IVP, 2017. 130pp.
Christianity in Literature/Leadership
Ryken’s title and subtitle should be a template for all authors and editors as they provide a sufficient summary for readers and potential readers to know exactly what this book is about. This book is a collection of lectures and short responses given by Philip Ryken at the Wade Center of Wheaton College. Through these lectures Ryken shows how the heroes of Tolkien’s classic epic represent the threefold office of Christ.
In Gandalf, Ryken sees the prophet. In Frodo and Sam (and the other hobbits) Ryken sees not only a priestly role, but the priesthood of all believers. Obviously, Aragorn is the king and represents the kingly role of Christ.
Famously, Tolkien rejected allegory and the idea of allegory in his own stories. For Tolkien, stories existed on their own merit. But, Ryken shows how Tolkien couldn’t help but be influenced by his biblical worldview. Though Tolkien may have wanted to create a story for the sake of a story, he couldn’t help but allow for his biblical worldview to shape this epic tale. “A Christian writer inevitably reflects and refracts biblical truth” when they seek to create a new world. The image of Christ shines through Tolkien’s imagination and is inescapable through his heroes.
Benefit for Pastoral Ministry
I found two primary benefits and a third tertiary benefit for pastors. First, this book is beneficial as a tool to understand how Christ’s threefold office should influence the way that pastors live and lead within their local church. Though Ryken makes most of his application to the way that Christ’s offices affect the presidency of an academic institution, the principles he pulls from Tolkien and the Scriptures are applicable to the pastorate as well.
Second, Ryken gives great picture of the three-fold office of Christ. Through Ryken’s work, pastors can better appreciate the prophetic ministry of Christ. Ryken’s emphasis on the relationship between Frodo and Sam can help pastors to better understand their role and the role of their fellow Christians as priests interceding on behalf of those around them. Finally, Ryken shows how owning the responsibilities of a king in an institution need not be onerous because a godly king “does not need to demand obedience; his character freely compels it.”
Finally, pastors might want to pick this book up because it is enjoyable. So much of the reading that we as pastors do is heavy. Ryken’s book takes heavy subjects and frames them with one of our favorite stories. If you have enjoyed the Lord of the Rings, you will enjoy Ryken’s take on Tolkien’s work.
Essential — Recommended — Helpful — Pass It By