Tonight’s the Night: On Binge-Watching the Gospel

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“Tonight’s the night. And it’s going to happen again, and again. Has to happen.”

With this ominous voiceover, we are introduced to a TV character named Dexter. And the thing that is going to happen tonight – that will happen again and again – is killing.

When I began writing my first book in 2012, I had an interesting task ahead of me: to connect the story of a TV show called Dexter to the gospel of a man named Jesus. But, I was convinced that the main character, a character I had come to love in the story arc of seasons 1-6, offered one of the most poignant illustrations of the gospel that I’d ever seen in popular culture. In fact, I saw in Dexter the story of all of us as we come face to face with the reality of our own brokenness and the hope of our restoration in the person and work of Christ.

If it strikes you as odd that I’d see gospel in the story of a serial killer who kills serial killers, I understand! Perhaps a little bit of background is in order. See, I love TV. I always have. It’s not a casual relationship, either. I am an avowed binge-watcher, especially relishing the art form commonly known as the “prestige drama.” These are the shows that have taken the old network TV drama to the next level (almost always on cable or digital streaming), and their movie-quality writing, production, and casting have ushered in what some have called “the new golden age of television.”

Dexter was among a set of pivotal shows in this TV revolution, and I was captivated from the first time I heard that voiceover.

Set Right Again

In one of the show’s characteristic flashback scenes, a young Dexter sits in the car next to his father, a police officer. His father’s partner has just been shot and killed, and Dexter is troubled. He asks, “So what thenthe world keeps spinning out of control?”

His father answers, “No. The world can always be set right again.”

This, really, is the entire hope of the gospelthat what is broken and unjust, within us, between us, and all around us, might be set right again. You may hear in that phrase the common refrain of scholar N.T. Wright, to the effect that in Jesus, the resurrected and ascended Lord, the world will fully and finally be “put right again” or “put to rights.” Dexter’s journey is like our own. He is a broken man desiring wholeness, on a journey of restoration, hoping to be fully and finally healed. He also desires to participate in a mission of setting the world right again, even though his brand of justice is admittedly a little… edgy.

While we should certainly steer clear of Dexter’s vigilante ways, our participation in the unfolding mission of God to restore his creation to wholeness is what being the church is all about! We are rescued to rescue, restored to join in God’s restoring and renewing of all things through Jesus.

Watch More TV

Dexter’s storyline has reached its end, but there is no shortage of prestige dramas to dial up in his wake. My encouragement to you would be: watch more TV!

Maybe tonight’s the night you are going to take in a few episodes of Mad Men ’s farewell season, or catch up on The Walking Dead before the big premiere. Perhaps you’re diving into The Knick, or, if the advent of modern surgery makes you a bit squeamish, a PBS period drama like Downton Abbey or Mr. Selfridge. We all have our own tastes and preferences. And certainly our consciences, with the help of God’s Spirit, are guiding these decisions too.

But I’d urge you to consider that the gospel story is everywhere, even in the pop cultural stories being told on that flatscreen in the living room. And with eyes to see and ears to hear, we just might be able to engage the cultural conversation more effectively and winsomely, all for the sake of the gospel of Jesus, if we keep on watching.

Even if that watching turns into a little bit of a binge.

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Zach J. Hoag is an author, preacher, and binge-watcher from New England. You can find him writing on his personal blog or at Patheos, and socializing on Twitter and Facebook.

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