This is what children do, they build and then create a story about the train, or castle, or ship they’ve just built. This is what the young boy, Finn, did in The Lego Movie. And in the process, he unlocked not just his father’s imagination, but the viewers’ as well. But there’s more to this movie than excellent Lego graphics and artistic; in other words, imaginative storytelling. The Lego Movie had everything a good story should have: heroes and villains; a world that was in trouble and in need of rescue; a damsel and a people in distress and looking for hope and freedom; and a sacrifice that points to a greater story—to the Great Sacrifice of the one who’s name is also Truth. There was also a great resolution at the end, the happy ending that we all long for. SPOILER ALERT!!! As it turns out, the entire movie was a sub-created world born of the mind of Finn, the young boy behind all the imagination in the movie. One of his sub-created characters in his story was Emmet, the non-descript construction worker. In an act of sacrifice, Emmet saved the world from Lord Business (played brilliantly by Will Ferrell), and even managed to free his imagination as well. As I mentioned earlier, that makes Emmet the Christ figure of this movie. But this is just one movie. There are countless other examples: Saving Private Ryan, The Green Mile, Disney’s The Jungle Book, and I could go on.
Why do all these stories seem to sound the same? Why do we keep hearing and reading similar themes in movies, books, and drama? How is it that even secular stories like The Lego Movie and countless others give us fragments of the Greatest Story ever told? Because these stories are in some way, shape, or form stealing from the one great true story, the Gospel. They're intentionally or unintentionally doing what Tolkien said about good stories; they're writing about Recovery, Escape, and Consolation. They're giving us glimpses of the great eucatastrophe, Christ’s death and resurrection.
Superman. Batman the Dark Knight. Neo in the Matrix. Captain Miller in Saving Private Ryan. Harry Potter’s defeat of Voldemort. Gandalf’s battle with the Balrog. Frodo and Samwise’s sacrifice to destroy the ring of power. Spock in Star Trek Two. Obi-Wan Kenobi’s death to save Luke. The list could go on. But the point is all the same. They're all stealing from the one great story. It sure makes for a good story, and an even better one since it is true.
And here is where the apologist can operate. Here is where imagination, Sub-Creation, and yes, even things like The Lego Movie can be useful in the field of apologetics. Christians can and should use these familiar stories to show and teach the great story. We should steal back the examples of redemption, love, and sacrifice and use it to proclaim the true sacrifice, redemption, and love of Christ. We can steal past watchful dragons. Use our imagination and Sub-Creation to point to Christ’s greater salvation for all.
Imaginative apologetics is a vital part of making a defense for the reason for the hope that is within us. Not everyone resonates with a tough-minded defense of the faith. Thankfully the Christian faith reaches both our intellect and our imagination. Christianity is both true and meaningful.
Imagination, art, and sub-creation, are all used to tell us a story. And aren’t these the kinds of stories we should tell our children? I think so. Imagination leads to Art; Art leads to Sub-Creation; Sub-Creation reflect or points to the Primary World, or Primary Art. Sub-Creation also leads to a story. And the story leads to an imaginative apologetic, a defense for the tender-minded.
Everyone is a storyteller. The question is what and who will the story be about? There are plenty of stories that are not worth watching or reading. But the best ones point to the one great story; the one true story that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting our trespasses against us (2 Corinthians 5:9).
This is the story we need to tell, write, script, paint, sing, and declare: Christ crucified and risen for you. The world needs more Christians engaged in imaginative apologetics, more men and women who see their work or their hobbies as Sub-Creations, secondary worlds based on the Primary World. We need more artists whose work points to the Lord who painted the heavens and framed the earth’s foundations, more writers who point their readers to Jesus the Author and Perfecter of our faith, more characters like Aslan who bring us into a new world for a little while so that we might know the true Lion of the Tribe of Judah better in our world.
When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret...now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up. - C.S. Lewis, On Three Ways of Writing for Children,in Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories, 25.