A quick Google search on “Christian” and “Les Misérables” or “Frozen” will immediately reveal a myriad of articles offering Christian interpretations of these movies. The problem is the authors (directors) are not professing Christians. Why would they create Christian art? Is the believing community so desperate for representation that they must project their belief system on every work of art that they happen to enjoy? Many grow frustrated with this coat-tail riding tendency of the believing community and insist that there can be no connection between pagan art and Christianity. Are Christians hijackers at heart?
Much of the confusion and reaction against the alleged hijacking stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of what Christians are actually claiming about these films. For example, when believers claim that Elsa from Frozen is a Christ figure, they are not claiming that anyone who watches the film place faith in Jesus, the Son of God, and understand the gospel narrative from this short musical. Frozen is not a Christian allegory. The characters in it do not represent people and events from the gospel. However, Frozen does make a powerful ethical statement consistent with the Christian worldview.
While Frozen does not tell the gospel story, the central theme of the movie is the power of self-sacrificing love. The magical maxim throughout the movie, “only true love can melt a frozen heart,” could easily be replaced with “greater love has no man than this, than a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). I don’t think anyone would walk away from that film despising the foolishness of self-sacrificing love (except perhaps Ayn Rand). Does that make it a Christian movie? Does every Christian movie tell the gospel story, or can they express the results of the Christian worldview? I am tempted to believe that more sensitive individuals would walk away from this movie thinking, “I wish there was someone who loved me like that.” The Christian knows that there is a fulfillment to this longing. Self-sacrificial love is not a utopian ideal; it exists! We find the perfect expression of that kind of love in Christianity alone.
Consider another example: the drama of condemnation, mercy, and redemption found in Les Misérables. The story is much more complex and beautiful than this simple reduction, but allow it for illustration’s sake. Jean Valjean and Javert are both men shown incredible mercy. Valjean, caught stealing again, is almost certain to be sentenced to life in prison or death. Instead, a kind priest shows him mercy by forgiving and covering his theft, and this mercy propels Valjean to live a life of selfless love for others. This eventually leads him to spare the life of his old jail-master, Javert. However, Javert responds to this mercy in an entirely different way. Unable to stand the thought of being a debtor to anything, let alone mercy, he commits suicide. This powerful story of redemption might as well have been written by the apostle Paul as he explained 2 Corinthians 2:15–16,
“For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.”
Some, when they encounter God’s saving mercy in Christ, receive it to new life of joyful, self-sacrificial love. Others, unable to bear the thought of being in debt to anyone, choose rather to endure their just condemnation. This story powerfully illustrates many other Christian themes.
Neither of these stories were written by professing Christians, yet they extraordinarily portray the results of a Christian worldview. They are true to reality and the human condition. They portray the longings of every human heart as well as the painful scarring left by sin. How is it possible that non-believers could write such Christian stories? This is due to the reality that all men are created in God’s image. While sin has damaged this image, it is not destroyed. We shouldn’t be surprised when unbelievers write powerful stories that cause us to love good and hate what is evil because they are made in God’s image.
We also shouldn’t be surprised when unbelievers write “Christian” stories because all truth is God’s truth. We shouldn’t reject an artful portrayal of beauty simply because it came from a pagan. As Christians called to fix our affections on the things above (Col 3:1), any beautiful reality accurately portrayed by art should receive our adoration. Likewise, the pain and suffering of humanity and common longings of the human heart powerfully resonate with us, because Christians know we live in a fallen world in need of redemption. We should be willing to appreciate what is good even more than the unbelieving audience, since we understand the source of all that is good and lovely comes from the fountain of good, the triune God.
Rather than hijackers, twisting and destroying innocent stories to fit their own belief system, Christians are more like hitchhikers, recognizing a vehicle traveling along a common road. While few movies could be considered evangelistic, many appropriately incite our affections love what is truly beautiful or hate what is evil. When Paul instructs believers in Philippians 4:8 to think on “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise,” he does not restrict them to Christian movies. We should be willing to recognize the image of God and God’s truth wherever we may find it.
- Although perhaps we should wonder at the fact that non-believers continually craft stories that are at odds with their view of the world. In an atheistic, naturalistic universe, why show anyone mercy? It’s kill or be killed. The fact that these stories remain so popular is a testament to the fact that we are all made in God’s image. ↩
- Alternate ending suggested by my wife: So the next time you get mad at a Christian “hijacking” a popular movie, just “let it go.” ↩