Christian Evangelism and the Movie Moana

Major Spoilers of the Movie Moana follow…


In the movie Moana, the daughter of the chief of a Polynesian tribe, Moana, is called to go on a quest to find Maui, a legendary demigod, and with his help return Te Fiti’s heart and save her people. It is a challenging task, since between her and Te Fiti lies Te Ka, a giant angry lava monster. The big twist ending of the movie is that Te Fiti is actually Te Ka. It actually makes a lot of sense… the giant angry lava monster simply lacks its heart.

At the climax of the film, in an incredibly moving moment, Moana realizes that Te Ka is not actually the enemy, all the dramatic action stops, and Moana bravely walks up to Te Fiti/ Te Ka and sings, “I have crossed the horizon to find you. I know your name. They have stolen the heart from inside you, but this does not define you. This is not who you are. You know who you are.” Moana returns the heart, Te Ka turns back into a nice goddess lady, and Moana’s people are spared. It is a beautiful moment that I believe can also serve as a powerful reminder to Christians about what evangelism should look like.

Over the history of the Christian church, there have been some good and some not so good analogies of what Christian evangelism is like. I believe, one not so good one has been the “conquering victor” analogy. This analogy describes evangelism as one part battle and one part sporting event. A Christian’s job is to WIN souls in a way that kind of sounds like they are getting points on God’s giant score board in heaven. And the Church needs to TAKE areas for Christ like the military needs to control geographically significant places in war.

Unfortunately, the “conquering victor” evangelism analogy breaks down in one rather significant way. Evangelism is not a sporting event or battle. There is no for sure way to win. There is nothing a Christ follower or church can say or do that will guarantee someone to “come to know the Lord.” Ultimately, that decision and relationship is personal, up to an individual and God. And historically, well-meaning individuals and churches who prescribe to this way of thinking about evangelism, have often been guilty of saying or doing increasingly ridiculous and even un-Christ-like things to try to WIN the day or TAKE the next hill…

A second rather poor analogy for evangelism in my book is the belief that evangelism is a fight against the devil. It is a belief that a Christian must help God bring souls back from brink of hell. Many who ascribe to this analogy seem to eventually forget that evangelism is about sharing “good news.” They often spend most of their time sharing “bad news” instead of the gospel (telling people that they are in the grip of the forces of evil and how terribly corrupt, bad, and yucky they are).

This leads to a third analogy of evangelism. Usually people in this group have seen one of the first two examples of evangelism in action in the church, had a bad experience with it, and have responded by claiming that instead they follow the “Francis of Assisi” model. Francis of Assisi is often attributed with the saying, “Preach the gospel, and if necessary use words.” In my experience, often people scared away from other forms of evangelism, come to believe that evangelism only has to be about showing people God’s love. The problem with this perspective is that it does not require anyone to ever mention God, and often it simply shows others that the nice person being nice is nice.

In the movie Moana, if Moana had not listened for her call, if she had just obeyed her dad, stayed on her Island, helped her people… she could have followed the “Francis of Assisi” model (and Te Ka’s heart would not have been returned). If Moana had followed the “conquering victor” strategy of evangelism she could have fought Te Ka, the angry lava monster and maybe even killed it, only to then realize that is was Te Ka whom she was supposed to return the heart to. And if Moana had used the “fight the devil” approach, she could have stepped up to Te Ka/ Te Fiti and sang something like, “I have crossed the horizon to find you. I know your name. You are jerk and a monster who tries to melt people. That is who you are. You know who you are,” and then Moana probably would have been lava-ed to death.

But there is another type of Evangelism analogy, “the gift” analogy. Paul writes about it in 2 Corinthians 2: 14-17:

14 But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere. 15 For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. 16 To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such a task? 17 Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, as those sent from God.

In many ways Paul is arguing that Christians are called to be department store perfumers. You know, those people who stand in the perfume section of the department store with a bottle of perfume and ask if people want a sample waft. Only the perfume Christians offer is not in a bottle, it is Jesus. Christians don’t have to tell people that they smell bad, only that they might smell even better with Jesus. We don’t “win” if someone buys the bottle of Jesus for themselves, it is the aroma of the perfume (God himself) that sells the gospel.

I think that this is the reminder of what evangelism might look like in Moana. Moana reminds Te Ka who she could be if she had her heart back. And Moana offers Te Ka, the heart as a gift. That is what I believe the best sort of evangelism looks like. Just offer the gift. Some people are going to take it, some are not. But isn’t a Christian’s job simply to continue to offer it?

About messyfaithreverberantgrace

I like canoeing, beaches, reading, movies, and talking with people about faith and God.
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