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.