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The Zombie Gospel: The Walking Dead and What It Means to Be Human

The Zombie Gospel: The Walking Dead and What It Means to Be Human

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The Zombie Gospel: The Walking Dead and What It Means to Be Human

161 pages
1 hour
Oct 3, 2017


What can zombies teach us about the gospel?

The hit show The Walking Dead is set in a post-apocalyptic world inhabited by mindless zombies. The characters have one goal: survive at all costs. At first glance there doesn't seem to be much the show can teach us about God or ourselves. Or is there?

Author and speaker Danielle Strickland didn't expect to be drawn to a show about zombies, but she was surprised by the spiritual themes the show considers. In The Zombie Gospel she explores the ways that The Walking Dead can help us think about survival, community, consumerism, social justice, and the resurrection life of Jesus. After all, in the gospel God raises up a new humanity—a humanity resuscitated and reanimated by the new life of the Holy Spirit.

Fans of the show will resonate with the book's exploration of spiritual themes, and can follow along with the episode discussion guide included within. And even if you haven't yet encountered The Walking Dead, you may be surprised to find another, greater story within the show's story.
Oct 3, 2017

Despre autor

Danielle Strickland is an author, speaker, trainer, and global social justice advocate. Her aggressive compassion has served people firsthand in countries all over the world—from establishing justice departments for the Salvation Army to launching global antitrafficking initiatives to creating new movements to mobilize people towards transformational living. Affectionately called the “ambassador of fun,” she is host of DJStrickland Podcast, cofounder of Infinitum, Amplify Peace, and Brave Global, and founder of Women Speakers Collective. Danielle is married to Stephen and lives in Toronto, Canada, with their three sons.

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  • This gospel was good news, all right. It was good enough to set the world right side up, and it created havoc in the process.

  • The results? Social inclusion, poverty relief, wealth redistribution, public mercy (think social services), and eventually hospitals and schools. This is good news! It changes things.

  • The money we give is not the point. Rather, money is simply a tool by which we can learn to be truly human.

  • Every good act I do has the capacity to awaken me to a deep truth that makes me more human.

  • And to see spiritually means to see others as made by God and bearers of his image.

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The Zombie Gospel - Danielle Strickland



For a long time I considered zombie shows a colossal waste of time and energy, and evidence of a dark and sinister reality threatening our common sense of goodness. I suspected it was yet another fascination with darkness that could desensitize us to the foreboding realities of everyday darkness. At least that’s what I thought.

I continued to be amazed at the rising popularity of zombie shows, but once I got past my initial contempt, I gave in to curiosity. Tucked up by myself so as not to contaminate anyone else, in the late evening hours after my kids had gone to bed, I put in earbuds and watched The Walking Dead—trying to get a grasp on why this show is so prevalent in our culture.

What happened was amazing. I glimpsed a realm of media communicating some of the deepest themes of humanity. I became increasingly convinced, as I watched with wide-eyed wonder, that far from an excessive, dark fantasy feeding a lackadaisical attitude toward evil, the show offers us a window into the most important questions of our time.

Really? you may be wondering. I understand. I was decidedly dubious myself. You might think that shows like The Walking Dead are simply the latest entertainment to satisfy our shallow culture’s need for the latest thrill. But as I watched, I learned. I heard a cry, a warning, an invitation. The whole story seems to be a way into another realm with more questions than answers. But the questions are like answers because they are important questions­—elemental and existential at the same time. It felt like—well, it felt like the gospel, which simply means good news. But more than a happy little announcement that makes for a Hallmark moment, the gospel is a pronouncement that important news is coming, more like the rumor of an uprising or the birth of a new king. Think overthrow.

The good news is now mostly associated with the Christian faith. And when the founder of that faith, Jesus, came on the scene, the backdrop was pretty dismal. Things were unhinged; the tension was palpable. Against this backdrop Jesus declared that he had come to bring good news. Contrary to popular opinion, the good news wasn’t delivered by a fairy-godmother–like Jesus who granted our wishes and promised we’d live happily ever after. Many of us don’t have a clue of what good news means.

We forget, at our peril, that Jesus called for a new humanity and the end of an old one. He challenged a system based on greed, exposed religious folks as frauds, and announced a new world order. If anyone had a way of creating havoc, it was Jesus. There was nothing neat about the ministry he led or the results it produced. The early church followed in his footsteps—confounding the wise, exposing corruption, and refusing to cooperate with existing powers. They paid for this good news with their lives—but it was worth it. The results? Social inclusion, poverty relief, wealth redistribution, public mercy (think social services), and eventually hospitals and schools. This is good news! It changes things. Everything, actually.

The real gospel has been co-opted by a religious fairy tale for so long that, for many of us, it’s lost its power. The gospel has been hijacked to support and encourage a personal relationship at the expense of community overthrow. But even more, it’s created a vacuum in the middle of our society. And into the vacuum have disappeared meaning, authentic relationships, and hope. We’ve been living among shallow and inconsequential things for so long that we’ve forgotten what it means to be human. Are love and pornography related? Is knowledge the same as wisdom? Why doesn’t higher education lead to happier lives? Does wealth mean prosperity? Shallow and shiny things fill in for the deep and beautiful realms of life, which has created our desperate times.

So, the meek and mild Jesus we’ve all heard about might not be so meek after all. To overthrow economics as a driving force of religious worship, he resorted to whips and table crashing. He sent evil spirits into pigs, and in so doing destroyed the financial systems that kept peasants trapped in systemic poverty. He liberated a man chained and living in graveyards. When Jesus was done, the villagers begged him to leave their region. That’s right. The most amazing miracle just happened, but it was too much for them. Please go away, said the leaders to this man who had the nerve to challenge power with love.

This gospel was good news, all right. It was good enough to set the world right side up, and it created havoc in the process. If you’ve only heard about the personal Savior, you have heard right—but you haven’t heard enough. A new world is possible. A new humanity is emerging—not one based on power or gender or stereotypes or religion. It’s fully alive. It’s humanity as it always was intended to be. It lies at the heart of the creation story, rooted in God’s original intention for this world—love.

When I heard about The Walking Dead (spoiler alert: the contents of this book will tell you what happens), I was intrigued by the premise. An apocalyptic virus infects most of the human population, leaving them as the walking dead—zombies. The survivors make their way through the wreckage and chaos. Everything has changed, and it’s up to them to make a new world. Will they survive?

That night as I watched my first episode of The Walking Dead, I was shocked to find in its emerging story a greater story—a story I recognized. I felt a holy presence, a rush of adrenaline, deep inside calling to me. Like a warning and an invitation at the same time, an announcement of good news evoked in me a longing to live the deeper story in real life. See, I believe God will use anything to talk to us. He beats on the doors of churches trying to get us to open up and let him in. But often—like the pig farmers—we beg him to leave us alone. So he comes to us in other places, in places we’d least expect. When he walked on earth, he spoke from unlikely places too. Unclean ones. Unholy ones. Gory places filled with horror and filth. Why would we be surprised to hear him speak from these places again?

In that gospel tradition we can hear him shouting about a new humanity—through a genre that may offend us in order to awaken us. We are called to deeper places, to ask hard questions and seek answers from the depths of our being. It’s good news because it leads us to see the world in a new way and offers us a chance to live a new way in that emerging world. Let’s call that invitation the zombie gospel and discuss the question it raises—namely, can this world be saved?


It’s the End of the World as We Know It

Rick (the former sheriff of the town) wakes up in a hospital where he’s been recovering from a gunshot wound. Though he expects life to be the same, it isn’t. Normal is the furthest thing from the truth. While he’s been in a coma, the end of the world has commenced. The zombie apocalypse has spread like wildfire through city centers around the world, and everyone has scattered in the terrifying reality, simply trying to survive. Anyone who is bitten by an infected human (now a zombie) will turn into the walking dead. Rick is unprepared and overwhelmed by the horrific reality confronting him. He stumbles around, heads back to his house, and tries to regroup. Dazed and confused, he is slowly getting a grip on the new reality that is ahead of him. Life has forever changed. It’s the end of the world.

Deep inside we know we all must face the reality that the end is near. I know—it makes us think of a doomsday prophet holding a cardboard sign on a dirty downtown street corner. But all of us wonder if it’s true. Whether it comes as an external reality (a world war, global warming, terrorism, pick your own global calamity) or whether it’s internal (the collapse of a marriage, the exposure of our façade, the unavoidable human condition of messing everything up), it seems inevitable. Whether it’s outside of us or inside of us, the end of things is inevitable for us all. And the questions raised as a result are possibly the most important questions we will ever ask.

That’s why it seems the apocalyptic genre never gets old. On YouTube I heard an apology from a religious leader who had predicted the end of the world was coming the previous month—and believe it or not, he’s not the first (or the last). The world is going to end—or is it?

The zombie genre plays with our apocalyptic fears. It plays out the story of our worst nightmare that something catastrophic will happen, and the possibilities of human survival

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