Is a Harry Potter Bible Study an Example of Downgrade?
Jared Moore, 2nd VP of the SBC is not happy that I included his Harry Potter Bible study in my previous post, “Finding Theology in the Hunger Games and Harry Potter” [click here for the article]. Moore’s Harry Potter Bible study [click here to see it], according to him, illustrates doctrines of the “trinity, image of God in man, Scripture Alone, full deity and humanity of Christ, justification by faith alone, doctrine of sin and man’s sovereignty.”
Moore seemed particularly upset that I would lump the bible study into a category of #DOWNGRADE, as it is often ‘hashtagged’ on my Twitter feed. After all, according to Moore, he was able to pull all of the above doctrines out of Harry Potter for consumption by Christian youth or adults. As Moore continued to point out on Twitter, this is a way – according to him – to help my children “discern pop culture.” Of course, in my household, discernment works an entirely different way. If I believe that the testimony of Scripture, specifically within the revelation of God’s righteousness as demonstrated through the law, reveals that God detests the occult, then my family doesn’t dabble in it. And before anyone lectures me on the out-datedness of Levitical Law, I assure you that I both understand and preach a correct division between Law and Gospel. As our church catechism says [click here to see it], an edited version derived from the 1689 London Baptist Confession of faith, the purpose of the law is to “teach us our duty, make clear our condemnation, and show us our need of a Savior.” Our duty is fleshed out in adhering not to “the letter” of these laws, but to “the spirit” of these laws as they illustrate the holy nature of God. There is nothing I see in Scripture that makes me believe that God detests all things occultic in the New Testament dispensation (forgive the term) any less. I don’t need to immerse myself into pop culture in order to discern it. Healthy discernment would advocate the wisdom to avoid it.
I know this may be an affront to doctrinal Dominionists – among whom I don’t believe Moore is in their number. Dominionists [click here for an explanation of the term] believe that Jesus came to redeem culture. Orthodoxy maintain that Christ came to redeem souls. Sadly, dominionist theology has invaded much of American evangelicalism though the window that evangelical charismatics have held open, through which comes many strange doctrines. Dominionists would scoff at my suggestion that Jesus has no interest to redeem culture, politics, or the entertainment industry. And yet, I again soundly renounce the idea. These will all be things that one day Jesus will roll up like a garment (Hebrews 1:12). Culture – along with these other “hills to be conquered,” to use Dominionist language – will be taken care of at the consummation of our King’s glorious appearing. I have no interest in taking a pagan book written by a lost author and trying to find in the storyline something that I can contrive as Gospel in order to “take it back” from the devil.
Fred Butler, whom I don’t know except in the world of social media, reviewed Moore’s book (although I read the book, I did not review it on the Pulpit and Pen website; I merely discussed the book’s premise and not the book’s content). Butler’s review [click here to read] makes me assume that he and I disagree on whether or not the occultic storyline of the Harry Potter series makes it off-limits to the Christian reader. Whereas books with an occultic theme may not be altogether off-limits for the Christian, like Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness (no comment), this is certainly different from a child’s tale where the heroes and heroines are witches. And before you call me a fundamentalist, I’ll give open disclosure that I’ve been known to drink champagne around the holidays, am a huge Walking Dead fan (I can find dozens of passages where God explicitly detests witchcraft and the occult, but none so far that he detests zombies), and I have drums in my sanctuary (which everyone knows causes demon possession). Someone may therefore think I draw lines arbitrarily, but this is not so. I draw lines where God has clearly spoken, and he has spoken on the occult.
Moore seems to make light of this notion, tweeting that there is no inherent difference between stories centered on a school for witchcraft and the Wizard of Oz (if you recall, the wizard was a man behind a curtain), Scooby Doo (I vaguely remember as a child that at the end of every episode the monsters turned out to be people angry at “those pesky kids”) and the Chronicles of Narnia (a tale that was clearly meant as a Christian allegory with Jesus at its very core). I have to soundly reject Moore’s comparisons. The doctrines, which Moore claims he uses Harry Potter to illustrate, have to be clearly eisegeted into the tale. As I pointed out in the above mentioned post [click this to read], anyone with virtually any level of creativity can jam Biblical lessons into any movie or novel. There’s a scene in a Will Ferrell movie around a dinner table, for example, that would make a fantastic sermon illustration. And yet, I have no reason to use that clip to make such an illustration. First, I might encourage people to watch a movie that simply doesn’t need to be watched and secondly, I have the Bible that is the incorruptible seed by which we’re born again (1 Peter 1:23). I simply don’t need Will Ferrell to make the point.
Butler’s review [click here to read] centered not on what (in my opinion) is an appalling source to create a type or shadow of Christ, but on the cinematic hermeneutic (my term) employed by Moore to “find” allusions to Christ in the last four of the Harry Potter movie series. I think Butler’s take is spot-on:
Honestly, while I was reading these chapters and pondering the discussion questions pastor Moore asked, I began to believe a lot of what he was “getting” from these stories was contrived. Maybe it is just me, but I got the feeling he, being a “fan” of the HP books, was reading way too much into them. As if he was attempting to “rescue” the series from the clutches of killjoy legalists who forbid anyone from reading the books and looking at the movies.
Yet, there were a couple of deeper questions I was asking that I think get to the heart of what he wants to do with his book.
As to the first, why must I tie these questions to a movie series in order for them to be asked in a Bible study group? Does tying those questions to the HP novels help make them more “relevant?” I definitely believe the Bible provides answers to those pertinent questions of life, but I am of the opinion that the Bible can stand alone as the means to answer them. I don’t need to show my home Bible study a HP movie (or any Hollywood movie for that matter) in order to make the questions “relevant.” In a way, pastor Moore’s argument smacks of that type of pragmatism seeker-driven churches employ in order to make the Bible look really cool and neat-o to an unbelieving public.
As to the second, if I ask “practical theology” questions derived from these movies, was it really the intended purpose of the author to convey that “theology?” As much as I have come to love the HP novels and appreciate Rowling’s story telling, did she genuinely intend for her readers to ask those questions about the Christian life? Though I would certainly acknowledge Christian oriented themes are woven here and there in her overall story about Harry, it may be that Rowling just pulled from familiar religious themes she grew up with in a British, Judeo-Christian Western society. She never intended to picture Christian “truth” with her work in the same way C.S. Lewis may have intended or even John Bunyan. Why should we go hunting for it? I would imagine pastor Moore will say identifying those themes is bringing this material under the Lordship of Christ. But, really? How exactly does me doing that “help out God?”
When I see pastors make a sermon series from the movie ‘The Wolverine’ or some other Hollywood Blockbuster, I have to assume a few things.
1) I have to assume that pastor believes that his audience will appreciate a detour from a sound exposition of the sacred Text. I have to presume – and I believe there’s evidence to illustrate – that the churches where this is a regular occurrence are particularly shallow. I have to assume the pastor presumes a spiritually immature congregation. This is the homiletical equivalent of feeding someone by making the spoon into an imaginary airplane, so they reluctantly open up and take a bite.
2) I have to assume that the eisgetical methods by which you jam a supposed biblical lesson into a movie script that wasn’t created for such a purpose is the same eisegetical method by which the man preaches from the Scripture. Call me crazy, but I think that a man who sees the value in true exposition of the Bible would have trouble treating a cinematic feature any less truthfully.
For full disclosure, I don’t know if either of these are true about Moore and I will feel they probably are not.
As stated, Moore was particularly concerned that I was portraying his Harry Potter Bible study as #DOWNGRADE criteria. So then, let me clarify three things about Moore’s Bible study:
1. What is doctrinally presented by Jared Moore in his Harry Potter Bible study is an example of sound Christian orthodoxy. I could have clarified that, but that wasn’t the point of the previous post, which focused on the needless ‘creativity’ when repackaging Bible truths into a secular package. What bewilders me is why these doctrinal presentations were made from Harry Potter, and furthermore (as Butler queried) how he got these themes out of Harry Potter without it being “contrived.” This is the equivalent of a math student getting the answer right but failing to show their work.
2. Therefore, my concern is not with the doctrine presented in Moore’s Bible Study, but the increasing desire in the evangelical church to coat the Gospel in a layer of secularism in order to “contextualize” the truth to an audience that despises the Bible. First of all, I doubt any non-believer is going to have to have their minds spiritually blown because of the “Harry Potter is Jesus” comparison. As previously stated, it’s simply not that creative and can be done with anything. However, I’m fully convinced that the doctrinal truths presented in Moore’s book can be used by the Holy Spirit to reap regeneration in a lost soul. Secondly, I would hope that any believer in a Biblical New Testament church would be discipled enough and mature enough in their faith to say “you don’t need to do the airplane-spoon thing.” To my church, at least, this approach would come off as terribly patronizing and it would be unwelcome.
3. I remain concerned that Moore has compared using Harry Potter as a type and shadow of Christ with the ‘Hall of Faith’ in Hebrews 11. Certainly, a clear division should be made between the two. Does Moore think the author of Hebrews is contriving these types and shadows into Messiah-figures the same way he is contriving JK Rowling’s fictional character into a Messiah-figure? Or does Moore think that the inspired Text merely provides an example of how we can create our own Messiah-figures at-will from pop culture? Has the Bible not been empowered by the Holy Spirit to be especially used in the regeneration of souls, far greater than secular works of literature? And if so, why are we turning to these secular works of literature?
One final clarification; I do not believe that Moore’s Harry Potter Bible study is the same level of #DOWNGRADE as what was presented in Lifeway’s recent “Life Lessons from Mayberry” [click here for my article at Worldview Weekend]. Moore’s Bible study, unlike “life lessons” presented by Lifeway, actually speaks the Gospel and for that, we should all be grateful. The question is if we need Harry Potter to preach to us and if the glory of God is magnified by using such a base example as a type or shadow of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
As Spurgeon (who to my knowledge never engaged in witchcraft) said, “Discernment is not telling the difference between right and wrong, but between right and almost right.”