Christian Living

The Christian and Fiction

percyjackson_harrypotter

Growing up I remember some people in my church telling me that the books about Harry Potter were from the Devil, and no Christians should read them. I didn’t really pay too much attention to the debate because I was not interested in those books at that time anyway.

However, as I grew older I became much more of a reader. I currently try to read every day, and read from a wide variety of genres. The last year and a half I stepped up my fiction reading, and have completed the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs (John Carter Series), J. K. Rowling (Harry Potter), and Rick Riordan (Percy Jackson). My fiction reading has helped increase my reading speed and ability to focus. It has also given my imagination a needed boost.

In my opinion the above are a few of the many benefits of reading fiction for the Christian. However, what about the objection that books like Harry Potter include magic and witchcraft and should therefore not be read by the Christian? In other words, would I recommend Harry Potter or Percy Jackson to children? In order to answer this question, let me point out a couple considerations.

One does not have to approve of everything in a book for a book to be profitable.

The same principle applies to many things in life. But, just take the Bible for example. The Bible includes stories of rape, adultery, fornication, lies, and murder. Yet, just because these things are wrong, does not mean we should not read those biblical stories. Obviously there is a reason that the Bible includes such things.

In a similar sense, one does not need to approve of every character, plot twist, or action of an individual in a story. The benefit of reading a story is often derived in the main from how the entire story goes together and is not found in a solitary part of the story.

God designed stories to be a theater for learning.

This is the most important point. Similar to little sketches or skits, fictional stories (fantasy in particular) provide an overall framework in which specific characters or qualities can be emphasized. Even more so, these stories can emphasize qualities like justice and mercy in ways that the real world would not be able to. For example, in Percy Jackson one of the allures to the young hero is the possibility of becoming immortal. But he knows that in so doing, he would forsake his family and friends. Thus, the emphasis becomes loyalty and faithfulness to others, and the forsaking of selfish motivations. Although completely fictional, the qualities of loyalty and faithfulness are on clear display through this illustration.

Someone may say, “I can’t read Harry Potter because it is a magical world, and the Bible forbids the use of magic.” However, by understanding the theater analogy, we understand that the use of magic in Harry Potter is completely different than the use of magic forbidden in the Bible. The Bible forbids magic because it is an attempt to subvert the role and authority of God, to usurp His power, and His plan. However, in Harry Potter, the role of magic is an illustration of good versus evil; it is the temptation to seek one’s own fulfillment, or to benefit and protect others. Again, it becomes a device within the story to illustrate greater themes.

One of the benefits to reading book series like Harry Potter or Percy Jackson, or John Carter, is that you start to get an idea of how the Bible is meant to be read. We have often developed a bad habit of “proof texting” where we go to a Bible verse to prove our point. But the Bible was meant to be read chronologically to see the development of God’s story. Just like you don’t understand book four in the Harry Potter series very well without reading the first three, so also you don’t understand the book of Revelation without having read the whole Old Testament!

To summarize then, God has created us to thrive on stories. I truly believe you can read books like Harry Potter for the glory of God.

Peter serves at Shepherd's Theological Seminary in Cary, NC as the professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages. He loves studying the Bible and helping others understand it. He also runs the Bible Sojourner podcast.

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