Show, don’t tell: Tolkein versus LaHaye/Jenkins

One of these stories is not like the other. One shows, one tells.

A link via Opus to a SkyeBox blog entry that responds to a recent Relevant article asking why Christian movies are so bad. The SkyeBox author believes — and I with him — the Relevant writer missed a crucial point.

He believes that our modernist Evangelical theology prevents us from non-literal thinking, from using our imagination and accepting the reality of mystery.

American evangelicalism, for the most part, has rejected a sacramental understanding of creation. Unlike Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and some other high-church traditions, evangelicalism is rooted in modernity and a literalist vision of the world. The bread is just bread. The wine is just wine (sorry, grape juice) . . . Our brand of theology tends not to feed or cultivate the imagination.

A sacramental theology, on the other hand, requires one to see on multiple layers at once. A thing may carry multiple meanings simultaneously. Symbols dominate space and teaching. Mystery is embraced, and the imagination encouraged . . .

Is it possible that creative story-telling, like the kind necessary to produce great films, is particularly difficult for evangelicals because our instinct is to come directly at a something? . . . Rather than create a fantasy world like Middle-Earth to speak about the dangers of industrialization, a task that requires imagination and comfort with ambiguity, we’d rather just create a film about the dangers of industrialization.

The Left Behind books/films are an example of this direct communication style. Clearly LeHaye and Jankins [sic] created the series to teach their particular end times theology.

The SkyeBox writer goes on to describe a Van Gogh work painted in response to pieces by his friends Gauguin and Bernard. He thought his friends’ depictions of Christ in the Garden of Olives were too literal and responded with his own painting of Christ in the Garden where there was no visual depiction of Jesus.

I’ve been wondering if my own work has been too literal recently, although I understand that part of the reason for that has been an attempt to further my craft. In some ways it’s all a moot point though: I just haven’t had the time or a consistent enough schedule to properly iterate in my sculpture.

I’m eager to get to a point where my imagination becomes a greater part of my current sculptural work, where my ideas shine through my craft in a way that communicates with depth. I am moving in that direction, just not as quickly as I’d like.


About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at

2 Responses to Show, don’t tell: Tolkein versus LaHaye/Jenkins

  1. Julie says:

    Love just the title… An hour ago I had a conversation w/my teacher re some comments and questions he had after my last crit; he said he didn’t want to talk about them, make work in response and let’s talk about that.

    Smart man.

  2. Julie says:

    Okay, I’m so grateful that I read all those articles. Have to process more. It overlaps with a lot of what I’ve been thinking about lately. The timing is felicitous.

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