Culture At Large

What is Your Second Book?

Paul Vander Klay

For most Christians our "first" book is the Bible. That's an easy call. The Bible, however, is a not so much a book as a library written by a variety of authors in a diversity of cultures over a long period of time. It's a large and difficult library and most of us self-select a smaller canon within it of favorite Psalms and stories that we focus on at the expense of other less popular sections. Many Christians it seems also have a "second" book that they lean on to give more specific contextual shape to their expression of the faith. Confessional churches it seems almost assume such a thing by creating and curating confessions through which they express and shape their perspectives on the Bible. In my tradition the Heidelberg Catechism has held a prominent place in the lives of believers.

It seems to me that there are also a group of other Christian classics that have created a class of "second" books. "The Imitation of Christ" has long been a book that many Christians have turned to. Others include Bunyan's "The Pilgrim's Progress", Dante's "Divine Comedy", Milton's "Paradise Lost", and Calvin's "Institutes of the Christian Religion". More recently Oswald Chambers "My Utmost for his Highest" and CS Lewis' "Mere Christianity".

My nomination for our second book is JRR Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings". It is one of the best selling books in human history and controversially named by some as the book of the 20th century in 2001. It has many fans in the Christian community. I remember hearing Tim Keller remark that he reads the book continually. That surprised me.

Recently in a discussion with a member of my congregation who was reading the book again for himself he challenged me on whether the book could be thought of as a "Christian" book. He noted quite correctly that the book seems devoid of obvious religious content but I believe that is part of its Christian genius. I think the book is exactly the kind of Christian book we need to engage our secular and pluralistic culture. The book is deeply Christian in the way that the magic of the elves in Tolkien's world is magical. The magic of the elves seldom draws attention to itself but quietly, subtly, and from the bottom up expresses shalom and truth. A good example of that is Sam's rope given to him by the elves. His knots hold when the need to and release when they should. This tidbit even made it into the movie.

I think what Tolkien offers us is a sort of pre-evangelism for a secular world with a stunted imagination. We long for adventure but crave security. We look for meaning and providence while we try to keep hope alive. We know that there is great evil in the world but we can hardly admit that it comes from inside of ourselves and that our hands are not clean of the corruption we see at work. Tolkien flies in under the radar of our secular and pluralist alarm systems and opens up hearts thirsty for a larger narrative when the metaphysical bean counters say we can't afford it. By embracing Tolkien's fantasy we can begin to believe the Bible's truth. Tolkien get's my vote.

Any more votes for Tolkien? If not, what is your "second" book and why?

Topics: Culture At Large, Arts & Leisure, Books, Theology & The Church, Faith