Stephen King’s IT Movie: Longing for Community, Grace, & The Gospel

Stephen King’s IT Movie: Longing for Community, Grace, & The Gospel February 2, 2018
Warner Bros. Pictures
Warner Bros. Pictures

*For a detailed analysis of Stephen King’s It Movie [2017] from a Christian worldview, from the perspective of two Southern Baptist pastors, See episode 3 of our podcast Pop Culture Coram Deo. Subscribe (iTunes, Stitcher, acast, Player.FM) for more interaction with pop culture from a Christian worldview. You can watch Stephen King’s It Movie on Amazon.

Why Engage Popular Culture? Why watch a horror movie about a terrifying supernatural killer clown?

1. First a note about horror as a genre. Oftentimes in movies, there is a blurred line between good and evil. But in horror, there is usually a distinct good and a distinct evil, and good usually wins out.

Second, consider this quote by Brian Godowa about the horror genre from an interview with Tony Reinke (Look up the Scripture!):

The moral purpose of the horror genre is to expose what evil is, reinforce our need for courage to fight evil, and to have a healthy righteous fear instead of naive innocence when it comes to discernment in the world. Sounds like the Bible.

God uses the horror genre to solicit righteous fear of evil, and encourage repentance and righteous living. Beyond your examples, the books of Daniel and Revelation are epic horror fantasies of blood and gore using symbolic horror monsters as an analogy for real life. That’s what all horror does. It works as metaphor for something else, like social commentary (Underworld), spiritual truth (Jekyl and Hyde), or man’s hubris (Frankenstein).

God uses zombies and vampires as metaphors for spiritual evil in Scripture — I kid you not (see Micah 3:1–3; Ezekiel 39:18–19). God uses Frankenstein monsters as metaphors for political and social commentary (see Ezekiel 11:19; Revelation 13:1–2). One of God’s favorite horror metaphors is cannibalism as a literary symbol of spiritual apostasy (see Ezekiel 36:13–14; Psalm 27:2; Proverbs 30:14; Jeremiah 19:9; Zechariah 11:9)

This does not justify all horror stories ever told. Far from it. It simply establishes the genre, in broad terms, as one that God uses; therefore, it can be used with moral purpose (Source).

2. Popular culture reveals the ideologies of your neighbors. It often presents the “pulse” of your culture and shows you the future as well. We need to engage popular culture in a similar way as Paul did when he wandered around Athens “observing their idols” (Acts 17:22-28).

3. God’s image still remains in man (Gen. 1:26-28). Therefore, man creates much that is true, good, and beautiful. Yet, man often wrongly disconnects these good things from God. When Christians take what is true, good, and beautiful made by God’s image bearers and connect it back to God in light of the finished work of Christ, they can enjoy God, they can worship God.

4. Christians are watching these movies. The It movie [2017] is the highest grossing horror film of all time. Engaging popular culture helps us disciple other Christians to engage popular culture well. If Christians learn to apply a Christian worldview to popular culture, they will be equipped to apply a Christian worldview to every aspect of life.

5. Unbelievers are watching these movies. As Christians engage popular culture with the gospel, they will be given a bridge through which they can engage their unbelieving neighbors with the gospel. They can discuss the good from God’s image bearers and how sin distorts the good causing a false diagnosis of what is wrong with the world, and thus a false answer to how to remedy what is wrong. Knowing what unbelievers enjoy and why they enjoy it provides Christians with an avenue through which to share the gospel. What unbelievers long for is Christ, not false gospels. What they long for in fiction (the defeat of evil, a hero, a Savior), God has actually provided in Christ!

Now, let’s dive into Stephen King’s It Movie

SPOILER ALERT! Proceed at your own peril.

Conscience Report/Know Your Heart Report

*This report is not exhaustive. For an exhaustive report, check out the Plugged In Review.

*We don’t want any Christians to violate their consciences. Therefore, Christians have a responsibility to know what they can and cannot watch. If you believe you shouldn’t watch this movie, then do not watch this movie.

Language – Basically every word you can imagine is said in this movie. Much foul language; much use of the Lord’s name in vain.

Sexual Language – There is much sexual discussion among these teenage boys. They say inappropriate things to one another. It reminds me of when I was in middle school, when I was a “nominal” Christian, a Christian in name only. I don’t like that the boys are talking this way, but I believe it’s true to how many middle school boys talk.

-Beverly is called many inappropriate names. Many rumors about her promiscuity are spoken about by the boys. But, she’s only kissed a boy.

-It’s also hinted at that Beverly’s father is sexually abusing her. He says creepy things to her, and shows affection for her in a creepy way as well.

-At one point all the boys and Beverly go swimming in their undies. So, all of them are seen in their undies, and at one point, Beverly is laying in the sun and the boys are staring at her.

Violence – Some serious graphic violence in this movie. Some gore; not as bad as other movies; not gore for gore sake. But the goal of the movie is to terrify you, and it does a great job at it. This is probably top 10 for scariest movies I’ve seen.

Warner Bros. Pictures
Warner Bros. Pictures

*The Questions that follow come from Ted Turnau’s approach to popular culture as detailed in his book Popologetics: Popular Culture in Christian Perspective.

What’s the Story?

In the town of Derry, children in large number and even some adults are being killed. Early on we learn that a sinister clown is murdering these children. Seven kids who are bullied find the courage through friendship to band together and go from victim to victor. They go from the hunted to the hunters, being willing to lay down their lives for one another and for other kids and adults in Derry.

Where am I in this story?

If I was dropped into this world, I would be one of the outcasts, a part of the loser’s club. I think that’s King’s goal. He wants the audience to identify with the loser’s club. After all, we all feel like outcasts in this life at one point or another.

This is a world of outcasts and bullies. The outcasts are the heroes. The bullies are the bad, the evil. And there is an ultimate evil that is encouraging the bullies; “It,” Pennywise the Dancing Clown.

What’s good, true, and awesome here? Behold common grace.

A. This movie gets man’s need for community right.

1. All men, women, and children, regardless of age, need community. We need to belong. We need to be accepted.

2. And we are stronger together with people who love us than we are alone!

B. This movie gets coming of age right.

1. Most coming of age movies argue that sexual activity is what makes a person an adult. But this movie is different. Pre-marital sex is not what makes someone an adult. Puberty is not what makes someone an adult. This movie argues that what makes someone an adult is facing and overcoming your fears.

2. This movie argues that we must take responsibility for our fears. We cannot control what is outside of us, but we can control our reaction to it. We often cannot control what happens to us; but we can control how we respond to what happens to us.

C. This movie gets responding to evil right.

1. Where there is evil, it should be fought, to the death, if need be.

D. This movie gets grace right.

1. Friends giving their lives for one another should be praised! Exalting others above oneself is true love!

What’s distorted, evil, and false? How can I subvert idolatry?

The false gospel in this movie is made up of 2 realities: 1) The evil is misdiagnosed as outside of us. When, in reality, we are part of the evil. Evil is not only a problem outside of us but a problem within us. 2) Because the evil is misdiagnosed, the remedy is misdiagnosed as well. Our friends can sacrifice themselves all day long and we can face our fears all day long, but neither can ever save us from ourselves. Stephen King wants you to identify with the heroes in this movie, the loser’s club, but the Bible does not place mankind as the heroes, it reveals us as monsters. In the Bible, we are “It,” not the heroes.

We need a Savior who is outside of us, who is other than us. Someone who is like us, yet who is not a monster like us.

How does the gospel apply?

The It creature is within us, not outside of us. We, not the world, are our greatest enemy. I see “It” in the mirror looking back at me often. Therefore, if we’re to be saved, salvation is not going to be found within us. Our friends, our community cannot save us. Every community is full of its own “It’s” as well. “It” cannot save itself from “It.” We cannot save ourselves because we are “It.”

Our salvation is found in Someone who is not a monster, but someone who was treated like a monster so that the true monsters, sinners, you and I, could go free! In the legal sense, Jesus became a monster for us, because God “made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). Christ bore the full legal guilt for His monstrous enemies so that he could call them friends, brothers, and his Father can call them Sons and Daughters!

Reader, think of John 3:16 in light of this reality, think of God looking at His creation, looking at a world full of “It” creatures, and instead of giving us what we deserve, He sends Son to be treated like an “It” creature in our places so that we wouldn’t perish.

We often think of ourselves as innocent doves, but Jesus didn’t die for innocent doves, He died for sinners! He died for monsters! And He was treated like a monster so that we could be treated like sons and daughters of God!

And because of this reality, although I see “It” in the mirror often, I also see Christ in the mirror often. For, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).

And, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom. 8:29a).

“It’s” penalty has been satisfied, “It’s” power is being diminished in me daily by the Spirit through the Son to the Father, and soon, “It’s” presence will leave me forever due to the coming full realization of my union with Christ!

“It” has been, is being, and will be defeated by Christ forever!

*For a detailed analysis of this movie from a Christian worldview, from the perspective of two Southern Baptist pastors, See episode 3 of our podcast Pop Culture Coram Deo. Subscribe (iTunes, Stitcher, acast, Player.FM) for more interaction with pop culture from a Christian worldview.

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  • enchess

    I was prepared to argue against hijacking a non-Christian movie for Christian agenda, but I have to say you seem to get the film’s messages better than most “Christian lense” approaches to films I’ve seen, so kudos.

    I’ll share some of my (atheist) perspective on things said here. The point of horror films to me is 1) to give us an adrenaline rush similar to that of a roller coaster, 2) allow us to laugh at our fears and thus feel better about them, and 3) provide deep introspection on what it is that makes us afraid and why. Ultimately, that’s not too far off from that Godowa quote. I think it’s valuable to really examine why we fear things. For example, I find The VVitch and the original Evil Dead scary, but am completely unafraid by It, The Conjuring, and Sinister (things I was told by friends unafraid by VVitch and Evil Dead were terrifying). For The VVitch, I’ve been able to identify that harsh Calvinist views frighten me more than I would have expected, likely a remnant of the arguments with Calvinist teachers at my Christian school that started me off on deconversion. Evil Dead touches on a paranoia that I’ve had since I was a child (and have always known to be entirely irrational) that people I love might be fake (the Deadites occassionally pretending to be ok now to torture Ash). I imagine most Christians probably find things like The Omen and The Exorcist much more terrifying than I do to their belief in “spiritiual warfare.”

    Where I think you may have gone a little off the road though is casting It as “outside” of us. Much like Frankenstein is representative of hubris, an internal thing, It is representative of fear itself, also internal. Ultimately, It isn’t defeated by external means. Rather he is defeated by the children refusing to be prisoner to their own fear. The confusion is that film (and the book) language presents this using external symbols. That may seem contradictory, but compare it to The Omen, The Exorcist, The Ring, The Conjuring, etc and you’ll see what I mean about It truly being internal struggle, not external.

    I loved this movie, but not actually so much as a horror. I really think it excelled as a coming of age story more. It may surprise you, but I actually really agree with the criticism of equating reaching adulthood with sex. And that’s from someone who doesn’t see a moral problem with premarital sex and multiple partners (in the case of mutual knowledge and consent of said partners).

  • Enchess, thank you for the thoughtful comment. I appreciate the beginning praise.

    I agree that horror provides a safe place for us to conquer our fears. That’s partially why so many enjoy the genre. Although the characters do not get to leave the story, we do.

    Furthermore, concerning the “harsh Calvinism” in the Witch, it’s the magisterial mentality of the time, regardless if one was a Calvinist or not. Virtually all of the early Colonists were magisterial in their approach to “freedom of religion.” This means that they were only concerned about their own religious freedom, not everyone else’s. If you refused to submit to the state denomination, you would be punished. Congregationalists ruled Connecticut, and the Church of England ruled Tennessee. Most States had “official denominations” until 1786. The Baptists, however, ended up in jail most of the time, because they refused to submit to the rules of these State denominations.

    Moreover, concerning where you think I’ve gone a little off, you make an interesting point. You’re right that the fear is inside of us. But how does King define evil and where does this evil reside? If you’re correct, it seems that King is arguing our fear is evil and it resides within. When we conquer our fears, we conquer the evil within. That’s not a Christian view of evil or of how to conquer it. But King may just be arguing that parents shouldn’t force their own fears on their children?

    Thank you again for the thoughtful interaction.

  • enchess

    The freaky thing in The VVitch isn’t that forced denomination. It’s the eternal damnation of their baby, the obsession with sin and human imperfection, and the harmful views of women. These stem directly from the Calvinist perspective of the family and reminds me of my old Calvinist teachers. Obviously many Calvinist don’t hold those same views, but my teachers did, which is why the movie resonates with me.

    As for It, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it’s a Christian message. I just disagree with It as an external threat and prefer to classify him as externally manifested internal threat. This subtlety sets It apart from purely external threats of most horror.