Friday, March 9, 2018

A Wrinkle in Time: A Pastor's Review



Hot on the heels of the action blockbuster Black Panther, Disney continues its theatrical takeover this weekend with A Wrinkle In Time. Starring Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, and Mindy Kaling as the three Mrs. W's; Chris Pine and Gugu Mbatha-Raw as the scientific parents; and Storm Reid, Levi Miller, and Deric McCabe as the child heroes. It's rated PG "for thematic elements and some peril."

The pre-release reviews haven't been good. Critics say the movie doesn't work, it has no flow, it's a mess, and a tragedy. (If Oprah was planning on using this as a pre-presidential campaign vehicle, it won't earn her any style points.) This is Disney's second attempt at making A Wrinkle in Time into a movie. The first was 15 years ago, a made-for-TV flop. This latest effort might be as good as the movie can get. The book is practically unfilmable (read: very strange).

A Wrinkle in Time is an over-hyped young adult fantasy novel written by Madeleine L'Engle, an Episcopalian who believed in universal salvation. "All will be redeemed in God's fullness of time," she wrote; "all, not just the small portion of the population who have been given the grace to know and accept Christ" (from A Stone for a Pillow, pg. 117). This theology of hers was not merely personal; she dispensed it in her fiction, including A Wrinkle in Time.

Christian themes are more overt in A Wrinkle in Time than they are in C.S. Lewis's allegorical The Chronicles of Narnia. L'Engle even quotes Scripture. But do not be fooled -- A Wrinkle in Time is about as Christian as a book written by Rob Bell; meaning that L'Engle's use of the Bible is not honorable but blasphemous and heretical.

A Warped Theology

The first of these abused references occurs in chapter four. The young main characters Meg, Calvin, and Charles Wallace travel to a distant world with three mysterious women named Mrs. Which, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Whatsit. Meg and Charles Wallace are a sister and her younger brother looking for their father, a scientist who has learned to travel via tesseract, or a "wrinkle" in time and space.

While on this new world, Mrs. Whatsit unveiled her true form, a centaur-like creature with giant wings. Her upper-torso now looks like a man, and it might be prophetic how the author struggles with pronouns: "He? She? It?"

Calvin is so amazed by Mrs. Whatsit's appearance that he falls to his knees, and Mrs. Whatsit promptly tells him, "No. Not to me, Calvin. Never to me. Stand up." This of course is like John bowing to an angel in Revelation 19:10, but the angel says, "You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God."

Lest you think this is L'Engle's way of saying, "Worship God," you'll understand in a moment why that's not her intention.

The children climb on Mrs. Whatsit's back, and they go for a ride. On their tour, they see other creatures like Mrs. Whatsit enjoying a heaven-like paradise. The creatures are all singing the same song, and this is what Meg hears:
"Sing unto the Lord a new song, and his praise from the end of the earth, ye that go down to the sea, and all that is therein; the isles, and the inhabitants thereof. Let the wilderness and the cities thereof lift their voice; let the inhabitants of the rock sing, let them shout from the top of the mountains. Let them give glory unto the Lord."
This is taken from Isaiah 42:10-12, and it's rather startling when it comes up. The book has given no indication prior to this of being "Christian." Suddenly we're introduced to these creatures quoting Isaiah (the reference isn't given), but we're not told how they know Isaiah, or even if anyone reads the Bible.

Mrs. Whatsit climbs higher and higher and shows the children a distant darkened "Black Thing" made of pure evil (the names are not terribly creative). They learn their father is on a world called Camazotz, a dark planet that has given in to the evil of The Black Thing, which Mrs. Which also refers to as "the Powers of Darkness."

But there have been fighters that have conquered The Black Thing before. Many of those fighters have come from earth. To give them a hint as to who they are, Mrs. Who quotes John 1:5, saying, "And the light shineth in the darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not."

"Jesus!" Charles Wallace exclaims. "Why of course, Jesus!" But there are others, and the children begin to name them: Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Shakespeare, Bach, Pasteur, Einstein, Schweitzer, Gandhi, and even Buddha.

Yup, Jesus is just one of a line of great men who have fought a evil intelligence in science fiction. He's no one of any more significance or importance than Gandhi or Buddha or Shakespeare. If you do great things and fight the darkness, you can be just as important as Jesus was.

A Wrinkle in Time also includes a reference to Romans 8:28 (chapter 10). The children encounter some large, sightless beasts with tentacles, and these are revealed to be the actual angels of the Bible, "Messengers of God" (chapter 11). Mrs. Who quotes 1 Corinthians 1:27-29, which is of course taken completely out of context (chapter 12).

The religious pluralism and new age thinking smattered throughout the story are right up Oprah's alley. It's of little wonder why she took the role of Mrs. Which. She would never be aligned with something exclusively Christian. But to say that Jesus is just one of many great and good historical figures and not the Christ, the only begotten Son of God, is exactly Oprah's theology.

The story concludes suddenly with an "All you need is love" kind of ending. The author tells the story from Meg's vantage point and at times feels like reading a middle-school girl's journal. For example, every time Calvin touches or looks at her can be kind of awkward for the reader. She's also rather whiny and prone to mood swings (what middle-school girl isn't?). I didn't enjoy the book on multiple levels. Even taking out the blasphemy and the new agey-ness, the enthusiasm over L'Engle's classic is undeserved.

Conclusion

I don't recommend A Wrinkle in Time, neither the movie nor the book. Whether you let your child watch or read is of course up to you. Just be sure you talk to them about the story's "Christian" themes. Help them understand why this is not a Christian book or movie -- just because someone mentions God or quotes the Bible doesn't mean they are of God or love His word.

The moral of the story is that anyone can defeat evil with "love," or by just being a good person full of light. Everyone is basically good infected by some outside evil. But the Bible tells us we are evil from the core. The intention of man's heart is evil from his youth (Genesis 8:21). The heart of man is so deceitfully sick, who can understand it (Jeremiah 17:9)? No one is good, not even one person (Romans 3:12).

Only God is good (Mark 10:18). Jesus, the Son of God, is the only person who lived a good life -- not Buddha, not Gandhi, not Beethoven, not Bozo the Clown. Jesus is not a fictional character. He is really and truly God, who took on human flesh and lived a perfect life, dying on the cross for our sins and rising from the grave. All who believe in Him will not perish under the wrath of God burning against us unrighteous people, but through faith in Christ we will have eternal life. That's the good news of the gospel.

Neither L'Engle nor Oprah have understood that no ones gets to God but through Jesus Christ (John 14:6). God will judge all who did not believe in Him and did not obey the gospel. But if you repent and follow Jesus, He will "make you worthy of His calling and fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by His power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Thessalonians 1:11-12).