Willy Wonka & the Theology Factory

I never realized how creepy the old Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory movie was until I showed it to my twin sons, Isaiah and Micah. I had fond memories of seeing it on television as a child. I guess sometimes we are blinded by nostalgia.

I did like the story line though: a poor, young boy finds good fortune in the form of a ticket to tour Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. The disturbing tour guide — Wonka himself — leads them through a labyrinth of rooms to experience breakthroughs in candy making. One by one all the other kids on the tour drop off as they succumb to temptation and break factory rules. At the end only Charlie is left, along with his grandfather who accompanied him.

I thought about the movie this week as I heard a conversation about the allure of new and progressive theological ideas. Sometimes new doesn’t equal better. It doesn’t often, to be totally honest, even mean good. When it comes to theology, we don’t need new. We need faithful.

To get faithful we have to look back. We have a two-thousand-plus-year history of faithful leaders working to accurately understand the Bible. Before we listen to the latest cutting-edge pop theologian of the day, we might let the dead speak for a change. As G.K. Chesterton once said, “Tradition means giving a vote to most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead.”

When it comes to theology, every generation will face their own “Willy Wonka” with a factory full of innovation and a tote filled with sweet words to tickle eager ears. I once heard of a theologian who aspired to have this epitaph engraved on his headstone, “He did nothing new.” How’s that for an accomplishment? That’s the wonderful task of the contemporary Christian: to take old truths and present them in clear and beautiful ways so that men and women might experience new life.