Calvinism by the Rules of Comedy

Introduction

The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery makes the interesting point that the plot structure of the Bible is a U shaped comedy plot. It begins in paradise, descends into chaos, and ascends in paradise. Or to use the literature maxim, “In a tragedy you die, in a comedy you get hitched.” Comedic principals and instincts are important to understanding the one true faith. It is integral to it. No other religion has been so deeply invested in the nurture and flourishing of comedy because without humor Scripture becomes opaque. Elton Trueblood points out that even Christ himself can not be properly understood without a grasp of comedy.

“Anyone who reads the Synoptic Gospels with a relative freedom from presuppositions might be expected to see that Christ laughed, and he expected others to laugh, but our capacity to miss this aspect of His life is phenomenal… A misguided piety has made us feat that acceptance of His obvious with and humor would somehow be mildly blasphemous or sacrilegious. Religion, we think, is serious business, and serious business is incompatible wit banter.” – Elton Trueblood, The Humor of Christ

Beyond that Christians have a rich comedic history Terry Lindvall covers the growth of humor from the Hebrew prophets all the way through to Stephen Colbert. In a desperate attempt to find humor in other world religions James Martin wrote Between Heaven and Mirth and yet the overwhelming page count devoted to very funny jokes made by Christians compared to a smattering of witticisms from pagan teachers really does prove the point that one true God sits high in the heavens and laughs. 

Why Comedy Matters

A common crack made at the adherents to the Doctrines of Grace is that we are, “The frozen chosen.” Stereotypes exist for a reason, there is a truth beneath them. I am going to put forward that part of why the reformed evangelical church is floundering is our lack of Chestertonian Calvinism. We talk about joy, but the stern face and and pursed lips betray us. Or we are blown about by every wind of secular doctrine because we didn’t understand the rules of comedy that guide us to Christ.

Buy the Premise Buy the Bit

Lip service is all fun and games until somebody looses a doctrine. I fear this is what happens. When we claim with Calvin that God is sovereign, that he predestined his church before the foundations of the earth, we are claiming that we believe He is in complete control. Which we are fine with until that control conflicts with our desires or currently the desires of a lost and dyeing world that we long for the approval of. This makes us like the weird kid in gym class wearing a headset for his braces, clutching a D&D Dungeon Master manual, calling out, “Guys pick meeee!” 

In sketch comedy the first rule of writing is, “Buy the premise, buy the bit.” Translated if people can not understand immediately the premise of the sketch, they will not get the joke. My concern is that most “Calvinists” have not bought the actual premise of the theology, therefore they do not buy the practical implications. If you deep down to your roots believe God is sovereign then you will live in such a way that give not a wit for what man thinks. You will live like a Narnian in Calorman

“It was quite unlike any other party they had seen that day… Instead of being grave and mysterious like most Calormenes, they walked with a swing and let their arms and shoulders go free, and chatted and laughed. One was whistling. You could see that they were ready to be friends with any one who was friendly and didn’t give a fig for anyone who wasn’t. Shasta thought he had never seen anything so lovely in his life.” – C.S. Lewis, The Horse and His Boy

In my estimation we do not live like Narnians under the reign of Peter the Wise but cowering under the lies of Shift the ape.

As an example (which I pray becomes dated) at this moment in time people are driven by fear of an invisible virus, the hide their faces and look suspiciously at those closest to them fearing for their very lives. And the church has gone merrily along with this. But the premise is that we worship the one who conquered death, who has appointed to each his day of death, we are held in the palm of His hand we can not add nor subtract one second from our time here on earth. At the risk of quoting a confederate and a great Calvinist:

“Captain, my religious belief teaches me to feel as safe in battle as in bed. God has fixed the time for my death. I do not concern myself about that, but to be always ready, no matter when it may overtake me. Captain, that is the way all men should live, and then all would be equally brave.” – Stonewall Jackson

Very few of us frequently stand in battle fields where death is all around, yet in comfort that would have awed Augustine, we cower.

Yes, And.

Christ came not just to give life, but life more abundant. The practical implication of this can be summed up in the improvisational comedy rule, “Yes, and.” In improv to say no is to kill the sketch, the “reality” of the situation that is being created is ruined by a participant who denies that reality. For example “We are standing in this nunnery.” Response “Yes, and I have stuffed all these nuns in beer barrels.” If the response was anything other than yes and the sketch grinds to an unseemly halt. Yet it is not enough to simply agree to the premise, ex. “We are standing in this nunnery.” Response, “Indeed, we are.” There must be an and, the plot must advance. 

So, Christ is Lord, Savior, generous giver of life, king who’s enemies are even now being fashioned into a footstool, all that and a bag of chips. Yes, and my worship will be that life with gusto. Christians are not called to be dour killjoys that concern the world that they might catch what ever it is we have. The good news we proclaim is about eternal life, why on earth would anyone want what we are offering if it is presented with the wild enthusiasm of a mortician off his depression meds. As N.D. Wilson has so effectively pointed out life for every believer is like being in Disneyworld and having the last name Disney. Live like it! Mental assent to the premise of the Lordship of Christ is not enough, there must be an and, we are required to respond, to act.

Theologians have posited that life here on earth is akin to a dress rehearsal for the other side of eternity. Why then does it appear we are rehearsing a tragedy. Christ has already won, all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him. you as a believer in Christ have been adopted into this victorious royal family. Right now you are in a far country, a blood bought representative of the conquering king. If God is for you who can be against you? 

The and of Calvinism is the joy that is set before us. We should live in such a high spirited way those who are dying want what we have. Our confidence in Christ should make us fearless. The most common command in all of scripture is fear not and its derivatives. Vim and vigor, should be our modus operandi. Whatever our hand finds to do we should do it, and relish the doing of that good work. Meals should be savored, books conquered, friendships long and deep, hobbies delighted in, homes welcoming, sleep like Calvins’, whiskey neat, and all to the glory of God. A lukewarm life of worship is an unacceptable living sacrifice. 

Surprise

All comedy depends on the element of surprise. Because God has built rhythms into the world eg. “ A time to sow a time to reap etc.” we have expectations toward normalcy. Humor is birthed in the moment that the rhythm is upended and an expectation is unmet in a pleasant way. But God, being the greatest comedian of all, gave the punchline away in Genesis three and repeated it for thousands of years. The joke seemed done to death. And yet he resurrected it in glorious fashion. It changed the world, it shocked and surprised the antagonist, and the hilarity of his defeat is ours to laugh at all the way to the wedding banquet. The resurrection of Christ is the greatest comedic moments of all history. Read the accounts afterward, the Marx Brothers themselves could not have done better with the mayhem. In 1 Corinthians 1:25 Paul runs against E.B. Whites warning, “Analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested and the frog dies of it.” 

“For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.

Brothers, consider the time of your calling: Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were powerful; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly and despised things of the world, and the things that are not, to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast in His presence.

It is because of Him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God: our righteousness, holiness, and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.” 1 Corinthians 1:21-31

A child in a manger that dies on a Roman cross, returned to life, and he chose you, before the foundations of the earth. How is that not hilarious? How could you not live in a way that shocks a dying world?

They Really Lived

One of my favorite movies is Secondhand Lions. It begins and ends with the brothers McCann’s deaths from trying to fly a biplane upside down through their barn. The middle is all about their fantastic lives that made these fascinating men. At the end of the movie their nephew Walter is asked by the young grandson of a desert sheik who was part of their tall tale of a life, “So these men, they really lived? To which Walter replies, “Yeah, they really lived.” For the Christian this life is only the beginning. We are in the dress rehearsal for eternity, and our aim is that by the end of hour in which we strut and flit across the stage that what will be said of us is judged by our performance we really will live.

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