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A big “Thank you” to Fred Butler for taking the time to read and review my book.
Fred Butler, director and coordinator of volunteer ministries at Grace to You and blogger at Hip and Thigh, recently reviewed my book The Harry Potter Bible Study: Enjoying God Through the Final Four Harry Potter Movies. I hope to interact with some of his comments here.
First, Butler argues that I initially responded in a smarty-pants manner on Twitter. Go read the exchange on his Twitter Feed. The initial smarty-pants comment came from Butler’s friend, Joe Blackmon, who tagged me in a sarcastic comment about my book, a similar comment Blackmon has made numerous times over the past year in blogdom. I think Butler viewed my comment as “smarty-pants” and Joe’s comment as funny or friendly because he doesn’t know me. After all, I sent him and Blackmon free .pdf copies of my book to review. (I wish Butler had left this inaccurate bias out of his review).
Second, Butler wishes I had interacted with the reality that Rowling uses witchcraft as a literary device. In my book, I do interact with this reality briefly:
The Harry Potter series is full of witchcraft and wizardry. Although Rowling uses witchcraft and wizardry primarily as a literary device, this does not negate the reality that she makes truth claims concerning good magic vs. bad magic. In other words, magic is not a neutral literary device (30).
I still stand by this statement. One cannot act as if literary devices are neutral, and teach nothing either good or bad. Butler, however, is correct that I could have spent more time dealing with this reality.
Third, Butler believes that several of the themes and questions I interact with in this book are contrived instead of questions raised by the book itself. I cannot speak to Butler’s claim since he offers no specific quotes or specific questions from my book. I disagree with his assumption here.
Fourth, Butler asks these questions of the various questions I raise:
As to the first, why must I tie these questions to a movie series in order for them to be asked in a Bible study group? Does tying those questions to the HP novels help make them more “relevant?” I definitely believe the Bible provides answers to those pertinent questions of life, but I am of the opinion that the Bible can stand alone as the means to answer them. I don’t need to show my home Bible study a HP movie (or any Hollywood movie for that matter) in order to make the questions “relevant.” In a way, pastor Moore’s argument smacks of that type of pragmatism seeker-driven churches employ in order to make the Bible look really cool and neat-o to an unbelieving public.
The point of this Bible Study is to train Christians to interact with popular culture for the glory of God, not to make Biblical questions relevant. I think Butler’s charge here is unwarranted. Although Butler believes the questions I answer from my interaction with the Harry Potter series are “contrived,” he is ignoring my intent (which is clearly noted in the book; Butler even quotes it.). I am the opposite of “relevant.” My goal is for God to be gloried in all that I do. If I am to participate in pop culture, then God’s glory should be the goal. Unfortunately, many Christians view interacting with popular culture as a neutral endeavor that is neither good nor bad. God’s glory is not their goal, and in my book I attempt to train Christians to enjoy God through rejecting and enjoying various elements of pop culture. Butler is free to think I failed, but accusing me of “pragmatism” or a “seeker-sensitive” approach is unwarranted. Listen to my sermons, and you will see. People who know me wouldn’t describe me as a pragmatist. For example, see my article, “10 Contemporary Sacred Cows that Need to be Tipped.”
Fifth, Butler writes,
If I ask “practical theology” questions derived from these movies, was it really the intended purpose of the author to convey that “theology?” As much as I have come to love the HP novels and appreciate Rowling’s story telling, did she genuinely intend for her readers to ask those questions about the Christian life? Though I would certainly acknowledge Christian oriented themes are woven here and there in her overall story about Harry, it may be that Rowling just pulled from familiar religious themes she grew up with in a British, Judeo-Christian Western society. She never intended to picture Christian “truth” with her work in the same way C.S. Lewis may have intended or even John Bunyan. Why should we go hunting for it? I would imagine pastor Moore will say identifying those themes is bringing this material under the Lordship of Christ. But, really? How exactly does me doing that “help out God?
If an author argues that abortion is never murder, does he or she intend for the audience to walk away thinking, “Abortion is murder?” Nope, but that’s exactly what a Christian should think when he or she walks away from any author’s justification of murder. The goal of living in this world is to destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, taking every thought captive to obey Christ (2 Cor. 10:5). Thus, the Christian’s goal in participating in media is not only to understand the author’s intention and arguments, but also to ask, “Is this true?” If not, then the Christian must reject it. If it is somewhat true, then the Christian must add Scriptural truth to it to make the half-truth fully true. If the truth is already captive to obey Christ, then the Christian simply must agree.
Sixth, Butler agrees with me concerning Christ’s total Lordship over creation, that most media presents an underlying anti-God worldview, and that Christians should learn discernment so they can identify these worldviews as they encounter the world. But, then he writes,
But does this mean we are obligated as Christian believers to “Christianize” everything we watch or read or hear in popular entertainment? Can’t I just read HP and watch the movies for the fact that they are fun? Why must I go bounding down rabbit trails in order to find “Christian” motifs within a film? Particularly if the author or filmmaker never intended those motifs to be identified as “Christian”? Do they somehow make the stories better? Does it make the Bible even more divine and practical?
The reason why Christians should interact with media is not to “Christianize” it but to recognize God’s fingerprints that are already there. In other words, you shouldn’t “Yahwehize” media by acting as if God is speaking through pagans, but you should recognize the reality that pagans live in God’s world, and regardless how much they reject Him, they nevertheless admit they live in His world, since they are His image bearers and reflect His image. In other words, God is the original author of the truth espoused by anyone! I simply want to connect God’s truth back to Him, which the pagan refuses to do. Just because unbelievers refuse to acknowledge the source of their truth-claims, does not mean Christians are free to enjoy pagan truth-claims separated from their original Author (God). On the contrary, Christians must enjoy the original Author of their truth claims: The Triune God who has revealed Himself in Scripture. To answer Butler’s question, “No, you cannot interact with pop culture for the glory of God by believing pop culture is neutral (fun).” Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31).
Furthermore, did Paul “Christianize” a Pagan poet when he quoted him in Acts 17:28 (for “‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, “‘For we are indeed his offspring.’)? No. Butler is welcome to argue that I have failed at training Christians to interact with pop culture for God’s glory, but he is unfair if he acts like my goal for interacting with media is not found in Scripture. Paul quoted a pagan poet since this pagan ripped off God’s truth. That’s not “Christianizing,” that’s “Recognizing.” We do not “create” truth out of paganism, we recognize where the pagan admits he/she lives in our God’s world, and then, we destroy his/her arguments while taking every thought captive to obey Christ (2 Cor. 10:5).
Seventh, Butler writes,
And couldn’t I do this with nearly any movie on Netflix? Maybe develop a Bible study curriculum on the Sanctified Christian Life centered around The Walking Dead series. I’m sure I can find all sorts of illustrations about being dead to sin, alive to Christ, being dead in our trespasses and sins, regenerated by the Holy Spirit, etc.
Yes, you could if you were not sinning by interacting with the media. For example, you could not view a sex scene for God’s glory since the Bible is clear we are only to see one person in a sexual situation our entire lives (our spouse). Concerning The Walking Dead, here is an article I wrote where I discuss how God’s grace draws me to The Walking Dead. (I’m sure Butler will enjoy this article!)
Eighth, Butler writes,
The danger with this “redemptive” mindset is that we stir up in ourselves the tendency to overly “spiritualize” entertainment that really has no connection to Christianity at all.
Either all truth is God’s truth or not. We should enjoy God’s truth wherever it is found, for where God’s truth is found, God’s fingerprints are found. All humans live in our God’s world. If you cannot recognize God’s fingerprints in the entertainment, then you should not participate in the entertainment, since the only Christian response is to entirely reject the entertainment.
Ninth, Butler writes,
he seems to aim in the direction of the Arminian classic apologist trying to show the unbeliever that Christianity is a viable option in the market place of ideas. But I believe when we try overlaying Christianity on top of what the world offers, rather than putting God on display, we diminish the power of the Gospel to save. That’s because we’ve removed the authority of our saving message from its true source and tether it to a source that can never save. As well intentioned as pastor Moore’s may be with his book, he leans toward that direction.
What I am arguing is thoroughly Reformed, not Arminian. I don’t have a clue what Butler means by this accusation. My goal is to recognize God’s truth wherever it is found, not to create truth where there is none. Furthermore, I never argue in this book that Christians should overlay Christianity on what the world offers. Instead, I argue that Christians should reject Satan’s lies, and connect all truth to God in light of the creating, sustaining, and redeeming work of Christ. Once again, Butler is welcome to argue that I failed, but he is wrong to argue that I’m trying to Christianize the world. I’m trying to reject the world, and connect truth back to the Truth-Giver. I never once tether the gospel to pop culture in this book; instead, I tether the truth found in pop culture to its rightful owner. My God owns the truth popular culture attempts to high-jack from Him. I simply want to return these truths back to God so that I may enjoy Him through enjoying His fingerprints that are present in popular culture. I’m trying to take every thought captive to obey Christ, to interact with media for God’s glory alone, to love God with all my heart, soul, and mind, and to love my neighbor as myself through interacting with media, etc. The list can go on and one. Butler can argue I’ve failed, but I don’t believe he can argue that what I’m attempting is unbiblical.
Finally, Butler asks if he can watch the Harry Potter series because they’re “fun”? My reply is “Yes, but not as if you’re an unbeliever.” You are required by God to live for His glory in all that you do. You cannot participate in Harry Potter or any other form of popular culture as if God is silent and Christ is not Lord. If you choose to enjoy popular culture, you must seek to enjoy God through popular culture or you are sinning against God. Christians will find that there is nothing more fun than enjoying God in all of life.