that make a bigger difference. We still long for a grand mission.
A conversation once held between colleagues C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien speaks to this innate human desire for being part of larger-than-life stories, quests, and victories—the draw of our hearts toward “myths,” which Lewis said were “lies and therefore worthless, even though breathed through silver.”
“No,” Tolkien replied, “they are not lies.” Far from being untrue, myths are the best way—sometimes the only way—of conveying truths that would otherwise remain inexpressible. We have come from God, Tolkien argued, and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they do contain error, still reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God. Myths may be misguided, but they steer however shakily toward the true harbor.
Revisiting some of what we covered in chapter 1 will help bring clarity to what Tolkien was telling Lewis. When sin entered the created order, it fractured everything, from our cells to the very essence of the universe. What was once simply “good” now had the capacity to become perverse, idolatrous, and empty. But God had a rescue plan prepared—a plan to crush the head of the enemy and restore shalom in the universe, to woo home his captured bride and make all things new at great cost. There is no greater battle or love story. And even as you’re reading this sentence, the epic is happening all around us.