By: John Van Sloten
Over the past fifteen years I’ve preached on many movies: The Theory of Everything, The Croods, The Dark Knight, How to Train your Dragon, UP, Crash, Gran Torino, Where the Wild Things Are, and Ratatouille, to name a few.
I’ve also written sermons on several bands and singers, including Arcade Fire, Mumford and Sons, Lauryn Hill, Alicia Keys, Peter Gabriel, The National, Amy Winehouse, Neil Young, Johnny Cash, Rush and many more.
Alongside themes of film and music, I’ve also spoken on sport (Olympic hockey, The World Cup, and extreme skiing), science (neurons, supernovas, geophysics and the kidney) and vocation (a sanitation worker, audiologist, farmer and a Walmart greeter).
I didn’t choose these topics to be cool or relevant. I chose them because I know that they belong to God and that the truth, beauty and meaning they embody comes from God. I preach creational texts because I believe that all good storytelling is God’s good story telling, all great song lyrics are inspired by the Holy Spirit, all of the vicarious glory we experience through sport is a pointer to God’s glory, all truth that fills a scientist’s mind is truth that God first conceived, and that all good work is God’s good work.
I also preach creational texts because I don’t want to miss out on anything God is saying. God speaks through two books—the Bible and creation—and I want to read both.
The Bible, of course, is crucial for this endeavor. It’s a lens that enables me to see beyond the creation-skewing effects of sin and engage God’s revelation in creation (Calvin). This can sometimes be a lot of work. But let me tell you, it’s worth it; especially when the epiphany hits and you make a crucial link between joy and sadness in Inside Out, or The King’s Speech shows me the power of words and how we are all made in the image of a God who speaks, or a scientific truth from the field of epigenetics illumines the confounding “sins-of-the-father” truth of the second commandment, or a song from U2, Coldplay, or Leonard Cohen becomes a prayer.
It’s happened hundreds of times over the years: God speaking through creation in ways that seem timely, fresh, alive and new. It’s as though God’s truth in creation adds color, sound, taste and feel to what I know from God’s written word. And somehow, through hearing God’s voice in both texts, I know God more.
This is what I want for everyone in the church: that each one hears the whole counsel of God, not just a one-book story but a two-book story.
The response to this kind of preaching has been beautiful (and surprising) over the years. People within the church are learning to hear God’s voice in places where they never knew to listen. And people outside of the church are seeing a church that loves good music as much as they do, respects solid science just like they do, and gets lost in the flow of good work even as they do.
I still shake my head at some of the responses we’ve gotten from the broader culture over the years: a CBC morning television news interview about a sermon on “The Simpsons,” Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich sending a Warner Music camera crew to our church to film a sermon on the band, a Canadian fashion designer debuting his Spring 2005 collection at church on Sunday morning as our call to worship (before doing his shows in LA and New York), local rock stations promoting upcoming music sermons and doing live interviews, all three major Canadian television networks doing news stories on a Toronto Blue Jays sermon last fall, and agnostic and atheist scientists, journalists, electricians, judges, nurses, firefighters, florists and police officers being willing to help research sermons on their field of expertise.
And most recently, Supertramp’s Roger Hodgson making contact last fall after watching a sermon I preached on his band and inviting me to his next concert, when he dedicated his fifth song to a pastor (out loud!). We met in his dressing room after the show and he said, “I’m not much into preachers, but you’ve got it right . . . keep spreading the love.”
These kinds of stories have played out again and again. There is something about naming God’s truth in our world that sounds like good news to those outside the church.
John Van Sloten is a pastor at New Hope Hillside Christian Reformed Church in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. In 2010 he wrote, The Day Metallica Came to Church: Searching for the Everywhere God in Everything (Square Inch). His next book, Your Job is a Parable (Navpress) will be out in 2017. Visit https://vimeo.com/newhopecalgary/videos to listen to John’s messages on the movies, bands and themes described in this post.