Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Faith and Fairy Tales: A Lecture on J.R.R. Tolkien and Christianity

On Monday, February 3rd, I had the joy and honor to be give a lecture for the theology students at Concordia University in Irvine, CA. In many ways, returning to campus there is a bit like returning to a family summer home. It was there in Irvine where I received a thoroughly necessary re-introduction to the Lutheran confessions. I also sat at the feet of one of the greatest apologists and theologians of our time, Rod Rosenbladt, whom I now consider both a colleague and a friend (and a man for whom I am greatly thankful). The Eagle Eyrie, as I sometimes affectionately call it was also the nest where I met my beloved wife, Natasha. So, for these reasons, and many more, I always enjoy stepping foot back on campus. This particular time I had the added joy of presenting a lecture on the intersection of two of my favorite topics: Christianity and Literature, specifically in the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. 

I've entitled it Faith and Fairy Tales for the very specific reason that Tolkien addresses and teaches us in his sublime essay "On Fairy Stories," namely, that Christianity is not only historically true (what he would say Primarily true or true in the Primary world), but it is also meaningful. Christianity is both historical fact (e.g. Christ's death and resurrection) and it is a well-told story. It is historical and verifiable and yet it does not cease to be a beautiful narrative. As Lewis once said, it is the one true myth because myth has become fact in Christ's incarnation. Thus, fairy stories (broadly speaking) can and should be expected to point us to the Gospel (the one great and true story of all). But these stories, as well told and enjoyable as they are, are not a replacement for the Gospel, simply a beautiful glimpse or a stab of joy that reflects the supreme joy of the Great Eucatastrophe: Christ's life, death, and resurrection. In other words, fairy stories (and literature in general, not to mention other arts, etc.) can point us to the Gospel, but they are not the Gospel. This distinction and tension must be maintained for both to be enjoyed properly.

I've posted the slides below for your viewing. Keep in mind that much of the explanation for each slide is left to the verbal part of the presentation, which I hope to have up on this blog sometime soon in various audio formats. Most likely I'll use this presentation again, and like Tolkien to a degree, I will find myself editing and changing it; after all, good fairy stories (and discussions about them) never really come to an end. Additionally, I hope to write out a meatier outline, if not a full essay, based on the presentation below. But until then, I hope you enjoy Faith and Fairy Tales.

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