When I rewatch films, I often pick up on something new. Occasionally, I notice something that changes the way I see the film. That was the case with Field of Dreams, which turns 30 this year.
The film opens with Iowa farmer Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) reminiscing about his late father, a diehard baseball fan who played briefly in the minors. He shared his father’s love for the sport, but they grew estranged after Ray went to college.
He walks slowly between rows of corn. Then comes that whisper, “If you build it, he will come.”
Wait. What? He? Not they?
I, like many other people, had misremembered one of the most famous lines in movie history.
More significantly, my memory of the film had been shaped by that misquote. Until then, I would have told you the film was Ray trusting that voice, building a baseball field on his farm and watching Shoeless Joe Jackson and other ghost players walk out of the corn, play ball and save the farm from financial ruin.
But that’s just icing on the cake. The heart of the story is actually Ray’s broken relationship with his father — and the healing of it.
In the final scene, Shoeless Joe repeats those words to Ray. “If you build it, he will come,” Joe says, looking at a player across the field, who removes his mask. It’s Ray’s dad as a young man. As they talk, we realize Ray has been given a gift: a chance to reconcile with his father.
Hearing those words correctly has not only changed the way I’ll remember the film but how I’ll tell others about it. All because of a single word.
A single word can shape how we think of the gospel, too. If you had to summarize the gospel in one word, what would it be? Salvation? Love? Forgiveness? Grace?
All are crucial aspects of the gospel, but they aren’t the Good News. Jesus is.
I’m not sure where I first ran across the power in this kind of shift — maybe Dallas Willard, N.T. Wright, Scott McKnight or Bruxy Cavey. All of them emphasize the need for a fuller, more robust understanding of Jesus and a gospel rooted in the larger story of the Bible.
That story starts with God creating humans as his image bearers to govern creation on his behalf, McKnight reminds us in The King Jesus Gospel. After they rebelled, God chooses Abraham and the people of Israel, but they also fail. So God sends Jesus, the culmination of Israel’s story, to rescue us and usher in God’s kingdom. As king, Jesus commissions the church to embody the kingdom as the people of God — a taste of the Jesus-centered city at the end of that story.
“The one true God has now taken charge of the world in and through Jesus,” explains Wright in Simply Good News. “God’s plan to put the world right has finally been launched” — and “the ancient sickness that crippled the world” and humanity has been cured. The Good News is that “this has happened in and through Jesus.” One day “it will happen, completely and utterly, to all of creation.” We humans “can be caught up in that transformation here and now.”
A single word can be powerful in how we remember stories. Thinking about Jesus as the Good News rooted in the biblical story has changed the way I think about the gospel — and how I talk to others about it.
Carmen Andres, a former editor of the Mennonite Brethren magazine Christian Leader, lives in Alexandria, Va.