This past fall I was intrigued enough by the promos for the Fox drama, Sleepy Hollow, to watch. With the first season now ended, here are some reflections on the show and some of the worldview assumptions undergirding it.
For starters, I very much enjoyed the show. I have long enjoyed the fantasy genre in one form or another. Sleepy Hollow, although much darker and more heavily steeped in the occult than the standard fantasy fair, certainly did not disappoint on those grounds. The basic premise is that with the aid of a magic spell, a Revolutionary-era Ichabod Crane is transported to the modern world where he meets up with Detective Abbie Mills from Sleepy Hollow, NY. The two discover that they are actually the Two Witnesses from Revelation 11 except instead of proclaiming the Gospel their job is actually to stop the Apocalypse from happening.
This leads my central observation. The writers of Sleepy Hollow draw on enough apocalyptic themes from Christian literature to hook Christian viewers (guilty as charged), but do so without embracing the Christian worldview that produced them. Throughout the viewing season there have been a number of different illustrations of this. Let me offer some examples and then some reflections on why this matters.
The first time I suspected the writers were drawing on Christian themes without really grasping what they were doing came pretty early in the series when one of the main characters referred to the Book of Revelation. I counted it as merely a fluke until it happened a second time a couple of episodes later. It’s a common mistake that even many Christians make, but a careful writer interested in getting things accurate wouldn’t have let that slip.
Another example of this came variously throughout the season when Detective Mills would quote Scripture out-of-the-blue and in contexts that would have left my Biblical interpretation professor cringing. While I appreciate the nod to the importance of Scripture memory, the verses she quotes weren’t exactly high on the normal list of Bible verses particularly worth knowing by heart. This display of Biblical knowledge crosses the line to downright unbelievable when she knows off the top of her head exactly how many verses long a particular story should be at a critical moment. What is perhaps most troubling here is that while she seems to have an uncanny ability to know just the right verse for a given, story-appropriate context, she seems to have somehow completely missed out on vast swaths of Scripture that relate directly, and hopefully, to the dire circumstances of the show.
This leads to a third example. As I indicated in the plot summary above, the whole premise of the show is that Crane and Mills are tasked with stopping the Apocalypse. The assumption undergirding this task is that the Apocalypse is a demonic invention and that we have the power to stop it. The problem with this, of course, is that it is profoundly wrong. It gets worse. Throughout John’s Revelation one of the themes that is impossible for even a beginning reader to overlook is the fact that God is absolutely sovereign over everything that’s happening. In the Sleepy Hollow universe, however, in spite of drawing heavily on Biblical themes, God the Father receives no mention, Jesus is mentioned only in the context of a failed exorcism, and the fate of the world seems to depend entirely on the success of Crane and Mills. The writers draw on explicitly Christian themes while totally ignoring the Christian worldview supporting them. What is left is a show that is utterly trivial and which presents a world wracked by a petrifying uncertainty in which evil is strong, more organized, and poised to dominate the good forces in the world but for the efforts of a committed, brave few whose success is far from guaranteed.
This all matters because in our hyper-spiritual age for the many folks unfamiliar with the Christian worldview and what the Bible actually says, this all sounds plausible. Sure real Christians talk about Jesus a bit more, but this dualism in which good and evil are on a roughly equal footing and much depends on us sounds about right. There’s some hope, sure, but it is riding on the efforts of a few brave souls. God is nowhere to be found. What a depressing view of the world! How unlike the truth we actually proclaim. As Christians, we know that we inhabit a world in which hope has a much more secure foundation than that. Furthermore, it is a world in which the end has already been announced from the beginning: God wins and the contest isn’t actually a contest at all. There never has been nor will there ever be a meaningful challenge to God’s authority. He is the Creator and His good plans will come to pass. He’ll allow things to get pretty wild for a time in a final attempt to convince people that life apart from Him is going to be more terrible than we can imagine, but He will always be the One in charge. And, all those whose trust is in Him through Christ have nothing to fear from any kind of evil. This is a message worth proclaiming and which in fact must be proclaimed to counteract wild distortions of the Christian worldview like those presented on Sleepy Hollow.
At the end of the day, the Christian worldview as presented in the Bible—all of it, not merely those parts cherry-picked for the sake of storytelling—is the only one that makes sense of the world as it actually is. Everything else is either wishful thinking or unnecessary despair. Furthermore, trying to borrow on the moral or theological capital of the Christian worldview without actually embracing it will lead to worldviews which are unhelpful, unserious, and ultimately, dangerous. Let us be able defenders of the real Christian worldview and well-enough informed on its particulars that we can easily discern imposters.