The Gospel According to FIELD OF DREAMS

Kevin Costner and Phil Alden Robinson didn’t set out to make FIELD OF DREAMS the Best Christian Parable in Movie History — but that’s exactly what they did.

(A few years ago, I wrote an essay for a now-defunct religion blog published by The Washington Post. It was titled, “Why Field of Dreams Is the Best Christian Parable in Movie History.” With an online link for the piece no longer available, I re-publish it here with slight, minor updates.)

Is this essay Heaven? No, it’s just the internet. But I’ve built it, you’ve come, and so I hope it inspires you to experience this classic in a richer, deeper way, especially if you’re a person of faith.

Why Field of Dreams Is the Best Christian Parable in Movie History

If someone were to ask me how God speaks, or how He guides and leads His followers, I wouldn’t exegete Scripture, unpack theology, or even offer up my own personal experience. Instead, the best answer I could give would be to simply say this:

Watch Field Of Dreams.

That classic baseball fantasy from 1989, starring Kevin Costner at the peak of his career, is the greatest Christian parable in movie history.

At the root of that parable is The Voice, which parallels The Spirit. The guidance of that Voice (like God’s Spirit) is clear in its simplicity yet mysterious in where it is ultimately guiding you.

More deeply, the Voice reflects the Spirit in how it challenges (rather than coddles) those who hear it, because the Spirit (like the Voice) actually stands in contrast to the “follow your passion” dream-chasing that has become a common theme in so many circles of American Christianity and the culture at large.

Jesus often talked in parables. These stories — while not narratively about Him, His Father, or His Kingdom — were used to reveal His Father’s nature, and how He relates to humanity. Christ’s parables showed us how The Kingdom of God works, and how God works in it.

By that definition, Field of Dreams plays like the kind of parable Jesus would tell if He were a filmmaker.

While it’s not explicitly about the Holy Spirit, it shows us how that Spirit works; how it speaks through vague and mysterious impressions, ones that move us to respond in faith but then test that faith once we do.

Sometimes, the test even feels like a betrayal, leading us down a path that confuses and frustrates long before it clarifies, requiring things of us that we never initially signed up for.

Field Of Dreams is the story of Ray Kinsella, a humble Iowa farmer with a loving wife and young daughter.  One evening, while strolling through his cornfield, Ray hears a whisper from out of thin air: “If you build it, he will come.” The Voice repeats itself, quietly but firmly, confirming its presence.

The Voice does more than grab Ray’s attention; it stirs Ray’s soul.

This leads to an exchange between Ray and his wife, Annie, and it’s one all-too-familiar to anyone who’s felt they heard the Spirit speaking to them:

ANNIE: What else did he say?

RAY: Nothing.

ANNIE: I hate it when that happens.

RAY: Me too.

This clear yet vague-on-the-details stirring leads Ray on a journey that requires much more than a leap of faith; it mirrors the full extent of a Christian’s Walk of Faith.

It’s a walk that does not call us to pursue our own passions or desires; rather, it calls us away from them. It calls us to mortgage those dreams, to sacrifice them, to risk them all for the sake of what The Voice would have us pursue instead.

For Ray, his actual mortgage hangs in the balance. To build a baseball field — one that has no apparent purpose, no less — on the very land he grows his crops (i.e. his livelihood) is foolishness, and it’s certain to cost him the very land that he feels led to transform.

But he follows The Voice anyway because it’s about what The Voice wants, on The Voice’s terms.

Ray makes a decision to submit. It’s a decision he must continually resubmit to in the face of mounting reasons not to, including his own bitterness about how things are working out for him (or aren’t).

This is how many people would say they’ve experienced God speaking and leading; I know I would. He coaxes and compels, mystically and in mystery, not spelling out details, giving just the necessary morsel in a spiritually profound way at a time I’m ready to hear it (though likely not to understand).  Every time I watch Field of Dreams and see how The Voice speaks to Ray, and how Ray responds (both in compulsion and frustration), I recognize it thinking, “Yep, that’s exactly how God works.”

Like The Voice, The Holy Spirit often leaves us guessing. He leads people not by convincing but rather provoking, to do things that make no sense…like build a baseball diamond right in the middle of a cornfield. The Spirit doesn’t merely point us in the right (albeit bizarre) direction; it also gives us the courage to go there. Or, as Ray puts it, “Until I heard The Voice, I’d never done a crazy thing in my whole life.”

One key lesson for Ray is that his journey is not just about him reaching his necessary healing; it’s also about helping others reach theirs. I’ve often found that the only way God can get me to help others is to cause me to initially think that these people were meant for my journey, rather than me for theirs. We each love to see ourselves as the lead in Our Story, but The Voice likes to cast us as the supporting catalyst in others.

The Voice doesn’t call you to your bliss; it calls you to other’s burdens. It doesn’t call you to your dreams; it calls you to ministry. It calls you to your life’s true purpose, a holy vocation, a calling that your passions and reason are quite possibly (even likely) distracting you from, not pointing you towards. That’s why it takes supernatural guidance, a kind beyond one’s own understanding, to lead you there.

Much like Ray, one of the biggest struggles we have is in wondering why The Spirit doesn’t speak more clearly. Why can’t God just make his desires and intentions plain?

In Ray’s case, had The Voice laid out the entire path upfront, it’s likely that Ray wouldn’t have even let The Voice finish explaining it. The Voice’s authority and purpose can only become clear in the context of the pursuit, not prior to it. In the experience of it, not merely the explanation. Indeed, only the experience can explain.

Yet perhaps the biggest frustration for many Christ followers is this: despite sincere faithfulness to walk the journey, and to sacrifice, they still haven’t received what they believe God has promised them…but seemingly, everyone else around them has. That’s what’s happening to Ray.

For the people that Ray has been led to help, they end up receiving the very benefit of the field’s mystical powers that Ray has longed for. But he hasn’t. He’s left sitting in the bleachers — not even on the bench! – watching, not participating. When he’s not invited to join the others on the field, his anger and frustration explode at Joe, one of the field’s beneficiaries:

RAY: No, wait, I have done everything that I’ve been asked to do! I didn’t understand it but I’ve done it, and I haven’t once asked, “What’s in it for me?”

JOE: What are you saying, Ray?

RAY: I’m saying . . . what’s in it for me?

JOE: Is that why you did this? For you?

This is Ray as Jacob, wrestling with the Angel and demanding his blessing.

This is the struggle of many Christians. They’ve been faithful but they don’t have the spouse, the kids, the family. Their hard work has not resulted in a lucrative career or the fulfilment of dreams. They find themselves asking, “Why them and not me?”

But the Spirit then softly asks us the same question that Joe asks of Ray: Is that why you did this? For you? The Voice knows what we need more than we do. That’s why we should trust it.

And of course that final shot – starting with the person who is on the field with Ray, to what sprawls out from that field deep across the horizon – is the image of what ultimately happens to us (and for us) when we listen to The Voice and obey. It’s an image of what The Voice has done with Ray’s life — and it’s a vision of what God wants to do with ours.

11 thoughts on “The Gospel According to FIELD OF DREAMS

  1. I’m preaching a sermon Sunday on the Holy Spirit as represented in “Field of Dreams,” and this essay is SO helpful! Thank you for capturing my thoughts so eloquently.

    1. I am so pleased to hear, and thank you for letting me know; your words are very kind. Grateful to be able to help you crystallize your thoughts. Feel free to read from the article if that helps. God bless you!

      1. FYI, I’m former journalist and movie critic for the Louisville Courier-Journal who answered the call to ministry. I’m currently doing a sermon series on spiritual themes in popular movies. I did “Contact” last week, the whole science vs. faith thing. I’m so glad I found your blog! I look forward to following you.

        1. That’s very kind and generous of you to say, particularly as a former critic yourself. God bless in your new vocation!

    1. Thank you, Danny! You fulfill the spirit of this parable (humble submission) with joy and generosity.

  2. Wow, great to find this amazing commentary. Haven’t seen Field of Dreams in some years, having watched it many times before, but the movie, plus your commentary fit into my journey of leading the building a large commercial property.

    And, like Dr. Robert Anthony Schuller’s book, “Getting Through the Going Through Times,” helped me remember His voice, His guidance, His faithfulness.

  3. I concur with all the observations in your article. It’s also a spiritual parable of the intersection of earthly and heavenly dimensions. The prophetic, seer realm, the cloud of witnesses who have gone before us, child like faith, redemption, paying a price for the dreams God has for you, being led of the Spirit over pure rationale, the turning of the hearts of fathers to the children and vice versa and being reunited with our Father are all metaphorically covered in this movie. The last scene is the perfect crescendo where Ray wavers in his ‘child like faith’ through fear and uncertainty but finally yields to the cry of his heart, fellowship with his Father. There’s a touch of sovereignty in the writing and production of all this.

    Incidentally I was led to plant a church called Field of Dreams in Australia 15 years ago (Paul planted, Apollos watered but God gave the increase, you are Gods field) and I hadn’t watched it for many years. Amazing really
    Todd Weatherly

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