CSFF Blog Tour – The Strange Man, Day 2

Some things can't be ignored

It just won’t do.

Try as we might, there’s no way to miss the elephant, so we might as well give him prime time.

Rather than discussing genre as I hinted at in my Day 1 post about Greg Mitchell’s The Strange Man, I want to look at a bit of theology — the slam-dunking elephant tromping across the pages.

The story hinges on the main character (always a good thing for a novel). Here’s what Jason Joyner has to say about the protagonist (who, for those of you unfamiliar with the book, is NOT the strange man):

Dras Weldon is your typical adult adolescent, not willing to grow up and out of his world of comic books, action figures, and B horror movies. The fact that his childhood best friend Rosalyn is looking to actually move on from Greensboro isn’t helping. He is tired of hearing criticism from his older brother, the pastor, as well.

When The Strange Man decides the time is ripe for Greensboro’s harvest, Dras is an unlikely combatant. He doesn’t have anything to fight with, unless he can reconnect with his withered faith in time.

Let me elaborate a little. Dras is a hard-drinking, disrespectful, user. Not of drugs. Of people. Rosalyn is his best friend, and he’s even in love with her, though he won’t admit it. But night after night she puts up with his drunken stupors, seeing him safely home no matter what condition he’s in.

And his family? His father is dying, but Dras can’t remember to be at family dinners. His mom is so programed by his past behavior that when he drops by she automatically reaches for her purse, thinking he’s come to ask for more money. His brother is convinced of the same thing.

And yet, Dras considers himself a Christian. After all, he prayed a prayer at camp one year when he was nine.

Never mind that he admits all he knows about the Bible is that the first book is Genesis and he thinks the last one is Revelation. Never mind that he has no interest in spiritual things, demonstrated by the fact that he only goes to church to appease his family — and then arrives late, with a hangover, and nods off periodically.

Trust me when I tell you, in spite of all this, author Greg Mitchell admirably makes Dras a sympathetic character. Consequently, the reader is hoping for change and cheering Dras on when he confronts, not only his own demons, but those of the entire town.

But back to the theology. The strange man, a demon set on devouring the shriveling community of Greensboro, sees Dras as standing in his way. But apparently God has marked the boy, and the strange man can’t take him out directly.

So apparently Dras thinks he’s a Christian and God thinks he’s a Christian (maybe), but everyone else in town believes he’s a messed up screw-up capable of doing anything.

Dras himself says his life was the single most influential thing in keeping Rosalyn from coming to God.

So there’s the question. Is it really possible for a person to be a Christian, yet have no evidence of Christ in his life?

I’ll be honest. I’ve heard about people who supposedly believe you can pray a “sinner’s prayer” and then live however you want without fear of eternal judgment, but I’ve never met anyone like that (at least that I know of).

The people I know who prayed to ask Christ into their lives either walk away and don’t claim to be Christians any more, or they struggle at different levels to understand what being in God’s family means on a practical level. This “I’m a Christian but no one would guess it” is new to me.

What’s more, I’m pretty convinced it’s not Biblical.

Mind you, I’m aware that Christians still sin (though there is a segment of professing Christians who claim they don’t — very Job-like in their insistence that they do no wrong). What I’m wondering is this: will a Christian show no interest in God?

After all, Christians pretty much agree that our faith is about relationship — ours with God, which makes us then care about the other people in our lives. So if a person doesn’t read Scripture, pray, listen for God’s voice in the preaching of the Word, if he only treats people in his life with selfishness or anger or disrespect, how is it possible for him to be a Christian?

If it were true that a person has become a new creature in Christ, ought there not be some small bit of evidence?

9 Comments

  1. Good post, and you’re right. Yes, God has “marked” Dras–He’s set him aside for a purpose–but short of God stepping down and telling us that Dras was saved when he was nine, it’s all ambiguous. Was he saved? Some might say “Yes, and he was backslidden”, or others will agree with you and say “No way”. But Dras believes it, and that’s part of his problem.

    I actually DO know a lot of people–and I mean tons–that have “walked the aisle” as kids, then lived life however they want, and still thought they and God were okay. I’m surrounded by people who say they’re Christians (one girl told me she was a Christian simply because she was born in America), but they have no desire to have anything to do with God, Christ, or the Church.

    Your post is right on the money. I certainly wouldn’t want people thinking that, as the author, I was condoning Dras’ behavior or his “theology”. The intent was to show how deluded he is into thinking he’s okay because he walked an aisle at a church camp. Obviously when things in his life change in the book, he comes around and sees what’s been missing in his life. The hope is that others (like those I mentioned in the last paragraph) will recognize this inconsistency in their own lives.

    But that’s just author interpretation, for whatever that’s worth. Watch as I sheepishly step out of the way now.

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  2. Hmmm. Well, I suppose many do become Christians without first having read the Bible (including me), and luckily Biblical knowledge isn’t a prerequisite to being saved. So, if one were to make a sincere conversion when they were nine, but had then fallen away shortly thereafter, I tend to think that person is still saved, and that God is working away on them slowly but surely. By grace we are saved, not by works. Sure there are some pretty sorry Christians out there. Even though we are saved, we have to stand before the judgment seat of God, and for those who wasted their lives away, I can’t imagine that’s a fun time (and I surely hope I don’t get there and find out I was one of those people!)

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  3. I have also known people like this. Many, in fact.

    What sounds a little odd is that God would use such a man to save the town. Not that God couldn’t save him and then use him. He does use the foolish things of the world to shame the wise.

    Sounds like an intriguing book. How scary was it? I don’t do horror.

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  4. ” those who love ME will keep my commandments”- Jesus

    That is not a works based salvation statement but a testament that those who know Him will have a concern about what He wants.

    I too have known plenty of likely false concerts who ” walked the aisle ” when young and show no more fruit than a tumbleweed. If we are alive and abiding in Him we WILL bare fruit to some degree.

    Greensboro huh? I live about 18 miles south of a different Greensboro in NC.

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  5. If God can use a donkey, he can use a human who behaves like one! I just thank the Lord that He’s big enough and caring enough to work in and through us and then work to change us if we’ll let Him.

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  6. Hey, Greg, thanks for stopping by and sharing your perspective. I’ve said before that there’s something about living in SoCal that separates the wheat and tares. No one feels the need to be culturally Christian here, so I’m guessing I see things in a different light. In that regard, this is quite eye opening.

    I’ve thought and studied Scripture on this issue of “when” a person becomes a Christian. Was Dras a believer who had met his Savior without developing a mature relationship with Him?

    But as Luther says, what about obedience showing that we do indeed love Him?

    I agree with Jessica that reading the Bible isn’t necessary for salvation, but it seems some interest in spiritual things will follow, won’t it?

    But perhaps Dras wasn’t a Christian — only thought he was, as some of the people you mention, Greg. When he comes to a realization that he has been wrong all along, is this then his conversion, his born-again experience? I don’t see why it couldn’t be considered that.

    So, yes, Sally, I’d say God used the foolish things here — as a way of saving Dras first and then to impact the others he was close to.

    Thanks for all this good interaction. I appreciate thinking these things out with you all.

    Becky

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  7. Yeah, Becky, it’s really strange to ME hearing the SoCal perspective, because I live in the gleam of the buckle of the Bible belt where people go to church because “that’s just what you do”. A lot of middle-of-the-road mentality and “cultural Christianity” as you put it. There’s a lot of, “I’m a Christian because my great gandaddy built that church up yonder. I do my worshipping when I fish, so don’t tell me I gotta read my Bible.” Those are hard people to reach with the Truth.

    I’ve really enjoyed everyone’s perspective here. Thanks again, for letting me be a part of your tour.

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  8. Oh, I might as well inject a little Catholicism into the discussion.

    Baptism is the initiation ritual for Christians; it’s also a sacrament. So the to answer the question of whether Dras is a Christian, we need ask, “Was he validly baptized?”

    Of course, that’s merely juridical and doesn’t capture the whole of the question you’re asking. Dras has received God’s grace, but if he’s rejecting it, he is not living as a Christian. “Backslidden” is more of a Protestant term, but it captures the idea nicely.

    The question of whether he’s “saved” is a different question; as already mentioned, grace does not destroy human will. A man who’s accepted the grace of God has the possibility of turning around and rejecting it again. It is indeed possible to be a Christian, even a pious Christian, and then give it all up to pursue worldly pleasures, or whatever; God’s grace does not destroy our wills. Look at the Prodigal Son: he was really in his father’s house and really a son of his father before he asked for his inheritance and took a hike.

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  9. I personally have known MANY people who have claimed to have been “saved”, yet don’t reflect it in their lives at all. The Calvanist/Baptist belief system states that once you are saved, you are always saved. Personally, I don’t agree with this concept at all. It isn’t by our works we are saved, but faith without works is dead! I knew one person who claimed to be a Christian. He had been “saved” at the age of 5, and baptised shortly thereafter. As an adult, he became a drunkard, a drug user, a pathalogical liar and a cheat. He always had a string of women, even when married, and he abandoned his first wife and children for a woman he met in rehab (he later cheated on her as well, with multiple women). Late last year, he committed suicide. His father, a devout Baptist, is convinced that his boy is now in Heaven, with all of the other believers. Of course, I cannot judge whether someone is now in Life Immortal, but the conundrum remains: did this person who didn’t live a life even remotely for Christ get Salvation, just because he’d said a prayer in Kindergarten? Understand, this isn’t a Prodigal Son who had lived a sinful life, then returned to Christ, but someone who was constantly sinning up until the moment of their death.

    Only God would know if someone like Dras was saved, but his salvation wouldn’t have anything to do with whether or not God had “marked” him for a purpose. In fact, the Bible is filled with folks who were sinners, but wound up coming to do God’s will. Ultimately, they have the free will to accept God’s intent for their lives, but they often bring tons of turmoil and grief into their lives by resisting. I will go one further, and state that I believe the person I mentioned before led themselves down the path of destruction largely because they were resisting God’s will for their life. So, was Dras saved? I think Greg is rather brilliant to have a character like this, as I think we all have either known someone like Dras, or we have been him ourselves. Was Dras a true Christian who had “backslidden”, or was he never really a Christian at all? Much like real life, I cannot really judge that. All that matters is that, when it mattered, Dras finally got right with God. What is especially poignant is that Dras realizes that much of this heartache he HAS brought on himself, because for so long he had ignored God’s will for his life. In the end, I think this is the key lesson of this novel: becoming saved is only the first step. Submitting to God’s will is the big step, and I think even the deepest of believers sometimes has trouble with this aspect of Christianity (I know that I often do, but I find that things work out much nicer if I’m obedient to His will!).

    Just my two cents!

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