Friday, November 28, 2014

Heavenly Conversation - Chapter 1

Last summer I decided to re-read Earthly-Mindedness by Jeremiah Burroughs and discuss his points chapter-by-chapter.  This book was reprinted in 1991 by Soli Deo Gloria Publications and contains "A Treatise of Earthly-Mindedness" (first published in 1649) and "The Second Treatise on a Heavenly Conversation."

The Scripture verses underlying both of Mr. Burroughs' treatises are found in Paul's epistle to the Philippians:  "Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample.  (For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.)  For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ," (Phil. 3:17-20).

The disposition of the wicked (those who set themselves up against the gospel) is to mind earthly things.  The disposition of the godly is to converse in heaven.  Therefore, the doctrine set forth in this book is that "This is the great difference between a wicked man and a godly man:  One minds earthly things, and the other has his conversation in heaven."

I started summarizing "A Treatise of Earthly-Mindedness" here.  Now I will post chapter summaries for "The Second Treatise on a Heavenly Conversation."

In Chapter 1 of his second treatise on heavenly conversation, Mr. Burroughs shows how far the examples of godly men should prevail with us.

Godly examples should:
  1. Prevail with us more than other examples of learned men, rich men, the multitudes, or relatives
  2. Be enough to take off prejudices that come from accusations of men
  3. Make us inquire after those ways and to examine whether they have any footing in the Word
  4. Make us take heed that we do not oppose those ways unless we have clear ground to the contrary
  5. Prepare us to let in any truth which they possess and practice
  6. Confirm and settle us in the truth
Godly men should be a great encouragement to Christians and strengthen them as they walk with their faces toward heaven.  I will look at what's to be done when examples of godly men are contrary in Chapter 2, the rebuke of those who follow wicked examples in Chapter 3, and two doctrines from the text in Chapter 4.

"For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ," (Phil. 3:20).

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Other-Powered Writings of J.R.R. Tolkien - Part II

As I mused about being misled to read Lewis and Tolkien in our early homeschool years, I concluded that if I could go back and change anything, I would not have included the Chronicles of Narnia, nor the Lord of the Ring series in our studies.  I have completed my 5-part series on why Bible-believing Christians should not read any of C.S. Lewis's books.  Now, I will look more closely at J.R.R. Tolkien.  You can read Part I here.

I'm not as vehemently opposed to the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien.  He was a Roman Catholic and always held himself out as such.  He was a writer of many fantasy books, but he is most known for his Lord of the Ring series.  Today, Mr. Tolkien is not known as a voice for the Christian faith or revered for his practical theology like C.S. Lewis.  I'm highly skeptical of C.S. Lewis because he was subversive about his unorthodox Christian beliefs, but I'm not as guarded against J.R.R. Tolkien because was honest about his Roman Catholic beliefs.

To facilitate my analysis, I searched for a book that looked at Tolkien's beliefs using primary sources.  I found The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien selected and edited by Humphrey Carpenter with the assistance of Christopher Tolkien (copyright 1981, ISBN 0-395-31555-7).  In this post I will examine Tolkien's thoughts on Protestantism and Catholicism.

Historically, Protestantism was birthed out of the Reformation in the 16th century.  The Roman Catholic Church was deemed heretical with its icons, belief in transubstantiation, works-based salvation, and worship of Mary and the saints.  In my series on C.S. Lewis, I showed how purgatory and praying to the saints (Part II), along with transubstantiation (Part III), are unbiblical traditions of the Roman Catholic Church.  Are there Christians inside the Roman Catholic Church? Probably, but just like Christians within Mormonism and Jehovah's Witnesses, they will eventually come out.

In 1994 the Evangelicals and Catholics Together document was signed, which called for a need to deliver a common witness to the modern world.  Even though Catholic beliefs and practices had not changed since the Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church was now considered an alternative community of worship for Christians, even though it still does not worship the same Jesus as orthodox Christianity.  We can see how this mindset began much earlier in the 20th century with Mr. Tolkien's analysis of Protestantism:
"The 'protestant' search backwards for 'simplicity' and directness -- which, of course, though it contains some good or at least intelligible motives, is mistaken and indeed vain.  Because 'primitive Christianity' is now and in spite of all 'research' will ever remain largely unknown; because 'primitiveness' is no guarantee of value, and is and was in great part a reflection of ignorance...Still more because 'my church' was not intended by Our Lord to be static or remain in perpetual childhood; but to be a living organism (likened to a plant), which develops and changes in externals by the interaction of its bequeathed divine life and history -- the particular circumstances of the world into which it is set...I find myself in sympathy with those developments that are strictly 'ecumenical', that is concerned with other groups or churches that call themselves (and often truly are) 'Christian'.  We have prayed endlessly for Christian re-union, but it is difficult to see, if one reflects, how that could possibly begin to come about except as it has, with all its inevitable minor absurdities.  An increase in 'charity' is an enormous gain.  As Christians those faithful to the Vicar of Christ must put aside the resentments that as mere humans they feel -- e.g. at the 'cockiness' of our new friends (esp. C[hurch] of E[ngland])," (p. 394, From a letter to Michael Tolkien [dated sometime after August 25, 1967]).
For J.R.R. Tolkien, a Protestant is mistaken and vain.  Mr. Tolkien prays for Christians to united, but for him, a Christian must be faithful to the Vicar of Christ, the Pope.  A true Christian could never bow to an earthly Pope.  From the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith:
"The Lord Jesus Christ is the Head of the church, in whom, by the appointment of the Father, all power for the calling, institution, order or government of the church, is invested in a supreme and sovereign manner; neither can the Pope of Rome in any sense be head thereof, but is that antichrist, that man of sin, and son of perdition, that exalts himself in the church against Christ, and all that is called God; whom the Lord shall destroy with the brightness of His coming," (Chapter 26, paragraph 4).
This sounds harsh to our ecumenically-trained ears.  However, the Catechism of the Roman Catholic, Article 9, Paragraph 4, Section 882 (taken from the website) boldly states:
"The Pope, Bishop of Rome and Peter's successor, is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful.  For the Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, and as pastor of the entire Church has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered."
Therefore, the Roman Catholic Church denies that the only Head of the Christian Church (in earth and in heaven) is Jesus Christ, (Eph. 5:23).  This denial is not consistent with orthodox Christianity.

As I've mentioned in previous posts, Mr. Tolkien unashamedly identified himself as a Roman Catholic and illustrated his beliefs in his writings, including his works of fantasy.  Like C.S. Lewis, he also subverts the Bible's authority by labeling parts of it as "myth".  Here are statements of his Catholic beliefs and how they affect his writings (taken from The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien):
"Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament," (p. 53, From a letter to Michael Tolkien 6-8 March 1941).

"As for Eden.  I think most Christians, except for the v. [very] simple and uneducated or those protected in other ways, have been rather bustled and hustled now for some generations by the self-styled scientists, and they've sort of tucked Genesis into a lumber-room of their mind as not very fashionable furniture, a bit ashamed to have it about the house...I do not now feel either ashamed or dubious on the Eden 'myth'.  It has not, of course, historicity of the same kind as the NT [New Testament]," (p. 109, To Christopher Tolkien 30 January 1945).

"The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision.  That is why I have not put in, or have cut out, practically all references to anything like 'religion', to cults or practices, in the imaginary world.  For the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism," (p. 172, To Robert Murray, S.J. 2 December 1953).

"'Reincarnation' may be bad theology (that surely, rather than metaphysics) as applied to humanity...but I do not see how even in the Primary World any theologian or philosopher, unless very much better informed about the relation of spirit and body than I believe anyone to be, could deny the possibility of re-incarnation as a mode of existence, prescribed for certain kinds of rational incarnate creatures," (p. 189, To Peter Hastings (draft) September 1954).

"*[A note apparently added later:] It was also the Elvish (and uncorrupted Numenorean) view that a 'good' man would or should die voluntarily by surrender with trust before being compelled (as did Aragorn).  This may have been the nature of unfallen Man; though compulsion would not threaten him: he would desire and ask to be allowed to 'go on' to a higher state.  The Assumption of Mary, the only unfallen person, may be regarded as in some ways a simple regaining of unfallen grace and liberty: she asked to be received, and was, having no further function on Earth.  Though, of course, even if unfallen she was not 'pre-Fall'.  Her destiny (in which she had cooperated) was far higher than that of any 'Man' would have been, had the Fall not occurred.  It was also unthinkable that her body, the immediate source of Our Lord's (without other physical intermediary) should have been disintegrated, or 'corrupted', nor could it surely be long separated from Him after the Ascension," (p. 286, Draft of a continuation of a letter [dated 14 October 1958] To Rhona Beare (not sent)).

"I am a Christian (which can be deduced from my stories), and in fact a Roman Catholic.  The latter 'fact' perhaps cannot be deduced; though one critic (by letter) asserted that the invocations of Elbereth, and the character of Galadriel as directly described (or through the words of Gimli and Sam) were clearly related to Catholic devotion to Mary.  Another saw in waybread (lembas)= viaticum and the reference to its feeding the will (vol. III, p. 213) and being more potent when fasting, a derivation from the Eurcharist. (That is: far greater things may colour the mind in dealing with the lesser things of a fairy-story.)," (p. 288, From a letter to Deborah Webster 25 October 1958).

"I was particularly interested in your remarks about Galadriel....I think it is true that I owe much of this character to Christian and Catholic teaching and imagination about Mary," (p. 407 From a letter to Mrs. Ruth Austin 25 January 1971).

"Frodo was sent or allowed to pass over Sea to heal him -- if that could be done, before he died.  He would have eventually to 'pass away': no mortal could, or can, abide for ever on earth, or within Time.  So he went both to a purgatory and to a reward, for a while: a period of reflection and peace and a gaining of a truer understanding of his position in littleness and in greatness, spent still in Time amid the natural beauty of 'Arda Unmarred', the Earth unspoiled by evil," (p. 328, From a letter to Mrs. Eileen Elgar (drafts) September 1963).

"I have suffered grievously in my life from stupid, tired, dimmed, and even bad priests; but I now know enough about myself to be aware that I should not leave the Church (which for me would mean leaving the allegiance of Our Lord) for any such reasons: I should leave because I did not believe, and should not believe any more, even if I had never met any one in orders who was not both wise and saintly.  I should deny the Blessed Sacrament, that is: call Our Lord a fraud to His face...I witnessed (half-comprehending) the heroic sufferings and early death in extreme poverty of my mother who brought me into the Church; and received the astonishing charity of Francis Morgan. But I fell in love with the Blessed Sacrament from the beginning," (p. 338, To Michael Tolkien 1 November 1963).

"So it may be said that the chief purpose of life, for any one of us, is to increase according to our capacity our knowledge of God by all the means we have, and to be moved to praise and thanks," (p. 400, To Camilla Unwin 20 May 1969).
As a Roman Catholic, J.R.R. Tolkien does not espouse true biblical doctrine.  Thus, it is critical for Christians who read through his fantasy literature to remember that he does not hold to orthodox Christian beliefs.  The books of J.R.R. Tolkien are not Christian; and therefore, should be read with heightened discernment.

"Q 1. What is the chief end of man?  A. Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever," (from the Westminster Shorter Catechism).

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Book Review: Preaching By Ear

In his book Preaching By Ear: Speaking God's Truth from the Inside Out, Dave McClellan (with Karen McClellan) wants to teach preachers "to be both verbally fluent and deeply grounded" in their sermons (Kindle location 105).  His goal is to teach them to speak from the inside out because their "flocks need to hear God's Word coming from our [preachers'] mouths in a compelling, convincing way, with passion and conviction," (Kindle location 113).

Mr. McClellan introduces his new style of risky preaching in Chapter 1, "Something Old, Something New":  "The oral orientation is a movement away from safety and predictability.  It's a move toward vulnerability with a hint of the spontaneous.  It's not knowing exactly where you'll go next.  It has an openness, an unfinishedness.  It pulls deeply from internal resources: emotion, experience, firsthand acquaintance with truth.  It requires the preacher to speak in a live moment from a whole heart," (Kindle location 176).  He continues: "Preaching by ear is this: speaking from personally held, deep convictions in a way that enables our words to unfold in a moment by considering the actual people present with us.  We are well-prepared, but we're not certain exactly how it will come out of our mouths," (Kindle location 185).

The author's main argument is that preaching a sermon is an oral event; therefore, preparing the sermon as a pure literary event creates a disconnect between skills and setting (Kindle location 257).  This approach places more emphasis on the preacher than what is being preached.  It is the Word of God that brings faith (Rom. 10:17).  However, the author dangerously proposes that it is the preacher and his presentation that is more important than the Bible and what God actually says to His people.  Mr. McClellan states: "Our theology must be experienced in our own lives to unlock the firsthand sense in our sermons.  Our own spiritual experience and maturity will necessarily be the governor on our sermons.  We can't take people somewhere we've never been," (Kindle location 393).  The author does not cite a biblical reference for this because the false idea that theology must be experienced before it is preached is not in the Bible.  Quite honestly, the statement that we must experience theology doesn't make sense.  Theology is the study of the nature of God.  The finite mind of a Christian can barely comprehend the attributes of God, let alone experience them.

As he moves through the book, Mr. McClellan seems to soften his tone regarding the superiority of the oral method in preaching.  He rightly notes that preachers are bound to the Bible (Kindle location 2175).  In Chapter 8, "Swallowing the Word", Mr. McClellan states that the background research done by a preacher is no different in the oral model (Kindle location 2365).  But instead of using homiletics and creating an outline, he recommends mapping the information using a narrative structure with pictures.  Instead of memorizing the sermon, the information should be sustained by memory (Kindle location 2437) so that it is delivered in a natural, extemporaneous style (Kindle location) without literary prompts (i.e. notes).  Regardless of the author's contention of supremacy, it is important to remember that the oral method may be good for some preachers, but not necessarily for all.

The author references many non-Christian experts on orality to support his claim: Aristotle, Jesuit Walter Ong, Quintilian, and Bakhtin.  Ironically, as he looks at Mikhail Bakhtin, a speech genre theorist, he states that "Any sermon genre that separates the preacher and his thoughts from the actual needs of the flock is deeply flawed...This is why sermons that are read lose something vital," (Kindle location 1889).  Jonathan Edwards, a prominent figure in the Great Awakening, was very unimpressive in his preaching technique because he read his sermons; however, it's quite obvious that his preaching was still powerful and used mightily by the Holy Spirit.

The London Baptist Confession of Faith states: "The grace of faith, whereby the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts (2 Cor. 4:13, Eph. 2:8) and is ordinarily wrought by the ministry of the Word (Rom. 10:14, 17)," (Chap. 14, para. 1).  Thus, saving faith is a work of the Holy Spirit by the Word of God.  The preacher is a means used by God in the foolishness of preaching (1 Cor. 1:21), but the preacher does not have any power in and of himself, nor does he have any control of the outcome of the preaching.  Therefore, to require a certain method of sermon preparation is not necessary.

I appreciate Mr. McClellan's admonition for preachers to preach "their way through a whole book of the Bible," (Kindle location 2181).  He gives sound advice for moving through longer books of the Bible.  In addition, he encourages preachers to use their memory so that it is easier to keep things in their head and recall things organically (Kindle location 2241, 2257).

The author also notes another modern disadvantage in today's churches: "Adding to the problem is so many new translations of the Bible.  For better or for worse, when one standard English version was established, all ears became tuned to that familiar vocabulary.  Now no one knows what Scripture "should" sound like because we all hear it in so many different versions and with increasing levels of paraphrasing," (Kindle location 2267).  I wholeheartedly agree with this assessment.

I find it interesting that the author goes to great lengths to vilify the invention of printing press.  He contends that this invention moved the focus from orality to the composition as the key to preaching (Kindle location 236).  It made the sermon a "thing" and separated the thought from the thinker.  However, God providentially brought about the invention of Gutenberg's printing press to produce a standard, printed form of the Bible giving it a fixed and stable format.

In the end, Mr. McClellan's focus on the preacher and his oral presentation creates a distraction from the ultimate focus of preaching--Jesus Christ.  I am not convinced that the oral method is the best way to preach, nor is it the only effective way.  I recommend reading Preaching By Ear if you are a pastor looking at various methods for preaching, but with the caveat that while the author has found a workable preaching style for himself it may or may not be a good style for you.

Full Disclosure:  I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Book Review: Invitation to Philippians

Invitation to Philippians: Building a Great Church Through Humility is part of a series by Donald Sunukjian to develop biblical preachers.  The message of this book is to show that "a sermon comes alive when it is true to the biblical author's flow of thought, clear in its unfolding, interesting to listen to, and connected to contemporary life," (Kindle location 76).

Mr. Sunukjian gives an overview of the book of Philippians in the Introduction and includes a chiastic outline of the Apostle Paul's letter.  In Chapter 1, "The Blazing Fastball That Gives Us Confidence," the author looks specifically at Phil. 1:1-8.  I do not agree with his chapter conclusion that Christians can have confidence that God is doing a good work in their lives when they consistently (1) open their homes for the benefit of others, (2) take a stand for the truth and risk consequences for the sake of righteousness, and (3) give their money generously in order that God's work will be strong, (Kindle location 253).  In these eight verses, Paul does not make any imperative requirements; he is thanking the saints at Philippi and showing his affection and concern for their spiritual warfare.  Mr. Sunukjian is erroneously pulling out legalistic requirements for Christians to follow from the introductory remarks in Paul's epistle.

Ironically, Mr. Sunukjian then warns Christians against legalism in Chapter 10, "The Christian Subculture: Righteous or Rubbish?"  He says:  "Sometimes in our good churches--our solid, evangelical, biblically-committed churches--we feel pressured to act in certain ways, to fit in with certain norms, and to participate in certain activities.  Its a subtle pressure, but it carries with it the idea that if you really want to be pleasing to God, these are the things that you'll do, these are the ways you'll act, and these are the activities you'll engage in," (Kindle location 1400).  But this is exactly what he did in Chapter 1 when he required Christians to open their homes, stand for the truth, and give even though the verses referenced did not command such actions.

As an example of a pressure of the Christian subculture in Chapter 10, Mr. Sunukjian states that "You'll be urged to tithe, to give ten percent of your income, to your local church...You're not bound by anybody's rules as to how much you should give or who you should give it to," (Kindle location 1409, 1483).  But back in Chapter 1, the author states that "When people won't do that--when they give just a few bucks to sort of play the part instead of the real percentage of their incomes that God is looking for--it's probably a sign that God is not in their lives," (Kindle location 243).  These chapters blatantly contradict each other.  The author provides a list of things that Christians should do in Chapter 1 to show that God is part of their lives, but in Chapter 10, he states that Christians do not have a "set of rules and regulations that we have to observe to have confidence before God," (Kindle location 1492).  Therefore, I have no degree of confidence that the author is properly explaining the book of Philippians or applying it to the Christian life.

In addition, Mr. Sunukjian also speculates too much about what the Apostle Paul felt or thought and what motivated him to say or do something.  The author makes up conversations between Paul and his prison guards, as well as conversations between the prison guards themselves.  This fictional information does not help Christians understand what is actually written in the book of Philippians and may even lead them astray to believe something that's not true.  The Word of God is sufficient, so not only is there no need to add to it, there is biblical prohibition against adding to it, (Rev. 22:18).

Finally, many of the author's examples involve situational ethics regarding drinking, maintaining purity, lying, etc.  Even if the person makes the "right" moral choice, that doesn't make the person a Christian.  Mormons are very moral people, but they deny that Jesus is God, and therefore, they are not Christians.  Mr. Sunukjian regulates what Christians should and should not do based on his personal experiences without specific biblical references; that's not Christianity, that's just another works-based religion. 

The book of Philippians was written by the Apostle Paul to show his thanks and affection, to give exhortations and cautions, and to express praise and blessing.  Paul's epistle focused on Christ, but the author's focus was specifically on himself and generally on the individual Christian.  He did have some good points in the book, but overall, they did not outweigh the weaknesses.  Therefore, I cannot recommend Invitation to Philippians by Donald Sunukjian for any Christian, much less recommend it as a tool for preparing preachers.  Performing the requirements outlined by the author does not prove that anyone is a Christian and reduces the Christian life to a legalistic check-list.

Full Disclosure:  I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Other-Powered Writings of J.R.R. Tolkien - Part I

As I mused about being misled to read Lewis and Tolkien in our early homeschool years, I concluded that if I could go back and change anything, I would not have included the Chronicles of Narnia, nor the Lord of the Ring series in our studies.  I have completed my 5-part series on why Bible-believing Christians should not read any of C.S. Lewis's books.  Now, I will look more closely at J.R.R. Tolkien.

I'm not as vehemently opposed to the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien.  He was a Roman Catholic and always held himself out as such.  He was a writer of many fantasy books, but he is most known for his Lord of the Ring series.  Today, Mr. Tolkien is not known as a voice for the Christian faith or revered for his practical theology like C.S. Lewis.  I'm highly skeptical of C.S. Lewis because he was subversive about his unorthodox Christian beliefs, but I'm not as guarded against J.R.R. Tolkien because he was honest about his Roman Catholic beliefs.

I also hold C.S. Lewis up to a higher standard because, as part of the Anglican Communion of the Church of England, he was a Protestant.  However, as I showed in my series, he did not hold to orthodox Christian beliefs.  In reality, C.S. Lewis's beliefs of purgatory, transubstantiation, and praying for the dead were more in-line with the traditions of Roman Catholicism.  Despite today's persistent ecumenical movement, Roman Catholicism is a works-based religion and does not promote the biblical Gospel, which says that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone and not of works, lest any man should boast, (Eph. 2:8-9); therefore, it is not a part of true Christianity. 

Currently, Mr. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings series is recommended reading because of his engaging writing style and "Christian" undertones or symbolism.  I agree that elements of Tolkien's Roman Catholic faith are seen in his Lord of the Rings series, but I will show that the elements presented are not in-line with Scripture.  Thus, I would advise Bible-believing Christians to read J.R.R. Tolkien with discernment.  I still would not have studied his books for their "Christian" elements in our homeschool, but with guidance and daily discussion, I would have allowed my boys to read his books; I would not say the same about C.S. Lewis because as a Protestant, he undermined biblical Christianity with his unorthodox beliefs.

To facilitate my analysis, I searched for a book that looked at Tolkien's beliefs using primary sources.  I found The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien selected and edited by Humphrey Carpenter with the assistance of Christopher Tolkien (copyright 1981, ISBN 0-395-31555-7).  In this post I will examine Tolkien's use of magic and wizards in the Lord of the Ring series and compare it to what the Bible says.  If you are unfamiliar with this series, The J.R.R. Tolkien Handbook: A Concise Guide to His Life, Writings, and World of Middle-Earth by Colin Duriez (copyright 1992, ISBN 0-8010-3014-5), says: "The Lord of the Rings is a heroic romance, telling of the quest to destroy the one, ruling Ring of power, before it can fall into the hands of its maker, Sauron, the dark lord of the title.  This great tale of the Third Age of Middle-earth is written in six parts," (p. 160).

First, let's look at what God says about witchcraft in the Old and New Testaments (emphasis mine):
"When thou art come into the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not learn to do after the abominations of those nations.  There shall be not found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch, Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer.  For all that do these things are an abomination unto the Lord: and because of these abominations the Lord thy God doth drive them out from before thee.  Thou shalt be perfect with the Lord thy God.  For these nations, which thou shalt possess, hearkened unto observers of times, and unto diviners: but as for thee, the Lord thy God hath not suffered thee so to do," (Deut. 18:9-14).

"O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?  Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God," (Gal. 3:1, 5:19-21).
God is very clear that witchcraft, wizardry, necromancy, divination, magic (the practice of using charms) etc. are all detestable to Him.  The Bible never speaks of good wizards or good magic.

Despite biblical evidence that witchcraft and magic are not and can not be good, Mr. Tolkien still sets up a false dichotomy where the good use of magic is pitted against evil in his story.  It is highly important to remember that the One True God of the Bible is not scheming and warring to overcome Satan because they are not on equal standing.  God is sovereign; He is in control of all things--including Satan.  Tolkien's "fantasy" world conditions people (including Christians) to accept, and even embrace, the abominable things detested by God.  Christians can become desensitized to the biblical warnings and deceive themselves by accepting the "good" side of evil.

Here are a few of Mr. Tolkein's quotes taken from The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien regarding his use of magic and wizards.  He also explains how he views Middle-earth:
"But I suppose that, for the purposes of the tale, some would say that there is a latent distinction such as once was called the distinction between magia and goeteia.  Galadriel speaks of the 'deceits of the Enemy'.  Well enough, but magia could be, was, held good (per se), and goeteia bad.  Neither is, in this tale, good or bad (per se), but only by motive or purpose or use.  Both sides use both, but with different motives...Anyway, a difference in the use of 'magic' in this story is that it is not to be come by by 'lore' or spells; but is in an inherent power not possessed or attainable by Men as such," (p. 200, To Naomi Mitchison (draft) 25 September 1954).

"But 'wizards' are not in any sense or degree 'shady'.  Not mine...The istari are translated 'wizards' because of the connexion of 'wizard' with wise and so with 'witting' and knowing.  They are actually emissaries from the True West, and so mediately from God," (p. 207, To Robert Murray, S.J. (draft) 4 November 1954).

"There is no 'embodiment' of the Creator anywhere in this story or mythology.  Gandalf is a 'created' person; though possibly a spirit that existed before in the physical world.  His function as a 'wizard' is an angelos or messenger from the Valar or Rulers," (p. 237, To Michael Straight [drafts] January or February 1956).

"I am historically minded.  Middle-earth is not an imaginary world...The theatre of my tale is the earth, the one in which we now live, but the historical period is imaginary," (p. 239, Notes on W.H. Auden's review of The Return of the King probably written in 1956).
"Mine is not an 'imaginary' world, but an imaginary historical moment on 'Middle-earth' -- which is our habitation," (p. 244, Notes on W.H. Auden's review of The Return of the King probably written in 1956).
Mr. Tolkien blurs the line between his good magic and bad magic by basing it on a person's motive, rather than a person's character.  This pragmatic view continues to erode the biblical view that all magic is profane.  Despite the Bible's continued warning to turn away from and not seek after wizards, (Lev. 19:31, 20:6), Mr. Tolkien portrays wizards as wise and describes them as angels.  In addition, he doesn't think Middle-earth is imaginary, which is more telling when you consider this quote from The J.R.R. Tolkien Handbook: A Concise Guide to His Life, Writings, and World of Middle-Earth:  "Tolkien went so far--some may say too far and too fancifully--as to suggest that a writer's creations might actually become, in some sense, part of God's greater Creation," (p. 9).

Finally, I was disturbed to read Mr. Tolkien's account of how he was inspired to write this series:
"The Other Power then took over: the Writer of the Story (by which I do not mean myself), 'that one ever-present Person who is never absent and never named', (p. 253, From a Letter to Amy Ronald 27 July 1956).

"I am not a model of scholarship; but in the matter of the Third Age I regard myself as a 'recorder' only," (p. 289, To A.C. Nunn (draft) [Not dated; probably late 1958-early 1959.].
He is describing the occultic practice of automatic writing.  Today, God speaks to Christians through His written Word alone.  Therefore, since Mr. Tolkien cannot be talking about God as the "Other Power", he must be relating his experience with a devil.  This gives me pause as I think about my earlier statement to allow my boys to read his books, but in reality, nothing is neutral.  You are either with Jesus or against Him; there's no middle ground.

Therefore, Christians should not divorce their spiritual life from their entertainment.  We are not to "give place to the devil," (Eph. 4:27), nor have "fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them," (Eph. 5:11).  J.R.R. Tolkien is not a Christian, so I don't expect his writings to be biblical; and they aren't.  However, I do think that it's prudent to look at what he's promoting and how he produced it to make sure that I'm being a good steward of the time that God has given to me and to my children.  As with anything of the world, Christians need to be discerning.

In my next post on J.R.R. Tolkein, I will look at what he said regarding Protestantism and Catholicism.

"And he [Manasseh] built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the Lord.  And he caused his children to pass through the fire in the valley of the son of Hinnom: also he observed times, and used enchantments, and used witchcraft, and dealt with a familiar spirit, and with wizards: he wrought much evil in the sight of the Lord, to provoke him to anger," (2 Chron. 33:5-6).