The Core Module will teach you to better answer difficult questions about the Christian faith. Elle Shaw reviews the RZIM Academy’s foundational online course.
The Mama Bear Apologetics book is an essential resource for Christian parents. It dives deep into the ideals that are shaping the Western world today.
Reformation 21 have posted a shortened version of Steve Hay’s response to The End of Christianity, the third book in a series, edited by John Loftus, against Christianity.
We’ve given a lot of coverage to Rob Bell’s new book Love Wins this week, and though it’s starting to feel toxically oversaturated, the issues Bell’s book has brought up have justified the attention. Before we finally move on, here are some of the reviews of Love Wins from across the interwebs and beyond.
Kevin DeYoung (Pastor at University Reformed Church), God Is Still Holy and What You Learned in Sunday School Is Still True: A Review of “Love Wins” : “…there are dozens of problems with Love Wins. The theology is heterodox. The history is inaccurate. The impact on souls is devastating. And the use of Scripture is indefensible. Worst of all, Love Wins demeans the cross and misrepresents God’s character.”
Mark Galli (Christianity Today), Rob Bell’s Bridge Too Far: “If there is a criterion driving these distinctions, it seems to be based on what Bell thinks contemporary people can swallow. I couldn’t see any other criteria at play. Given the complete lack of quotes from any other writer or tradition, one is led to the unfortunate conclusion that what makes one extraordinary biblical claim a time-bound metaphor and another literal truth is that Bell says so.”
The following review has been kindly provided to Thinking Matters by Edgar Andrews, Emeritus Professor of Materials at the University of London and author of the highly recommended Who Made God?: Searching for a Theory of Everything (read our review here). Professor Andrews is an international expert on the science of large molecules and has published well over 100 scientific research papers and books. For a good introduction to his work, listen to Brian Auten’s interview with him at Apologetics315.
The Grand Design?
Cosmologist Stephen Hawking sold over nine million copies of his book A Brief History of Time. Now, 22 years later, he has co-authored The Grand Design which immediately hit the No.1 spot in the New York Times best-seller list. But the sequel is so inferior to the prequel in intellectual quality that a reviewer in The Times Saturday Review (11 September 2010) writes: ‘It reads like a stretched magazine article … there is too much padding and too much recycling of long-stale material… I doubt whether The Grand Design would have been published if Hawking’s name were not on the cover’.
So why is the new book a runaway best-seller? Because it claims that science makes God redundant. Let’s take a closer look at the claims advanced in The Grand Design.
The introduction asserts that ‘Philosophy is dead’ (p.5) and science alone can provide ‘New answers to the ultimate questions of life’ (the book’s hubristic sub-title). But the authors then produce their own brand of humanistic philosophy, christen it ‘science’ and base their book upon it.
They say; ‘this book is rooted in the concept of scientific determinism which implies … that there are no miracles, or exceptions to the laws of nature’. But ‘scientific determinism’ is simply the philosophical assumption that the laws control all events. I argue precisely the opposite in chapter 11 of my own book Who made God? (WMG in further references).
Again, in chapter 3, They maintain that ‘reality’ is a construct of our minds — implying that there is no such thing as objective reality (Irish philosopher Bishop Berkeley had the same idea in 1710 but he wasn’t widely believed). They conclude that ‘there is no picture- or theory-independent concept of reality’ and propose what they call ‘model dependent realism’ as a ‘frame-work with which to interpret modern science’ (pp. 42-43). Clearly, an interpretive framework for science cannot be science but belongs in a different category altogether, namely, philosophy.
Since the mental models we construct ‘are the only reality we can know … It follows then that a well-constructed model creates a reality of its own’ (p.172). The problem with this, of course, is that it undermines the very concept of reality. Hawking’s ‘reality’ excludes God while my ‘reality’ majors upon God. These two ‘realities’ are mutually exclusive but both (according to Hawking) are equally ‘real’. This is postmodernism by the back door and it is wholly inimical to science, which depends on there being a genuine reality to investigate.
The authors also embrace another philosophy, namely, scientific determinism. ‘Though we feel we can choose what we do, our understanding of the molecular basis of biology shows that biological processes are governed by the laws of physics and chemistry and therefore are as determined as the orbits of the planets’ (pp.31-32). So we are mindless automatons and everything we do or think is predetermined.
The reality is, of course, that biological processes are overwhelmingly ‘governed’ not by physics and chemistry but by structured information, stored on DNA and expressed through the genetic code. It is information which controls the physics and chemistry of the living cell, not the other way round.
Furthermore, if our minds are simply by-products of molecular processes in the brain, then all our thoughts are meaningless including the authors’ own theories. Thinking atheists such as Bertrand Russell and J. B. S. Haldane long ago recognised and admitted this dilemma explicitly (WMG chapter 16) but Hawking and Mlodinow seem oblivious to it.
Chapter 4 is devoted to explaining the ‘many histories’ formulation of quantum theory proposed by Richard Feynman. This is well done except that by ignoring other formulations of quantum theory the authors give the false impression that Feynman’s is the only valid approach. This is tendentious because they need Feynman’s idea as a springboard for their own multiverse hypothesis. To admit that ‘many histories’ is just one of several equally valid formulations of quantum mechanics would weaken their argument considerably.
Chapter 5 surveys the development of physics during the past 200 years, including general relativity (which describes the large-scale behaviour of the universe) and quantum mechanics (which describes its microscopic behaviour). Although containing nothing new, this is by far the best part of this book.
The chapter concludes, however, with comments on M-theory that rang alarm bells (p.118). In the book’s opening chapter, M-theory is no more than ‘a candidate for the ultimate theory of everything, if indeed one exists’, and is ‘not a theory in the usual sense’ but ‘may offer answers to the question of creation’. Physicist Lee Smolin is doubtful: ‘… we still do not know what M-theory is, or whether there is any theory deserving of the name’ (The Trouble with Physics, Allen Lane 2007, p.146). Indeed, on p.117 the authors themselves admit that ‘people are still trying to decipher the nature of M-theory, but that may not be possible’.
But suddenly on p.118 this intractable mathematical model is somehow transformed into a theory so powerful that its laws are ‘more fundamental’ than the laws of nature and ‘allow’ for ‘different universes with different apparent laws’. This is a huge leap of atheistic faith.
The final three chapters rapidly descend into a witches brew of speculation and misinformation, confusingly blended with normal science. It certainly gave me a mental hangover — and I am no stranger to the territory. It is difficult to discern where science ends and speculation begins, but the key reasoning seem to be as follows.
1. The ‘big bang’ model predicts that the universe began life as such a tiny object that quantum theory must be applied to its origin (p.131). But hold on a moment! Quantum theory has only been validated under normal conditions of space, time, pressure, temperature and so on. We cannot know whether it applies to the supposed conditions at the origin of the universe, when space was intensely warped, time was at best fuzzy, and the pressure and temperature both approached infinity. What we do know is that massive objects do not exhibit quantum behaviour. No one can be sure that a new-born universe would obey quantum theory as we know it.
2. ‘In the early universe all four dimension [of space-time] behave like space’ allowing us to ‘get rid of the problem of time having a beginning’ (pp.134-135). But if time and space were equivalent, and time did not begin, then space didn’t begin either! The universe was still-born. In fact the authors are appealing to the ‘no-boundary’ model described by Hawking 22 years ago in A Brief History of Time but are economical with the truth. The earlier book makes it clear that the model is valid only in imaginary time, not in real time (see WMG p.121). But here this caveat vanishes and imaginary time is misrepresented as real time.
The narrative then descends into farce. They claim that ‘the realisation that time behaves like space … means that the beginning of the universe was governed by the laws of science and doesn’t need to be set in motion by some god’ (p.135). So apparently the universe did ‘begin’ after all, but not in time. Confused? Me too.
3. Picturing the early universe as a quantum particle (something they themselves describe as ‘tricky’) the authors consider how it might evolve from point (state) A to point (state) B by applying Feynman’s sum-over-histories method thus:
‘[Since we are considering the beginning of the universe] there is no point A, so we add up all the histories that satisfy the no-boundary condition and end at the universe we observe today. In this view the universe appears spontaneously, starting off in every possible way. Most of these correspond to other universes.’
But by saying that point A does not exist they assume that the universe springs into existence somewhere between nothing (point A) and the present universe (point B). This tells us nothing about how or why the universe began; simply that it did begin. We knew that already.
4. Finally, p.180 does offer an explanation of spontaneous creation. The conservation of energy means that universes can only be created from nothing if their net energy is zero, with negative gravitational energy balancing out the positive energy of matter and radiation. This necessitates that a law of gravity must exist. Because a law of gravity exists it must and will of itself create universes out of nothing (no reasoning given).
So gravity is God. Unfortunately the authors have no time to tell us who created gravity (earlier they rule out God because no one could explain who created him). Nor can they tell us why matter and gravity should pop out of nothing, except to argue that ‘nothing’ undergoes quantum fluctuations. However, this requires that (like gravity) the laws of quantum mechanics pre-existed the universe and that ‘nothing’ possesses the properties of normal space, which is part of the created order and cannot be its antecedent.
Posted on behalf of Michael Drake.
Who Made God? is a witty, stimulating and very readable explanation of the discoveries of modern science, exhibiting the marvels of God’s creation and exposing the inconsistency of attempts to explain the universe in terms of atheism and evolution.
More than making important and obtuse concepts of modern science delightfully comprehensible in memorable imagery of daily life, Edgar Andrews silences on its own terms the challenge of atheistic scepticism and points readers to the truth and sufficiency of the Bible and faith in Christ as a framework – the only adequate framework – in which to think.
Here is a readable and informative response by an internationally respected scientist to claims that atheistic science can explain everything. Emeritus Professor of Materials at the University of London, Andrews outlines with clarity and humour significant scientific constructs that describe how our universe functions. As he does that, he shows their usefulness and consistency with observable data, while exposing their inconsistencies and inadequacies in explaining the totality of everything. In particular Andrews renders in stark clarity the failure of the “New Atheists” (Dawkins, Dennett, et al) to explain the order and origins of the material and immaterial universe.
Against that he sets out what he calls the “hypothesis of God”. One of new-atheism’s fallacies of debating the existence of God is its failure to define its terms. Andrews shows that when the Bible’s definition of God as creator and sustainer of the universe is used, the observable data fits, and does so with a consistency and comprehensiveness that evolutionary atheism can never sustain.
Andrews’ last chapter highlights the inevitable and necessary conclusion to the data examined: God must exist, and does exist as the unmade maker and sustainer of everything. But more than this, the moral argument for God exposes our inescapable need of God and his redemption in Christ. So he closes with a personal affirmation of the grace he has found in the Saviour, and commendation of the Gospel of John as the next thing readers should turn to.
That last chapter aside, the first six chapters may be the most important contemporary writing anyone can be encouraged to read. Neither those nor the latter chapters are always easy reading. From the start Andrews warns that some of the science is challenging. He encourages readers to persevere: it may be necessary to read some sections two or three times, but that is worth the effort. Yet it is not so much how those first chapters induct readers into the theories of modern science, but how they introduce readers to a methodology of thinking about anything. These chapters, taken on their own, are an accessible and engaging introduction to biblical epistemology.
The book is well printed, well presented and well bound: it can be given to others without apology and will keep its shape and appearance through many readings. Each chapter is introduced with a short summary and vocabulary that, much like a road-map, helps navigate through the detail that might otherwise distract or discourage. The summaries would make great starters for family, class or group discussion. Who Made God? is possibly the most useful introduction to modern science a non-scientist could read, and because of the inter-disciplinary breadth of theory and experimental science canvassed, any well informed scientist will also likely profit from reading it.
My only criticism is that in making a passing comment to his reconciling the “big bang theory” with what he asserts is the Genesis 1 record of “genuine history” in an “epic poem” with “clearly historical” intent (p106), Andrews unnecessarily introduces potential for doubt about Genesis. He explains briefly that he considers Genesis 1:1 as describing the creation of the heavens and the earth in an unspecified period of time, with the following verses providing the subsequent geo-centric creative work of God. This brief comment may cause more confusion than need be: it might have been better to have left it out or to have given it more explanation. In both Who Made God? and his earlier From Nothing to Nature he stresses commitment to the historicity and accuracy of Genesis 1. In From Nothing to Nature he commits to creation in six days each having a morning and an evening, while at the same time expressing belief in the very long periods of time the “big bang” presupposes. Confused? Unfortunately, that is where this brief discussion can leave the reader; yet in the context of so much excellence this should not discourage the reading of Who Made God?
I had to be persuaded to read Who Made God? I found neither the title nor the prospect of reading another pedantic, ill-informed point-scoring and petty discussion of the creation-evolution debate at all enticing. I could not have been more mistaken. Before I had finished the first chapter I found myself enjoying a book that informed, stimulated and challenged, and in which neither the science nor the theology is superficial or dull. I have been passing out copies to friends and colleagues, commending to them what I believe will prove to be a lasting work in popular science, biblical theology, and devotional Christianity.
Feminist writer Fay Weldon describes it as “thoughtful, readable, witty, [and] wise.” David Kim of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York says Andrews writes a “nuanced and compelling argument that maintains the integrity of both science and theology.” Those comments are true but understated. This is a great book.
Michael Drake is the principal of Carey College in Panmure and a pastor at Tamaki Reformed Baptist Church. He has been involved in advocacy for Christian schools throughout New Zealand and in raising issues about race, education, and Christianity before Parliament. He is also an Associate Chaplain at the Manukau Institute of Technology. Recently, Michael participated at our Thinking Matters Forum at Auckland University.
 But Genesis 1 is Hebrew narrative and bears none of the marks of Hebrew poetry (cf Robert Alter The Art of Biblical Poetry Basic Books 1985 p117).
 In From Nothing to Nature Andrews unequivocally asserts that “Genesis is a history book” and that “the Bible is true and can be trusted in all matters.” (p105f) He reads Genesis 1:1 as describing a “first” day of creation (which “lasted much longer than the other six days of creation, because, unlike them, this day was not measured as the time between morning and evening). In that first day God made the heavens and the earth before beginning the subsequent six days of creative work with regard to the already created earth. For example, having made the moon and sun in the first day one, “He could still have put them in the sky on day four.” (p109) As to those days having morning and evening, and therefore being clearly days, he argues that possible natural explanations could include such things as the earth rotating at a much slower speed than at present. Andrews acknowledges that this special pleading enables him to integrate the “big bang” with a literal (sort of) interpretation of Genesis. He is however quick to point out that it is valid to interpret the Genesis days as 24 hour periods, albeit such an interpretation cannot accommodate the “big bang”. In Who Made God? Andrews insists on a rigorous consistency in extrapolating scientific theory from observable data; a similar rigour in examining the literature of the biblical text would suggest that a) accommodation of the “big bang” to the Genesis text is neither necessary nor sufficient, and b) the inducement to such an accommodation arises not internally from the text but from external sources unrelated to the text. In any case, the literary form of Genesis makes the most natural interpretation of verse 1 an introduction that is developed and explained in the following verses, meaning that the entire creation process took place within the six days Andrews agrees are truly days. (cf Edward J Young Studies in Genesis One Baker, Grand Rapids 1973)
“For rather obvious reasons, one would expect an author with the above qualifications to write a book that only an expert in science would be able to understand. This is far from the case. With chapter headings like ‘Sooty and the universe’, ‘Yogurt, cereal, and toast’, ‘Ferrets and fallacies’, and ‘Information, stupid!’, Professor Andrews combines gentle humour, pointed wit, and simple language with expert knowledge to accomplish his aim. However, in a book like this, it is inevitable that the author will need to use terms and concepts possibly unfamiliar to the average reader. In order to help in this area, each chapter begins with a brief summary of the main concept and a list of new terms with their definitions. As a result, the reader is equipped to follow the argument within each chapter and the overall thesis of the book.
This is a book I would happily give to Christians and non-Christians alike. Professor Andrews has managed to write what, I believe, will be one of the most important books published in 2009 and 2010. As the wave of literature produced by the new atheists continues to grow, the church has been further equipped with a tool to reach those who are confused. Professor Andrews more than adequately deals with the scientific arguments while simultaneously pointing the reader to the sufficiency of God, his Word, and (most important of all) the person and work of Christ.”
Read the whole thing here.
Who Made God? is available at Amazon and in New Zealand bookstores (Grace & Truth Publications has copies available for $24 NZD).
On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision by William Lane Craig is an introductory-level text from one of the leading apologists today. Written with the layman in mind, Craig has geared his most powerful arguments found in Reasonable Faith into a more approachable, readable book. It is not only easily accessible for the layman, but the book itself contains illustrations, sidebars, argument maps, and summaries that make understanding and retaining the material an easier task…
David C. Cook Publishers produced the book well; everything from the cover and paper stock to the layout and size seem to be just right. The book’s included questions provide a good starting point for personal and group study. In sum, On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision is a great contribution as a layman’s apologetics textbook. When the study guide is published, this will be a tremendous resource for small groups. Highly recommended – excellent content, very accessible to the layman, and well-suited for small group use.
On Guard arrived at bookstores early this month. You can pick it up at Amazon now for less than 15 bucks.
When I wrote to the effect that Abiogenesis (genesis of living thins from the nonliving) is not a fact of science, many anti-creationist visitors of this blog asked me to read certain books. They claimed that these books demonstrated how abiogenesis was possible in the face of the second law of thermodynamics.
I Felt Cheated. Then all of them said that I should read “Frontiers of Complexity” and that is exactly what I have been doing among other things. Surely this a good book, a very good book at that, but again it does not address the issue my friends claim as addressed. Read more
How this attitude came about I won’t get into here, other than to say it was promoted by rumours about J.K Rowling, author of the popular Harry Potter novels, and her studying witchcraft and she herself claiming to be a witch. This it turns out was nothing more than malicious gossip and rumour-mongering. After the release of the seventh and final instalment, and the dramatic conclusion, she revealed herself to be a Christian and member of the Church of Scotland. The reasons she gave for not sharing her religious convictions and affiliations? – to guard against people predicting the ending. So jealous was she in her task it’s possible she intentionally helped encourage the rumours, manipulating the media impressions of her personal life.
Whatever can be said about her strategy, it was without a doubt effective. Potter-mania still rages, and shows no sign of stopping. It is the most successful publishing event in history, breaking all records (of course this excludes the Bible). It has spawned thus far five successful films, and mid 2009 will see the release of the sixth. The seventh book Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows will be split into two films.
Still, the attitude persists. Almost everyone I talk to in Christian circles either shakes their head disapprovingly at the idea of reading such literature, or mentions their concern about the questionable content. “What about the witchcraft?” “Isn’t it a doorway to the occult?”
I have five major criticisms of this idea.
The first I was made aware of the first at the height of the furore about Harry Potter. Craig Heilmann, currently director of Focus on the Family, New Zealand had written a book called Howarts or Hogwash?1 The Harry Potter Phenomenon and Your Child, and was delivering a message on Romans, a Wednesday night meeting during the school holidays. He mentioned the book he had co-author with Peter Furst and briefly set forth the case they made. He argued we should not reject the story outright, but take from it what was good and use it as Paul did when he quoted Greek poets at the Aereopogus to the Epicurean philosophers in Acts 17.
In an interview on ABCTV, Sunday June 13 2004 he says of the stories,
“It rings true with people, it excites them, it energises them. Definitely I think the church at large has to figure out new ways of addressing the culture if it intends to have any real relevance to the culture. I think there’s a lot of good in the Harry Potter stories. . . . The vast difference between his world and ours is this issue that some people have magic skills and some people don’t. But really in terms of trying to grapple with questions like the imminence of evil, what are the purposes of evil, what is the nature of what is good, what causes people to go astray in life, what causes the suffering and the negatives that we see in the world. I don’t know that J K Rowling does any job really of answering those questions. . . . There’s just something a little bit flat and absent in it and I guess I can only simplify it by saying it’s like the supernatural world has simply collapsed into the present and I never get a really clear perception of evil.”2
Heilmann can be forgiven his uncomplimentary view. His rational voice laid a critical foundation for engagement with culture at a time when Harry Potter was being bashed brutally by fundamentalists. He let people know that there is much to consider and admire about the stories, even when the whole story had not been told.
The criticism mistakes a caricature of witchcraft and wizardry portrayed in the books with the witchcraft and sorcery clearly condemned in scripture. Magic is the furniture of the world, rather than the feature. Its the characters that infuse the magic with the moral meaning. Like money, it is amoral – that is neither right nor wrong: without morality. It all depends on the hand that wields the wand.
The word ‘magic’ itself should not be cringed at. In Rowling’s work it is used as an artifice to say something else. Something deeper about the nature of the world and human beings. In Narnia and Middle-earth there is magic, and similarly the ‘magic’ used there is a devise to help us think about what is happening in life. The use of the word doesn’t mean you are interacting with the occult or satanic practice.
One of Rowling’s underlying objectives is to progress the discussion on the nature of man, laid out by all the great authors. Her contribution is perhaps not new, but is made accessible to a new generation and a much wider audience. Throughout she seems to say, you are the choices that you make. See the developments in the story about the sorting hat, the prophesy and what Dumbledore sees in the mirror of Erised (reflected desire).
Magic is used almost entirely for mundane purposes like lighting a fire, doing the housework, travelling and carrying heavy objects. Despite its mundaneness what makes it so wonderful a feature is that we imagine how great it would be to travel from one place to the next in a instant (as Jesus did?), or have the utility of a quick quotes quill. When Harry visits the Quiditch world cup he says, “I love magic.” As an objective feature of the world Rowling has created, in that instant magic becomes part of the beauty of creation.
Well-known forms of real witchcraft are often presented as silly. The one vampire we know of is quite comical. The author of the texts books they use are great fun (Magical Theory by Adalbert Waffling, A Beginners Guide to Transfiguration by Emeric Switch). The one subject that resembles familiar occult practices is Divination, and that is the one subject that Hermione hates and thinks is nonsense, that Harry and Ron mostly laugh at, whose teacher is inept at the subject, what McGonagall thinks is a worthless waste of time, and that Dumbledore considered dropping at one point. We find out he only keeps the subject in the end because he receives a true prophesy(something a Christian should not have any problems with per se) that turns out to be vital for the development of the back-story, the drama of the final allegory, and characters involved.
Jerram Barrs, Professor of Christian Studies and Contemporary Culture as Covenant Theological Seminary in St Louis, Missouri said after the release of the fourth book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, that he was convinced that Rowling was writing from within the Christian worldview – a conviction I share with him. I have outlined in my previous article (http://talk.thinkingmatters.org.nz/2008/harry-potter-and-the-deathly-hallows-–-a-christian-novel/) how this is so. Notice one need not necessarily be a Christian to write from within the Christian worldview. He also went on to say that while observing a child at play you will see many magical things.
we need to recognize that almost all children play imaginative games in their minds starting at a very young age and have no difficulty whatsoever in distinguishing between fantasy and reality.3
Imagination is something fundamental to who we as people made in the image of the God, the great creator. It is healthy and normal for a child to make-believe, and the child who does not imagine has a severely diminished capacity. And so children playing games with the fiction they enjoy is a overwhelming good and should be encouraged, rather than an evil.
Futhermore, children with no exposure whatsoever with the occult, Barrs says, will sometimes use devices such as sticks that touch toys an animate them in their imagination, making them come alive and start to talk like the animals and mythical creatures in the forbidden forest at Hogwarts. This indicates a lost clarity of the Image of God.
J.R.R. Tolkien who coined the term Mythopoeia in the 1930’s, commented to his friend C.S. Lewis days before his conversion that all the myths and legend and fairy stories are simply echoes, or distorted memories of real truths. If the lies move him so deeply, then what about the myth that was true? Lewis responded with the famous lines, lies “breathed through silver” and Tolkien dedicated the following poem to him. Here is a portion of it.
The heart of man is not compound of lies,
but draws some wisdom from the only Wise,
and still recalls him. Though now long estranged,
man is not wholly lost nor wholly changed,
Dis-graced he may be, yet is not dethroned,
and keeps the rags of lordship once he owned,
his world-dominion by creative act.4
Magic represents the rags of our lordship – a vision of the image of God that is distorted through the fall of man.
The prevailing secular state-religion is naturalism. Into this cultural landscape Rowling delivers a radical presentation of a supernatural worldview. It is a devastating blow to the (intentional? well-meaning?) indoctrination agenda of the humanist. Rowling has given wind to the sails of the Christian worldview. Harry Potter, by delivering a shared text to a generation, has achieved something unprecedented. It is a pity that Christians have been slow on the uptake.
Perhaps one reason why the culture has devoured Harry Potter, and why Christians have generally stood back with critical eyes is because people have been given a taste of something cool and wet for a thirsty people starved of the supernatural. Like rain in desert. There is something about Harry Potter that draws in the crowds, its not overtly Christian, but its enough to act as a catalyst for the Christian to culturally engage, use in the task of evangelism, as salt on the tongue for the secular soul, and as a point of entry for the those who have not heard the gospel.
What makes the supernatural theme and its popularity so great is they are written intentionally and thoughtfully by an intelligent Christian. Though some slow mining may be required to discover the gold beneath (see point five). What is needed to enter into the text and discover the truth beneath is the a key of some kind. The Gryffindore common-room requres a password. The Ravenclaw common room requires you to solve a riddle.
So rather than being a doorway into the occult is a doorway into Christianity. It is also noted to be a doorway to classical literature, to philosophy, and the Latin language.
Talking about doorways and keys, in Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia you had to go through a wardrobe or a paining to get into Narnia and the experiences were only for a select few. Harry Potter novels run alongside the real world. The Magical world interacts with the Muggle (non-magical) world in a way that could be described as extra-dimentional.
In Harry Potter there are fantastical things that are real and objectively part of reality. If a Muggle were to look at some objective feature that was apart of the magical world they would look right through it, or pass right by. It would not even enter the cognitive faculites. There are things you can see, feel, touch, and experience – but only if you are a part of that world. That relationship in itself strikes a stunning analogy of the Christian view of a spiritual and the physical world.
These books are well written. The test is how easily they can be read aloud. It is true that the prose never rises to the sublime. There isn’t anything magisterial about the use of language. She does comedy well and weaves a great story that is accessible to a broad range of people. This might have the effect of sounding juvenile and cause her written works be ignored as a serious text to be analysed were it written by an Oxford don. It makes it easy to treat callously instead of careful consideration.
But what does make these works extremely well written is the careful consideration Rowling gave it. It took her seven years of planning before she started writing Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone. What could have taken so long?
The whole seven books are remarkable intertwined. There are several back-stories which all infuse the main narrative. There is a overwhelmingly intricate details she has considered. The character arcs, especially the main characters of Harry, Ron and Herminone, (also second-tier main characters Neville Longbottom, Draco Malfoy, Severus Snape and Albus Dumbledore), progress smoothly throughout are realised thoroughly in the seven volume narrative.
But there is also the four levels which Rowling is writing on; the literal, the tropological (moral), the allegorical and the anagogical. As John Granger, Harry Potter scholar and author of several books on the literature (including Looking for God in Harry Potter, The Deathly Hallow Lectures, and the Hidden Key to Harry Potter), and critic in the school of symbolist literature, points out Rowling is intentionally writing in the tradition of the Inklings, the association of friends that included J.R.R. Tolkein and C.S. Lewis. Intentionally they all placed into their stories anagogical meaning.
Anagoge is a Greek word suggesting a “climb” or “ascent” upwards. The anagogical is a method of spiritual interpretation of literal statements or events, especially the Scriptures. George MacDonald, Jane Austen, John Bunyan, William Shakespeare (who are all Christians), and John Milton all intentionally wrote on this level. It differs from mere allegory, when a visible fact is signified by another visible fact. The anagogical is ‘leading above,’ when by a visible fact an invisible is declared. It is a transparency to transcendance. Take for instance the meaning of the broken stone table in the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
John Granger points out many examples. Here is one of my favourites from early on in the Potter narrative, at the climatic scene of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. I’ll let John Granger describe and analyse it in his own way.
Chamber as Morality Play
Christian morality plays were the first theater in Western Europe. They were almost without exception either portrayals of Bible stories or ‘Everyman’ allegories of the soul’s journey to salvation through thick and thin. Imagine medieval street dramas at public markets and fairs by itinerant players putting onvariations of Pilgrim’s Progress and the Passion Play. The finish to Chamber of Secrets, as morality play, is the clearest Christian allegory of salvation history since Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Let’s look at it in detail.
Harry, our ‘Every Man’, enters the Chamber of Secrets to find and rescue Ginny Weasley. He finds her but she is unconscious and Harry cannot revive her. He meets Tom Riddle. He had thought Riddle was a friend and asks for his help in restoring Ginny. No deal.
He learns then that Riddle is anything but his friend; Tom Riddle is the young Lord Voldemort, Satan’s ‘stand in’ in the Harry Potter books, the Dark Lord or Evil One. Far from helping him revive Ginny, Riddle has been the cause of her near death. Harry boldly confesses his loyalty to Albus Dumbledore and his belief that Dumbledore’s power is greater than Voldemort’s.
The Chamber is filled with Phoenix song at this point, heralding the arrival of Fawkes, Dumbledore’s Phoenix, who brings Harry the Sorting Hat of Godric Gryffyndor. The Dark Lord laughs at “what Dumbledore sends his defender” (page 316) and offers to teach Harry a “little lesson”. “Let’s match the powers of Lord Voldemort, Heir of Salazar Slytherin, against famous Harry Potter, and the best weapons Dumbledore can give him”(page 317). He releases the giant Basilisk from his reservoir and the battle is joined.
The look of the Basilisk is death so Harry, eyes closed, runs from it. The Phoenix attacks the charging Basilisk and punctures its deadly eyes. Harry cries for help to “someone – anyone -” (page 319) as the Phoenix and blind Basilisk continue to battle; he is given the Sorting Hat- by a sweep of the Basilisk’s tail. The Harry throws himself to the ground, rams the hat over his head, and begs for help again. A “gleaming silver sword” comes through the hat (page 320).
The Evil One directs the blind Basilisk to leave the Phoenix and attack the boy. It does. Harry drives the sword “to the hilt into the roof of the serpent’s mouth” when it lunges for him – but one poisonous fang enters Harry’s arm as the Basilisk falls to its death. Harry, mortally wounded, falls beside it. Phoenix weeps into Harry’s wound as Riddle laughs at Harry’s death.
Too late, Riddle remembers the healing powers of Phoenix tears and chases away the Phoenix. He then confronts the prostrate Harry and raises Harry’s wand to murder him. The Phoenix gives Harry the diary and Harry drives the splintered Basilisk fang into it. Riddle dies and disappears as ink pours from the diary. Ginny revives and they escape. Holding the tail feathers of the Phoenix, they fly from the cavern “miles beneath Hogwarts” to safety and freedom above. Harry celebrates with Dumbledore.
Now let’s translate this Morality Play. First, the cast of characters, the dramatis personae:
- Harry is ‘Every Man’
- Ginny is ‘Virgin Innocence, Purity’
- Riddle/Voldemort is ‘Satan, the Deceiver’
- The Basilisk is ‘Sin’
- Dumbledore is ‘God the Father’
- Fawkes the Phoenix is ‘Christ’
- Phoenix Song is ‘Holy Spirit’
- Gryffyndor’s Sword is ‘the Sword of Faith/Spirit’ (Ephesians 6:17)
- The Chamber is ‘the World’ and
- Hogwarts is ‘Heaven’
The action of the drama, then, goes like this: man, alone and afraid in the World, loses his innocence. He tries to regain it but is prevented by Satan, who feeds on his fallen, lost innocence. Man confesses and calls on God the Father before Satan and is graced immediately by the Holy Spirit and the protective presence of Christ.
Satan confronts man with the greatness of his sins but Christ battles on Man’s side for Man’s salvation from his sins. God sends Man the Sword of Faith which he ‘works’ to slay his Christ-weakened enemy. His sins are absolved but the weight of them still mean Man’s death. Satan rejoices.
But, wait, the voluntary suffering of Christ heals Man! Man rises from the dead, and, with Christ’s help, Man destroys Satan. Man’s innocence is restored and he leaves the World for Heaven by means of the Ascension of Christ. Man, risen with Christ, lives with God the Father in joyful thanksgiving.
If I look closely, I can imagine where different types of Christians might disagree with this thumbnail sketch of Everyman’s salvation drama in emphasis and specific doctrines. It would be a very odd Christian indeed, though, who could not understand what the story was about and would not admire the artistry of the allegory. Using only traditional symbols, from the ‘Ancient of Days’ figure as God the Father to the satanic serpent and Christ-like phoenix (‘the Resurrection Bird’), the drama takes us from the fall to eternal life without a hitch. Nothing philosophical or esoteric here (can you say ‘no alchemy’?).
Rowling illustrates here that her books are Christian and in bold opposition to the spiritually dangerous books our children are often given. Chamber of Secrets is an example in the genre of an engaging, enlightening, and edifying reading experience for children – and a powerful rebuke and wake-up call to her Christian critics.
What is Chamber of Secrets about? Rowling, perhaps in response to the absence of intelligent discussion of Stone’s meaning, in her second book clearly reveals to the discerning reader that she is writing Inkling fiction, i.e., stories that will prepare children for Christian spiritual life and combat with evil. Talk about baptizing the imagination with Christian symbols and doctrine!
She also points out to her Christian critics that their real enemies are not her counter-materialist magic but both the dark magic hidden in their children’s textbooks and the ‘good children’s books’ written by atheists and the worldly minded. Chamber of Secrets is a tour de force operating on at least three levels of meaning simultaneously. I can understand, consequently, Rowling’s struggle in writing it and I agree with her that it is the best single volume of the series.5
1. For a review by Bill Muehlenberg, (a Baptist teacher of theology at several Protestant Bible colleges in Melbourne, and National Secretary of the Australian Family Association) of Hogwarts or Hogwash? by Peter Furst and Craig Heilmann, goto http://www.ad2000.com.au/articles/2002/feb2002p16_927.html
2. Craig Heilmann interview with three other authors discourse on the supernatural themes in Harry Potter. http://www.abc.net.au/compass/s1120233.htm
3. For the lecture by Jerram Barrs that first opened my eyes and gave me the gift of Harry Potter, goto http://www.bethinking.org.uk/your-course/intermediate/j-k-rowling-and-harry-potter.htm
The lecture is about an hour followed by great discussion for another hour. I also recommend the other lectures by Jerram Barrs on Jane Austen and Shakespear found at the same website.
4. Bruce L. Edwards, C.S. Lewis: An Examined life, (http://books.google.com/books?id=8OskozFVBMYC&printsec=frontcover#PPA259,M1; Retrieved 6 December, 2008) p. 259. For the full poem you can read it at http://home.agh.edu.pl/~evermind/jrrtolkien/mythopoeia.htm
5. John Granger is the ‘Hogwarts proffessor’ at http://hogwartsprofessor.com/ He blogs on the issues surrounding Rowlings works intelligently from an educated Christians perspective. An example chapter of one his books is at http://www.george-macdonald.com/harry_potter_granger.htm which includes the above description of the Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets morality play.
For more information and interviews:
7. A short article, J.K. Rowling, Inkling? on the expecto patronum charm and the climatic scene of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Very Cool! Found at http://tmatt.gospelcom.net/column/2003/06/18/
8. The Hogs Head is another forum for people who take Harry Potter as serious literature, run by Travis Prinzi. http://www.TheHogsHead.org/ There are some interesting podcasts there called “Pubcasts”
Four audio files featuring John Granger, the Hogwarts Professor, are available:
9. Hog’s Head PubCast #60: John Granger Interview, The Deathly Hallows Lectures: with Travis Prinzi, from the Hog’s Head, on his book The Deathly Hallows Lectures: The Hogwarts Professor Explains Harry’s Latest Adventure. A conversation about the eye symbolism of Deathly Hallows and more.
10. “Are Joanne Rowling’s Harry Potter Novels Great Books?” was the question in a Biola University podcast featuring John Mark Reynolds, Paul Spears, with John Granger, in which the Torrey Honors Institute professors express their doubts and the Hogwarts Professor tries to keep up.
11. The same crowd try to decide “What Constitutes Harry Potter Canon?” John Mark Reynolds champions “text alone,” John Granger argues for “text first,” and the push-back is genial and furious.
12. Jerry Bowyer, talk-radio host calls for a catch up and to help promote How Harry Cast His Spell: The Meaning Behind the Mania. Here is an mp3 recording of that exchange.
– WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS –
The furor over J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series in Christian circles is now a cause for shame-faced admissions of mistake. One is reminded of a similar stir caused by the release of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series, seen then to be an advertisement for the occult and guilty of leading children astray. While many were crying foul, others were convinced that Rowling was writing from within the Christian worldview. With Rowling revealing herself a Christian after the release of the seventh book, perhaps it is time to cede her the award for the greatest Christian fiction novel ever written.
These books show the wonder and beauty of creation. They are full of life, love and laughter, fantasy and fun. Just consider the game Quidditch, the joy of soaring unfettered in the air with the wind in your hair; the delight of discovery; the cute and cuddly Pinkie-Puffs; the humour of Fred and George Weasley; the myriad of magical creatures that Hagrid adores, all set in the beautiful grounds of Hogwarts.
In these books is the awful reality of sin, evil and suffering. See the creeping shadow of a man possessed, sucking the blood of a dead unicorn; the Dementors breeding despair, administering the kiss of death and sucking out their victims’ souls; the corruption of human government where “Magic is Might”; the cruel bigotry towards House-Elves, Goblins and Centaurs; the pride of Percy and the tears of Mrs. Weasley tormented by a Boggart.
In these books is a longing for redemption. The deprivation of family imbues Harry with a sense that something is wrong with the world, and this acute awareness drives him to protect his friends when in jeopardy. Consider his love of life, tempered by the willingness to give it up for the ones he loves. He sees the world around him as it is, and this brings a constant challenge to overcome injustice and cruelty with courage, grit and determination.
The underlying message becomes explicit when Harry visits the graveyard in Godrick’s Hollow and finds his and Dumbledore’s family burial-plots. Engraved in stone are the words, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also,” and “The last that shall be destroyed is death” – two scriptures that encapsulate the Christian themes of the series: death and redemption.
Rowling deals with these sensitively, expressing in her imaginary world truths that parallel our own. Where death is like moving just beyond the veil and the reality of an afterlife is shrouded in mystery. Where defeating Death means for one wizard reaching for immortality, and for another wizard reaching out to greet Death as a friend. Where one boy, destined and set apart at birth, freely gives his life for his friends.
Almost every character receives redemption. Kreature is radically transformed in a manner akin to conversion. The despicable Snape unexpectedly becomes “the bravest man I ever met.” Dumbledore’s death is at first a defeat, but eventually revealed as his greatest victory. His deeply human flaws are covered by his wise choices. In the climactic conclusion emerges a staggering analogy. Harry freely sacrifices himself to save the wizarding world. He is then resurrected; the magic in his blood protecting all from the Dark Lord whose power is broken – rendered useless. The world is made anew as the sun rises and light floods the Great Hall.
For the literary novice, the fantasy can be seen as a lure into witchcraft. For the more sophisticated reader, the series – and in particular this final instalment – has been the most charming portrayal of powerful and profound Christian truth. There are few books as satisfying and enjoyable as Harry Potter.
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