I have only read the first volume, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, of the Harry Potter series. I hesitated reading any of the series for a long time because everyone was so insistent that I must read them. This, of course, is silly. Rowling is a great writer, a master of plot and characterization. She has created a world as fully realized as the ones C.S. Lewis, and J. R. R. Tolkien have invented. As a story-teller, I believe her to be superior to those two Inklings. I have refused to read the subsequent volumes in protest, though (this is probably silly, too). It was bad enough that Rowling would not admit Dumbledore was just her iteration of Obi-Wan, Gandalf, and Merlin before him, but she angrily denied that Harry was a Christ figure. Whatever. Unless I am misinformed, the master-arc of the story describes how sacrificial love (first offered by Lily Potter, then by countless others) overcomes evil. Unless I am misinformed, evil is destroyed by a hero who sacrifices himself and then is resurrected. Surely, there’s no debt to Christianity there.
I do have an appreciation for Rowling, not just as an author, but as a phenomenon. Summer after summer I would see children all around camp with their entire beings invested in the next installment of the story. I doubt that any writer except Harriet Beecher Stowe has generated such contemporary devotion. It is a good thing to see children (to see anyone) reading. God gave us a book to read, thus, the better we are at reading, the better we are at reading the Bible. I also have a pretty good knowledge of the content of the entire series because my youngest daughter Jill shared every detail with me as she read the books.
Jill would read a while and then couldn’t read any further without sharing what had just happened. She was so informed and passionate, and the story was so good, that it didn’t suffer from being retold. I became especially devoted to the story of Neville Longbottom whom we meet in the first book while trying to find his toad. I remember how he secretly wished the sorting hat would send him to Hufflepuff because he was intimidated by the reputation for bravery Gryffindor had. He was timid, but a gifted herbologist. He ends up being among the bravest of all – killing the last horcrux, and making it possible for Harry to achieve ultimate victory. Neville became one of my favorite characters in literature – mostly because of Jill’s retelling of the tale.
As Jill was reading the series, and sharing the details with me, it occurred to me that what she was really doing was preaching. She was sharing the message of a text, and the story of a person in such a way that the listener became fully engaged with that message, and that person. This is what the New Testament defines as preaching. Paul tells Timothy that preaching is about one thing – sharing a text (“Preach the Word!” II Timothy 4.2). He tells the Corinthian brethren that when he was among them he shared only one message –“Christ crucified,” (I Corinthians 1.23).
That passage from I Corinthians is quite informative because it begins by saying that Greeks want wisdom and the Jews seek signs. Paul refuses to accommodate either. He will only preach Christ crucified. This is instructive for anyone who would stand before those assembled to hear God’s Word. One’s sole responsibility is to deliver that Word.
Our listeners will often prefer something other than the Word - jokes and bullet points seem to be as popular in our day as signs and wisdom were in Paul’s - but we all need the Word. If we just tell the Bible story - if we allow ourselves to be engaged by the living Word, and share it in its depth and simplicity, it will have its effect. Neither signs and wisdom, nor jokes and bullet points will ever have the same effect.