Book Plunge: Of Games and God

What do I think of Kevin Schut’s book published by Brazos Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Dr. Schut’s book is an excellent one that I can easily say that when I got to the end, I was rather surprised. I hadn’t been keeping that much track. This is the kind of book I wish I had had when I was in high school and dealing with issues of doubt and such. I have seen enough damage done by people who are critical of the medium of video games but have not engaged with it.

For my part, I am going to turn 37 later this year and yet I still consider myself a gamer. My favorite kinds of games are RPGs. I am still bothered that I have not got to play Breath of the WildFinal Fantasy is another favorite series of mine and it’s my wife’s hope that somehow we can save up enough money or find someone generous so that we can get a Nintendo Switch so she can play the new Pokemon games.

Like me, Schut is also a gamer. He has seriously wrestled with the arguments on both sides. His favorite games seem to be ones like Red Dead Redemption and Civilization. He also does not deny at all that he is thoroughly committed to Jesus. So what does he say about the games?

Schut does say we need to listen to criticisms. Take time to pay attention to what is being said. At the same time, we should be hoping for critical evaluation and not self-righteous evaluation.

Also, we are living in an age where games are more and more common, including games on our IPhones and Kindles and such. Many people who would likely never play a video game have no problem playing something like Words With Friends for instance. There’s also games that are popular such as Candy Crush which has now become a gameshow, and Angry Birds, which has had its own movie.

He also speaks out against our attempts to Christianize everything. Something is not automatically Christian because it mentions Jesus. Many of us would say the Chronicles of Narnia are Christian, which indeed they are, but you will not find Jesus explicitly mentioned anywhere in them. Our Christian material is usually preachy and we’re very good at reaching ourselves, but not everyone else.

We also have to pay attention to what kind of medium a video game is. One noted difference is that it is interactive. No matter how many times you read The Lord of the Rings nothing new will happen. The story will be the same. No matter how many times you watch the movie, nothing new will happen. Every time you play the game, something different will happen. Of course, there can often be some overriding parameters set for you by the designers of the game, but you have great freedom and influence on the story. No two playings will be the same.

He also does get into the topic of a demonic scare. I was pleased to hear like me, he had a great interest in Dungeons and Dragons as well as Magic: The Gathering. For me, in high school, my friends and I didn’t care for the school lunch at all, so rather than have lunch, we’d go to the library and play Magic all afternoon together.

Unfortunately, too many people have brought into scare stories about such things. Consider the Pulling Report for instance. People who latch onto this do a disservice to those who play the games. Most people who are playing these games are for the most part the same as any other interest. It’s sadly the few that no doubt have other issues going on beforehand that are emphasized.

This naturally gets us into the question of violence in video games. Schut doesn’t shy away from this one, though he does say each person needs to evaluate this for themselves as well. It could be that part of our world is we live in a fallen world and sometimes violence could be what needs to be done. One aspect of this I was considering is that if I’m playing a game like Final Fantasy, one could consider reasoning with a human being, but if a hungry carnivorous creature is coming after me, reason will not work.

Another issue is game addiction. Games do have a tendency to draw us in, reward our achievements, and make us want to do more. There will be a little bit more on this later, but let’s discuss how it relates to addiction. Can some people get addicted? Yes. Still, there is no proven condition like this. Many people do learn to manage their time well. The question is not what do you do, but what do you not do? He also says a temporary obsession is okay. When Breath of the Wild came out, many of my friends were indeed engrossed in that for awhile. (And I hate them for it in a loving Christian way.)

What about sexuality in video games? It is only in the world of video games that a woman can go into battle wearing pretty much a bikini and count that as armor. Video games are usually a world dominated by men, but there are plenty of female gamers. (My wife is playing Pokemon as I write.) The representation on the other hand can be quite different. Women are usually eye candy. There are some exceptions, such as Samus Aran, but we only need think of Lara Croft in Tomb Raider and the obsession with some people on finding a nude code for her.

Now to what I said there would be more on later when talking about addiction. What about education? Video games could be a great source of education. For instance, when I studied Greek in Bible College, we used a program called Parson’s Greek Tutor. I would like very much to get my hands on this again as the interactive format made it much easier for me to learn the material and at the time, I was moving ahead of the class even. Every round was a game and I wanted to get perfect and would settle for nothing less which made sure I learned the material very well. As one working on learning the language now, I look back and wish I still had that.

Video games can be used in such a way for us today. There is something real in the concept of edutainment. Ask a gamer about the information they need in a game and many times they will know it because they have to know it to play well. It is practical knowledge for them.

But what about concerns about the digital age killing our minds? To some extent, this is true. To another extent, the digital age is here to stay and we have to do the most with it that we can. Every new medium brings with it changes. The print medium brought changes as does the internet medium and the video game medium. It’s easy to strike at the medium instead of the human sinful tendency.

Schut also has a section on Christians in the video game industry. Many of these are dedicated people and want to do the best they can. They see their work as an act of service to God in trying to make the best game possible. There are few explicitly Christian video games, and this could be a good thing as sadly, many of those are just awful and only reach those of us who are already Christians. Abandoning the industry will only do for that what it does for Hollywood. We need Christians in every field being salt and light.

No discussion would be complete without the social aspects. I remember years ago getting together with my brother-in-law and some of his friends. No doubt, I was the youngest one there, but we spent all of one afternoon playing Goldeneye together. In Charlotte, I would get together with some friends every Sunday night. After some time playing Super Smash Brothers Brawl we would go bowling. When it came time for my bachelor party, all we did was bring the Wii over to a guy’s apartment complex who had a big screen and played Smash Brothers all night long together.

Games have had a way of bringing people together and uniting them. Gaming conventions are places where people can very often be themselves and form friendships easily. It could be that the gamer today is no longer the single guy sitting in his mother’s basement.

If you’re a gamer, you owe it to yourself to read Schut’s book. It is a gripping looking at a neglected medium and one that we need more of. I appreciate that he sent me a copy for review purposes and I look very much forward to interviewing him on my podcast about this.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Demon-Haunted World?

How is a Christian supposed to reply to the demonic? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

One of my good friends is Jeff Harshbarger, who wrote two books on the occult which include personal testimony of his involvement with demonic powers and how he came out and is now a Christian. He is now the head of his own ministry, Refuge Ministries, where he uses counseling to help people get out of the occult.

But here’s something I really like about Jeff. He’s someone who admits the reality of demons, but he’s not someone who sees demons every where and despite having personal experience in the past with demons, he warns Christians to not spend too much time thinking about demons and not to worry about them.

Now keep in mind in all of this, I am indeed affirming that yes, I do believe demonic activity is real. I’ve heard too many accounts from people who I know to be intelligent and reliable that are firsthand accounts that I cannot deny that it has happened. I also have of course, as a Christian, biblical testimony to the fact.

Yet we must approach this realistically. As C.S. Lewis said in the Screwtape Letters “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.”

I have written plenty of times about my problems with a materialist view of reality, so if you’re on that side, this blog is not written to argue against you. This blog is written to deal with the problem that Jeff sees as well, and that’s Christians having too much of a fascination with demonic activity.

In fact, these Christians in having this can often take a view of Scripture that I consider to be occult. Scripture is treated as if it was a magic book and if you say this passage, you will ward off any demons that are in your presence. Now do I deny that there is power in the truth of Scripture? Not at all. What I have a problem with is its careless usage without a proper understanding of what is going on in a text of Scripture.

For instance, how many times have I seen a Christian use the passage about “My word will not return to me void.” When saying it, these Christians take it to mean that if you cite a passage of Scripture, it will be used and it will come back with results. I don’t think this is a Christian view of Scripture but an occult one.

For one thing, the passage is about the pronouncements of God Himself and what He’s saying is “If I make a statement, you can be sure that I will deliver on it.” It does not mean that we are the ones who can always deliver on His statements. God is not obligated to do our bidding. We are obligated to do His.

Furthermore, we often see people misuse Scripture, such as the devil in the temptation of Jesus, groups like Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons, and of course groups like the Word of Faith community that think faith is a force whereby they can shape reality.

When we have this fixation on the occult, it will not keep us away from it, but will in fact draw us into it. Up and coming apologists. I make this warning to you. There are many areas in apologetics I try to at least have a basic knowledge of. This is not one of them! I have been warned by those much greater in the field than I and much more skilled NOT to even touch this stuff. In fact, they themselves don’t do it because the occult has such a drawing power. That’s why I leave it to people like Jeff.

We will also have undue fear in our lives of anything that could seem to be “occult” when we have this focus. I have interest in many activities that I’m sure a lot of Christians with this kind of fixation look at as occult. I play the Final Fantasy games regularly. (In fact, one of the songs played at our wedding was from Final Fantasy) I have every Harry Potter movie that there is and I’ve read all the books. I make it a point to know the difference between fantasy and reality.

Here’s something more important. I make it a point to know Scripture even better. It is in knowing the true God that I am supposed to be drawn to Him more and more. It can be good and helpful to have a good angelology and that includes knowing something about demons and any student of Scripture should know something about them, but that is as a metaphysical topic and not an occult topic and is not meant to be a fixation.

When we live in fear of everything around us and constant worry about the occult, we also have the sad condition of making ourselves look ridiculous to the world around us. Most of the world around us already thinks we’re crazy. We don’t really need to do anything to add to that.

Also, our culture has a fixation on end times. Most readers of this blog know that my view in end times is that of orthodox Preterism, but I’m happily married to a dispensationalist and I have several good friends who are dispensationalists.

If you want to be one, be one, but this is a problem I often warn against for dispensationalists. Make your fixation be Christ. Some are unfortunately so caught up in knowing the identity of antichrist that they do not pay as much attention to the identity of Christ, the one who they are to stake their whole identity in.

Now in all of this, there is no saying that Christians should be reckless, but do not let your Christian walk be defined by paranoia of anything that could have a negative reputation. Take the time to examine each issue and be settled in your own mind. If you disagree with your brother, feel free to make a case, but listen to his case back on why he doesn’t have a problem with what he does. It could be you’re wrong. It could be he is. Follow the admonition of Paul. Let each be convinced in his own mind.

And overall, remember to focus on God and His revelation in Christ. Christians are not to live their lives in fear, and that includes fear of the demons.

In Christ,
Nick Peters