As I prepare to go to the first Hollywood Jesus Annual Gathering, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be a Christian horror writer, or rather, a horror writer who is a Christian. Partly, this is because I am supposed to give a panel on Horror as a Genre (I also will be co-leading a panel on Comic Books with my friend Kevin Miller, but oddly enough, it’s not causing me nearly the same kind of soul-searching). I think that the reason why I have to be careful in how I approach my talk is because of the kinds of feelings that the topic can generate.

Obviously, horror is not for everyone. Even the staff of Hollywood Jesus got into an often impassioned discussion on how Christians should/ought to deal with horror. It helps knowing that others have tread this ground before. My friend, Rich Vincent, wrote an essay called “Holy Horror.” Brian Godawa, screenwriter of To End All Wars, wrote an article entitled A Theology of Horror Movies.

There has even been a most helpful discussion over at the Shocklines Message Board on the best horror movies that I could use as part of my discussion. As a side note, the other thing that the Shocklines discussion reminded me of is the fact that there are many people of faith laboring in the horror genre. That’s a(n encouraging) lesson that needs to be re-learned by many folks (myself included), such as when convention planners get the idea of planning the World Horror Convention on Easter/Passover weekend or when those within the genre are quick to throw grenades at those “Bible-thumping Christians” who, as it turns out, number among their colleagues. One such colleague is Scott Derrickson.

Scott Derrickson, co-writer and director of the upcoming film The Exorcism of Emily Rose, says horror movies are an excellent way for a Christian filmmaker to address things of faith. He probably most mirrors where I’m coming from. Scott gave a lecture at Biola University explaining his work. Here’s an excerpt:

My work in the horror genre has made me controversial among Christians,” Derrickson says. “But as a Christian, I defend horror films. No other genre offers audiences a more spiritual view of the world, and no other genre communicates a more clearly defined moral perspective.” Derrickson and his writing partner, Paul Harris Boardman, wrote Urban Legends: Final Cut and Hellraiser: Inferno, which Derrickson also directed.

“The most common problem of Christian art,” Derrickson says, “is that it tries to get to grace too quickly. It’s uncomfortable with tension. It’s uneasy with any questions left hanging. My work on Hellraiser: Inferno was in some ways a personal rebellion against all this. I wanted to make a movie about sin and damnation that ended with sin and damnation. After all, isn’t that the experience of many people? Isn’t that descriptively true? Some Christians who have seen that film like to quote Philippians 4:8 to me: ‘Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report… think on these things.’ And I stop them and say, ‘Wait a minute, what was the first thing you said? Whatsoever things are true.’ Things that are true are not necessarily lovely…”

Actually, that Philippians passage used to torture me, also. Folks tended to toss that passage around whenever the topic of what to music to listen to or what to watch on television/at the movies came up–and who wants to be constantly condemned for what they enjoy? Those verses bolstered sermon after sermon of justifying a retreat from anything that may taint us. In fact, the phrase “garbage in, garbage out” was used so often that you would’ve thought the Apostle Paul stuck it in a verse near the back of the Bible. Anything that could be construed as “worldly” should be avoided (in the best case scenario) or guarded against (at the very least).

Part of me saw the validity to the argument, especially the need to guard one’s mind, to train it. It may even be useful for a person new to faith to withdraw from such things, for a time, until they got their spiritual feet under them and are better able to discern what’s good for them. The problem was that what I considered a starting point, many considered the finish line.

Maybe there was a different way to look at those verses.

What if, instead of running away from anything that wasn’t true, noble, right, pure, lovely or admirable–which would result in endless running–we were the focus of the verse, not the objects around us? What if because of who we were in Christ, our minds were so transformed that we saw and recognized nobility, rightness, purity, loveliness, and admirable traits in everything around us. That we could find excellent and praiseworthy elements all over creation? I am convinced that there is an on-going conversation about God going on in pop culture that the church is on the outside looking in on. If God could communicate through a burning bush and a donkey, surely He could communicate through a few scary stories.

At any rate, sometime in early 2006, I should have either the text of what I ended up saying or a link to the podcast of my panel up.

[See also A Theology of Horror Part II, and Part III.]