In the preface to Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton states that the purpose of the book was
“to attempt an explanation, not of whether the Christian Faith can be believed, but of how he personally has come to believe it. It deals first with all the writer’s own solitary and sincere speculations… The writer regards it as amounting to a convincing creed. But if it is not that it is at least a repeated and surprising coincidence.”
In a similar fashion I’m going to attempt an explanation of how I personally ingest the stories of man. This project will express my solitary and sincere speculations on the Christian themes found in various narratives. In this way it will be a purely subjective effort. I suspect that it will amount to a convincing creed but if it doesn’t, it’ll at least reveal a repeated and surprising coincidence.
The Christian faith shapes how I see the world, which includes humanity’s creative efforts. In the words of C.S. Lewis,
“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen not only because I see it but because by it I see everything else.”
As a result, I read the words of men with Christological eyes. It doesn’t matter if I’m reading Luther or L’Amour. What Scripture has taught me norms what I read, that is, it sets the standard and defines the boundaries of truth to which everything else must conform. Some writers weave their words better than others. Some express the Christian truth better than others. And they do this with various levels of intentionality and obedience to or rebellion against the truth. Eugene Peterson says it like this,
“Words are the means by which the gospel is proclaimed and the stories told. But not all words tell stories or proclaim gospel. All our words have their origin in the Word that was in the beginning with God, the Word that was God, the Word that had made all things (John 1:1-3), but not all words maintain that connection, not all words honor that origin and nurture their relationship with the Source Word, the Creator Word.”
The Word he’s referring to is the Incarnate Word, Jesus Christ. With that said this project will be an effort to purposefully look for words (stories) that maintain a connection with the Source Word (Jesus) that Christianity has confessed throughout history. To quote the second century Christian apologist, Justin Martyr,
“Whatever things were rightly said among all men, are the property of us Christians… For all the writers were able to see realities darkly through the sowing of the implanted word that was in them.”
I mean to find some of the things that have been rightly said among men and do what I can in the form of commentary to return the property to its rightful owner.
I’ll be looking for the Christian truth in the stories of mankind, in works of fiction (myths, legends, folklore, fairy tales, novels, etc.). I’ll be searching for glimpses of truth that point to the Incarnate Word, Jesus Christ, or at the very least call to mind — my mind — a portion of the revealed wisdom of God. Some will certainly disagree with what I post. There will certainly be room for readers to quibble over my analysis. I’m not ever going to presume to know the mind of the human author. It’s irrelevant. My goal is to better see the connectivity between the words of man and the Word of God. It’s personal. After all, to quote Lewis again,
“Myth is… like manna; it is to each man a different dish and to each the dish he needs.”
I already have a habit of doing this (see my first post for example). It’s how I think. This project is merely a purposeful effort with the particular aim of honing this skill. As a pastor and as a writer, I want to expand my understanding of how to best keep my words connected to God’s Word so I can create a responsible subjective apologetic for the faith. It’s a personal exercise with consequences that I hope to use as I communicate with others in my various vocations, indeed to serve others in seeing the truth of God’s Word.
“As a dream while asleep can touch the depths of our being, could not the literature of wakefulness shower with light and supreme power the landscape of religious concern, and provide the Subjective attestation of Christian truth for which men long?”
John Warwick Montgomery asked that in Myth, Allegory and Gospel. He also asked,
“If the Faith can be found mirrored in the great literary productions of the time, would this not lead the secular reader to a new appreciation of that ‘Faith once delivered to the saints’?”
Great questions, both of them. And I believe the answer is yes. If the Source Word, the Incarnate Word — Jesus Christ — can be seen in the words of man, whether the human author intended the connection or not, nothing less than a thought provoking coincidence will be presented, if not more, that which amounts to a convincing creed.
Joseph Campbell did similar work, however, with the opposite aim. He wrote in the preface to the 1949 edition of The Hero with a Thousand Faces,
“It is the purpose of the present book to uncover some of the truths disguised for us under the figures of religion and mythology by bringing together a multitude of not-too-difficult examples [myths and folktales] and letting the ancient meaning become apparent of itself.”
He goes on to say he wishes to let these examples speak for themselves. In other words his goal was to detach man’s words from God’s Word. Campbell hoped that comparing the stories of man would unite the people of the world, but as he says,
“not in the name of some ecclesiastical or political empire, but in the sense of human mutual understanding.”
His work, comparing the similarities of man’s stories, has been used to guide the world, if by no other way than its influence on creative minds, to see the Word Incarnate as just another one of humanity’s words, rather than as the what Peterson calls the Source Word. Campbell liked the saying found in the Vedas,
“Truth is one, the sages call it by many names.”
He used it to say,
“Therefore, it is necessary for men to understand, and be able to see, that through various symbols the same redemption is revealed.”
I beg to differ. There is one truth. That much is true. Therefore it’s necessary for the salvation of men that we understand, and be able to see, that all stories (myths, symbols, legends, fairy tales, novels, etc.) allude to, point to, and stem from the reality that redemption comes from knowing the one truth, namely, Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins.
Campbell searched mankind’s stories in an effort to see all words as equal, appearing “out of the activities of the human body and mind.” He saw them as “spontaneous productions of the psyche.” Christ became just another one of humanity’s myths. My goal is contrary to this, to search mankind’s stories in an effort to see all words as extending from the one true Word. I believe that the narratives the world produces are veiled reflections of the true Christian narrative and often times unwittingly so. Lewis’ words packed my bags for this journey,
“God is more than a god, not less; Christ is more than a Balder, not less. We must not be ashamed of the mythical radiance resting on our theology. We must not be nervous about ‘parallels’ and ‘Pagan Christs’: they ought to be there–it would be a stumbling block if they weren’t. We must not, in false spirituality, withhold our imaginative welcome.”
There is one truth and all people are searching for it. It has been revealed to us in Scripture, which is all about the Word made flesh in the man, Jesus Christ.
“As myth transcends thought, Incarnation transcends myth. The heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact. The old myth of the Dying God, without ceasing to be myth comes down from the heaven of legend and imagination to the earth of history. It happens–at a particular date, in a particular place, followed by definable historical consequences. We pass from a Balder or an Osiris, dying nobody knows when or where, to a historical Person crucified (it is all in order) under Pontius Pilate. By becoming fact it does not cease to be myth: that is the miracle.” — C.S. Lewis
So, where to start? Where else, but the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm?
Three reasons. First, because my daughter just finished reading Grimm’s Complete Fairy Tales (published by Fall River) and it’ll be fun to share in these stories with her. I’ve never actually read them before and that seems to me to be a great travesty. Secondly, these stories are classics that have influenced and informed other creative works in my culture. And third, a collection of stories like Grimm’s fairy tales will work well, practically speaking, with a series of blog posts. One story per post.
There you have it. It’s time to bust open the book and get started. On to the The Frog-King.
Rev. Tyrel Bramwell is pastor at Christ Lutheran Church in Murray UT. Grail Quest Books will be publishing the first book in his fantasy series, The Gift & The Defender, later this year. This series is being reposted with Rev. Bramwell’s permission. You can follow the latest writings in this weekly series at his website.