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Hobbits, heroes and Jesus – TGIF

12 December 2008

This morning Jim Paul of L’Abri Fellowship spoke at TGIF on “Hobbits, heroes and Jesus”, an exploration of Christianity and myth.

I went along because I’m interested in the topic, and have written about it several times in this and other blogs. I thought Jim’s presentation was pretty good. He pointed out that most myths have a big story and a little story. So in Christianity the big story is that God created the world, that evil entered the good creation and spoiled it, and how in Jesus the good came back. But within the big story there are little stories of ordinary people, like that of Abraham.

And this, he said is true of most myths. In The Lord of the Rings the little story concerns hobbits, who are little people physically, and also unobtrusive, yet they have a part to play in the big story.

This reminded me of G.K. Chesterton, who said that fairy stories are not about extraordinary people, they are about extraordinary things happening to ordinary people.

Jim said he had noticed trends in films over the years – he organises a film festival at L’Abri, and at one time the so-called “sand and sandal” epics were popular; one of the last was Ben Hur in 1959. This was followed by a period in which films tended to have anitheroes — he gave Clint Eastwood’s “Dirty Harry” as an example.

More recently, however, films with mythical themes have come back. One of the most popular (and lucrative for the film-makers) was Star Wars. It was followed closely in the box office takings by Mel Gibson’s film on the passion of Christ, which was, of course, based on the Christian myth.

A film he thought significant was The Gladiator, which seemed to present two kinds of leadership for the 21st century. The one involved traditional heroic and mythical virtues, like bravery, friendship and loyalty, while the other offered bread and circuses — entertainment.

Now we see two trends: modernity, which concentrates on facts. This can be seen in things like the quest for the historical Jesus and historical Arthur. Postmodernity, on the other hand, tends to see myth as isolated from facts — you just plug in your own meaning. The task of Christianity, he believed, was to hold the two together.

This is a summary of his summary, but I think he summarised it rather well.

TGIF, by the way, is a regular Friday occurrence at three venues, two in Johannesburg and one in Pretoria. They take place at the Seattle Coffee Shop at 6:15 am every Friday, and are over by 7:30, so that people who need to get to work can do so without too much hassle. Topics are announced beforehand by e-mail to those interested. This meeting was the last one for this year, and they will start again in January. If you are interested, e-mail and ask to be put on the mailing list.

I’ve only been to two of them — the previous one was back in February when Roger Saner was speaking on new monasticism.

Someone asked me if I had come because it was a speaker from L’Abri, because they are having a conference this weekend, but I had to admit that no, it was because I’m interested in mythology and so it was the topic that attracted me.

I have known about L’Abri for a long time, though. I first heard about it 40 years ago in Manchester, where I met an old university friend, Kirsty Corrigall, who was a good secular humanist from a good secular humanist family when I’d known her in Pietermaritzburg. Back then she used to complain about the way Christians dwelt on the gory details of the crucifixion and things like that. I hadn’t seen her for three years and she’d suddenly, much to my surprise, become an evangelical Christian, apparently through L’Abri in Switzerland, and she told me all about it, and its founder Francis Schaeffer. Many years later I met the founder’s son, Frank Schaeffer, at an Orthodox mission conference in the USA, though he seemed to have rather reacted against his evangelical upbringing and become an Orthodox Christian. And that is something that seems to be becoming more and more common. Hat-tip to Elizaphanian for his link to an article Walking ancient paths which describes how many evangelicals have moved to join the Catholic and Orthodox Churches or embraced some of ancient traditions (practices typically associated with these churches) within the last 30 years.

Well, I’ve rambled long enough. Thank God it’s Friday.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. 12 December 2008 4:47 pm

    Sounds like “mutton dressed up as lamb”? The old knowledge/belief dualism.

  2. 13 December 2008 7:49 am


    I must have missed the “old knowledge/belief dualism”. Could you describe it, or put it in context for me?

  3. 18 December 2008 10:59 pm

    Allegedly you have a continuum — on the one side absolute knowledge with no belief component — on the other side total belief with no knowledge component. As far as I can see, Jim Paul is substituting facts for knowledge and myth for belief — that’s the mutton dressed up as lamb. Here’s a quote. Maria Spiropulu: “I would suggest that belief and proof are in some way complementary: If you believe something, you don’t need proof of it, and if you have proof, you don’t need to believe” (where proof would equate to knowledge).

  4. 19 December 2008 10:27 am

    While I can see the connection between facts and knowledge, I don’t think one can equate myth with belief.

    Consider this:

    The uniqueness of secularism, its difference from the great heresies of the patristic age, is that the latter were provoked by the encounter of Christianity with Hellenism, whereas the for- mer is the result of a “breakdown” within Christianity itself, of its own deep metamorphosis… At the end of the twelfth century a Latin theologian, Berengarius of Tours, was condemned for his teaching on the Eucharist. He maintained that because the presence of Christ in the Eucharistic elements is “mystical” or “symbolic,” it is not real. The Lateran Council which condemned him – and here is for me the crux of the matter – simply reversed the formula. It proclaimed that since Christ’s presence in theEucharist is real, it is not “mystical.” What is decisive here is precisely the disconnection and the opposition of the two terms verum and mystice, the acceptance, on both sides, that they are mutually exclusive. Western theology thus declared that that which is “mystical” or “symbolic” is not real, whereas that whichis “real” is not symbolic. This was, in fact, the collapse of the fundamental Christian mysterion, the antinomical “holding together” of the reality of the symbol, and of the symbolism of reality. It was the collapse of the fundamental Christian understanding of creation in terms of its fundamental sacramentality. And since then, Christian thought, in Scholasticism and beyond it, never ceased to oppose these terms, to reject, implicitly or explicitly, the “symbolic realism” and the “realistic symbolism” of the Christian world view


  1. Fantasy Friday – Of Hobbits and Heroes « A Christian Worldview of Fiction
  2. Of Hobbits and Heroes « Speculative Faith
  3. TGIF: reading irreligiously | Khanya

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