50 Shades of Grey cover

The serpent told the Woman, “You won’t die. God knows that the moment you eat from that tree, you’ll see what’s really going on. You’ll be just like God, knowing everything, ranging all the way from good to evil.” Genesis 3: 4, 5 The Message

“Don’t waste your energy on guilt, feelings of wrongdoing, etc. We are consenting adults and what we do behind closed doors is between ourselves. You need to free your mind and listen to your body” 50 Shades of Grey by E. L. James

“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 1:9 (New International Version)

The strategy around 50 Shades of Grey—the book and the movie—has been around since Satan tempted Adam and Eve to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil: take part of the truth, wrap it up in something enticing and feed it to people as the whole truth.

But for Christians involved in the arts, there’s a lesson we can learn from 50 Shades of Grey.

By starting with the book’s origin: a fan fiction based on the Twilight series. For those not familiar with fan fiction, writers take characters from pop culture—everything from Star Trek and Star Wars to Harry Potter—and weave the stories they wanted to see. Most frequently, fan fiction delves into the erotic/pornographic because the writers wanted to see their favourite characters consummate the unresolved sexual tension found in the source material.

In short, fan fiction is a means to an end.

The lesson for Christians in a 500-plus page of graphic erotica is: when the end, in this case a dominant-submissive relationship, is more important than the means, a well-crafted novel, the resulting artistic product tends to be mediocre at best.

For those asking, “yes” I’ve read the book and “no” I haven’t seen/won’t see the movie. But it was one of the worst books I’ve read, finding the same place in my ‘read once’ pile as the Christian novel that footnoted every scriptural reference/allusion. In 50 Shades of Grey, the author is so focused on getting the characters into the bedroom, or “red room of pain,” that the basics of storytelling, like character or plot development, take second place. If it weren’t for the furor over the sadistic overtones of the main characters’ relationship, 50 Shades of Grey, the book, would have been relegated to discount bins long ago and the movie would have been a direct-to-video release.

But before we become too self-righteous, some Christians can be guilty of making fan fiction for God. A couple of acquaintances of mine recently posted a link to an article which suggested that Christian movies are as bad as 50 Shades in Facebook (http://www.vox.com/2015/2/15/8038283/christian-movies-bad-old-fashioned-fifty-shades). One of those, B.C.-based filmmaker Kevin Miller noted in a subsequent Facebook discussion: “there’s art, there’s entertainment, and then there’s Christian cinema.”

Christians do have a message. Some artists who are Christian have a distinct calling to portray that message in their art. Holman Hunt, who’s painting The Light of the World is a literal depiction of Revelation 3:20, comes immediately to mind. Others have been called to portray that message through metaphor, allegory and allusion. C. S. Lewis and his Narnia Chronicles best exemplify this approach.

But no matter our calling, we can’t forget that we have been called to be stewards of our gifts, giving all and the best to God. We need to make art for the sake of making art. And we need to make good art. Whether God’s message is in the viewer’s face or hidden among layers of metaphor, let’s make that art the best it can be.

Let’s not be accused of making Christian versions of fan fiction where the end is more important than the means.