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Have you read any of the “bad plot summaries” that are going around the internet? For example, here’s a bad plot summary of the Lord of the Rings movies: “Group spends 9 hours returning jewelry.” Here’s one for Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back: “Talking frog convinces son to kill his dad.” Here’s a bad plot summary for Shrek: “A guy learns to love a girl without her Instagram filters.”

So how does one go about making a bad plot summary? Well, it’s all a matter of what you emphasize and what you leave out. The best bad plot summaries overgeneralize so broadly that they miss the relevant details. It’s missing the trees for the forest.

I hear summaries of Christianity which fit nicely into the genre of “bad plot summaries.” They attempt to tell the broad story of Christianity, but leave out all the relevant details. The result is a grotesque distortion of the Christian story.

For example, listen to this summary of God and the problem of evil, by atheist Sam Harris: “It is worth remembering that if God created the world and all things in it, he created smallpox [and] plague.”[1]

Anything important missing in that plot summary? Harris mentions the creation of Genesis 1 and 2, but he leaves out the fall described in Genesis 3, in which humanity chose to sever itself from God’s leadership. Death wasn’t God’s original plan; death was a consequence of humanity’s willful sin.

How about this summary of the Christian view of right and wrong, by atheist Richard Dawkins: “The Christian focus is overwhelmingly on sin sin sin sin sin sin sin. What a nasty little preoccupation to have dominating your life.”[2]

Can you think of any important details missing in that summary? Well, for one thing, even though the Bible tells us things not to do, such as stealing, killing, lying, and doing sexual immorality, the Bible invites us to do all sorts of transformative acts, such as befriending the lonely, serving the poor, and reconciling people with God. And, for another thing, sin is far from a “nasty little preoccupation.” Rather, sin is at the root of all human misery. We should be grateful that God doesn’t treat our sin as if it’s no big deal.

Here’s one more bad plot summary, taken from a recent interview with an ex-Christian, NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers explains that Christianity is all about believing in a “God who wants to condemn most of the planet to a fiery hell.”

God wants to condemn most of the planet? I think we’re leaving out some important details. For example, the Bible is clear that God doesn’t want to condemn anybody. 2 Peter 3:9 says that God “is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” And He doesn’t just say that. Isn’t the cross of Christ proof enough that what God really wants is to save the world?

Next time you hear a skeptical summary of Christianity, there’s no need to feel flustered or get defensive. Often, the portrait painted is just a caricature, a bad plot summary. The best response you can make to a bad plot summary of Christianity is to know your Bible and respectfully set the record straight.

[1] Sam Harris, End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2005), 172.
[2] Richard Dawkins, God Delusion (Boston: A Mariner Book, 2008), 285.
Daniel McCoy, PHD Editorial Director