When I was young, I would go fishing in the Trinity River in summer with Odell Henderson, a man who worked for my mom and dad.
These were North Texas summers with temperatures that began in the 90s in early morning. The river water was warm and muddy. The air was steamy and grew hotter as the day progressed. By midday thirst drove Odell and me to a nearby general store for drinks colder than the now-tepid water we had brought along.
The first time we bought drinks at the general store, I chose Coca Cola. It felt and tasted good, but left my thirst in place. A water fountain was attached to the soft-drink cooler so I bent over and drank my fill. The result was heavenly! A cold Coke couldn’t come close to this!
The same is true of Bible words contrasted with imaginative representations of Christ in fiction, videos and movies. Even good art lacks the invigorating power of Truth itself!
It is natural for Christians to want more information on the earthly lives of Jesus and his apostles. The gospels impart a powerful picture of their characters and purpose, but don’t offer biographies.
Before looking to fictional representations of the Lord and his disciples to obtain more richness, shouldn’t we ask ourselves whether God - who inspired the gospels - had a purpose for including facts while leaving others out?
Popular historian Paul Johnson wrote a piece for The Spectator-UK in 2004 titled “It’s not what you put in but what you leave out that matters.” Mr. Johnson cites Jane Austen, T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound as writers gifted with knowing what to exclude and leave to the reader’s creative reflection. Christians can amplify their appreciation of gospel truth by reflecting on related portions of Old and New Testament scripture.
I enjoy fiction that incorporates Christ and other biblical personages, like the action-packed story Ben Hur. I avoid reading or viewing stories that add or subtract to the character of Christ or the apostles represented in scripture. Why? I see a danger that enlarging on their character (even in “Christian fiction”) may be to offer “another gospel” made appealing by conjecture. I liken that to the way Coke enlivens plain water by adding a special formulation of sugar, caffeine, and carbonation.