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Why Narnia Matters

For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures…..(1 Corinthians 15:3-4) ESV

Our modern culture has given the concept, relevance, great power. Relevance has the power to consign works of media, news and education to the garbage pile and it is the kiss of death to be deemed irrelevant. This concept is also prevalent in the Church at large, as concern for ‘freshness’ and ‘innovation’ or frankly, the hunger for entertainment, has, in some cases, diluted the message of Christ. But this dilution of the message is not always the case nor is freshness and innovation automatically suspect. Using a Power Point presentation on verses for hymns and so forth can save trees, for example.

It is difficult to reach our culture with our faith if we blithely ignore the realities at hand of how our world receives messages. Paul, the arch-conservative Jew transformed by Jesus, said he was willing to confront the larger Roman and pagan culture with the gospel claims in terms that were relevant to his varied audiences.

“For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessing (bolding mine). (1Corinthians 9:19-23) ESV.

So where does that leave us? Recently I watched the first current Narnia movie again: The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. It was pure joy to see again the film version of C S Lewis’ story.

Why does Narnia matter? Why is Narnia…relevant?

Some time back my pastor told me he was invited to a local high school.  The purpose for this invitation given by a Humanities teacher is saddening. It seems that when this teacher came to the art of the Renaissance so overwhelming biblically themed, her students had virtually no Christian frame of reference with which to understand the symbolism or purpose of the art.  So my pastor came to basically instruct in Christian and Bible themes 101. These were not deprived young people. If anything their parents would be considered, as a rule as well educated. In years and centuries past our western civilization has possessed knowledge of the Christian message but with the increasing paganization of this culture there is no longer such an assured understanding. Our day increasingly mirrors the age of Rome where Christianity was often ill-received and misunderstood.

Narnia matters because it translates the very basics of our faith in terms so simple a five-year-old can grasp it. There is a wonderful  allegorical presentation of the critical truths presented in the New Testament, truths summarized in the Nicene Creed, “…For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven by the power of the Holy Spirit…For our sake he was crucified…he suffered death [and] he rose again.” Children must be touched with Truth where they are an in ways they can comprehend.

Narnia matters because the call to engage the youngest members of society has not changed. The old gospel song is right, you know: Jesus does love children and his message is for them as much as it is for adults. This nonsense stated from time to time, “I’m not going to involve my child in religion; I will let them decide when they are of age.” takes away their opportunity to learn Jesus’ words and start their own journey in becoming fully human and fully alive as members of Christ’s family.

Refusing to teach children about the faith is the basest form of child neglect because it starves the soul, the real child inside their earthly vessel. This is an increasing problem it seems from the antidotal evidence provided by Father Jim.

Yet, for all of this Narnia is not loved by all. Naturally atheists such as Philip Pullman are critical and some Christian groups are disconcerted by the Greek and Roman pagan creatures such as fawns, satyrs and monitors. Tolkien, a friend of Lewis’ was put off by them. I have known Christian parents that have rejected them for the free use of mythological creatures. “That is not real,” they say. Oh come now, cows don’t jump over the moon now do they but we still tell nursery stories. We can demand total theological strictness in all attempts to reach this broken world and create the art equivalent of a race-horse designed by a committee: An art or media camel. The point is this…if you don’t like Narnia, fine. Come up with a better tale to do the work of conveying Truth as Narnia does.

Narnia matters because it is the Great Commission obeyed in simplest terms. In the story Narnia, representing our world is under the grip of evil personified in the White Witch. This Witch has placed the land under the spell of perpetual winter. But there is hope for spring because Aslan, the lion who is the Christ-figure, is in Narnia: He will set all things right. The boy Edmund eats the food of the Witch and becomes a traitor to Aslan the true King of Narnia. The evil Witch reminds Aslan (something he knows on a much deeper and broader level) that the law of Narnia demands death for traitors, or the land is seceded without contest to the Witch. The great lion, to spare the child, takes Edmund’s due punishment with the ultimate sacrifice. His death is a moment of glory, however, Aslan’s lack of guiltiness worked a magic which resurrected him. “When a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards”, Aslan tells the two girls, Lucy and Susan. The story shows a climactic battle when the White Witch is slain and evil is vanquished in Narnia. The kingdom of Aslan comes to Narnia.

Lewis included the terrible battle for Narnia. He considered the battle a vital part because children need to know that there is evil in the land but it will not always win. Battle is a part of the world in which we live and there is a terrible battle currently engaged for the souls of humanity. It is to a great degree a spiritual war but the effects of that battle are seen in the evil and brokenness that grips this world.

Children must be taught that evil, death and conflict are not eternal but that victory over these scourges is at hand in God’s good timing. If we study our history it is evident that in many ways culture is far friendlier to children than ever before yet children are taught at a very early age now that evil may be bound up in the smile of a stranger or a family member. Perhaps this is simply the public understanding and recognition of an age-old sin against the most defenseless. Regardless, all of us in this life need the assurance that although life can be cruel God is just and there shall be a final reckoning. Children are told in the story that Aslan is not safe in the sense that he is tame. He is a lion that roars with dignity, majesty and total authority. Aslan, the Christ, the lion, roars as he announces justice against all vestiges of evil.

Christ is the King, the Lion of Judah, he has conquered sin and death. As Aslan broke the table to conquer the Witch so Christ conquers sin and death with the cross and empty tomb. Our spiritual birth from above begins the process to take us to true humanity as Christ’s character becomes ours. He will come again in authority and majesty. Eden shall be not restored but made infinitely better. Children need to know this faith is vital truth they can live by and that this truth is not a fairy tale. This Lewis tale can be obedience to the command of Jesus to allow the children to come to him and forbid them not.



Copyright © 2011 Brian Bailey, Author