I am a great husband. I recently read the book Pride and Prejudice because it is my wife’s favorite book. I read the real one, not Pride and Prejudice Zombies, tempting as it was. I should at least offer my passing endorsement - I am neither sentimental nor romantic and the book was really good.
I am actually a super-husband. After reading said novel, I embarked on hours of British television bliss by watching the entire A&E adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. This version is commonly referred to as the “Colin Firth Version.” I didn’t like it at all.
I am a Common American Male. I have seen the literal adaptation and I choose the non-literal one. I have seen Colin Firth’s amazing performance and I choose Keira Knightly.
As I was being lulled to sleep by Colin and his pals, I kept thinking of how this all relates to the church. And this is why it is on my blog - that and the fact that I like making you read about Pride and Prejudice. Stick with me on this...
According to the book, the Bennet daughters were astoundingly pretty - word had even reached London that they were beauties to behold. As I read the novel I happily pictured Keira Knightly as Elizabeth (with my wife’s permission of course), and the other actress as Jane.
Then I watched the Colin Firth Version - the “literal” one. Wow. There isn’t an easy way to say it; those ladies were not pretty. Jane, the prettiest of the Bennet daughters, was downright ugly! As my wife and I watched in astonishment (she was as shocked as I was), it hit us: Jane looked like a Victorian sculpture. She was a little plump, she had a weird neck, and there was just something a little too "manly" about her features. She had the look of someone who had never been in the sun, was out of shape, and was the picture of prudishness.
The Colin Firth Version was doing everything it could to make it consistent with Victorian England but they went too far; I couldn’t buy what they were selling. In a desire to stay true to the original they alienated themselves from everyone but the most committed Jane Austen devotee - which I am not. They failed because they didn’t make it real to me. The show could have created something that would move me but ended up creating a study of literature that I found only slightly engaging. Instead of a something that makes me feel romantic, it is a lesson on what people a long time ago thought was beautiful. Was it instructive? Yes. Was it relevant? No.
The challenge of relating Jane Austen is the challenge of the pulpit. We have an ancient piece of literature most Christians are pretty committed to, but the world sees as only mildly interesting. How do we engage those people? How do we get an audience with them?
We need to put Keira Knightly on the cover! The genius of the Keira Knightly version is that they made it believable. It was a two hour movie and could never be literal, but even if it were six hours long it was genius to make me understand Mr. Darcy’s attraction. It drew me in by meeting me where I am - in the 21st century. When it comes to beauty, we typically value a small frame, a little weathering, and jawline-jawline-jawline! And the movie met us there.
So, the question for the church: what is our Keira Knightly? Where can we “reach out without dumbing down” as Marva Dawn says? Or as NT Wright says it, “It’s time to get back to reading [Scripture] with first-century eyes and twenty-first century questions.”
I don’t always know the best way to engage our culture. Sadly, I sometimes find that my love of teaching Scripture can actually insulate me from the world outside. I know that isn’t right, but it happens. I am convinced our message is as attractive as Keira Knightly and the Mr. Darcy’s out there just need to meet her. But sometimes our love of theology and the Bible makes us prefer the esoteric Colin Firth while the watching world goes on, unaffected by our message. The world is aching for something we have but they don't know it! It would help for us to know their needs, their values, and “who they think is hot.”
Well, that should do it. You may now be worried because you think I said we should compromise the truth of the gospel. Or you may be mad at me because I had the audacity to dump on the Colin Firth Version of Pride and Prejudice. And some of you may be mad that I made you read about Victorian literature. To the first group I will say that we should never compromise the truth, to the second I say that your favorite show stinks, and to the third group I say, "mission accomplished." And if you are part of that snooty and pretentious minority that says Keira Knightly is not pretty, well, none of us believe you and we always snicker when you leave the conversation.