When Eustace Scrubbs fell into the dragon’s lair, he was quite puzzled. He had no knowledge of dragons because, as Lewis explained, “Eustace had read only the wrong books. They had a lot to say about exports and imports and governments and drains, but they were weak on dragons” (The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, chap. 6).
Many of us pastors are guilty of the same thing. We need to make a point that requires more imagination or creativity, and we hit a wall. We find ourselves in unfamiliar territory, and lack the resources to navigate through it. Could this be because we are reading the wrong books? Or, to state it positively, are we reading the right books? Is it possible to read too much theology and philosophy and church history? Several years ago I would have answered with a resounding no! Today my answer is: Yes, if you are not also reading good fantasy and imaginative literature. To be clear, my hope here is not for you to put down your theology and church history books; but rather that you would avail yourself to the vast world of fantasy and story.
Here are five reasons those who preach the Word should read fantasy.
To Connect With Your Hearers
A quick glance at any best-seller list will reveal that people read story and imaginative literature. People read fantasy; children, teenagers, adults. That being the case, it’s important that preachers be somewhat versed in what people are reading. Some may interpret this as an attempt to be cool or trendy. I’d rather say it’s an attempt to be a missionary! Remember Acts 17? Paul quotes from the pagan philosophers of the day in order to engage his listeners. We may find that a reference to The Hunger Games rouses a slumbering teen, or a quote from The Iliad captures the attention of an agnostic college professor. We must admit that in the eyes of many non-Christians, preachers of the Gospel have a burden of proof to bear. Reading fiction may help us on our way to becoming all things to all people.
To Read More
All of us want to read more. We feel guilty as we continue to buy new books, but fail to read them. Reading fiction may help remedy this. Once a story captures us, we want to read more, which spills over into our other reading. I read the Harry Potter series in a few months this year, but noticed that I finished several non-fiction books during the same time. Reading fantasy fuels our desire to read, and it balances our literary diet.
To Compliment Logic In Preaching
The reason many of us love writers and thinkers like C. S. Lewis, Dorothy Sayers, J.R.R. Tolkien, and G. K. Chesterton, or preachers like Jonathan Edwards and George Whitfield is that they combined laser sharp logic with incredible imagination. Most of us preachers likely have a hard time with creativity and imagination. We feel much more at home with logic, theology, and propositional truths—which our people need. But we must acquaint ourselves with story, poetry, song, and experience, and nothing does that like curling up with a good fantasy work.
To Get In Touch With Reality
While some may think reading fantasy is an attempt to escape reality, I contend that it brings us closer to reality. The sheer range of emotions involved in reading works like The Lord of the Rings or Pilgrims Progress are enough to prove this. We become more empathetic, compassionate, virtuous—more human. C. S. Lewis said reading fantasy is like a child eating his meat and imagining it was a buffalo he killed with his own bow and arrow. He said, “The real meat comes back to him more savory for having been dipped in a story; you might say that only then is it the real meat” (On Stories, 90). Imagine how this might impact our preaching. A mind dipped in great stories galvanizes our preaching with wisdom and insight as we expound the glories of the Bible. N. D. Wilson says “Stories create affection and fear and joy, love and hate and relief. Stories can create loyalties and destabilize loyalties. Stories are catechisms for the imagination. Catechisms for emotions, for aspirations. Stories mold instincts and carve grooves of habit in a reader’s judgments” (Catechisms For The Imagination). I couldn’t agree more.
To See The Grand Story
Jerram Barrs says the ultimate test for a story is wether it contains echoes of eden, which he defines as, “The story of the good creation, the fallen world, and the longing for redemption” (Echoes of Eden, 67). Good fiction does this; it shows us the human condition and makes us long for renewal and freedom. This in turn points us to the Grand Story of the Bible, the True Story! There really is a Coming King, a Rescuer, One who will set all things right and set us free. There really is a Hero who fought the dragon and won. Good story can remind us of this, and send our hearts soaring into worship.
Brothers, let us avail ourselves to fantasy. We need it. Our sermons need it. Our hearers need it. And when you find yourself in a dragon’s lair, you’ll know what to do.
*This article first appeared at Pastors Today under Brothers, Let Us Read Fantasy
- Duty. “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Eccles. 12:13).
- God knows all and sees all. “For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Eccles. 12:14).
- It’s right. “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right” (Eph. 6:1).
- It’s for our good. “Be careful to obey all these words that I command you, that it may go well with you and with your children after you forever, when you do what is good and right in the sight of the LORD your God.” (Deut. 12:28).
- God’s example. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:32).
- Christ’s example. “And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph. 5:2).
- Assurance. “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall” (2 Pet. 1:10).
- Being effective as a Christian. “For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 1:8).
- Jesus’ return. “Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn!” (2 Pet. 3:11–12).
- The world is not our home. “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul” (1 Pet. 2:11).
- To win over our neighbors. “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” (1 Pet. 2:12).
- To lift up a nation. “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people” (Prov. 14:34).
- For the public good. “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?” (Matt. 5:13a).
- For the sake of our prayers. “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered” (1 Pet. 3:7).
- The futility of sin. “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” (Matt. 6:27).
- The folly of sin. “And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it” (Matt. 7:26–27).
- The promise of future grace. “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:33).
- The promise of future judgment. “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord’” (Rom. 12:19).
- The fear of future judgment. “For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries” (Heb. 10:26–27).
- The surety of our inheritance. “For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one” (Heb. 10:34).
- The communion of the saints. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1).
- The good examples of others. “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith” (Heb. 13:7).
- The bad examples of others. “Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did” (1 Cor. 10:6).
- We were created for good works. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).
- God is the master and we are his servants. “So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty’” (Luke 17:10).
- The fear of the Lord. “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others” (2 Cor. 5:11a).
- The love of the Lord. “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11).
- To make God manifest. “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us” (1 John 4:12).
- In gratitude for grace. “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Rom. 12:1). For the glory of God.
- For the glory of God. “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Cor. 6:19–20).
- The character of God. “For I am the LORD your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy” (Lev. 11:44a).
- The work of God. “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me” (Ex. 20:2–3).
- To please God. “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (Heb. 13:16).
- To avoid the devil’s snares. “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil” (Eph. 4:26–27).
- For an eternal reward. “They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life” (1 Tim. 6:18–19).
- Because Christ has all authority. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:18b–20a).
- Love for Christ. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).
- Fullness of joy. “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:10–11).
- To experience God’s favor. “A good man obtains favor from the LORD, but a man of evil devices he condemns” (Prov. 12:2).
- Our union with Christ. “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin” (Rom. 6:5–6).
(Taken from The Hole in Our Holiness by Kevin DeYoung)
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. (Eph. 5:25-28)
Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. (Colossians 3:19)
Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered. (1 Peter 3:7)
- Are you doing out of the ordinary things to cherish and bless her?
- Are you helping with the kids, to give her a break?
- Are you patient, gentle, vulnerable, and humble with her?
- Are you engaging in any sexual activity outside of God’s will (i.e. internet, Twitter, Facebook, co-workers, magazines, movies, darting eyes, etc.)?
- Are you leading her spiritually and helping her pursue Jesus?
- Are you praying for her?
- Are you giving her the time, resources, and money she needs to be who God created her to be?
- Are you taking the time to do the things she wants to do?
- Are you studying her (likes, dislikes, fears, hopes, goals, struggles)?
- Are you worshipping, trusting, treasuring, and obeying Jesus?
It is the flame of my life to worship thee,
the crown and glory of my soul to adore thee,
heavenly pleasure to approach thee.
Give me power by thy Spirit to help me
that I may forget the world,
be brought into fullness of life,
be refreshed, comforted, blessed.
Give me knowledge of thy goodness
that I might not be over-awed by thy greatness;
Give me Jesus, Son of Man, Son of God,
that I might not be terrified,
but be drawn near with filial love,
with holy boldness;
He is my Mediator, Brother, Interpreter,
Branch, Daysman, Lamb;
him I glorify,
in him I am set on high.
Crowns to give I have none,
but what thou hast given I return,
content to feel that everything is mine
when it is thine,
and the more fully mine when I have yielded it
Let me live wholly to my Saviour,
free from distractions,
from carking care,
from hindrances to the pursuit
of the narrow way.
I am pardoned through the blood of Jesus —
give me a new sense of it,
continue to pardon me by it,
may I come every day to the fountain,
and every day be washed anew,
that I may worship thee always
in spirit and truth.
—”Worship,” The Valley of Vision
When Eustace Scrubbs fell into the dragon’s lair he had no idea where he was. The reason? “Eustace had read only the wrong books. They had a lot to say about exports and imports and governments and drains, but they were weak on dragons” (The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, chap. 6). I don’t want this to happen to my sons. I want them to read; and read the right kinds of books. I want them to devour books. I want their imaginations to soar as they enter The Wardrobe or race across the landscape of Middle Earth. I want them to enjoy learning and growing through reading. I want their character forged by story and fantasy. I want their minds challenged as they labor through a meaty theological work. I want their hearts gripped as they read history and biography. I want them begging me for a later bedtime so they can stay up and read.
As I write this, my sons are ages 4,
2, and four months. We have a way to go! And of course I cannot guarantee that they will enjoy reading. One may love it; another may hate it. It might be a chore for one and a joy for the other two. Regardless, I want to cultivate an environment of reading in our home. To that end, here are some things I am doing and plan to do.
Invest In Good Books
If my sons are going to read—and love reading—it’s going to cost me! Books ain’t cheap, especially the good ones. I recently built into our budget a line item called Boy’s Books. I want them to know that books are a financial priority for us. I want them to know that books are more important than toys. They toys will be put away one day, the books likely will not. They will grow old enough to read children’s books again before they know it! Here is a list of the books we are currently reading together.
DragonQuest, King Arthur’s Very Great Grandson, Dragons Love Tacos, Hello Ninja, I Need My Monster, The Donkey Who Carried A King, The Prince’s Poison Cup, The Dragon and the Garden, The Jesus Story Book Bible, The Church History ABC’s, The Day The Crayons Quit.
Of course I must be careful here because there is a major difference between a love for books and a love for reading. But still, can one really ever have too many books?
Let Them See Me Reading
For them to love reading, I must read. Fortunately Heather and I love reading. It comes fairly easy to both of us. Ever since I learned to read, I have enjoyed reading. My sons need to see this. They need to see me curled up with a book in bed at night or in my chair on a Saturday morning. They need to witness extended times where the TV is off and a book is in my hand. They need to hear me say “Let me finish this chapter and then we’ll play.” They need to hear Heather and I discussing books with each other often. Reading is both taught and caught.
Use Mobile Devices
I was on the fence about using mobile devices for reading, especially for children. But given the amount of time our boys use the iPad or one of our iPhones for games and movies, it would be silly not to use them for reading, at least occasionally. In addition, there are many wonderful (and sometimes free!) books and apps for mobile devices. Last week I read Hello Ninja (free!) from the iPad at least 5 times to our boys! They loved it. I will need to monitor this, but for now I want to keep reading from time to time on our devices.
Never Refuse An Invitation To Read
When my sons bring me a book they want read to them, I read it. No questions! Or at least that is my new policy. I may have accidentally maliciously destroyed (Despicable Me reference) The Pokey Little Puppy after my two year old wanted it read for the fifteenth straight time. But now, as long as it’s in my power, I never refuse reading a book they bring me.
Pray They Read
I have a prayer card for each of my sons where I’ve written, among others, a prayer for them to be readers. Only God can instill in them a desire to read. I stand in need of much grace for this.
Put Books Everywhere
We keep books everywhere. They are on our night stands, coffee tables, shelves, desks, and just about everywhere else that is appropriate. This is mainly because I read several books at once, I constantly buy them, and I’m weird about needing to have them in front of me at all times. But also, I want my sons to see them. I want books to be as natural (if not more so) as the furniture or the TV. I never want them reaching too far for a book when they want to read.
Take Them To A Bookstore
This one is interesting. Next time you visit a Borders or Barnes & Noble, notice how many toys are there. We recently went to look at books but much of my time was spent wrangling the boys away from Legos, stuffed animals, Harry Potter wands (this one was tempting!), and Avenger action figures. Nonetheless we went, and I plan on going again and again. Try it. Let them explore the shelves. See what draws them. Let them pick any book they want, but prepare to do toy-battle. Maybe a library would be better . . .
I plan to require our boys to read for certain periods of time when they are older. Some may object that doing so could make them dislike reading. But at some point in their lives someone (teacher, coach, boss, professor) will require them to read. I’d rather help build this discipline into their system early rather than see it forced on them later. Trevin Wax suggested to me that when they are older, I should allow them to stay up as late as they want, as long as they are reading a book. We’ll see how that goes and blame any next morning tardiness on him!
Teach Them The Grand Story
Why did God give letters, words, sentences, paragraphs, chapters, and books? Many reasons come to mind, but could it be that He wanted us fully grasp the words of John 1: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . .And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn. 1:1, 14). The chief end of reading is to know the Grand Story, the Gospel, and to find the echoes and shadows of that Story in all that we read. This is my ultimate purpose for cultivating a love for reading in my sons. I want the Word of all words and the Story of all stories to wash over them, capture their affections, penetrate their hearts, and lead them into worship. Hopefully, God will use a love for story and literature to drive them to the True and Better Story about our Savior and King.
And hopefully they will recognize a dragon’s lair when they find themselves in one!
Maybe you have other suggestions for cultivating reading in children. I’d love to hear them!
Rather than giving you my top reads of 2013, I thought I would give you my top quotes from my top reads in 2013. John Piper said that books do not change him; paragraphs and sentences do. I agree. Here are a few brief excerpts that galvanized me with joy and hope this year.
1) Parenting has become more complicated than it needs to be. It used to be, as far as I can tell, that Christian parents basically tried to feed their kids, clothe them, teach them about Jesus, and keep them away from explosives. Now our kids have to sleep on their backs (no, wait, their tummies; no, never mind, their backs), while listening to Baby Mozart and surrounded by scenes off Starry, Starry Night. They have to be in piano lessons before they are five and can’t leave the car seat until they’re about five foot six. (Kevin DeYoung, Crazy Busy)
2) Be not deceived, Wormwood, our cause is never more in jeopardy than when a human, no longer desiring but still intending to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe in which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys. (C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters)
3) He’d had to make his way alone, and no one— not rock stars, not professional athletes, not software billionaires, and not even geniuses— ever makes it alone. (Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers)
4) The Christian looks to what he or she will become in the consummation and is already interested in becoming like that. We receive the Father’s love; we know that one day we shall be pure; so already we strive to become pure now. That is in perfect conformity with the way chapter 2 ends:“If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him” (2:29). (D. A. Carson, For The Love of God)
5) I was given good principles, but left to follow them in pride and conceit. Unfortunately an only son (for many years an only child), I was spoilt by my parents, who, though good themselves (my father, particularly, all that was benevolent and amiable), allowed, encouraged, almost taught me to be selfish and overbearing; to care for none beyond my own family circle; to think meanly of all the rest of the world; to wish at least to think meanly of their sense and worth compared with my own. Such I was, from eight to eight and twenty; and such I might still have been but for you, dearest, loveliest Elizabeth! What do I not owe you! You taught me a lesson, hard indeed at first, but most advantageous. By you, I was properly humbled. I came to you without a doubt of my reception. You showed me how insufficient were all my pretensions to please a woman worthy of being pleased. (Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice)
6) “It’s going to be all right, sir,” Harry said over and over again, more worried by Dumbledore’s silence than he had been by his weakened voice. “We’re nearly there. . . . I can Apparate us both back. . . . Don’t worry. . . .” “I am not worried, Harry,” said Dumbledore, his voice a little stronger despite the freezing water. “I am with you.” (J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince)
7) When you think about it, that’s the war we fight ourselves. We love ourselves— have no trouble with that at all— and yet, as Christians, we don’t condone our own behavior half the time. Like Paul, we wrestle and realize what wretched people we are, before arriving at the throne of grace and saying, ‘Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Trevin Wax, Clear Winter Nights)
8) I can bring myself to tears thinking about my own sons, and how much I long to be for them—and therefore long for them to be—a man like King Lune of Archenland: stable and secure, sacrificial and giving, brave and valiant, big-hearted and great-souled, a man who has known grief, but with the deep confidence of one whose feet are firmly planted on a rock, still laughs at the time to come. (Joe Rigney, Live Like A Narnian)
9) God’s sovereignty over all things does not disappear when evil is involved. “The LORD has made all for Himself, yes, even the wicked for the day of doom. Everyone proud in heart is an abomination to the LORD; though they join forces, none will go unpunished” (Prov. 16:4–5). We see how the Word does not oppose God’s exhaustive sovereignty and man’s responsibility to one another. We must take care that our boys not fall either into the errors of hyper-Calvinism or Arminianism. (Doug Wilson, Future Men)
10) “You won’t be killing anyone else tonight,” said Harry as they circled, and stared into each other’s eyes, green into red. “You won’t be able to kill any of them ever again. Don’t you get it? I was ready to die to stop you from hurting these people—”
“But you did not!”
“—I meant to, and that’s what did it. I’ve done what my mother did. They’re protected from you. Haven’t you noticed how none of the spells you put on them are binding? You can’t torture them. You can’t touch them. You don’t learn from your mistakes, Riddle, do you?” (J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows)