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Reading Stories, Truth, & Harry Potter

Good day to you wonderful people! I am in the midst of writing the first of a series of posts on parenting (reflecting on some of my favorite books on the subject). But rather than rush through the composition of my first parenting post, I thought I’d take a brief moment to commend to you the reading of fiction.

(Good) Story, Movies, Etc.

Story (or the telling of stories) is central to how we understand the world. Many of us who are fluent in evangelical Christianese are far more familiar with the didactic letters of the Bible and not so much the narratives (i.e. most of the OT and the 4 Gospels), relegating these stories to children’s books and Christmas cards. Boy are we missing out! Most of the Bible is story, and if we can’t read stories well then we miss most of the good stuff.

We all love good stories. Disney is rich because of stories. Hollywood, Bollywood, and other such epicenters of the writer’s guild know the value of communicating truth through story. See acceptance of secular narratives which were once taboo but are now par for the course (cf. The New Normal, Modern Family, Will & Grace, etc.). Story is the best communicator for truth (and lies) around (God knows!).

Read!

This brings me back to fiction (and reading). If you have a hard time reading most of the Bible because you don’t “get it” or you think it’s a boring history book then you don’t yet understand the value of (or how to read) story. We are shaped by reading stories more through osmosis (the act of reading, entering into the story) than outright teaching. The ways that characters react, respond, and grow, the way the narratives rise, climax, and resolve tells more about how we are to be in the world and less about what to do in the world as a sermon or occasional letter teaches.

I recommend a multifaceted path forward into reading more stories.

  1. Pick up a good Study Bible/book to guide you through narrative.
    ESV Gospel Transformation Bible – this is a good Study Bible, less concerned with bit-by-bit historical background of the stories, and more concerned with discerning the overall point of each story. I particularly have enjoyed Dr. Pennington’s notes on the Gospel of Luke.
    How to Read the Bible as Literature – Dr. Ryken’s book is pretty short but powerful example of how to get all the rich teaching of the Bible’s stories. He is especially good an incorporating insights from narrative and literary criticism of various genres.
    Reading the Gospels Wisely: A Narrative and Theological Introduction – Although a bit more technical overall, this is a very readable and excellent help in learning to read the story of Scripture well (especially the Gospel narratives).
  2. Read good children’s Bibles.
    The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name – I must emphasize “good” children’s Bibles, because they are essentially commentaries of Scripture and thus you want to read good commentaries. Children’s Bibles help to discern the central emphases of the narratives of Scripture, and when read side-by-side with the biblical account can help you appreciate themes woven throughout the narratives.
    The Big Picture Story Bible – This is essentially Graeme Goldsworthy’s biblical theology for kids—great stuff!
  3. Read good fiction!
    For newbie readers (which I consider myself one), I recommend starting with children’s (teen) fiction. Not only are they typically easier to read and digest, but you also avoid the generally unnecessary parts (i.e. adult language and gratuitous writing) of adult fiction that often times don’t contribute to the story. Not all kids or teen fiction are created equal. C. S. Lewis famously quipped, “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” Where to start?

Why not start with Potter?

ootp_signatureThis post is already overlong. Suffice it to say, I recently finished Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix by J. K. Rowling for the third (or fourth?) time and I must say it is my favorite book. Not only does it have the best villains (Umbridge, Voldemort, Bellatrix), the best war-against-the-villains (the DA, the Order), but it also features the only duel between the two greatest wizards (Dumbledore & Voldemort). Although I am partial to the 5th book (you must read them in order) start on number one (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone).

I have a laundry list of good books and series that I will be writing about in the coming months. Reading good stories (over and over) is the only way to get good at reading stories. Consequently, reading the Bible over and over again is the only way to get good at reading the Bible. Goods books will help to shape your moral imagination and will ultimately help you become better at understanding the God who speaks primarily through story. Go read a book!

  • http://nccollins.com Nate Collins

    Thanks for sharing this, Chris! I’d love to hear more of your thoughts about what it means for books to shape our “moral imagination.” Maybe in your parenting posts?

    • admin

      I do not have a lot of fully-formed thoughts regarding the shaping of the moral imagination. I’m generally speaking about encountering “moral choice” situations in fiction, learning the consequences of moral failures, and character development that reinforces Christian virtue. I have been meaning to read this book—Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child—for quite awhile now, so maybe I’ll bite the bullet and incorporate it into my parenting series.