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.”

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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.”


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17 Responses

  1. I’ll send a free .pdf copy to anyone who wants to read The Harry Potter Bible Study themselves, to see if it’s “downgrade” material. Email me at jaredhmoore@hotmail.com. In this study, I encourage Christians to reject Satan’s lies, and to connect all truth found in pop culture back to the God who created them true, in light of the creating, sustaining, and redeeming work of Christ.

  2. JD Hall says:

    If anyone would like a free copy of the Bible in which to do an actual “Bible” study, email me your address at fbc.sidney@gmail.com and I’ll mail you a paperback ESV free of charge. I hear it explains the Gospel almost as well as any book out there.

  3. Hall’s offer is better. Of course the Bible explains the gospel better than any book (or words) out there… even better than Hall’s website, or his books, or his tweets. Yet, I see links to all those things here?

    But, Hall’s article wasn’t about the Bible. It was about my book. I think Hall has misrepresented my book. The only way for you to know is if you actually read the book.

    • JD Hall says:

      Actually, my argument is that the very premise of Jared’s book is not only unnecessary and eisegetical, but is secular pandering and sacrilegious…to be specific.

  4. So, it’s “secular pandering” and “sacrilegious” to say, “Reject Satan’s lies in Harry Potter–reject the evil–and connect the truth back to God in light of the creating, sustaining, and redeeming work of Christ?” You’ve stereotyped my book based on other bad books. Was the apostle Paul participating in “secular pandering” and was he being “sacrilegious” when he quoted a pagan poet in his sermon in Athens (Acts 17:28)? I think Paul’s sermon was gospel-centered. I think my book is gospel-centered as well. I’m encouraging Christians to approach Harry Potter the same way they approach everything in life: reject the evil, and connect all truth to God in light of how He has revealed Himself in Scripture. We must apply a consistent biblical worldview to all areas of life: all pop culture we choose to participate in… even The Walking Dead.

  5. J D, any time you want to debate and/or discuss my book or its premise publicly, let me know.

  6. JD Hall says:

    First, I deleted the above comment (not from Jared) because I don’t publish personal insults on my blog.

    Secondly, I’ll ask the question I’ve already asked and has gone unanswered each time Jared tries to use Paul’s passing reference to a pagan poet as justification for centering a Bible study around the contrived “types and shadows” in this pagan fictional work: Did Paul write a Phaenomena of Aratus Bible Study?

    I want you to catch that, so I’ll ask again: Did Paul write a Phaenomena of Aratus Bible Study?

    To be very clear (as I’ve been already), no one has taken issue with a passing reference to anything pop-culture, secular or pagan. The issue is using a quite sacrilegious and eisegetically contrived comparison between a fictional witch and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ and not a passing reference or illustration someone might use in the course our public discourse or homily. If we are going to discuss this issue, I have to soundly reject any straw-man representation of my view as opposing a passing reference to questionable content to make an illustrative point. It’s really beneath the intellectual demands of a true pulpiteer to continue along this line of irrelevant argumentation.

    And Jared, I’ll be happy to continue to reinforce my position concerning what I’ve presented in this blog article and the one previous at any juncture.

  7. JD, I believe my Bible Study centers on the Bible, and shows how to bring the Bible to bear on pop culture. That’s the purpose of my study. I believe that was the purpose of Paul’s “passing quotation.” Paul showed that our God–the only real God–owns truth wherever it is found. Everyone lives in our God’s world, and even though men may deny Him, they nevertheless reveal His glory since they are made in His image, and possess physical abilities provided by Him. All truth is God’s truth. Although mankind may try to high-jack His truth and use it for ungodly means, we, having known God intimately through Christ and Scripture, are able to connect all truth back to God–the rightful owner of all truth.

    Also, it does not matter if Paul “wrote a Bible Study” or not. The question is if what I’m doing is different than what Paul did. Paul connected a pagan’s “half-truth” back to our God. That’s what I’ve done with The Harry Potter Bible Study. I’ve taken the half-truths found in Harry Potter and connected them back to their rightful owner–The Triune God revealed in Scripture.

    Finally, every Christ-figure in Scripture was sinful. I say to reject the evil in Harry Potter, and to qualify the half-truths with Scripture. I think that’s how all Christians should approach all areas of life. We must reject Satan’s lies, and connect all truth to the Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer–Jesus Christ.

  8. JD Hall says:

    “Also, it does not matter if Paul ‘wrote a Bible Study’ or not. The question is if what I’m doing is different than what Paul did.”

    Do I have to point out the self-contradiction in that statement or can you figure it out yourself?

  9. JD, apply your logic consistently. Are you really against writing Bible Studies since Paul never wrote one?

    Also, my comment isn’t self-contradictory. I’m asking if Paul and I are applying the same method or not. That’s the question. The question is not, “Did Paul write a Bible Study?” The question is, “Am I applying the same method to pop culture that Paul applied to pagan poetry?”

    • JD Hall says:

      Paul did not eisegete Gospel themes into pagan literature and neither did he make a pagan into a type or shadow of Christ. So, no. If you’d like to discuss this on the Pulpit and Pen Program when it begins to air on Worldview Weekend after Dec 16, you’re more than welcome. In the mean time, I’ll try to get around to posting audio from today’s Intermountain Christian News Hour on 790AM Boise Solid Talk Radio in which I discussed you argumentation. I think you’ll find I was fair and defended you to the regular host, who was not so inclined to be as gracious.

  10. JD, you realize that the apostle Paul quoted a pagan (aratus) who was talking about Jupiter (a false god), not our God. Paul connected what Aratus said about Jupiter back to the true God. Was Paul eisegeting the true God into Aratus’s words? Nope. Paul recognized God’s fingerprints in pagan image-bearers. That’s what I’ve tried to do with The Harry Potter Bible Study. All truth is God’s truth.

    John Calvin agrees with me, “‘Certain of your poets.’ Now, that I may return unto this sentence which I have in hand, it is not to be doubted but that Aratus spake of Jupiter; neither doth Paul, in applying that unto the true God, which he spake unskillfully of his Jupiter, wrest it unto a contrary sense. For because men have naturally some perseverance of God, − they draw true principles from that fountain. And though so soon as they begin to think upon God, they vanish away in wicked inventions, and so pure seed doth degenerate into corruptions; yet the first general knowledge of God doth nevertheless remain still in them.”

    Concerning you defending me, I’ll have to hear it to believe it. Your 1st article on your site misrepresented my book greatly. Even this article misrepresents it, but it’s not as bad as your 1st article.

    Concerning discussing this on pulpit and pen, I would be happy to… if you’ll agree not to be a smart elic.

    • JD Hall says:

      First, I fully understand the context of Acts 17:28 and would beg you to consider that your cinematic hermeneutic is precisely what Acts 17:29 rebukes; turning the perception of God into “an image formed by the art and imagination of man.”

      How sad, that Paul to the heathen, in their unfortunate ignorance of the Scriptures and without access to the Prophets, gives a passing reference to their own understanding of God in order to magnify and project AWAY from the “image formed by the art and imagination of man”…and your strategy, having all the blessed access to the glorious revelations of God canonized and bound into a single glorious book made available to all who want it, instead have us turn TOWARD “the image formed by the art and imagination of man.”

  11. J D, you’d have to say the same about John Calvin and a whole host of other Calvinists in church history then. All truth is God’s truth. Calvinists in Church History–and many today–understand this reality.

    Can you pull quotes from my book that prove your accusation that I’m encouraging Christians to move “toward the image formed by the art and imagination of man.” I’m doing what Paul did. Please explain the difference between what Paul did and what I’m doing. Paul took truth out of a pagan’s mind and connected it back to God who the pagan stole the truth from. That’s what I’ve attempted with J K Rowling’s epic tale of Harry Potter. She high-jacked the gospel. I’m just returning it to its rightful owner–our God.

    • JD Hall says:

      It’s the very premise of your book that is pointing men – quite literally – to art formed in the image of man. We have, you have, America has, the culture has, English speaking people have the incorruptible and inerrant, full revelation of God and you insist on dragging a pagan work through a sift to find contrived Gospel nuggets. You have the true smack dab in front of you, something the citizens of Athens did not have, and market the gospel using the false. That’s the very definition of downgrade – reverting, moving backwards or in the wrong direction.

      Now this will be the last time I explain to you in so very clear terms how you and Paul are different, and if you ask again, I’m afraid ill have to delete your comment because it will be willful ignorance on your part and not just innocent curiosity.

      Paul made a passing reference to a pagan poet (or poets, if you count Aratus and Homer as some do) illustrate his point, using a point of reference they would be familiar with on account of their abject ignorance of the Scriptures. You, on the other hand, in a culture and particularly in a church culture that has access and there’s nearly universal ownership of the complete and canonized revealed Word of God, revert to the pagan work to extrapolate some eisegeted and contrived message you jammed into it as a type and shadow when the clear and revealed is already known to you. I suspect you might try to argue that those reading your book are very well as ignorant of the Scripture as the Athenians, at which point I say that this is #Downgrade and secondly, if this is the case, give them pure an unadulterated gospel that they don’t have to sift through the lies.

      And then there is another matter altogether. God’s righteous nature is revealed in the moral law. Ceremonial laws have been fulfilled in Jesus, civil laws for Israel have passed away with that body-politic. Yet God’s moral law still stands in both spirit and essence. And it is so abundantly clear that God detests, hates, loathes the occult. He has a zero tolerance for anything like it or near it. He despises it. Satan has wrapped the occult in a paperback novel and I discerning Christians make fun of anyone who says that it is evil. It is evil. Through the proper use of law as revealed by God’s holy nature, he detests it. Not only are you pointing people to a book that God hates and contriving Gospel messages into it where they have never been intended to be, you have taken occultic art formed in the imagination of man and called it Christ. God did not reveal himself as a golden calf, and so Aaron should not have crafted his image into one and said, “Behold, this is The Lord your God that brought you up out of Egypt.” How dare you sir, when God has not revealed himself as such, craft the false image to represent Him? And yet this is what you have done, Jared. And to insult Him further, the false image you use to represent Him was crafted by pagan and occultic hands.

      Quote Calvin all you want, but I suggest that comparing Christ to an occultic wizard in his day and you would have received from him the same fate as Servetus.

  12. Paul quoted a pagan poet’s statement about a false god, and connected it back to the true God. That’s all I’ve done in the Harry Potter Bible Study. You can say, Paul made a “passing quote” all you want, but I believe all Scripture is God-breathed.

    All you’re doing is building a straw-man and tearing it down. I devote an entire chapter rejecting the various evils in Harry Potter: witchcraft, revenge, deceit, etc. Not once to do I say Harry is Christ. He is a Christ figure. And, it’s not contrived. J K Rowling has argued these things as well. Furthermore, is Paul’s quote of a pagan poet contrived? Aratus did not mean for his statement to apply to the God of Israel. Yet, Paul took it and applied it to the God of Israel. I still don’t see the difference between what I’m doing and what Paul did. I’m rejecting all the lies in Harry Potter and pointing out the truths that Rowling has high-jacked from the true God, and connecting them back to Him.

    Finally, if you’re to be consistent, you cannot watch or allow your children to watch anything with witches and/or witchcraft: Wizard of Oz, Scooby Doo, Chronicles of Narnia, The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, Etc. Yet, you watch the Walking Dead? I think God hates murder, sexual immorality, adultery, using His name in vain, etc. All of these things are present in The Walking Dead. Be consistent JD.

  13. JD Hall says:

    Perhaps if you want to reject the evils in Harry Potter (which I’m glad you can admit, is evil), perhaps there are better tools to find truth and project the Gospel. Start with the Bible. And I’ve already pointed out to in a previous thread somewhere why a man behind a curtain (who is not truly a wizard) or a cartoon dog (I’m not aware the stance the Bible has on fake monsters that turn out to be adults in costumes, but I know the stance it takes on witchcraft) etc… To compare these things to a book for children in which the hero is a witch and then to make him into a type of Christ…it’s perverse. If the level of discernment you have tells you that’s it’s really all the same thing, then pray for discernment.

    We can dance around in circles all day. We’ll get you on the show to discuss these things.

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