Freed to live through the death of another.

Plagiarizing God

We are copycats. In one sense, we can’t help it. We were created to be image bearers, reflecting the likeness of the one who designed us.

But you don’t have to live long before you learn that there are respectable kinds of copying and there are dishonest kinds. If I’m writing out a thought, for example, and cite the authors and sources that inspired me, I honour them. If, however, I use someone else’s work and don’t give them credit then I am an idea-thief and I dishonour the original writer.

Gospel on Prime-Time TV

Hasn’t it ever struck you as funny that the TV shows and movies which make the biggest impact sound somewhat familiar? From Jack Bauer to Batman, hero after hero must sacrifice himself in a noble way, be misunderstood, and ultimately ‘die’ alone. (In the case of Batman, he even ‘rises again’ as we’re about to see in theatres.)

Even the recent conclusion of the TV series House, MD wrapped up with none other than the oft-misunderstood Gregory House ‘laying down his life for his friend.’ And this is supposed to be original? For those who endured the four seasons of the should-have-been-one-season series Prison Break, you saw that in the end the hero (who already had to enter into his brother’s prison to save him) finally had to pay the ultimate price and give his life for his friends.

Each of these TV shows and movies tells the same story. But it’s not the creation of the men who wrote the screen plays. They are telling us the gospel in shadow-form.

This is Good News!

For Christians, this should be affirming. We believe that God has structured this universe and ordered all events in human history with the sole goal of displaying the glory of his Son. The gospel is the climax of that goal; it displays Jesus in all his love and justice and mercy and tenderness. It is deepest sacrifice and deepest love co-mingled in a way that stirs the soul more deeply than any other story ever could.

So it’s no wonder that people want to copy this story. It’s impossible to improve on it. And for Christians, there is a neat joy to being reminded of Jesus through the secular media.

But it is Tragic

And yet, despite the joy of seeing Jesus depicted in the media of our day, there are a few reasons I’m filled with sadness when I consider it. One reason is just that it reminds me of the hopelessness of mankind. People on their own, with their own imaginations, as they strive to be in touch with their own souls, can come so close to grasping at the gospel and yet be so far. Apart from new birth they will die having spent their lives enraptured by knock-offs of the true story.

Another reason why it makes me sad is that it dishonours God. These men and women creating these shows are copying the greatest story ever told; it is not their creation. And inevitably, when they tell the story, they do not do it justice. They do not give glory to the true story writer from whom they’ve drawn their inspiration (knowingly or otherwise).

They are plagiarizing God — but I want him to get the glory.

My Two Solutions

So I have two solutions. One is this: Use these stories as opportunities to worship. When you see the gospel in the stories others are telling, thank God that Jesus is the true hero and God is the true writer.

My second solution is geared more evangelistically: Use these stories as gospel conversation starters. People love talking about TV shows and movies. Why don’t we learn to speak with our neighbours about these stories in ways that we can point them to the true story?

What about you? Do you have any other ideas on how we can redeem the gospel plagiarism of our day?


  1. Peter

    It's so true!

    I was thinking more about this since reading this post

    • Julian

      Very cool! Thanks, Peter! I'm always glad to know I'm not the only one seeing it. 🙂

  2. matttconp

    It is amazing how good stories have a "formula" to them that really haven't been improved on in centuries. The "Great Books" of ancient Greece are still great for a reason. The mistake our generation often makes is that if it's formulaic, we throw it out, with little regard for whether or not the formula is actually fruitful. We try to reinvent the wheel every time, in a lot of ways.

    • Julian

      Good insight, Matt. I do find it fun to sometimes contemplate this: 'Out of all the hit books & TV shows & movies from our generation, which will actually become classics?' Oftentimes I don't think the 'classics' are necessarily the most popular the instant they come out.

      The stories that make a true, lasting impact on people are epic tales of the human need for a saviour — however that comes about.

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