The Integration of Faith in the Arts

The Christian faith inspires the next generation of storytellers.

One of the world’s most renown Christian apologists, Ravi Zacharias, 74, died May 19 of this year. At the age of 17, Zacharias tried to commit suicide by swallowing poison. He said that the words of Jesus to Thomas recorded in John 14:19 rescued him: “Because I live, you also will live.” The young man gave his heart to Christ and committed the rest of his life to exploring and sharing the claims of the gospel. His style of apologetics focused on life’s existential questions to which Christianity, he was convinced, has the best responses of any religion in the world. His rational and eloquent philosophical arguments on the existence of God inspired thousands to take the leap of faith.

Years before Zacharias became known, the Christian scholar, apologist, and prolific author, Francis Schaeffer (1912–1984) also found Christ at the age of 17. This precocious teen was searching for answers to life’s profound questions and decided to read the Bible along with the works of Greek and Roman philosophers. The ancient classics didn’t provide satisfying answers to him; the Bible did. Schaeffer encountered a personal God and experienced rebirth in Christ Jesus. Schaeffer, also, devoted the rest of his life to the ministry as pastor, evangelist writer and Christian apologist to skeptical intellectuals and scholars. Schaeffer challenged atheism and agnosticism with his brilliant writings, inspiring and winning hosts of men and women who yearned for answers to life’s existential questions. 

Schaeffer and Zacharias were intellectual giants among tens of thousands of others who, for more than two millennia, have expressed the Christian faith through myriad literary and artistic works, from Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci to John Milton, Leo Tolstoy, Victor Hugo, and C. S. Lewis. Indeed, it takes more than logic and reason to convince a rational mind to embrace as facts the miracles of the Old and New Testaments, including the parting of the Red Sea, the virgin birth of Jesus, the resurrection of Lazarus, and the ascension of Christ to heaven. Ultimately, it requires a leap of faith for us to find relationship with God. And the pathway to faith for millions of us is illuminated through great literature and the visual arts just as brightly as logical arguments appeal to our reason. And the ultimate literary wonder of all is the Holy Bible with its spellbinding redemptive narratives whose themes inspire and inform the media arts.

C. S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia and J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series exemplified the art of indirect faith-based storytelling with colorful symbolic depictions of the Christian worldview. The impact of this approach was demonstrated at the box office. These series earned more than $4 billion in worldwide ticket sales. A more recent faith-light film with box-office success was Les Misérables (1998, 2014), based on the novel by Victor Hugo. The 1998 film, starring Liam Neeson and the 2014 musical version starring Hugh Jackman, brought in $456 million in box office revenue.  Mel Gibson’s faith-light film, Hacksaw Ridge (2016), brought in $180 million in worldwide box office revenue. More overt Christian films have also been successful such as Cecile B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments (1959); William Wyler’s Ben-Hur based on Lew Wallace’s 1880 novel, Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ; the story of British athlete, Eric Liddell’s faith was portrayed in Chariots of Fire (1981), and Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ (2004) surprised Hollywood. The Passion of the Christ earned a whopping $614 million worldwide. Hollywood’s major studios have acknowledged the success of recent Christian films as evidenced by Sony’s Heaven is for Real (2014) and Risen (2016). The Kendrick brothers’ successful films such as Fireproof (2008), God’s Not Dead (2014) and War Room (2015) have inspired a rising number of young visual storytellers to follow their lead. These are exciting days for Christian storytellers to reach audiences with direct and indirect faith-themed film narratives. 

Ravi Zacharias and Francis Schaeffer might never have found the answers to their doubting minds and yearning hearts had Moses, David the poet king and songwriter, and the writers of the New Testament, inspired by the Holy Spirit, neglected to bequeath to the world the ultimate canon of the Christian faith, the Holy Bible. God will continue to raise up Christian storytellers to help make these redemptive truths come to life on screen and through other media. This is one of the reasons why The King’s University has launched the Bachelor of Media Arts degree—to equip the next generation of storytellers to share the gospel through multiplatform storytelling.