“…we need to hold the creeds in one hand
and our favorite forms of art in the other.”
(John Eldredge, The Sacred Romance)
It’s a basis for this sermon series being so filled with and complimented by film clips and my recommending movies for various age groups: Hollywood’s classics are in touch with eternal themes of the Gospel and the Sacred Romance.
What we are talking about here goes far beyond entertainment, though. It was, in fact, the basis for the conversion of C.S. Lewis to Christianity. While Lewis’ art form of choice was mythology, it was nonetheless his conversations with J.R.R. Tolkien about his favorite Myths that led to his embracing Christ and Christianity.
In a letter to his friend, Arthur Greeves, Lewis recounts a watershed conversation between he and Tolkien and Hugo Dyson on the famed “Addison’s Walk” on the grounds of Oxford. An excerpt from the letter, written a week and a half after the never-to-be-forgotten dialogue:
“I have just passed on from believing in God to definitely believing in Christ–in Christianity… what Dyson and Tolkien showed me was this: that if I met the idea of sacrifice in a Pagan story I didn’t mind it at all: again if I met the idea the idea of a god sacrificing himself to himself … I liked it very much and was mysteriously moved by it: again, that the idea of the dying and reviving god . . . similarly moved me provided I met it anywhere except in the Gospels. The reason was that in the Pagan stories I was prepared to feel the myth as profound and suggestive of meanings beyond my grasp even tho’ I could not say in cold prose “what it meant”. Now the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened….” (C.S.Lewis to Arthur Greeves, 18 October 1931, in They Stand Together: The Letters of C.S. Lewis to Arthur Greeves (1914-1963), p, 427)
For Lewis, like Tolkien, then, the Gospel was a “True Myth” – God’s historic fulfillment of all the truths embedded in the lesser stories, myths, and even movies composed by men.
Of course, the words “myth” and “Gospel” in the same sentence can be offensive and threatening to some – as, indeed, they would have been for me a few years ago. “Myth” connoted, in these earlier years, fantasy and fantastical stories disconnected from reality. To associate the Gospel with “myth” would have sent me reeling… and had me disconnecting from such a teacher/preacher. “Why, them’s fightin’ words, Preacher!,” I can hear someone out there saying.
But, here me out… or maybe hear Lewis out – as I think he might say it best:
[t]he heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact. The old myth of the Dying God, without ceasing to be myth, comes down from the heaven of legend and imagination to the earth of history. It happens—at a particular date, in a particular place, followed by definable historical consequences. We pass from a Balder or an Osiris, dying nobody knows when or where, to a historical Person crucified (it is all in order) under Pontius Pilate. By becoming fact it does not cease to be myth: that is the miracle. … God is more than god, not less: Christ is more than Balder, not less. We must not be ashamed of the mythical radiance resting on our theology. We must not be nervous about “parallels” and “pagan Christs”: they ought to be there—it would be a stumbling block if they weren’t. We must not, in false spirituality, withhold our imaginative welcome. If God chooses to be mythopoeic—and is not the sky itself a myth—shall we refuse to be mythopathic? (C.S. Lewis, “Myth Became Fact,” in God in the Dock)
“He has set eternity in our hearts” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)
“The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands…
Their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.”
And, across the ages, sensitive spirits have sought
to define the stirrings of their hearts
and contain the voice of the Heavens
in story, in song, in art.
But, their’s were only dim echoes and shadows.
The Real, I mean THE REAL—
Word and Truth and Very Spirit of God—
Could never be captured or confined or contained.
So, in the midst of frustration—His… and ours—
God spoke the Word into our lives.
But, as always happens when He speaks,
That Word was active and alive
And lived and breathed and walked among us.
So that, seeing the Truth enfleshed and risen,
Our hearts saw the Source of all stirring
And our Souls, the Voice of the Heavens.
And still, my Soul craving the Heaven’s voice,
I go to the movies and the lesser fictions,
And, I go to the Bible to understand why.
O come, Thou Author and Perfecter,
Fulfillment of every truthful story,
And write my story,
Perfect my part in Your greater play.
And carry me beyond the “title page” of this world!