Church of the Good Shepherd


This sermon got started about two years ago.

Someone asked me "Why is Lord of the Rings and Narnia okay...but Harry Potter's wrong?"

  • Magic in both
  • Battle and some bloodshed

What's the difference?

For the record, I'd never jumped on the anti-Harry Potter bandwagon, but the question did make me think.

My limited experience with Harry Potter was entertaining, but not very satisfying.

1. Preconceptions and Background

Bible is True

My background

Gamer since 4th grade

Worldview thinking

In his book Art and the Bible, Francis Schaeffer writes,

The Christian worldview can be divided into what I call a major and a minor theme.

First, the minor theme is the abnormality of the revolting world... Men who have revolted from God and not come back to Christ are eternally lost; they see their meaninglessness... There is a defeated and sinful side to the Christian's life. If we are at all honest, we must admit that in this life there is no such thing as totally victorious living.

The major theme...is the meaningfulness and purposefulness of life... God is there, God exists. Therefore, all is not absurd. Man is made in God's image and so man has significance.

[This] rests on the existence of the infinite-personal God who exists and who has a character and who has created all things, especially man in his own image.

Man is fallen and flawed, but he is redeemable on the basis of Christ's work. This is beautiful. This is optimism.

If our Christian art only emphasizes the major theme, then it is not fully Christian but simply romantic art.

On the other hand, it is possible for a Christian to so major on the minor theme, emphasizing the lostness of man and the abnormality of the universe, that he is equally unbiblical...  [F]or the Christian, the major theme is to be dominant. (56-58)

As evangelical Christians, we have tended to relegate art to the very fringe of life. The rest of human life we feel is more important. Despite our constant talk about the Lordship of Christ, we have narrowed its scope to a very small area of reality. We have misunderstood the concept of the Lordship of Christ over the whole of man and the whole of the universe and have not taken to us the riches that the Bible gives us for ourselves, for our lives, and for our culture.

If Christianity is really true, then it involves the whole man, including his intellect and creativeness. Christianity is not just "dogmatically" true or "doctrinally" true. Rather, it is true to what is there, true in the whole area of the whole man in all of life. 

The Bible, however, makes four things very clear: (1) God made the whole man, (2) in Christ the whole man is redeemed, (3) Christ is the Lord of the whole man now and the Lord of the whole Christian life, and (4) in the future as Christ comes back, the body will be raised from the dead and the whole man will have a whole redemption.  It is within this framework that we are to understand the place of art [and imagination] in the Christian life.  Therefore, let us consider more fully what it means to be a whole man whose whole life is under the lordship of Christ. (Art and the Bible)


If Jesus is Lord at all, then He is Lord of all...including our creativity, imagination and fantasy life

2.  Foundation For Understanding Fantasy

Schaeffer - creativity in general

The ancients were afraid that if they went to the end of the earth, they would fall off and be consumed by dragons. But once we understand that Christianity is true to what is there, including true to the ultimate environment -- the infinite, personal God who is really there -- then our minds are freed. We can pursue any question and can be sure that we will not fall off the end of the earth. Such an attitude will give our Christianity a strength that is often does not seem to have at the present time. (Art and the Bible)

"I live in a thought world which is filled with creativity; inside my head there is creative imagination.  Why?  Because God, who is the Creator, has made me in His own image.  I can go out in imagination beyond the stars.  This I true not only for the Christian, but for every person.  Evry person is made in the image of God; therefore, no person in his or her imagination is confined to his or her own body.  Going out in our imagination, we can change something of the form of the universe as a result of our thought world-in our painting, in our poetry, or as an engineer, or a gardener.  Is that not wonderful?  I am there, and I am able to impose the results of my imagination on the external world.

But notice this: Being a Christian and knowing God has made the external world, I know that there is an objective external reality and that there is that which is imaginary.  I am not uncertain that there is an external reality which is distinct from my imagination.  The Christian is free; free to fly, because he has a base upon which he need not be confused between his fantasy and the reality which God has made.  We are free to say, "This is imagination."  ...Thus the Christian may have fantasy and imagination without being threatened. (Francis A. Schaeffer He Is There And He Is Not Silent: A Christian View of Philosophy and Culture)

 "The Christian is the one whose IMAGINATION should fly beyond the stars."

Fantasy in specific

"...real myth is capable of throwing illumination on the world." (Homer to Harry Potter, p.25)

 "The word myth comes from the Greek work muthos.  Muthos originally meant "word" or "speech" and was a near synonym for logos-a word later used in the Gospel of John to describe Christ." (Homer to Harry Potter p.32)

 Tolkien  - myth is a cosmology/a way of understanding the world.

 Walter Wangerin Jr The Orphean Passages:

In order to comprehend the experiences one is living in, he must, by imagination and by intellect, be lifted out of it.  He must be given to see it whole; but since he can never wholly gaze upon his own life while he lives it, he gazes upon the life that, in symbol, comprehends his own.  Art presents such symbols. ...And when the one who gazes upon that myth suddenly, in dreadful recognition, cries out, "There I am!  That is me!" Then the marvelous translation has occurred: he is lifted out of himself to see himself wholly. (p.14-15)           

 CS Lewis  Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What's To Be Said

The Fantastic and Mythic is a Mode available to all ages for some readers; for others, at none.  At all ages, if it is well used by the author and meets the right reader, it has the same power: to generalize while remaining concrete, to present in palpable form not concepts or even experiences but whole classes of experience, and to throw off irrelevancies.  But at its best it can do more; it can give us experiences we have never had and thus, instead of "commenting on life," can add to it. (p. 38)

 Lewis - Introducing George McDonald's Fairy Tales:

...it goes beyond the expression of things we have already felt.  It arouses in us sensations we have never had before, never anticipated having, as though we had broken out of our normal mode of consciousness and "possessed joys not promised to our birth."  It gets under our skin, hits us at a level deeper than our thoughts or even our passions, troubles oldest certainties till all questions are reopened, and in general shocks us more fully awake than we are for most of our lives.

 Fantasy is good as long as it equips us to live in real life

 W.H. Auden writing about Grimm's fairy tales:

From the properties (the castle on the mountain, the cottage in the wood, the helpful beasts, the guardian dragons, the cave, the fountain, the trysting lane, etc.), he will acquire the basic symbols to which he can add railways trains, baths, wrist-watches and what-have-you from his own experience, and so build p a web of associations which are the only means by which his inner and outer life, his past and his present, can be related to, and mentally enrich, each other.

3. The Role of Fantasy in the Life of a Christ-Follower

Visualization in sports

Coach K from Duke (Beyond Basketball by Mike Krzyzewski)

  • Clutch players are don't suppress fear and anxiety
  • They mentally practice tense games so that they no longer feel as much fear and anxiety.

The free-throw study:

Individuals were divided into 3 groups. Each group was tested to see how many free throws they could successfully shoot with a basketball at the beginning and the end of the study.

Group A: Practiced free throws for 20 minutes
Group B: Did not practice free throws at all
Group C: Practiced mental free throws every night for 20 minutes. No real free throws were done, only a mental rehearsal and visualization of each free throw.

The results were as follows:

Group A: Increased their free-throw percentages by 24%.
Group B: Saw no increase in free-throw averages.
Group C: Increased their free-throw percentages by 23%. Remember, this is only using mental practice and visualization.

Jack Nicklaus

"I NEVER hit a shot, not even in practice, without having a very sharp, in-focus picture of it in my head.First I see the ball where I want it to finish, nice and white and sitting up high on the bright green grass. Then the scene quickly changes, and I see the ball going there: its path, trajectory, and shape, even its behavior on landing. Then there is a sort of fade-out, and the next scene shows me making the kind of swing that will turn the previous images into reality." - Jack Nicklaus

What free-throws does fantasy have our souls practice?

Aragorn and self-sacrifice in The Return of the King

Philippians 4:8-9 - Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me-put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Proverbs 23:7 - For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he (KJV)

4. Specific Issues

Harry Potter and "Non-Christian Fiction"

Neal's belief that it's okay for Christians to read secular novels comes from her reading of the biblical book of Daniel. Daniel, you will remember, was a teenager when he was taken away from Jerusalem to live in exile in Babylon. There, he was taught the language and literature of the pagan culture. He studied at a school that trained Babylon's magicians, astrologers, and sorcerers. The actual practice of sorcery and astrology was, of course, forbidden by God. But Daniel studied it well to understand it.

One day King Nebuchadnezzer called on his magicians and astrologers to interpret a dream; none could do it. In a rage, the king ordered that all of his wise men be put to death. Daniel asked to see the king, who then asked him, "Are you able to make known to me the dream that I have seen and its interpretation?" Daniel responded: "No wise men, enchanters, magicians, or astrologers can show to the king the mystery which the king has asked, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and he has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days."

Daniel had immersed himself in his culture's pagan literature in order to understand it. But, because of his deep devotion to God, he didn't defile himself. As Connie Neal told BreakPoint, "God put Daniel in Babylon to be a light in the darkness-and he was. He was not afraid to read literature that resounded in the hearts of the people with whom he lived. He used his familiarity with this pagan literature to reveal the true and living God." And Neal knows some kids who have done the same in our own post-Christian culture. (from http://www.breakpoint.org/listingarticle.asp?ID=6778)


Tolkien says that strict allegorical symbolism "would interfere with the deeper and more profound Christian themes by trivializing them"

Also - it gets too simple.

To say "Aslan equals Christ" overly simplifies

Better to say "As Christ is to this story so, in a measure, is Aslan to that story.

"You may see a boy offer to carry a grocery bag for a woman.  He is not a symbol of Christ (carrying someone else's burden): rather, he appears in this little act as a case in point of the same thing which was also at work in Christ's act, namely Charity, which always "substitutes" itself for the good of someone else. ..." (Thomas Howard, The Achievement of C.S. Lewis)


There is magic in Christian and non-Christian books.

Narnia has Father Christmas, Coriakin (in the Voyage of the Dawn Treader)

Space Trilogy has Merlin

Gandalf & Eldrond

Better to ask the Purpose and the Source of the magic.

PURPOSE - to what end is magic being used?

SOURCE - where does it come from?

EXAMPLE - the ring seeks to dominate the will of others.

This is wrong, and even if it is used for good purposes it is always bad and corrupts the user.

Harry Potter - It is always wrong to use magic to enslave.

  • House-Elf Dobby enslaved by a spoiled school-boy
  • The dementors enslaved by the Ministry of Magic

Both sides in the battle use magic

Only Voldemort and the Death Eaters use the type of magical power that comes by dominating or manipulating another's will.

Objective Morality

Challenge to live in the Battle

Lord of the Rings - Theoden if Rohan and Denethor of Gondor

Book vs. Movie of Lord of the Rings

Aragorn in the movie says "Show no mercy because none will be shown to you"

In the book, he would have challenged anyone who said such a thing.

That's not why we show mercy!

Harry Potter - Dumbledore and Fudge

If Fudge takes the steps necessary to fight him, he "will be remembered...as one of the bravest and greatest Ministers of Magic we have ever known."  But if he fails to act, history will remember him "as the man who stepped aside and allowed Voldemort a second chance to destroy the world." (Goblet of Fire, 708)

Dumbledore shows that being on the right side of the battle may come at the cost of reputation, of doing difficult things, and even your own death.

"Remember, if the time should come when you have to make a choice between what is right and what is easy...remember Cedric Diggory." (p.724)

Ethics of Harry Potter's Rebellion & Dumbledore's lie

Harry, Hermione & Ron are often deceiving, rule-breaking and this is often acceptable because the end seems to justify the means.

End of the Goblet of Fire - Dumbledore speech "TRUTH IS GENERALLY PREFERABLE TO LIES."

Critical Juncture of Book 5 Dumbledore chooses to lie.

This is a big ethical issue

  • Egyptian Midwives lied to save Hebrew Babies
  • Rahab lied to save Jewish Spies
  • Christians in Germany lied to save hidden Jews from the Holocaust

Role-Playing Games

Useful to teach skills

Role-play in sales, parenting, outreach

On-Line Games

"Grand Theft Auto IV's first week performance represents the biggest launch in the history of interactive entertainment," said Strauss Zelnick, the chairman of Take-Two Interactive Software, which publishes the game, in a statement yesterday. "We believe these retail sales levels surpass any movie or music launch to date." (http://www.philly.com/inquirer/front_page/20080508_Grand_Theft_Auto_car-jacks_pop_culture.html)


What are you escaping from?


  • Story of Everquest - Christina Cordell with 3 year old Brianna locked in a car
    • Christina Cordell says, "I feel sorry that people get wrapped up into this and destroy their relationships. I just hope that one day they will wake up before it's too late and realize they are alone with no real friends and their family is gone."

You might be addicted if:

  • Lying about how much time is spent
  • Taking away from work, family, sleep
  • Think more about it than you do other issues
  • Feeling empty, depressed, irritable when not at the computer

Redemption / Grace

It was pity that stayed Bilbo's hand from killing Gollum

"The pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many"

"Frodo especially must hope for Gollum's redemption, because he sees in himself the capacity to become what Gollum has become.  And so it is with all of us.  If we see in others a cause for scorn, then we must see it in ourselves as well.  ..Thus it is that Tolkien, most importantly of all, speaks [of fantasy] as a mirror: it shows us ourselves." (Homer to Harry Potter, p.49)


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