The popular Showtime series Dexter has recently kicked off its eighth – and final – season. Fans of the show know that the tension is at an all-time high as Dexter Morgan and his sister Debra find themselves embroiled in a mess of violence and deception. Things are spiraling out of control, and it’s going to get very interesting.
Just before the seventh season aired I released my first book, about this very show, called Nothing but the Blood: The Gospel According to Dexter. One of the most common responses I get when people hear about my book is, “Dexter? Jesus? WHAT?” And I totally understand. How can a character whose hands are soaked in blood tell us anything about the Prince of Peace? How can a vigilante serial killer be compared to a gospel that is fundamentally about resurrection and new life? How does a man with an addiction to violence in any way speak to a rescued life in the kingdom of God?
Theologian Stanley Hauerwas has famously said, “I’m a pacifist because I’m a violent son of a b**ch.” And while that is an admittedly snarky quote and not the stuff of academic theology, it is actually quite profound. What Hauerwas is saying here is that fallen human beings are a contradiction. And as long as followers of Jesus are making our way through this broken world, we are perpetually unlearning our violence in order to give witness to, and embody, a kingdom of peace.
Dexter’s story is a bloody mingling of brokenness and restoration, of destructive violence and restorative justice. It is complex, like us. Like humanity in general. Like the Church.
Perhaps the most definitive scene in the series occurs when a young Dexter, already addicted to killing, talks to his sympathetic father in the car. His dad is a cop and recently lost his partner in a shootout. Dexter asks, “So what then – the world keeps spinning out of control?” His father responds:
No. The world can always be set right again.
As a missional movement our calling is to hope in the restorative justice of God – setting the world right again – even as we witness to it by engaging the world in acts of love, peace, and healing. And yet, our calling is also to be honest about our own contradictions, so that we are always postured toward the world around us in humility, not arrogance or self-righteousness. The gospel, really, is embodied in the complexity of a broken-yet-beautiful people who are experiencing ultimate hope and healing in the life, death, resurrection, and reign of Jesus.
And it is a welcoming word to a world spinning out of control.
Oh, one last thing. A sent, missional people engages the culture around them. They don’t run and hide, or get into entrenched, antagonistic positions. You might say, they listen to the “gospel” that is already echoing throughout the culture in which they find themselves. And they learn its story.
Even if it’s the story of a broken man like Dexter Morgan.