Engaging the imagination with the gospel

by Professor Michael T. Jahosky

Although many people today reject Christianity for intellectual reasons, greater numbers of people are rejecting Christianity because it does not engage their imagination. Christians must not only demonstrate that the Christian worldview is true, but that it is also good, beautiful, and relevant. The Good News of the Return of the King: The Gospel in Middle-earth is a book that endeavours to show the truth, goodness, and beauty of Jesus Christ, the gospel, and the biblical metanarrative by engaging the imagination through J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, as well as The Hobbit and The Silmarillion. In this book, I propose that J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings is a story about what Jesus’ parables are about: the good news about the return of the king. As a work of imaginative fiction similar to Jesus’ parables, The Lord of the Rings can bypass both intellectual and imaginative objections to the gospel and pull back the “veil of familiarity” that obscures the gospel for many.

In my book, I argue that The Lord of the Rings communicates truth in a way similar to Jesus's parables. Both The Lord of the Rings and the parables of Jesus which are miniature gospels are about the return of the king, and as such, are proclamations of the good news. For anyone who has delved deeply into Tolkien studies, you will have no doubt encountered the issue of allegory. Yet we have nothing to fear from allegory in general, just certain types of allegory which present truth in a preachy, heavy-handed kind of way. Indeed, Tolkien admitted that The Lord of the Rings was an allegory, just not the "conscious and intentional" type of allegory which he disliked. Yet he also identified his novel as a "fairy story," which according to Robert Murray SJ., one of Tolkien's confidants, is closely analogous to Jesus's parables. In conclusion, I show how Tolkien was able to present God as incarnate in Middle-earth in the same way which Jesus did through his parables. To understand how Tolkien presented Jesus as incarnate in Middle-earth requires understanding of the literary form of the New Testament parable. The very form of the parable is the message it is trying to proclaim.

In closing, Tolkien's parable not only re-enchants our appreciation of Jesus's parables, it is, itself, a parable of the kingdom.

Michael T. Jahosky is an assistant professor of humanities at St. Petersburg College in Florida. He routinely incorporates the writings of J. R. R. Tolkien into his humanities classes’ curriculums and The Good News of the Return of the King: The Gospel in Middle-earth is his first book.

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