Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone: Bible Study

I’m writing a Bible Study over the Harry Potter movie series.  The study presented below is the first installment of my bible study.  I need your help:

*I am not interested in what you think about whether or not Christians should watch Harry Potter.

*I am interested in what you think about how I have interacted with the movie Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

*I am interested in what you think about the layout of this Bible Study.

*I am interested in how this Bible Study could be better.

This Bible Study is based on the premise that Christians should engage their cultures, find the common grace examples therein, extract those common truths out, and add special revelation to them: man’s sinful condition, and Christ’s redeeming work in reconciling sinners and creation to His Father.  This study is meant to be used in family worship, couple worship, small group studies, homeschool curriculums, etc.  My basic goal is to turn family movie night into a family movie night Bible Study.  We must teach our children how to interact with culture unto the glory of God.  Why not take something that they are already watching and show them how to enjoy it unto the glory of God?

*SPOILER ALERT: This bible study contains spoilers throughout.  If you have never seen Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, this Bible Study will ruin the movie for you.  Proceed only if you have either seen the movie or if you do not care about the movie being spoiled for you.

CHRISTIANS MUST REJECT EVIL

Witchcraft and Wizardry

The Harry Potter series is full of witchcraft and wizardry.  Witchcraft and wizardry must be discarded, since the practice of divination directly violates God’s Word.  There is no such thing as good magic, sorcery, or witchcraft.  All forms of witchcraft and wizardry are evil.  Here are just a few Scripture verses for reference:

Exodus 22:18 – 18“You shall not permit a sorceress to live (ESV).

Deuteronomy 18:10 – 10There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer.

1 Samuel 15:23 – 23For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry.  Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has also rejected you from being king.”

Galatians 5:19, 20 – 19Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries [Emphasis mine].

Practicing sorcery, witchcraft, divination, etc. are all attempts to gain special knowledge or power apart from God and His revealed Word: the Bible.  Since God has not chosen to reveal Himself in this way, the source of knowledge and power through this method is Satan, his demons, or our own flesh.  If you receive any knowledge or witness any power through witchcraft or wizardry, the Devil is the source.  We must ask ourselves if we had rather submit to God or submit to the Devil.  If you submit to God through Christ, then you must reject all forms of sorcery, witchcraft, divination, etc.

Revenge

                        There is a desire for revenge throughout the movie: 1) Harry makes the glass disappear at the zoo to make his cousin fall in the snake exhibit; 2) Hagrid uses magic to make Dudley Dursley (Harry’s cousin) grow a tail; etc.  Furthermore, one cannot help but sense Harry’s desire for revenge against Lord Voldemort, the evil wizard that murdered his parents.  Christians however should seek justice, not revenge. There is only righteous justice or unrighteousness in the mind of God.  Revenge or vigilante “justice” is unrighteous.  Christians must make sure that they do not desire revenge in their daily lives.

                        Whenever we watch the nightly news or a movie, or read a book, and we see a man or woman hunted down by his or her victim, a rogue cop, a family member, etc., we must remind ourselves that vengeance is ultimately the Lord’s (Rom. 12:19); but while humanity is on earth, He has given this charge to His ministers: the government (Rom. 13:1-7).  When they fail, Christians should trust the Lord’s coming vengeance instead of seeking their own (Rom. 12:19).  On the flip side, whenever the government fulfills its role as God’s ministers of justice on earth, we can enjoy the Lord through their picture of His justice.   When Christians are tempted by fictional media and the nightly news to seek their own form of “justice,” we must run to the truth of God’s Word, trusting Him beyond our own wicked desire to say, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says sovereign me!”  Thus, we must reject Harry’s desire for revenge.

Inappropriate Language

                        Scattered sparsely throughout the movie is inappropriate language.  Inappropriate language is commonly understood based on the culture in which you live.  If a specific culture says that certain words are vulgar or inappropriate, then they are vulgar or inappropriate in that culture.  For Christians, inappropriate language extends beyond mere vulgarity, to whatever words are not edifying or encouraging.  For example, after Hermione corrects Ron concerning saying his spell properly, he speaks negatively about her to his friends, saying “She’s a nightmare, honestly.  No wonder she hasn’t got any friends (1:04:30).”  Hermione overhears his comment, and spends much of the day crying in the bathroom as a result.  Have you ever hurt one of your friends or family members with your words?  There is nothing wrong with joking with friends; however, whenever we hurt one another with our words, we sin against God.  As Christians, we are expected to edify, not to tear down one another with our language (Eph. 4:29). 

                        Furthermore, God’s name is used in vain three times in this movie.  God’s name is to be revered.  He is the Creator and Sustainer of all things (Gen. 1:1; Col. 1:16-17).  The only reason you and I have tongues and brains capable of speech is because God has given us these gifts and sustained them.  Christians must reject all unedifying and blaspheming language.  Here are some helpful Scripture references:

 James 1:26 – 26If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.

 James 3:5, 6 – 5So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.  How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!  6And the tongue is a fire, a world of     unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.

Ephesians 4:29 – 29Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.

Exodus 20:7 – 7“You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.

Christians should seek to build up one another in holiness toward God.  As a result of believing that Christ is the only Way to be brought into right relationship with God, that He is the only Way of salvation from sin, Christians should build one another up in this evil world (John 14:6; Eph. 4:29).  Our speech to and about one another should be seasoned with grace.  Furthermore, we should always speak God’s name with awe and reverence.

Idolatry

                        At one point after Harry, Hermione, and Ron return to safety from the three-headed dog, Hermione says, “Now, if you two don’t mind, I’m going to bed before either of you come up with another clever idea to get us killed; or worse, expelled (1:01:00).”  Upon hearing this statement, one must ask if human life is less valuable than education.  Is death really a better option than getting expelled from school?  Is life really over at any point just because we do not get what we want?  Ron responds in the exact way that all Christians should respond: “She needs to sort out her priorities.”  Indeed, she does! 

                        Whenever someone wins a public competition and they are interviewed, we often hear them say to everyone listening, “Don’t give up on your dreams.”  The problem is that most of the world should give up on their dreams, and enjoy the Lord through their daily lives that they have incorrectly considered “mundane,” or “boring.”  Too many people have been “crushed” because their dreams have not come to fruition.  The Scriptures however indicate that even the mundane—eating and drinking—must be carried out in a way that brings glory to God (1 Cor. 10:31).  If the goal of life is to bring glory to God, then should we care if we bring glory to God through our eating and drinking, or if it is through winning a competition, or through digging ditches, etc.?  If our dreams are what life is all about, then life is not worth living unless we reach them; however, if life is about bringing glory to God through living a changed life as a result of the appropriated finished work of Christ, then “whether we eat or drink, or whatever we do,” all can be done for God’s glory (1 Cor. 10:31).

                        Another example of idolatry is the “benefit” of the Mirror of Erised.  Headmaster Dumbledore tells Harry, “The Happiest man on earth would look into the mirror and see only himself exactly as he is.”  Harry responds, “So then, it shows us what we want… whatever we want.”  Dumbledore corrects Harry,

Yes and no.  It shows us nothing more or less than the deepest and most desperate desires of our hearts.  Now you Harry who have never known your family, you see them standing beside you.  But, remember this Harry, this mirror gives us neither knowledge or truth.  Men have wasted away in front of it, even gone mad.  That is why tomorrow it will be moved to a new home; and I must ask you not to go looking for it again.  It does not do to dwell on dreams Harry, and forget to live (1:32:00).

Men, women, and children do not dream about what they already possess, for their dreams are always out of their reach; and if Christians are not content with what they already possess (Phil. 4:11, Heb. 13:5), then they will miss out on enjoying the Lord through the normal daily blessings in life. You should therefore give up on your dreams if you want them more than you want God.  If your dreams do not come to fruition, will you still enjoy the Lord through what you already possess?  A blind man dreams about seeing, while a seeing man dreams about excelling, while the excelling man dreams about dominating, while the dominating man dreams about monopolizing, etc.  The Christian man however must only dream about God being glorified; whether through excelling or perishing, the mature Christian is willing.  Are you willing to spend a million dollars unto the glory of God?  What about suffering with cancer unto the glory of God?  Are you willing to live to be one hundred years of age, having your family and friends healthy and wealthy too?  What about being willing to lose your family in a car wreck unto the glory of God?  Sorrow and Joy: God can be glorified in both.  He is faithful regardless; and this faithfulness does not hinge on Him providing perfect temporary lives, but rather, hinges on His identity. 

                        Knowing who God is through Christ is the reason why the apostle Paul could say,

I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.  I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me (Phil. 4:11-13).

God is valuable beyond His temporary blessings.  Paul understood this truth; and when we understand, we too can enjoy the Lord through something as simple as eating and drinking.  He is the source of all good things, whether blessings or comfort in the midst of calamity, we can enjoy Him through Christ.  Enjoying Him is the goal, not fulfilling our dreams.  So, continue to dream, but ultimately dream about God alone being glorified in your life through all that you do as you learn that God’s steadfast love is better than life (Psalm 63:3).  God has shown His steadfast love toward sinners by crucifying His one and only Son Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:8).  Have you turned from sin and placed your trust in Christ alone to bring you in right relationship with God the Father?

 

CHRISTIANS MUST TAKE EVERY THOUGHT CAPTIVE TO OBEY CHRIST (2 COR. 10:5)

Good vs. Evil

                        At the beginning of the movie, Headmaster Dumbledore leaves Harry on the front porch at the home of his Aunt and Uncle.  What motivated Dumbledore to leave Harry?  He and the other professors feared for Harry’s life and safety.  We see several similar instances in the Bible due to Satan’s relentless pursuit in crushing the Son (Seed) of God (Gen. 3:15). 

                        In the beginning of creation, Adam and Eve were perfect, placed in the Garden of Eden for the purpose of enjoying God through relationship with one another and relationship with Him forevermore (Gen. 2).  God provided them with freedom to enjoy Him through giving them the entire Garden of Eden except for one tree, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Gen. 2:15-17).  God told Adam that if he tasted the fruit of the forbidden tree, he would surely die (Gen. 2:16-17).  Satan however had different plans.  He manifested himself as a serpent and deceived Eve (Gen. 3).  He lied to her, telling her that she would not surely die (Gen. 3:4).  Satan acted as if God was withholding something good from Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:5).  Deceived, Eve ate the forbidden fruit, gave it to Adam, and he ate as well.  As a result, all of creation fell into sin and the curse.  God however set his redeeming plan in motion as detailed in Genesis 3:15: While speaking to Satan, God said, “15I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”  God prophesied of Satan’s hatred for humanity.  He even prophesied of Satan’s attempt to kill the woman’s Seed.  Satan however would merely bruise His heel, but her Seed would crush his head.  As a result of Satan’s evil desire, throughout the Old and New Testaments, he tries to crush all of humanity, especially when he anticipates the birth of the Seed that would crush his head.  In spite of Satan’s best efforts, he would merely bruise the heel of the Son of God.

                        One way that Satan tried to crush the Seed of the woman was through murdering her children.  Satan tried to kill Israel’s children in Exodus 1 and 2 through using Pharaoh to murder the Israelite children.  In similar manner, Herod tried to kill Jesus when He was a child as detailed in Matthew 2.  Satan of course “succeeded” in crushing Jesus, or so he thought.  He entered Judas and betrayed Jesus (Luke 22:3); but, Christ revealed that Satan merely bruised His heel, for Jesus rose from the dead; thus, crushing Satan’s head (1 Cor. 15)! 

                        In similar manner, Harry Potter’s heel was bruised through the scar given to him by Voldemort.  Potter however crushed Voldemort’s head through merely touching the skin of his vessel: Professor Quirrell.  Concerning this miracle, Headmaster Dumbledore asks Harry, “Do you know why Professor Quirrell couldn’t bare for you to touch him?”  Dumbledore continues, “It was because of your mother.  She sacrificed herself for you; and that kind of act leaves a mark.”  Harry then touched the scar on his forehead.  “No, no, this kind of mark cannot be seen,” says Dumbledore.  “It lives in your very skin.”  Harry asks, “What is it?”  “Love,” Dumbledore replies, “love.”  Love is what crushed Voldemort.  Likewise, Christ’s perfect love for God the Father and His church is what defeats Satan (John 3:16; Rom. 8:33-39; Rom. 14:9; Heb. 2:14).

                        Moreover, even though Satan is running to and fro on the earth today seeking people to devour (1 Pet. 5:8), accusing the church (Rev. 12:10), trying to deceive her (Luke 22:31), etc., one day the Seed of the woman, the Redeemer, will crush him forevermore (Gen. 3:15; Rev. 12:10).  Harry Potter as well will one day defeat Voldemort.  The difference between Harry Potter and Jesus Christ however, is that the story of Jesus’ defeat of Satan is not fiction, but truth.  Have you come to God through the only One who has defeated the evil one—Jesus Christ (John 14:6)?

                        In another example of good vs. evil, we see the clear portrayal of evil in the game of Quidditch when Slytherin starts hurting the Gryffindor players.  We see however that Gryffindor, the representation of good, defeats Slytherin, the representation of evil, while being led by Harry Potter to victory.  This reality is further emphasized at the end of the movie as Gryffindor wins the house cup by 10 points because of the goodness of Harry, Ron, and Hermione.  In the end, good overcomes evil.  In real life, this reality does not always appear to be true based on our own experiences; however, it is ultimately true.  God is faithful; and He will bring His people into the new heavens and new earth while also judging evil forevermore (2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21-22). 

Sinful Nature

                        When the Sorting Hat is placed on Harry’s head (0:40:00), it reads his heart (mind, will, character, etc.).  It struggles with where to place Harry.  Harry doesn’t want to be sorted with the Slytherin House, due to their dark arts emphasis.  The Sorting Hat however tells him “Not Slytherin eh?  Are you sure?  You could be great you know?  It’s all here in your head; and Slytherin will help you on the way to greatness.  There’s no doubt about that.  No?  Well, if you’re sure, better be…Gryffindor!”  The Sorting Hat believed that Harry could have been part of the dark arts or part of the good wizardry. Harry has both of these realities warring within him.  He has been touched by Voldemort, which provides him with his excellent wizardry.  However, it appears that Voldemort’s evil exists within Harry as well. 

                        Likewise, all Christians have a battle going on within them between the flesh and the Spirit (Gal. 5:16-17). That evil which exists within Satan also exists within us.  We say “not Slytherin, not Slytherin” while constantly depending on God the Holy Spirit’s work within us (Gal. 5:25).  We are to “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in us, both to will and to work for His good pleasure (Phil. 2:12-13).”  Run to Christ continually.

                        Furthermore, Professor Snape, the professor that favors the dark arts, says at one point to his class,

There will be no foolish wand-waving or silly incantations in this class.  As such, I don’t   expect many of you to appreciate the subtle science and the exact art that is potion-making.  However, for those select few who possess the predisposition, I can teach you how to bewitch the mind and ensnare the senses; I can tell you how to bottle fame, brew glory, and even put a stopper in death (0:49:15).

The dark arts indeed promise all these things and more.  In similar manner, sin promises the same.  Sin however is not the gospel, for it is not good news.  The sad reality is that sin cannot deliver all that it promises.  If you reject Christ and pursue the bad news, sin, you may gain the whole world, but you will lose your soul (Mark 8:36).  Is gaining a temporary world worth losing your eternal soul for?

                        Moreover, in the Forbidden Forest, Firenze, the half horse half human centaur, tells Harry, “It is a terrible crime to slay a Unicorn.  Drinking the blood of a unicorn will keep you alive even if you are an inch from death, but at a terrible price.  You have slain something so pure that from the moment the blood touches your lips you will have a half-life, a cursed life.”  Harry responds, “But who would choose such a life (1:43:30)?”  Firenze reveals that it is Voldemort who is drinking the blood of unicorns for the purpose of living forever in evil.  Likewise, anyone who desires to live in this evil world forever will realize quickly that they cannot live forever, and that they cannot escape eventual death.  Satan is eternal, but his judgment is coming; just as Voldemort’s judgment is coming.  If you choose to trust the evil one, and you live for this world alone, you are choosing a “half-life, a cursed life.”  Christ came to give the abundant life to all those that come to God through Him (John 10:10; Heb. 7:25).  The abundant life cannot be found in anyone or anything else.  Humans were created with a God-shaped hole.  Filling this hole with anything else other than God will leave you with a “half-life, a cursed life.”  Won’t you come to God through Christ alone?

                        Finally, Voldemort argues, “There is no good and evil.  There is only power and those too weak to seek it.  Together, we’ll do extraordinary things.  Just give me the stone!”  Harry screams, “You liar (2:06:15)!”  Christians too must cry out against all other false gospels: “You Liar!”  We must destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ (2 Cor. 10:5).

Redemption

                        As argued previously, Harry overcoming Voldemort is portrayed as good for all of humanity.  Harry is depicted as the chosen one for this task throughout the movie.  At the life-size chess game near the end of the movie, Ron and Hermione both tell Harry that he is the one who is supposed to go on.  It seems that Harry, not Ron, Hermione, or even Dumbledore are meant to overcome Voldemort.  In like manner, Christ is the only One who God chose to overcome the evil one, the sin of humanity, and redeem His people (Acts 4:11-12).  God loves His church with a special love (Rom. 5:8; 1 John 4:10).  In order to be part of the church, you must repent and trust in Christ alone for your salvation (John 14:6).  There is redemption in no other (1 John 2:23).

                        Furthermore, when Harry and Ron save Hermione from the troll, they reveal love for their neighbor.  Were they correct in valuing the human life of Hermione above their own?  Also, in the life-size chess game, Ron sacrifices himself for the good of Harry, Hermione, and the rest of the people of Hogwarts.  Ron was willing to lay down his life for his friends.  Although these acts are praise-worthy, are these acts good enough to save sinners?  If you or I sacrifice ourselves for the good of other humans, will this save us? The answer should be obvious based on what we have already studied: NO. 

                        God is wrathful toward sin.  He is the One who has subjected creation to the curse (Rom. 8:20).  He is the One in judgment over humanity (Gen. 3).  This fact is what makes His sending of Christ and punishing Him for the sins of humanity so amazing (Rom. 3:25; 1 John 4:10).  God sent Jesus to satisfy His own wrath toward sinners (Rom. 5:9).  Thus, all sinners must come to God through Jesus Christ alone (John 3:36; John 14:6).  The difference between Jesus and those willing to sacrifice themselves in Harry Potter is that Jesus had no sin, but yet, sacrificed Himself for sinners (1 Pet. 3:18; Heb. 4:15).  He is the only Human who could satisfy God’s wrath, and reconcile sinners to His Father (1 John 4:9).  God the Son became Man, lived among us, died for us, and rose from the dead, conquering sin and death (John 1:14; Rom. 5:8; 1 Pet. 1:3)!  Will you come to God through Christ alone?  Repent and believe the good news (Mark 1:15; Rom. 16:25-27)!  

 

What are your thoughts?

Comments

  1. Christiane says

    This, I love.

    Particularly, when you wrote:
    “Headmaster Dumbledore asks Harry,
    “Do you know why Professor Quirrell couldn’t bare for you to touch him?”
    Dumbledore continues,
    “It was because of your mother. She sacrificed herself for you; and that kind of act leaves a mark.”
    Harry then touched the scar on his forehead.
    “No, no, this kind of mark cannot be seen,” says Dumbledore.
    “It lives in your very skin.”
    Harry asks, “What is it?”
    “Love,” Dumbledore replies, “love.”
    Love is what crushed Voldemort.

    Likewise, Christ’s perfect love for God the Father and His church is what defeats Satan (John 3:16; Rom. 8:33-39; Rom. 14:9; Heb. 2:14).”

    I found a reference to this also in ‘Christianity Today”:

    ” . . . there was at least one echo from the Scriptures in the Sorcerer’s Stone:
    Lord Voldemort, the Hitleresque dark wizard in J.K. Rowling’s fictional works, was defeated not by power but by love
    —by a young mother who sacrificed her life to save her young son.
    In Rowling’s world, that kind of love is stronger than any magic.
    It can even conquer death.”

    I think a lot of Christian people never gave Rowling’s work a chance . . . the copy-cat ‘I don’t have to read it to know it’s no good ’cause everybody says it’s about witches’ mantra.

    Good for you, Jared, that you see something especially wonderful in Rowling’s work . . . and I think that, if you teach this in Sunday School, you will find that the young people can also offer some of their own observations about the great themes of good vs. evil in this story. It should be a great lesson.

    • says

      Christiane,
      thank you for the comment. I don’t know that I would ever use this Bible Study in a Sunday School Class; however, I will probably use it in family worship eventually.

      I don’t think Harry Potter can stand on its own. We shouldn’t drink it deep; but, should instead qualify its general revelation with special revelation. IMO.

      The fact is that most Christian children are watching these movies or reading these books already. I think we should thus seize this opportunity to teach them how to interact with culture by teaching them to interact with Harry Potter.

    • says

      In Rowling’s world, that kind of love is stronger than any magic.
      It can even conquer death

      Ah, yes, but God’s love is very different from any tripe that JK Rowling has written. God’s love is a holy love. In other words, it’s not just a sacrificial love where Christ laid down His life for His sheep. It’s a holy love that says “If you try to come to Me by any other path, be it Allah, Buddah, God as revealed by Joseph Smith (the mormon false prophet), or God as understood by Orthodox Jews, no matter how sincere you are or how *good* of a person you were, I will damn you to hell for all eternity because you didn’t consciously place your faith in Christ Jesus.”

  2. says

    Ok, my first, snap reaction to this is “What a waste of time”. I mean, you seem like a smart dude. Why on earth would you waste time trying to connect the dots using Harry Potter? Of course, this is the same reaction when I saw in Lifeway a Bible study based on the old Max Fletcher Superman cartoons, a Mayberry Bible study based on Andy Griffith, and a Beverly Hill Billy’s Bible study. What a waste of paper and ink.

    You can do much, much better. But, of course, it’s your call. Some people would burn you at the stake as a heretic for suggesting this. I’ll just shake my head.

    • says

      Joe, I don’t think what I’m doing should be compared to the Mayberry study (I’m unfamiliar with the other studies). It basically used the Andy Griffith Show to teach moralism from the Bible. I’m trying to bring the Bible to bare on the Harry Potter Series. How is what I’m doing any different than what the Apostle Paul did in Acts 17:16-34?

      • says

        Paul was not teaching them to see the good in what they were worshipping. He started out acknowledging they were religious, moved on to point out that they worshipped in ignorance, and the remainder of his sermon preached Christ and Him crucified. He wasn’t teaching them to engage their false idols, he used that basically as an introduction to preach the gospel.

        Seriously, if you want to do this, that’s jake with me. I think you and your audience would come out miles ahead by studying the Bible. However, in another pop culture reference, if you want to do this then as that immortal poet lauriet of the American Urban landscape Missy Elliot once said “Get your freak on.

        Yo.”

        • says

          Joe, there is nothing in Harry Potter that I labeled “good” as in adding merit to being accepted by God. If you think I did, then please point it out.

          When Paul quotes a Pagan Poet in Acts 17, and then tells the “why” behind the reason this pagan poet lived in God’s world; this is what I tried to do with Harry Potter. I tried to take what was written, and then qualify it with absolute truth: the Bible.

          If I failed, then point it out; this is why I posted the article here.

  3. says

    Warning: criticism ahead, but this is not about whether Harry Potter is right or wrong for Christians, so I’ll squeak it in…

    A Bible study with a theme centered in something other than, well, the Bible?

    “This Bible Study is based on the premise that Christians should engage their cultures, find the common grace examples therein, extract those common truths out, and add special revelation to them… My basic goal is to turn family movie night into a family movie night Bible Study.”

    Call me an old curmudgeon (yes, it would probably be true), but I don’t think things like this are a good idea. Discussing the spiritual significance in a movie, sure. So when our kids watch Fiddler on the Roof we explain to them that the Jews in the movie are people who need God because what they worship is not God even though they talk about God. We also talk about the bad things done by the Russians against the Jews, etc etc. But I wouldn’t seek to write a Bible study tracing the spiritual themes of that, or any other, movie.

    The idea of redeeming the culture should not mean taking secular – even sinful – things and turning them into Bible studies, but shaping culture itself to love the Bible. Our children shouldn’t be trained to try to put a Christian veneer on paganism (and by that I don’t mean Potter, per se, but anything that is not of Christ) but to recognize the secular world for what it is while trying to change that world. We too often get it backwards when we try to redeem culture.

    As for Bible studies, well, they should be about the Bible. Otherwise what we have is a movie review discussion group or book discussion group or… etc.

    • says

      Brother Jared,

      I must confess Brother Chris makes lots more sense to me than the Bible Study. You brought how a great deal of what was wrong with Harry Potter, and I commend you on that. However, when you begin placing him as a “Christ figure” you have strayed from the reservation of inerrancy. Why? By doing such you (unintentionally I am certain) make Christ appear as doing magic in order to bring about redemption. Also, you advocate (again, unintentionally I am sure) good and bad magic as a source for redemption.

      Thus, I believe Brother Chris is spot on with his analysis of the Bible Study movement of trying to engage culture. I have never used the Andy Griffith Bible study for the very reason that Brother Chris presented. (That is saying a lot coming from a person living within a 45 minute drive from Mayberry. :) )

      I seriously think you need to reconsider this direction.

      Blessings,
      Tim

      • says

        Tim, “strayed from the reservation of inerrancy?” How in the world did I do this?

        So, after me clearly stating in the beginning of the study that there is no such thing as good magic, you still believe I’m saying that good and bad magic are a source for redemption?

        First, I’m trying to use Harry Potter as an illustration.

        Second, where do these ideas from Rowling come from? Creation needs a Savior! These ideas are not original with her or any other author found in virtually every corner of history.

        If we’re not willing to sit down and teach our children as they participate in media, then we shouldn’t allow our children to participate in media. The problem however is that we live in a media world; and unless we’re amish, our children Will participate. They however will do so much like an Atheist instead of like a Christian. Why can’t a study like this one be used to help our children engage pop culture unto the glory of God?

      • says

        “Strayed from the reservation of inerrancy?” Wow.

        My view of this is probably closer to Tim’s than to Jared’s, but to play the inerrancy card just strains credulity.

        • Tom Parker says

          Dave:

          I really do not know what Tim Rogers meant by that statement.
          I agree with you that I do not see how Jared’s post had any thing to do with inerrancy.

    • says

      Chris, I don’t understand why it’s a bad idea to teach people how to interact with pop culture. Most Christians watch these movies and read these books; yet, I fear that many do so like Atheists.

      The Evangelical church is failing in teaching our churches how to engage pop culture. What do we do when Scooby Doo is full of paganism and Veggie Tales if full of moralism? Discernment is terribly lacking.

  4. Greg Harvey says

    The thing that stood out to me, Jared, was the extremely well stated contrasting statement at the beginning. Honestly, if you need to use timestamps on a movie to make a point, isn’t that roughly equivalent to dividing it into chapter and verse?

    At that point I would offer that your basic desire for a popular touchpoint has overcome your essential purpose in the pulpit. I had one pastor that did this eventually to the point that the first book he opened was always one other than the Bible. Another pastor spent his time in the pulpit collecting material for his next book. This feels like presentations by those two men.

    This could make great material for a book, in fact. But, honestly, Harry Potter as a relevant popular culture topic is a ship that has sailed. I doubt any publisher would touch it just due to low commercial interest.

    • says

      Greg, The time stamp is so the teacher can possibly stop the movie or go back to this point before he or she points to it in the study. I don’t have these points in Harry Potter memorized. I just noted the time stamp for a reference for the teacher.

      As far as whether or not publishers will want it, I’m unconcerned about this. However, the final Harry Potter movie is coming out on video in November. I have a hard time seeing that it’s an “irrelevant” pop culture topic.

        • says

          Greg, I asked 3 questions, and you interacted with none of them. You accused me of allowing pop culture to overcome my essential purpose in the pulpit. That’s a huge, huge assumption. You question my entire pulpit ministry based on a Bible Study I’m arguing could be used in family worship? The “attack” is coming primarily from your side.

          Interact with the questions I asked; and you and others can help me. Questioning my pulpit ministry is unhelpful.

  5. Tom Bryant says

    Maybe this is going against what you started by asking us to do, but here goes anyway…

    So it’s wrong to use a 4th of July Patriotic service as a “touch point” but permissible and encouraged to use Harry Potter?

    I find you all over the place in this area of culture. You use a video of Dr. Russell Moore to say that we shouldn’t use Veggie Tales to teach the Bible but that we can watch scary movies to the glory of God. I really do enjoy your blog. I also appreciate how hard writing a blog regularly is (I couldn’t do it). But there seems to be a disconnect in this.

    • says

      Tom, the argument I made was against singing songs in praise of our country and of our service men DURING worship. You’re comparing apples and oranges. I’m not gonna be thanking Harry Potter or J.K. Rowling during worship.

      Also, we shouldn’t use Veggie Tales ALONE to teach our children the Scriptures. (Many parents will sit their children in front of Veggie Tales while thinking that there children are learning Scripture). We must do with Veggie Tales exactly what I’m trying to do with Harry Potter. We must qualify the truth therein with special revelation from Scripture. We must dissect it.

      • Tom Bryant says

        Of course, we don’t thank America.. we thank God for America and for giving us men and women who have fought to preserve the freedom that God gave us.

        I think your point about what Paul did and what this is are apples and bowling balls. Paul was speaking to a completely pagan society. This is meant to be used in churches. Paul used it as an introduction to a sermon and within 30 seconds was telling them they were worshipping in ignorance and within 2 was preaching the resurrection. Within 2 minutes, this study (which I can’t call a Bible study) is back to talking about Harry.

        I understand and appreciate what you are trying to do, I really do. I just don’t agree. You asked what we thought.

        • says

          Tom, where did I ever say that I wanted this used in a church setting? The difficulty in using it in a church setting is due to the consciences of the people. I wouldn’t want to sear someone’s conscience. If I knew the consciences of all of my hearers for sure, I might use it; but, even then, I would consider the consciences of the entire local church. It wouldn’t be worth searing someone’s conscience over.

          I however will probably use a study like this in family worship, or a type of “engaging pop culture” home school curriculum. There’s a classical Christian study called omnibus that engages history with Scripture. I think it’s wonderful! All humans, in order to live, live in our God’s world. Figures in pop culture are no different.

        • says

          Furthermore Tom, concerning patriotic worship services, you act as if it’s obvious who we’re worshipping; and it just isn’t obvious. We sing songs to and about God and sing songs to and about soldiers and our country. They’re often side by side. The discerning Christian understands, but what about the children?

          I still struggle with this. I think it’s abused. We could however worship God through honoring Him for the work of service men and women, and our country. It’s another topic for another day :).

  6. says

    Everyone, it looks like this is comment thread is turning into exactly what I did not want it to.

    How is what I’m doing in the article above any different than what the apostle Paul did in Acts 17:16-34? Or, what you do as you watch the evening news, talk to a lost person, read the paper, listen to a sermon, or even what you did as you read my article above?

    • BDW says

      For what it’s worth Jared, I was a member of and visited a number of youth groups at Southern Baptist churches – moderate and conservative alike – that had bible studies themed around a popular movie.

      Those bible studies were popular with youth, and when done well, were very effective and led to great discussions about what the Bible says about different subjects.

      And while I’m not a Harry Potter fan, I don’t think the ship has sailed. Harry Potter is still extremely popular.

    • says

      How are they similar? Paul does not say, “Now that one, Zeus, he’s a type of Christ and when you read in his legends that he did such and such, that is like when Jesus did so and so.” He was not drawing parallels between paganism and truth. He used their altar to an unknown god as a means of telling them about, well, the God they do not know!

      His use of pagan philosophers does provide some instruction for us – be aware of what the thinkers of the age are saying, and know how to use and refute their ideas. But Paul, even though he made use of some of the themes of the pagan philosophers, did not stick long with their words or ideas. Everything he said was the truth about Christ, without any need for disclaimers or caveats. He showed the instances in which their philosophers got it right without having to apologize for everything their philosophers got wrong, because the philosophers were not the theme or guide of his message.

      What he did was much more like using sermon illustrations in a gospel message – telling stories or using quotes people will be familiar with to explain something of biblical truth. I could see making use of this or that element from Potter to illustrate a point, just as I sometimes draw an example from a movie (referenced the movie Source Code a couple of weeks ago) or quote from this or that atheist or otherwise non-Christian thinker.

      My concern is that the Bible should stay central. Far too much of what happens in churches today minimizes the Bible. If a “Bible study” is focused on a movie, then it will serve as well to minimize a Bible focus, even if Bible references are sprinkled throughout. I’d rather go the way of Paul – focus on the Bible itself and sprinkle in references to pop culture.

      • says

        Chris, once again, I wouldn’t use this study in a church setting. I preach from the Bible alone. Now, I might possibly have a family movie night separate from worship; and examine Harry Potter theologically.

        BTW: I believe Paul took a statement from a pagan poet, and qualified it with special revelation. I’ve tried to do this above with Harry Potter.

        If I’ve failed, then please correct me.

        • says

          My comment addresses the difference between your use of Potter and Paul’s use of pagans. There’s quite a difference.

          Whatever the setting, focusing on the movie as a source of Christian study seems to me to be a mistake.

          • says

            Chris, I don’t know that you can say my treatment of Harry Potter is communicating that we should “focus on the movie as a source of Christian study.”

            I don’t think I’ve argued that Harry Potter is a source for Christian study; I’ve argued that the various claims in Harry Potter must be dissected, and the general truth (common grace) must be qualified with special revelation: Scripture.

            I received nothing in Harry Potter as absolutely true. I either rejected it or qualified it.

            So, are you saying that there can be no “Bible Study” that engages culture with Scripture? Or, do you think I’ve just done a poor job?

            If so, please point out how the Study could be more faithful.

    • says

      Josh, they’re meant to be used once a week. I figure families could watch a movie, then engage that movie for a half hour together. Eventually, children will automatically apply the Scriptures to every movie, tv show, book, etc. This is my goal and hope anyways.

  7. Bill Mac says

    I think some of the criticisms are fair, some not, but I don’t like to see the accusation that Jared isn’t studying the bible. He is using various points within the movie to segue into a biblical truth, supported by scripture. Preachers and teachers do this all the time. They may not focus on an entire movie, or book, or whatever, but using a pop culture reference as a springboard into a biblical topic is pretty standard fare. There’s probably a seminary class on it somewhere.

  8. says

    I frequently read on this site but rarely comment. Congratulations on drawing me out of lurkdom. :-)

    1. If your goal is to teach kids to interact with the culture, I think you’re going over their heads. Your themes are more adult oriented. For kids, I’d focus more on some of the ethical questions the movie raises.

    2. Seems kind of long. I think you’d do better to focus it a little more.

    3. As far as your interaction with the movie, it’s okay. Personally, I’d pull out some different things. Ex: a) the flying lesson scene where Harry breaks a rule to keep Malfoy from bullying Neville. Is it ever okay to break rules for the ‘right reason’? Why or why not? b) Harry and Ron initially dislike Hermione, but they later become good friends, even risking their lives for each other. What does the Bible say about the nature and value of friendship and how to be a friend? c) Throughout the movie Harry is treated poorly by various people–Dursleys, Malfoy, Snape, etc. How are we to respond to our enemies?

    I think your strongest points are those dealing with the themes of sacrificial love and the nature of evil.

    Personally, if it was me, I’d format this differently. Maybe create a viewing guide with some questions to think about and things to watch for as they watch the movie. Then provide a discussion guide referring back to the relevant scenes with the biblical references, discussion questions, and a short summary paragraph. Format it more as a tool for parent to use in sparking discussion with their children. But that’s just my two cents.

    • says

      Leigh, thank you for your comment.

      1. I’m not interested in discussing ethics apart from Christ.

      2. I may shorten it some, while adding some “digging deeper” paragraphs. That way, readers can skip them or read them, depending on their audience.

      3. I’m not interested in teaching morality from Scripture apart from Christ’s death, burial, resurrection, and faith in Him. I think almost any religion could use the Bible to teach morality; even Atheists. What separates Christianity is the belief that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life; and no one gets to the Father, but through Him. Morality apart from Christ will send people to hell.

      I like the idea about a “viewing guide” concerning things to look for as they watch the movie. I also like this suggestion: “…provide a discussion guide referring back to the relevant scenes with the biblical references, discussion questions, and a short summary paragraph. Format it more as a tool for parents to use in sparking discussion with their children.”

      Thank you for the helpful suggestions.

  9. says

    R.L Dabney wrote in his book, Evangelical Eloquence, “And it is exceedingly instructive to note that there are three stages through which preaching has repeatedly passed with the same results. The first is that in which scriptural truth is faithfully presented in scriptural garb. That is to say that not only are all the doctrines asserted which truly belong to the revealed system of redemption, but they are presented in that dress and connection in which the Holy Spirit has presented them without seeking any other from human science. This state of the pulpit marks the golden age of the church.

    The second is the transition stage. In this the doctrines taught are still those of the scriptures, but their relations are molded into conformity with the prevalent human dialectics. God’s truth is now shorn of a part of its power over the soul.

    A third stage is then near in which not only are the methods and explanations conformed to the philosophy of the day but the doctrines themselves contradict the truth of the Word.

    Again and again have the clergy traveled this descending scale and always with the same disastrous result, May we ever be content to exhibit Bible doctrine in its own Bible dress.”

    • says

      Joe, I agree with this quote. Please prove by using quotes from the article I’ve written above, taken in context, to prove that I have somehow violated exhibiting “Bible doctrine in its own Bible dress.”

      I mean, if I take this quote to its consistent end the way that you seem to be applying it, Dabney undercuts his own argument. Is the word “Bible dress” found anywhere in the Bible? If this quote is applied the way you’re trying to apply it, should Dabney have used the word “dress” to describe using biblical language that is faithful to Scripture? No.

      I don’t think Dabney is saying what you want him to say. He’s talking about using language that strips the truth out of the gospel; language that “softens” the gospel so that hearers will accept it.

      How have I stripped the Bible of any truth in my above article?

      Please prove it; for, I surely don’t want to diminish the Word of God.

      • Christiane says

        JARED,

        people can do many things that are evil,
        but they have no real or lasting power to ‘diminish’ the Word of God.

        The Holy Bible is a force that has a blessing upon it because it testifies to Our Lord Christ. It has been preserved and passed down throughout the ages, and all attempts to ‘diminish’ it have failed.

  10. Christiane says

    Jared, people seem to ‘react’ to fiction in different ways, and that’s a good thing. Some people are not ‘fiction’ people. Others enjoy it greatly, and like special kinds of fiction . . . fantasies, romances, science fiction, etc.

    But I have noticed that, if a fiction work involves anything to do with religion, some people take offense and feel that the fiction work will somehow ‘threaten’ or ‘compromise’ their faith.
    For them, it may just be a part of their need for things to be absolute, ‘concrete’, ‘black and white’, and devoid of allegory.
    I think it is a personal preference for some, but not for everyone.

    C.S. Lewis, when writing his Narnia stories, once commented, this,

    “I thought I saw how stories of this kind could steal past a certain inhibition which paralyzed much of my own religion since childhood. Why did one find it so hard to feel as one was told one ought to feel about God or about the sufferings of Christ? I thought the chief reason was that one was told one ought to. An obligation can freeze feelings. And reverence itself did harm. The whole subject was associated with lowered voices; almost as if it were something medical. But suppose casting all these things into an imaginary world, stripping them of their stained-glass and Sunday school associations, one could make them for the first time appear in their real potency? Could one not thus steal past the watchful dragons? I thought one could.”

    Do writers like Tolkien and Lewis and Rowling help people ‘sneak past those watchful dragons’? I think ‘yes’. But I don’t put down those who can’t stomach these fiction writers. Any more than I would put down this bit of wisdom from Tolkien’s Bilbo:

    ‘NEVER LAUGH AT LIVE DRAGONS.’

    Good advice, I say.
    I must remember to keep it.

  11. bill says

    I’m not a big fan of studies which try to shoehorn a popular movie or series around a bible study.

    Just let these works of fiction be something to be read and enjoyed.

  12. John Wylie says

    Jared,

    The truth is that most of us have at one time or another used an illustration from a movie or tv program to bring understanding to a biblical text. Charles Spurgeon said that the illustration is not the house, it’s the window that lets light into the house. It is obvious your study is thoughtfully done and immersed in scriptures, so I think it is a good thing. From every thing I’ve read your are not one of these trendy guys you see out there today, who is just trying to be cool and hip. I have the utmost confidence that it will work well for you brother.

    • says

      John, thank you. I’m not trendy or cool in the least. If some listened to my sermons and then read the above article, they might have reacted differently?

  13. John Fariss says

    When I started reading the article, I said to myself, “OK, the comments will run like this: those to the right of Jarred will condemn him for pandering to pop culture and thus ‘diluting’ the Scripture, while those to his left–if there are any–will condemn him for being too much a Biblicist and toeing the fundamentalist line.” Was I right, Jarred? At least mostly?

    Studies in literature often identify a “Christ character” or “figure,” and I do not think there is anything sacreligious in that. It is not an attempt to literally say the figure is Christ, or that he/she is divine in any theological sense. It is simply a way of identifying the motives or character of a literary figure in a way that a Christianized culture can understand. Where you have done that, Jarred, I commend your work.

    My criticism is in the earlier parts, where you take great pains to prove that witchcraft, sorcery, etc., is inherently evil. That came off to me as an obligatory submission to current evangelical politics. Now I certainly agree with your Biblical deductions, and if we were talking about real people actually practicing real witchcraft, I would agree with this approach. However, it seems to me there is another avenue to take: recognize that it is a book of fiction. As fiction, understand it as an extended analogy. As an analogy, you could look for the motives and reasons behind behind both “good” and “bad” “witchcraft,” as well as why the characters say the things they say. From that, then deal with why people say and do the things they do, and relate that to Bible, not as something to beat people with, but as THE viewpoint that gets results in the real world, which (perhaps) is what the Harry Potter series is about anyway.

    It seems to me that conservative evangelicals refuse to comprehend that there can be analogies between things evangelicals dislike and the Bible, and that children sooner or later can understand that the use of a character or an analogy is not the same as a lie. The result of that comes off as condemning everything from Harry Potter to Santa Claus. Like Paul I sugest there is a more excellent way.

    John Fariss

    • says

      John, I appreciate the comment. Even though Harry Potter is fiction, I think we still must point out the untruths in fiction. I do plan to point to Rowling’s emphasis on the existence of good and evil even in magic. Most stories contain a recognition of the this reality. The problem is that they never answer the sin problem correctly; Jesus is the only answer.

      As far as “lies,” anything we argue is true that isn’t, is a lie. Even though Rowling may not say “magic is true.” There are people on earth that do. I think we need to make sure our children understand this reality.

      BTW: I think even Santa Claus argues for a gospel: “Be good for goodness sake.” This fiction answers the sin problem wrong as well.

      Fiction deserves the same treatment as nonfiction because they are always making truth claims. IMO.

  14. Christiane says

    Hi JOHN FARISS,

    you wrote “Studies in literature often identify a “Christ character” or “figure,” and I do not think there is anything sacreligious in that. ”

    I was just watching the movie ‘Gran Torino’ (rerun on TV) and what I saw was a character who cared enough for his neighbors to protect them from evil by confronting that evil himself in their place . . . and I guess you could call that character a ‘Christ-figure’ in the film;

    but then I thought, WE ARE CALLED to conform to Christ in the midst of our own culture . . . maybe it’s not such a bad thing to see examples of how people could possibly do this in fiction . . . or, as in the movie ‘The Hiding Place’, in reality.

    I’m sorry so many feel threatened by films that have a ‘Christ-figure’ in them, whether its ‘Aslan’, or a hobbit, or ‘the boy who lived under the stairs, or characters like the portrayals of Father ten Boom and his family, or Damien in the film about Molokai.

    I love these films.
    They don’t ‘replace’ sacred Scripture’ for me;
    they show me that someone has read it and understood it.