In his first book, The Unseen Realm (Lexham), biblical scholar Michael S. Heiser explored not only the presence of Satan and other demons in Scripture but also talking snakes, divine providence, and heroic faith, arguing that a better grasp of what he calls the Bible’s supernatural worldview can lead to a deeper understanding of God. Now, Heiser is drawing from an unlikely source to build on that idea in his new book from Lexham, The World Turned Upside Down: Finding the Gospel in Stranger Things.
“It occurred to me that the way the Bible actually presents the story of God’s love for humanity as an epic includes important themes,” Heiser says. “I knew those themes were well illustrated in the characters, events, and supernatural threats in Stranger Things.”
Stanger Things, the hit Netflix series that follows a group of kids who unveil supernatural forces and government secrets in their small town, reflects on spiritual questions about belonging, mortality, and finding one’s purpose, Heiser says. And, on an even deeper level, supernatural elements in Stranger Things tap into some of the Bible’s most mysterious and overlooked passages.
“The biblical supernatural worldview is a lot more variegated and nuanced than you’d hear in church,” Heiser says. “It was startlingly easy to map Stranger Things onto the supernatural epic of the Bible’s story and how it reflects God’s desire for everyone to be in his family—to give each of us identity and mission. If that doesn’t sound like the way you’d heard the gospel before, I understand.”
In the book, Heiser connects the rising interest in paranormal activity to the success of Stranger Things and explains where the Bible fits into that. “There’s a hunger for mystery in today’s materialistic, mechanistic world,” he says. “People everywhere wonder what the point of their life is and why they’re lacking a sense of mission. Both the story of salvation history that culminates in the gospel and Stranger Things make these needs centerpieces of the plotline.”
Additionally, an important lesson about good and evil can be gleaned from both Stranger Things and the gospel, Heiser says: “Even when all looks hopeless against a foe that is unquestionably more powerful, providence is superior.”
But the most valuable effect Stranger Things could have on the gospel is its ability to change how readers approach the ancient text. “I often tell Christians that it’s a good idea to read the Bible as though it were fiction,” Heiser says. “When we read fiction, our minds are tuned to the fact that the writers are intentionally trying to steer us, to make us think certain thoughts.” This approach, Heiser says, could yield a deeper reading experience. “Storytelling is not only more interesting than textbook reading,” he says. “It’s more compelling.”
It’s Heiser’s hope that The World Turned Upside Down can help illuminate the stories found in the Bible as well as its core messages of hope, love, and salvation. And whether readers are regular churchgoers or have never been to church doesn’t matter. “The target audience is anyone who enjoys Stranger Things, regardless of age and whether they know anything about the Bible,” Heiser says. “Thinking about the epic story of salvation in the Bible is quite different from the way the gospel is often presented.”
Ultimately, the link between the Netflix series and the Bible is simple. “Good storytelling,” Heiser says, “will map to good storytelling, and both the gospel and Stranger Things are stories well told.”