SBTS Prof Preaches Sermon From Harry Potter

James Hamilton, Professor of Biblical Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, recently preached from Harry Potter, the fictional children’s book about wizardry. The sermon was at Kenwood Baptist Church, which is also the church of Denny Burk, who serves as director for the Center for Gospel and Culture at the SBTS undergraduate school, Boyce College.

The church member states, “For you Potter fans…my pastor (and SBTS prof) had an evangelistic night where he explored the gospel connections imbedded in the framework of the Harry Potter world.”

Of course, there are no “gospel connections” in the Harry Potter world, because the Harry Potter world is a fictional work created by JK Rowling, who (depending upon which day you ask) is a nominal Christian, a former Christian, or an agnostic. When she announced that the main “wise mentor” character was a homosexual, it was said by a book critic:

My first response was, “Thank you, Lord,” because this helps us show others that these books should not be used in the churches to illustrate Christianity. Because Dumbledore has been revealed as a homosexual, it helps me communicate my message. It helps Christians who are concerned about the use of Harry Potter books in churches, because it makes it very clear that these books are not intended to be Christian, that Rowling isn’t speaking as a Christian. She has introduced values that are contrary to the Biblical message.

And yet, for some reason, Christians who feel like the Bible doesn’t contain enough stories to get its point across have been drawing from Harry Potter for years.

Pulpit & Pen first covered Baptists’ infatuation with preaching from Harry Potter on November 22, 2013, in the article Finding Theology in the Hunger Games and Harry Potter. We pointed out that the then-2nd VP of the SBC, Jared Moore (a SBTS student), had written an entire book devoted to creating a Bible study out of Harry Potter.

What’s sad about this SBTS seminary professor preaching from Harry Potter instead of the Bible is that it’s patronizing to the church, assuming the crowd was Christian. That believers have to be patronized this way and spoken to like eight-year-olds is pathetic. But if the crowd was believed to be primarily lost (it was an “evangelism night”) then it says something even sadder about the state of affairs in Christianity. It says that a SBTS professor and his church don’t believe the Scripture is sufficient to make one born-again, but that it has to be jazzed up by crappy 21st Century children’s fiction. Either way, it shows that Jim Hamilton and others either don’t fully hope for the maturity of fellow Christians or they don’t fully believe in the power of the Holy Scripture to do the work of the Holy Spirit.

When Paul briefly referenced Greek poetry at Mars Hill, he did so to eviscerate it and lift it to scorn, showing its inconsistencies. This is far different from heralding a work of literature whose author and substance stands opposed to the God of Scripture. In short, what Hamilton was doing by invoking Harry Potter was precisely the opposite of what Paul was doing by invoking the work of Aratus.

Another danger behind this type of fiction-preaching is that it can send the message to the less-discerning that the Bible, like Harry Potter, is fiction. After all, if you can extrapolate some spiritual truths from fiction, how do we know the Bible isn’t similarly fiction? Our hope and trust rests not on fiction, but on the historic facts of time and space set forth in the Holy Book.

Then, there’s the apparent danger of treating wizardry and sorcery as mere fantasy. Of this concern, volumes have been written and largely ignored by Christians immersed in pop culture. What separates witches, wizardry, and sorcery from other fantastical topics like zombies, vampires and werewolves is that the latter is pure fiction but the Bible affirms the existence of the former. The Scripture speaks of witchcraft as a real manifestation of satanic power and demands Christians set themselves apart from it (Exodus 22:18, Deuteronomy 18:19-22, Revelation 21:8, etc). Whereas some might lift up CS Lewis’ Chronicles as a precedent of fantastical Christian story-telling (and Lewis is hardly the standard of orthodoxy), the difference is that in Harry Potter the protagonist is a wizard and not the antagonist. Making a hero out of a wizard, rather than a villain, seems to be a twist of Biblical ethics. While contemporary Christians may laugh at our concerns as hopelessly “fundamentalist,” we argue that preaching from a children’s storybook about a heroic witch and likening him to Jesus is hopelessly idiotic.

Finally, this is a terrible example to those in the pews, especially SBTS students who aspire to be preachers of God’s Word. Eisegesis – or adding our viewpoints into Scripture instead of deriving our viewpoints from Scripture – isn’t bad only when it is done to Scripture. Like all matters of ethics, morals are universal. Reading into someone’s work is wrong whether it is the Bible, the United States Constitution or even Harry Potter. Ignoring authorial intent is not a virtue, but a vice. When reading any work of literature, whether divine or terrestrial, the reader should have the utmost concern for what the author meant when he wrote it.

Finding “Gospel themes” in secular fictional literature is eisegesis that doesn’t need to be commended or copied.

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