Early this week the Box Office results came in: Disney’s The Jungle Book opened with one of the biggest April debuts ever. The story isn’t new, but the movie’s live-action presentation makes it completely different than its beloved 1967(!) cartoon predecessor. It’s the most recent in a string of remakes that Disney has released as they retell their “old, old” stories in different ways that resonate with new generations.
“To have this incredible vault of content that they can go back to and reimagine, retool and recreate for today‘s audiences just gives them a depth and breadth of films that is almost unparalleled,”Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for comScore, said. “Disney has this knack for taking something that’s very old and making it new again.”
Church leaders would do well to pay close attention to what Disney is doing as it revives not only its children’s classics, but the Star Wars and Marvel franchises as well. They are, in essence, practicing what Greg Jones of Duke Divinity School calls Traditioned Innovation – a way that holds the past and future in creative tension, not opposition, with one another. Greg Jones and Disney don’t see “today” as a problem to be overcome, but an opportunity to share their respective stories with modern audiences.
That’s the challenge for many churches today: to not see “today” as a problem to overcome, but as an opportunity to re-narrate the “old, old story.”
As wonderful as Disney’s stories are, people of faith have a better one. As deep as their narrative wells go, the Church has a deeper one. As fantastic and imaginative as Mickey Mouse is, Jesus offers a fuller reality that touches those places in our lives we attempt to escape from through film and story.
If only we did better at telling that story, “taking something that’s very old and making it new again.” Not with some missing-the-point defensive film like the God’s Not Dead franchise, but in more Jesus-like ways. People don’t agree with you or aren’t in to Jesus? Ok, shake your shoes off and move on (Matt 10:14). Don’t like the way politics is being discussed on your Facebook feeds? Turn the computer off, and pray for “all those in authority” (1 Tim 2:2) lest you fall into the same sin (Gal 6:1). Ever complain about “the church” and how others have failed, mistreated, or disappointed you? Maybe you should practice patience and long-suffering (Galatians 5:22-23). Because “quiting” or “walking away” and “taking a break” are the same old ways that need to be re-narrated and told differently.
How wonderful it would be if “our” story was one of deep commitment, generosity, and personal responsibility to “make God’s Kingdom come and God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” That’s the old, old story, and that’s the one we need to tell anew to today’s generations. That’s the tension. And that’s the opportunity: to reimagine, retool, and recreate for today’s audiences the story of Jesus and his love.