Our Holy Grail: An Honest Depiction of Christianity in Pop Culture

Editor’s Note: This post was written by Guest Writer, Seth T. Hahne. Besides commenting incessantly here, he also occasionally blogs at Nowheresville, USA.

Common wisdom says it is rare to find realistic depictions of Christianity from non-Christian sources. Still moreso from artifacts of pop culture. When a creator like Kevin Huizenga is discovered, an author who crafts a story that portrays conservative Christian characters both realistically and empathetically, his work will almost certainly bear inspection, consideration, and discussion.

Of particular interest here is Huizenga’s short story, “Jeepers Jacobs,” collected first in the comics anthology, Kramer’s Ergot #5 (published Dec 2004) and two years later in Huizenga’s own graphic album, Curses (Dec 2006). The story is part of a series featuring Glenn Ganges, an average man in an average life, who may or may not function as Huizenga’s author surrogate.

In any case, Glenn is either an atheist or an agnostic who has apparently and quietly apostatized, finding his trust in science to be largely incompatible with his trust in Scripture. Also, the story is not really so much about him.

“Jeepers Jacobs” begins with Glenn joining his liberal Christian brother (a Christian educator at a local seminary) and two of his brother’s far more conservative Evangelical colleagues for a morning of golf. After the game, conservative seminary professor Jeepers Jacobs discovers that Glenn is an unbeliever on the way to dropping him off at his home—but in his surprise carries the conversation no further.

jeepers06a

This paralysis will haunt Jacobs over the following pages as he pens an article on hell for First Standards, a conservative theological journal. And this is where Huizenga’s power as an author truly begins to assert itself.

Nearly the entire remainder of “Jeepers Jacobs” concerns Jacobs’ process as he develops the article. Huizenga offers the reader the opportunity both to read Jacobs’ article and to glimpse his thought process and the works he consults as he circles in on the debate between the annihilationists and the traditionalists. Jacobs consults the works of Blanchard, Gerstner (on Edwards), Robert A. Peterson, and even D.A. Carson’s Exegetical Fallacies. He excepts John Stott, Clark Pinnock, and Vander Barthazar, allowing them to do the talking for themselves. Jacobs (and Huizenga) even invokes the spirits of Origen and Christ himself, before allowing the two sides (embodied in Jacobs’ imagination by Glenn’s brother and their other conservative golfing partner respectfully) to debate each other.

jeepers09a

In some ways, I found Huizenga’s portrayal of Jacobs shameful. Not so much because he treated the character unfairly but because I think the degree of honesty with which Jacobs approaches the annihilationist’s position (a position with which he heartily disagrees) is something I do not often encounter within our circles. At points, Jacobs chastises Isaac Watts and Charles Spurgeon for embellishing on hell beyond that which Scripture itself would allow.

Would that more believers held to a level of integrity congruent with that represented by a fictional character created by this non-believer.

As Jacobs develops his article, “Is Hell Empty?” (alternate title: “Hell Hath No Fury?”), we watch his growing concern for Glenn’s soul mount even as the chore of daily living interrupts as it will. At one point in his internal debate between the annihilationists and traditionalists, Huizenga interrupts his flow of multi-paneled pages with a full-page, wordless depiction of “the smoke of their torment going up forever,” illustrating ably the personal torment that Jacobs is even then feeling for his failure to engage Glenn in regard to his rejection of faith. This renewed vision of the doctrine of eternal conscious torment prompts Jacobs to seek a new opportunity to do what he might to save Glenn from such a destiny.

jeepers17a

The story is a touching monument to the love one person can have for another (whether one agrees with Jacobs’ beliefs or not) and stands as an admonishment to believers that not every instance of pop cultural product that is produced by non-Christians must portray Christians unfairly. During a six-panel sequence in which Jacobs finishes his text affirming the doctrine of a literal hell in which unbelievers are tormented eternally for their sins, Huizenga conveys in a montage of images that Jacobs is no monster but an upstanding, caring, charitable member of society. Jacobs teaches Greek, sings awkwardly in church, feeds the homeless, engages in prison ministry, and spends time with his family (praying over a meal at the table with a son who, eyes open, may not even believe as his father does).

Under Huizenga’s pen, Jeepers Jacobs is a man who is real. Not a caricature. Not a stereotype. Not a pastiche of tired cliches or an opportunity for the usual rhetoric. Jeepers Jacobs is a man with concerns and faults and guilt and triumphs and history, joy, sorrow, frustration, honesty, and love. But above all, I think, Jeepers Jacobs is a man who has Christ.

And really, isn’t that what we’ve always wanted to see in Christians depicted in the non-Christian media?

[note: Kramer's Ergot #5 (ISBN: 978-1584231721) is published by Gingko Press and Curses (978-1894937863) is currently available and published by Drawn and Quarterly.]

About Seth T. Hahne

Seth T. Hahne is an illustrator, web designer, and son of hippies. He illustrates CAPC's featured articles out of all the special feelings in his heart. His favourite authors are Murakami, Bolaño, and Ishiguro. His favourite film is Snow Falling on Cedars. And his favourite music is cool jazz. Seth reviews comics, graphic novels, and manga at his own website, Good Ok Bad: Home of the 3-Star Review, where he would love to recommend something worth your while. He rides a scooter to work.

  • http://nowheresville.us The Dane

    For those interested, the larger collection of Huizenga’s work in which one can most readily find “Jeepers Jacobs” is Curses. It’s a collection of short stories and is very good. I review it here and do so highly enough that I’d recommend tracking down the whole thing.

    Most reputable library networks will have it available for check out if you don’t wish do purchase something sight-unseen. Even mine, which is hardly reputable, had a copy or two in its network of circulation.

  • Carissa Smith

    As soon as I saw the author’s name, I thought, “Calvin College”? Turns out I was right: http://www.calvin.edu/publications/spark/2008/spring/huizenga-kevin.htm

    That would explain a lot about his theological/intellectual integrity.

  • http://nowheresville.us The Dane

    Did you know him Carissa? Was I mistaken to characterize him as a non-Christian? (I guess that was kind of assumptive on my part.)

  • http://goannatree.blogspot.com Goannatree

    Thanks for this! I’ll check it out.

  • Carissa Smith

    No, I went to Wheaton, which is pretty much the same thing as Calvin, only less Dutch/Reformed and more in possession of C. S. Lewis’s wardrobe. But I’d say that a Calvin alum, even a “backslid” one, would have a pretty good theological education. It would enable him to critique accurately from the inside. That’s exactly the sort of knowledge that I wish had been in movies like Saved. That movie just lost all credibility for me when they had a Christian high school putting on a production of Jesus Christ Superstar. Would never happen.

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  • http://nowheresville.us The Dane

    Incidentally, I just ran across this interview with Huizenga in which he discusses his work. Apropos of our interest here:

    I never made that connection before with the idea of the two directions—that’s a good question.
    I don’t want to explore something like “Science vs. Faith” in my work, though it may seem this way. My stories have involved scientists and clergymen and they seem to be in conflict—as well as the conflict over the explanation of the red harvest moon. I’m not interested in questions of “either/or” or even “both.” We have these kinds of discussions going on right now in America because some religious conservatives are trying to fight the teaching of evolution in Biology in our schools. I’m interested in a dense visual presentation of information—whether this is religious, poetic, or scientific, it doesn’t matter to me. I’m mostly trying to tell an interesting story—and then because it’s a comic strip, I want the drawings to be complex and suggest the complexity of reality. I love diagrams. Secondly I’m interested in putting this information in a story with characters. I’d say I’m more interested in the characters who might be interested in these questions than the questions themselves.

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