Folks, I know of late I’ve spilled much digital ink regarding J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. I promise you that this is not becoming a “Harry Potter” blog. Aside from my love of the books, I used that series as a touchstone to discuss some “disputable matters.” I did this because Harry has become such a large part of our cultural lexicon.
Today, I’d like to peel back the curtain a bit, and delve into what I think is the larger issue: cultural engagement. (Peanut gallery: I see your objection–“In the world, but not of it.” Yes, I know. And, no, that’s not what I’m talking about–worldliness–but rather being engaged, informed, being able to address the issues facing people today, and relate those issues to spiritual truth).
So, yes, today I’m going to talk about cultural engagement, and indeed how reading Harry Potter fits into that paradigm.
In her excellent book, The Gospel According to Harry Potter, Connie Neal relates an account of a conversation she had with an atheist neighbor about the Christian meanings in the Harry Potter stories. He had never wanted to listen before, but said “You’ve got me. I need to hear this.” And Mrs. Neal did just that–proceeded to use Harry Potter as a witnessing tool.
A month later, this man accepted Christ as his Savior.
This is what Greg Koukl, of Stand to Reason, would call being a wise and winsome ambassador of Christ (something all Christians are called to be). Because of her familiarity with the story of Harry Potter, Mrs. Neal was able to share the Gospel with someone who had previously been unwilling to hear it.
This approach is not unique to her; in Titus 1:8 (ESV), the Apostle Paul–in writing to Titus–quotes a Cretan “prophet”:
“One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true.”
As students of history, we know that Paul was a Hellenistic Jew, a “Pharisee of the Pharisees,” trained under Gamaliel in Tarsus (present-day Turkey). Which I share to point out the fact that Paul clearly read widely–including the writings of a Cretan “prophet.”
He used the culture around him as a tool to engage with people, and help those people engage with God. (And in this case, he used secular literature to encourage Titus).
Nowhere is this seen more clearly than in Acts 17:28 (ESV), where he addresses the men of Athens at the Areopagus:
“for “‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, “‘For we are indeed his offspring.'”
That first part–“in him we live”–was likely written by Epimemides of Crete, and the second–“for we are indeed”–is from Aratus’s poem, Phainomena.
And both, along with the ramblings of our Cretan prophet, are now canonized in Scripture for all eternity.
All because the Apostle Paul read “secular” literature. Which he used as a stepping to stone share the Gospel.
And if the Apostle Paul:
Why not Connie Neal?
Why not Harry Potter?
Why not me?
Why not you?
Why not use the tools the culture provides, and turn the world upside down?
Because that is what cultural engagement is all about: connecting people to God through Jesus, His Son.
What do you think? How have you used the culture around you to share Jesus?