Guest Post: Tolkien and the Gospel

Ben Reed —  May 14, 2009 — Leave a comment
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Brett Vaden and I go way back.  We grew up going to the same church, went to the same middle school, high school, college, and graduate school.  Though our lives have parted ways because we don’t live in the same city, we’re still good friends.  I love when Brett and I get to hang out, reminisce, and talk about what God’s doing in our lives and ministries.  Brett’s got a great heart to minister to people, and his passion for spreading the Gospel to all people is infectious.  If you spend much time around him, you’ll pick up on that really quickly.  Brett’s also got an incredible mind, one that can distill difficult information and help people grasp deep truths.  I’ve always been blown away when he’s preached, because he’s explained difficult things in a way that I understand.  This blog post is yet another example.  If you’re a fan of The Lord of the Rings, you’ll appreciate Brett’s take on it.  If you want to not waste your life, try picking up a copy…you won’t be sorry.  You can read more of Brett’s thought on his own blog here.

Tolkien Won’t Waste Your Life

Here are three reasons why reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s popular fantasy novels (i.e. The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings), is not a frivolous, escapist, life-wasting use of your time. As Tolkien himself argued in “On Fairy Stories”:

1. Fantasy helps recover a clear sense of the world by re-presenting a world similar to ours yet strikingly wonderful. Postmodern art often tries to recast the world by twisting and darkening it. It takes what is familiar–perhaps so familiar it bores us–and manipulates it into something clever, heartless, and godless. Fantasy, however, takes something as simple and familiar as an oak tree and reminds us of its beauty, wonder, and created-ness.

2. Fantasy helps us escape not like a man deserting the front lines, but like a man escaping a prison. While the world still retains much that is good and beautiful, it is presently ruled by Satan, and there is much that is ugly, deceiving, and fallen about it. There are evils like pollution and the wasteful destruction of God’s creation for human convenience. There are worse evils like injustice, abortion, murder, greed, envy, and deception. And there is the result of our sin: condemnation, depravity, and death. All these evils threaten to obscure the created goodness of our world, the sovereign purpose of God at work within it, and the ultimate restoration of it. Fantasy helps us escape this world where evil seems to pervade and triumph into a world in which we can remember what is true (e.g. good will triumph over evil, the meek will inherit the earth, spiritual things are just as real as the material).

3. Fantasy helps console the soul of man, which is burdened and blinded by sin, with vivid pictures of redemption, or what Tolkien called, “eucatastrophe.” There are moments throughout these stories where all seems hopeless and evil will triumph, but then a joyous turn bursts into everything like lightning, and all that was lost is redeemed.

It is not hard to see the gospel in these elements. But what of it? Can’t we get the gospel in other places, especially Scripture, without having to look for it between the lines of fantasy novels that take hours–precious hours–of our life to read? Yes. You don’t have to read Tolkien to know the gospel or understand the world. But if you want to see the gospel and our universe with clearer, sharper, more potent vision, read Tolkien. It won’t be a waste of your life.

 

Ben Reed

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