Well I do love the 1971 movie, “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.” I did enjoy the book it was based on (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). but it has been over three decades since I read it and its sequel, so I would rather base the story on that movie not the book. The revisioning of the story by Tim Burton could have, should have perhaps, been better, but ultimately wasn’t.
In the 1971 movie, what was the reason for the “advent” of Willie Wonka, the breaking of years of mysterious absence? A few options could be suggested:
- To give out several golden tickets.
- To give an amazing tour of the chocolate factory
- To find a mentor to be trained to be his replacement as the head of the chocolate factory
- To sell more chocolate
- To deal with dangerous candy manufacturing competitors.
The fifth option was shown to be a red herring at the end of the movie, but the first four have more potential. At the end of the movie, the “real reason” given was to seek a mentor. However, the methodology of getting there was quite poor. The plot has two major sections that point towards the first two options— the search for the golden tickets and tour of the factory. However, the search for the tickets was more of a means, rather than an end of itself, and the tour is joined by the participants all with very different motives.
Perhaps the only option that really makes sense is the fourth one. Willy Wonka opened the doors of his factory to sell more chocolate. It alone justifies the awkward method of seeking a mentor, and justifies putting tickets into the wrapping of chocolate bars that must be purchased.
And yet, that is unsatisfying. The movie is not just a business strategy, it is a story. That story depended on the entire plot, not just reduction to a single purpose or plot device. The story would not exist without the golden tickets or the tour. As part of the plot, they have more value than seeking a mentor or selling more chocolate, regardless of their centrality to the “purpose” of the story.
And then, you really can’t overlook Charlie either. His role as poor child, who cares for others, (the ultimate underdog) must be considered if one seeks an overall moral to the story.
So what does this have to do with the “Advent” of Christ?
A bit of a “Twitterstorm” started some days ago when Tim Keller put up the following Tweet:
“Jesus didn’t come primarily to solve the economic, political, and social problems of the world. He came to forgive our sins.”
I was quite surprised at the ruckus this fairly straightforward statement made. I do remember being a bit uncomfortable with it. I don’t like reductionism, and I wish Evangelicals weren’t so fascinated by “bumper sticker theology.” Of course, some of the concern hinges on what one means by “primarily.” After all, if primarily means the one main central reason, presumably God could have come up with a method of forgiveness that was a bit more… direct. Other reasons could also be given:
- Demonstration of God’s love. This comes, in part, from John 3:16. One might make the argument that it demonstrates God’s love because the incarnation provides the means for forgiving sins. But that is quite reductionistic. The method itself says much about God’s love, as God chose to humble Himself, and identify Himself with His creation.
- To bless all peoples. The Abrahamic Covenant sees itself fulfilled, in part, by the Advent of Christ. This blessing has a universal quality to it that transcends issues of salvation, election, free will, and atonement.
- To be the anointed one. Our Bibles are not just the Epistles. They are also the Gospels and the Old Testament. One could probably just as accurately say that Jesus came, primarily, to fulfil God’s promise for the anointed liberator of God’s people.
- To provide a way. While we often focus on forgiveness coming from faith, faith is generally described in terms of a path. In Jesus we have not just the life and the truth, but also the way. Jesus came as a prophetic teacher, to provide revolutionary ethics in how we are to live. It is hard to see how that can be seen as secondary.
- To give ultimate victory in spiritual battle. While many like to reify the spiritual war metaphor,this seems much less than a primary purpose for the advent. God is not in some uncertain struggle with the devil. Much like with Willy Wonka, the struggle with competition is more of a red herring.
- To inaugurate the Kingdom of God. The reign of God has implications with regards economic, political, and social problems. I guess that is the reason that I struggle with Keller’s quote. Can one say that the inauguration of the Kingdom of God is secondary to the establishing a means for forgiveness? I’m not sure.
- To reveal Himself. Much like in the above movie where Charlie is character is part of the purpose of the story, so is Jesus in the advent. Jesus is Immanuel, God with us. He is the revelation of God “in these last days.” Presumably, God could have come up with a way to forgive that maintained His own personal splendor and transcendence. Islam, for example, prefers a merciful God that lacks the messy self-involvement of identification and incarnation. But in the Christian faith, how could one place this below the strategy of the atonement?
In the end, the Advent of Christ is a story. I believe it is ill-advised to suggest that elements of the story are subordinate to others.
Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory was not primarily about a business strategy, it was not primarily about selling chocolate, it was not primarily about finding a golden ticket. and it wasn’t primarily about a tour of the factory. They were all critical elements. Willy Wonka could find a successor in a more efficient manner, and sell chocolate with thousands of different strategies. In a story, the method is still part of the story. And so are the primary characters.
Is Jesus primary reason for coming to provide a method to forgive sins (the “golden ticket” purpose)? Maybe, but if it is primary, that doesn’t make the other reasons secondary, nor is the method secondary, nor Himself secondary.
I like a lot of what Tim Keller says even though our theology is different in some ways (Frankly, I feel good that I would fail the TGC litmus test), His tweet isn’t bad, even if I would struggle to agree wholeheartedly. Maybe his biggest error is to try to speak broadly on the Advent of Christ in 280 characters.