Saturday, November 12, 2011

In Praise of Dead Englishmen Who Wrote Fairy Tales

or A Brief Hagiography of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien

G.K. Chesterton said, “Fairy Tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten." It's because of this that I have become immeasurably grateful to a couple of dead Englishmen who wrote such fairy tales.

These men, of course, are C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. I'm extremely grateful to these two men because they did what few theologians or preachers have been able to accomplish. Through speculative fiction they used the imagination to unite the heart and the mind. C.S. Lewis spoke of the "disarming" effect that such literature has on people. He should know. Though he wrote many works on theology and reality, he never really came into his own until he wrote a children's book for his goddaughter Lucy.

But for me, Tolkien was really my introduction into such literature. Now, I must confess that I watched Peter Jackson's movies before I read the books. However, I quickly fell in love with Tolkien's style and content. But, for me, The Lord of the Rings is more than just classic literature. It's theology in 3D. An author's work is always an expression of his soul. And Professor Tolkien's worldview comes through bright and clear in his works. I never really understood total depravity until I read about the damning effects of the Ring. Philio love didn't "click" until I was taken by the friendship of Frodo and Sam. Courage and self-sacrifice came to life for me when I first read The Return of the King.

Some Christians will complain about how dark Tolkien's works are. But, it's important to understand what he was getting at. Through the darkness there are always maintained a slim glimmer of hope and those who grabbed onto that hope made it to the other side. Like all good fairy tales, Tolkien showed us that the dragons of a fallen world could be beaten. In The Silmarillion, he says, "Among the tales of sorrow and of ruin that come down to us from the darkness of those days there are yet some in which amid the weeping there is joy and under the shadow of death light that endures."

But perhaps the reason I love Tolkien the most is because of the impact he had on Lewis. When Lewis and Tolkien met at Oxford, Lewis was a devote atheist. His mother had died at a young age and he had seen many horrors while fighting in World War I (something Tolkien could relate to). Lewis taught medieval literature and wanted to believe that the Bible was just another myth. But, because of his intellect, he simply couldn't. He knew that there was something about Christianity that didn't match the stuff he lectured students about.

One day, Lewis and Tolkien spent all evening walking around a pond, arguing about the truthfulness of Christ's claims. During the course of the exchange, Tolkien commented that Christianity was the "true myth". For some reason, that phrase spoke to Lewis and by the next day we was, in his own words, a reluctant convert.

I cannot even begin to tell you of the impact Lewis has had on my life. To this day, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is the only book I've finished in a single day (though I love to read, I'm rather slow at it). Again, the ability to put biblical truths in "3D" had a profound impact on me when I was younger.

Lately, I've become fasinated with his other writings. Screwtape Letters, The Four Loves and Mere Christainity are books that, in my not-so-humble opinion, every human being should read. His logical manner of examining truth and wittily then applying it to practical living is phenomenal. Through Lewis, I learned many practical things, such as the nature of humility and chastity.

But perhaps the thing I'm most grateful for is that he taught me that I need never be afraid of truth. Because, to the Christian, Truth is a Person and a Person whose not ashamed to call us brethren (Hebrews 2:10-12). Therefore, we can always go deeper and deeper into Truth and find fulfillment and satisfaction. He brought into profound light that God is the chief end of all things.

And that's why I wrote this piece. Not just to come out of the closet as a fantasy nerd, but to express thankfulness to two dead guys who helped draw me into a deeper relationship with the God of universe in a way that no lecture could.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

4 Reasons Preaching Humbles Me

This morning I had the honor of preaching at my local church. While preparing and delivering the message, I was reminded of my helplessness in many issues. Here are some reasons that preaching humbles me.

1. It reminds me of my dependance on the Holy Spirit.

I can do everything right. I have the perfect outline, the best illustrations, elegant form and flawless execution. But I can't change hearts. My preaching is useless chatter without the work of the Holy Spirit. He can overcome my flaws and add potency to my otherwise powerless words.

2. It draws my attention to power of prayer.

Related to that, I can always tell the difference between sermons that are bathed in prayer and sermons that aren't. When I and others pray for the fruitfulness of a sermon, I've never found our prayers to be unanswered. Again, it causes me to realize that I'm just a single, relatively helpless player in something much larger.

3. It makes me realize that I don't have it all figured out.

I don't know how many times I'll prepare to preach from a certain text, only to discover that I'm completely clueless on so many related issues. I often come away from sermon preparation with more questions than answers. And yet, God is always faithful to show me what I need to know and how to communicate it.

4. It makes me grateful for other scholars.

When I don't know something, I often turn to others for help. I'm very grateful for so many wonderful men who studied the Word of God and provide me with insights from it. This includes "famous" people who write books and commentaries. But it also includes people I know personally and are willing to help me understand the Bible.