In Name Only
By Anthony Casperson
Over the past couple of weeks, I began to watch a TV series that was based off of a book series. It intrigued me from the first episode. I’d known that any sort of adaptation would make changes from the original story. After all, different media can accomplish the same type of idea through vastly different means.
And I was okay with that, because I’d never read the books.
However, I also noticed that my Youtube feed began to fill with various analyses of the series. One of these Youtubers in particular caught my attention because he continually brought out certain important parts of the book that had been entirely removed from the show. Parts that explained a whole lot that had made no sense to me as a newcomer to the story as the episodes progressed.
Don’t get me wrong, he tried to be generous with his reviews. But as the episodes continued on, his reviews grew more dejected. Almost pleading for the actual story of the book to be known.
It made me feel like I should pick up the book series. And so I did. Even finishing the first lengthy novel a couple of days after I’d watched the last episode of the first season.
Even before I’d put the book down for the last time, I had realized that the Youtube commentator had a massive point. Large swaths of the story, integral to the narrative growth of the characters, were omitted in order to include storylines that were completely new to the story (at least as far as I’ve read up to this point).
And this includes making the character who was the primary protagonist of the books seem more like a side character and hindrance to the one that had become the primary focus of the show.
Thus, when I thought about the series, a phrase came to mind: “Adaptation in name only.” This is what another Youtuber (who often compares books and their adaptations) calls an adaptation that has so many differences from the original story that it’d take less time to explain the parts that were the same.
It’s like there really shouldn’t be a connection between the original and the adaptation. There should be no judgement passed about the one based off of the other, because they are entirely different things. Each should stand through its own merit, even though the adaptation tries desperately to lean onto the original just enough to keep its balance.
Shortly after contemplating about this “in name only” type of story, I began to think about how some who claim to follow Jesus are merely such in name only. It could be cultural or familial pressure. Or something to make life easier. Or even just laziness to not check another box on the line denoting belief system. But for whatever reason, some claim to follow Jesus while going on to do their own things.
To claim that someone’s following the story of a book while crafting their own tale instead isn’t adapting to the original. It’s forging a signature in order to make themselves look or feel better about the tale they want to weave.
And depending on the original claimed to be following, it’s also dangerous for the one falsifying the adaptation.
Jesus speaks to this point in Matthew 7. In verses 21-24, he says that not everyone who calls him Lord will enter the Kingdom of heaven. Even if they’ve prophesied and cast out demons and performed mighty miracles in his name, they’ve missed one important part in their own character development.
Obedience to the ways of God.
We who follow Jesus are called to conform our lives, adapt our lifestyle, so that we act more and more like him. The point of following Jesus isn’t just so we can have a name that lets us get in the door of heaven, but so that we can live out God’s story in our lives.
I’m sure there are some reading this who might think that this sounds a bit legalistic. As if I’m promoting some sort of works-based system of belief. They might claim, “What about love? Isn’t love the most important thing for a follower of Jesus? Love God and love people, right?”
Love and grace are important yes. But let’s not follow an adaptation of love that is “in name only” either.
Jesus also says, in John 14:15, that if we love him then we will keep his commandments. Love of God and people cannot be separated from obedience to God’s ways. Love is the motivation for us to follow what he commands us.
Anything else is following “in name only.”
So, as we begin a new year, instead of making resolutions that might have already been broken, let’s choose to look at the book and make our story match up with God’s.