03 December 2011

Daily Morsels-December 3, 2011

 What are Christians to make of Harry Potter--I have always been intrigued by the trend among Christians to adore CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien, but eschew JK Rowling and the Harry Potter series. Narnia, Middle Earth, and Hogwarts all show great redemptive themes and should happily be devoured by believers. I could not agree more heartily with this video by Jerram Barrs, resident scholar the Francis Schaeffer Institute (lest you be concerned, he is a conservative, biblically committed theology professor). If you enjoy Harry Potter like our family has, or if you have flat out rejected the series, please watch this video.

(***Addendum: I changed the title of this post because of an interaction with my friend. I decideded that "why Christians should read Harry Potter" was overstated. Whatever you choose to do, try to approach with a rich, biblically informed mindset).
We'll all die, but probably not today--R.C. Sproul Jr writes about God's sovereignty and his wife's leukemia. Having walked the cancer road with my wife 2 years ago, I can relate to much of what he says. "My calling then is to rest in, to believe, to be comforted by what He has spoken clearly.  Providence is His, but there He speaks a strange language in muted tones. His Word, on the other hand is both loud and clear. We know, for starters, that God Himself is behind this. God will either defeat the cancer He has sent, or He will have sent the cancer that calls her home (Isaiah 45:7). We know that whether her time is sooner or later, it works out for the good not only for her, but for her husband and children (Romans 8:28). We know that whenever He calls her home He will at the same time heal her fully (Revelation 21:4)."

Why is it OK to mock Christianity--Timothy Dalrymple points to an article by Rex Murphy about how it is increasingly OK to bad mouth Christianity or to be openly hostile. The story of the "occupy London" folks defecating in and carving upon St Paul's Cathedral is appalling, regardless of the building or the ideology it represents. What is being seen increasingly, however, is that this sort of thing is "acceptable" to society and the media when Christianity is the target.

Preach the Gospel always, use words too--Tim Tebow has regularly received criticism for his openness about his faith. Recently, Kurt Warner, another Christian athlete, has encouraged him to tone down his public profession of his faith and to just live it out. I agree with Jared Wilson who is troubled by Kurt Warner's advice. Faith comes by hearing the good news.

What is the central message of the Christmas season?--Zach Nielsen shares some comments on the recent lighting of the White House Christmas tree.  He writes, "A CNN headline says, 'Obama delivers very Christian message at Christmas tree lighting'. Here is the report on the essence of what he said:

In his remarks at Thursday's tree lighting, Obama said that Jesus 'grew up to become a leader with a servant’s heart who taught us a message as simple as it is powerful: that we should love God, and love our neighbor as ourselves.'
'So long as the gifts and the parties are happening, it’s important for us to keep in mind the central message of this season," he said, "and keep Christ’s words not only in our thoughts, but also in our deeds.'
Unfortunately this (the CNN headline and Obama's words) continues to propagate what almost everyone seems to think about the essence of Christianity. And that is this: It all boils down to just following the rules.

Look at Obama's comments. What is the 'central message of this season'?  It all boils down to obedience to God's commands.

But the essence of Christianity is precisely the opposite.


Bundt said...

Because of my respect for you, your thoughts and the video you included are stretching me. I'm not a fiction reader - just haven't been for a long time. I haven't read any of the Harry Potter books and have discouraged others from reading them.

Why? Well, I was strongly influenced by a speaker at a conference. The speaker came out of a "dark magic" background. He started in white magic and eventually achieved a high ranking in the church of Satan. He identified over 50 spells in the texts that matched spells in the Satanic Bible. His exhortation was strong and I haven't moved from it.

My biggest issue is that it appears that the texts present that there is good witchcraft and that there is bad witchcraft. If this is true, it is an abomination. I have genuine concerns about desensitization ... that young people will be desensitized to the wickedness of witchcraft.

So, what is your take on my concerns. You clearly have enjoyed the texts. Are they merited?

J Kanz said...

Bundt, I have read the books. I respect your decision not to read them. My title, "Why Christians *should* read Harry Potter" was perhaps overstated. I have heard your objection, or similar ones, repeatedly. In fact, for many years, I didn't read them either because of the same thoughts. Then I discovered that man of my Christian brothers and sisters (and well known conservative pastors) were reading these books and saying how much they enjoyed them.

The redemptive themes present, particularly in book 7 (as Dr Barrs suggests) have themes of grace and self-sacrificial love. I had a hard time reading the books and not seeing them strongly informed by biblical themes/particularly the later books.

I don't know about the presence of "50 spells from the Satanic bible". I honestly cannot comment because I have never read the Satanic Bible.

Regarding your question about good versus bad witchcraft, have you read the Narnia series, or Lord of the Rings? Have you seen any of the movies? How about Star Wars? Each of these story lines discusses "dark magic" in a way, but they certainly do not glorify it--in fact identifying it as a major problem and a primary cause of worldly difficulties. I do not see a difference between HP and LOTR/Narnia in that regard.

I guess in sum, if you like/watch Star Wars, LOTR, or Narnia, I see no reason not to watch HP. If you don't watch any of the former, at least you are consistent. I personally would rather discuss the redemptive themes together with the concerns in this movie with my children than some of the meaningless drivel that is currently on television that praises self-esteem, free sexuality, and pride. One cannot watch a sit-com or a football game now days without having to deal with the deep sinfulness in our world that seems to exist in every modern celebrity and is glorified in the commercials between. Thoughts?

Bundt said...

I appreciate your points. Let me see if I am able to coherently state my reactions.

First, your closing statement is the clincher for most everything we are discussing. When parents are engaged, helping children to use discernment in identifying evil from good and deception from truth, experiences such as the forms of entertainment you identified can be edifying rather than destructive.

That being said, my concern stems from what I observe daily at school. Many students imbibing from these fountains without discrenment. I fear for the world views they may be forming.

In regards to LOTR, Narnia, and Star Wars I am not an avid consumer. I enjoyed the Star Wars movies but have the same issue I expressed with Harry Potter. Evil was evil but the good as I understood it would also be evil in God's eyes. "The Force" was not from God.

Narnia is such a clear allegory for spiritual truths. It seems that rather than presenting "good witchcraft/sorcery" it presents gifts and the miraculous.

I've read some interesting debates regarding LOTR in this sense. As you have used Potter as a context to discuss spiritual truths, LOTR offers similar opportunities. While I thoroughly enjoyed LOTR, I have concerns about the nature of the magic. What I find so powerful in LOTR is the message that humans are not able to handle evil and even the smallest amount corrupts. The message about human nature is profound.

Is it fair to say that Harry Potter differs at least some? The fact that he goes to a school for witchcraft and wizardry set off alarms for me immediately. My mind immediately went to Saul and the witch of Endor. God leaves no room for spiritism and sorcery. Is it not presented in a benevolent context in the works. It seems to be a central theme, which I do not see in Lewis and Tozer.

Honestly I find the whole thing suspect. Look at CS Lewis and Tozer. They didn't come from no where to compose such profound works. They had a bibliography of works before each of their series. How do we understand that an author has no significant previous works and somehow composes one of the best-written set of novels of our time? This too raises concerns for me.

I think one of my disabilities is over-analysis and too much operation on the literal side of things. Certainly the Potter series is not going to lead all readers down a terrible slope. Yet, I fear that it is desensitizing many to witchcraft. I have Christian students who are ignorant of the dangers of Ouji boards. We have a culture that dismisses the animism and the spiritual world. I think we are in greater danger than cultures that acknowledge the spiritual world because we don't see an enemy seeking to devour us.

OK, that's enough for now. Please dismiss anything that is incoherent and offer me some profitable counter-thoughts.

J Kanz said...

I think a big part of what we must do as parents is teach our children discernment in all things. Greg Koukl, a Christian apologist, talks about the importance of inoculating, rather than simply isolating our children from the world. Os Guinness talks about a similar thing he did with his children, which he called “spot the lie.” He taught his children to spot the inconsistent messages in what they saw in the world through multiple inputs.

I agree heartily that I worry about the worldviews I see children forming. I don’t think it comes necessarily, or strictly, from Harry Potter. As I alluded to during my first response, I am more concerned about some of the things I see our kids watching on Disney Channel and every day television. Do you express the same cautions to your children and other parents about Disney or Star Wars that you do with regard to Harry Potter? Do you allow your children to watch television at all? How do you deal with worldly themes with your kids?
You wrote, “Narnia is such a clear allegory for spiritual truths”. I agree and Lewis intended them as such. I don’t know if you have read Lewis’s “Great Divorce”, which is about heaven, or even “Mere Christianity.” As much as Lewis is heralded by evangelicals, he certainly would not have been classified as an evangelical today as he had some ideas that were foreign to Scripture, but his writing ultimately pointed people to God. I see elements of that in HP as well. However, HP is probably more similar to LOTR than Narnia. Harry is often faced with the desire to give into evil and he fights against it, relying upon his community to help him and encourage him.

Of course Harry Potter differs “some” from the other stories or it would not be a unique story. The self-sacrificial theme for the good of mankind finds its way into all three story lines (HP, LOTR, Narnia), however. I could argue that Gandalf also went to a school of Wizardry when he trained with Saruman. Gandalf frequently used enchantments and cast spells. There was also a good deal of talk about Elvish magic. The kids were given magical instruments in Narnia. All of this was presented positively. I do not see a clear difference here from HP.

The HP stories have led to significant discussions with my children not only about the redemptive themes, but also about the dangers of witchcraft. This movie can provide a way to get them back to the Bible, just as almost anything can if one lives with the notion that “all truth is God’s truth”. I agree that there is an enemy seeking to devour us, but I think he devours more people through works righteousness and a false sense of eternal security than witchcraft. There is a quote that I wish I could find that Satan’s ideal is a world where there are clean streets and well behaved people, but no Christ.
I also wonder what 1 Corinthians 8:1-3 has to say about this? We know that idols have no real existence, but if they cause our brothers to stumble, we should not engage in them. But we also know that Paul knew the culture of the places where he evangelized, which made him a more effective evangelist (consider his engagement on Mars Hill, where he was familiar with Greek mythology as evidenced by two of his quotes in Acts 17:28).

How do you discuss worldly themes with your family? How do you prepare your children to live in this world as Christians? We live in a world where sin is everywhere. How do we learn to be discerning critics of culture while ardently reaching people for Christ? (FWIW, I think that Francis Schaeffer was a master at this).

I have been enjoying this dialog and your thoughts.

J Kanz said...

Also, for what it is worth, I completely respect your decision to not watch it. I think each Christian needs to decide for themselves how they will approach this. I just pray more would do it with foresight and discernment.