Question: How should a Christian react to the "Hero's Journey" in stories of fiction and faith? C. S. Lewis used the power of myth and created mesmerizing stories that could lead some readers to Christ. We find inspiration and pleasure in stories throughout our lives. However, the sacred stories may not be recognizable as God-ordained because their archetypes are usually seen as common. Should we avoid the discussion of myth altogether? Should we avoid reading extra-biblical stories?
Answer: Greetings friend. This is a timely question. I have just finished reading a few articles which helped me firm-up this loose idea that I’ve been working on, that our de facto conversion to social-media as a primary information source will affect our ability to read deeply — let alone with enough sensitivity to suck the marrow from indirect genres such as myth. In fact, I see us entering a dystopia not unlike that of Fahrenheit 451 — where the types of apparatuses formerly used to save us are now being used to destroy our souls — our books. Social-media devices are the salamanders (Bradbury’s version of fire trucks) and our apps are the kerosene… and say goodbye to any social engagement with literature!
You see, Satan can’t make us go away… but he can make us shallow — and that’s what happens when we choose that which is convenient over that which is true. But is that really a problem — because God knew that we would advance technologically? Sure it is. God made us to be deep. We humans love to solve complex problems; we cannot help but analyze those piles of data or explore abstract ideas. But today’s people are so busy communicating on the surface that they have lost the desire to engage at any depth — and when we lose those skills, we affect the Great Commission. Is it any wonder then, that… among other things… sin makes us shallow?
You see, we just can’t “do” Jesus as he needs to be done on the electronic equivalent of a bumper sticker… and I fear that we are already past the point where your question would even apply to the general population. Let me ask you, when you see people crossing the street with their eyes glued to a small screen rather than to traffic, do you get a sense that they could even recognize a literary pattern… let alone experience disappointment when it doesn’t pop out against its archetype?... because I surely do not.
But some of us still enjoy a good story, and there is no reason why we shouldn’t identify with the protagonists everywhere — whether in the Bible or in literature. Besides, making cultural connections is an important part of witnessing, and it is a valuable technique for Sunday school too…. but be a little careful here. I have anti-fundamentalist tendencies, so I encourage people to graze broadly and see that the Lord is good. But you should be aware of the tone of the place in which you are serving. If you find Deacon Beatty glowering at your books, you might find yourself the Montag — fleeing for your life.
For both Montag and now for us, attempting to engage soulishly amidst a shallow people has a price… and only a few of the ragged outsiders will be willing to pay it. One important factor is that C.S. Lewis wrote in a different time; his audience had higher mean reading level than is common today. Now, if a person could travel to Narnia 40 characters at a time, I might be telling a different story… but they can’t… which is a shame… because I’m a better person for going there.
Can we keep the power of literary imagery from slipping away from God? I doubt it. This is not the kind of thing that one can prevent in a society that is been relieved of the responsibility of thinking deeply. And since we can’t prevent the slide, we must adapt to the slope. But one thing never changes: every witnessing or teaching engagement requires a target analysis — and this is more about the individual than about society.
That being said, I think that archetypes play a positive role in the kingdom of God. An archetype can make God’s point among the literate heathen in the same way that Romans 1:18-25 makes its point to the observant heathen… or the way that humanity’s undeniable morality (Rom. 2:14-15) makes its point to the naturalist heathen. God is everywhere! He is without, and he is within… but most critically for this question, he rewards those who earnestly seek him (Pro. 8:17).
You can do nothing for people who choose to ignore the empirical — whether it’s announced via the cosmos, the metaphysical or the cultural — because God has made things plain to every category of human being. What you can do is continue to teach and encourage the individuals that God puts in your path… which is pretty much our whole gig anyway.