Jay Dewsong is an avid Harry Potter fan and he recently relocated to a new city, forcing him to leave his beloved Harry Potter (HP) fan club. As soon as he arrived in his new city -- let’s call it Kansas City -- he starting looking for a local fan club to which he could join himself, and in which he could share his love for all things Potter. After searching the internet for the various local HP fan club chapters, he decided to visit one near his house. He met the people there who were all dressed appropriately in wizardy type outfits with tall spikey hats, they all had a wand, many of them were working on learning the various languages that are used in Harry Potter and they all said they loved Harry Potter. He felt right at home with these people, his people. He had connected with kindred spirits who had a deep love for the Harry Potter novels and a deep love for the characters in the novels.
Over time, though, Jay became concerned about his new group. As he would begin to discuss the HP novels he noticed that many of the people in the club had not read all the novels, and this was peculiar to him, since he had waited in line over night for each book to be released and had read through it in less than a week. In fact, he had read and reread the series of books numerous times (a series that has just over 1,000,000 words in it.) He found it right odd that people who claimed to be such fans of HP had not read all the books, so he assumed that many of them were new fans who just had not had enough time to read them, but sadly he found out many of them had been fans for years.
He also discovered that most of the people in the club could talk about different scenes in the books, but couldn’t explain the entire story that all the books were telling together. Jay found himself in a dilemma; were his fellow club members fans of the HP books or fans of the fan club? The only answer that Jay could come up with was that they were not really fans of the book, but fans of the idea of the book. They were not fans of Harry Potter, with the book being the way that you got to know Harry Potter, but they were fans of the fans of Harry Potter, so they dutifully and joyfully donned all the right attire and said many of the right things, but for all the wrong reasons. Jay Dewsong was rightfully upset by his discovery and sought out a new fan club, one in which the members were truly fans.
So why the story of Jay Dewsong?
Growing up I was an avid reader of novels, and I would stay up late at night and devour stories like The Hobbit and the Narnia series. I was truly a fan of these books, but I was never a fan who gathered in a fan club. It is not that I wouldn’t have, it was just that I didn’t know about them, and in the world of high school in the 1980s declaring your fandom for Gandalf was guaranteed to not end well, or, you know, with a date. As I entered my twenties and became a student minister the Harry Potter phenomenon swept over the world. Pre-teens and teenagers eagerly devoured these books, hanging on each new installment. They were deeply committed to the story that J.K. Rowling was telling, and ordered their lives around it in many ways.
I imagine that you have already figured it out how Jay’s story relates to the church, but let me give it to you anyway:
As a seminary professor the first question I ask each of my classes is if they have read the whole Bible, the greatest story of all time. Consistently, I find that around 20% have not read all of it. I then ask them if they can tell me the story of the whole Bible, and the percentage that can’t do so in a meaningful way goes up. These are people who are training to be leaders in the church, who have donned the right clothes and who are even learning the languages used in the Bible.
The percentages go even higher for the local church where the rate of biblical illiteracy is stunning. I am not talking about churches that have abandoned the Bible for the most part, but I am talking about churches that say the Bible is the Word of God and the means whereby we come to know God and his plan for the redemption of humanity. I would wager that many church members could tell others about Abraham, Samson, Daniel (at least the lion’s den, not so sure about Daniel 7 for which Jesus had quite an affinity), and David. I am not confident that they could put all those characters in order and say how they relate to each other in relation to the cohesive story of the entire Bible.
I fear that we are a generation that is a fan of the fan club, but not a fan of the book on which the fan club is based or of the main character of the book.
Let’s for a moment be honest with ourselves. There is not a single fan club in existence that is based upon a novel in which the members of that club have not read the novel or are not actively, aggressively reading through the novel. In fact, the fans of Harry Potter have read the 1,000,000 words of J.K. Rowling over and over again. They are enraptured by the story that this woman has told. Their lives have been shaped in countless ways (often unnoticed by the person) by their engagement with the story and its characters. So what does this say to us who have the Bible that is 800,000 words? You read that correctly. The Bible is shorter than Harry Potter!
Why have we not read the words of God over and over again? I will hold my answer to that question for another post, but let me give a hint of where that post will go. I think that many people have been conditioned to read the Bible more like an automobile manual than a story. Where do I go in this book to get the answer to my current problem? Others have been conditioned to see the Bible as a collection of short stories that are disconnected and they have regularly returned to the same parts to read their favorite stories over and over, never realizing that the Bible is telling one grand story. There is also the challenge that the Bible is a more complex book than Harry Potter, and it might be that new readers need more mature readers to help them along at first, to give them some pointers on how to navigate the biblical waters.
So as a church, as followers of Christ, we must ask ourselves the tough question. Have I read the Bible from cover to cover, and if not, why not? Let us not be put to shame by the fans of Harry Potter, but let us show our devotion and commitment to Jesus Christ by reading and rereading the book that he clearly saw as the most important book in the world: The Bible!