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‘Unforgettable’ biblical truthscomment (0)

November 17, 2005


Since 1950, many children have had an encounter with Christ that followed naturally on the heels of a fictional lion that blazed the trail for the gospel message.

Aslan, the savior figure in author C.S. Lewis’ seven-book series The Chronicles of Narnia, has led children and adults alike to a different view of lions — and, indirectly, Christianity — for years.

And though Aslan will soon grace the big screen like movie stars the Cowardly Lion from “The Wizard of Oz” or Mufasa from “The Lion King,” those who know him say Aslan will have much more seasoned wisdom to impart than the importance of finding courage or following the stars.

“Lewis never claimed to write ‘Christian allegories,’” said Michael Travers, professor of English at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C.  “Rather Christianity came ‘bounding in’ with Aslan. What I am saying is that Lewis is not preaching the gospel in the Narnia stories. He is, rather, preparing the ground for readers to recognize the gospel when they hear it.”

Lewis, who many consider to be an icon of orthodox Christianity, grew up believing there was no God. When he turned to Christianity as an adult, he dedicated himself to promoting the faith using simple language and logical reasoning.

“Next to the apostle Paul, Lewis is quite likely the most-quoted Christian in the English-speaking world,” said Lyle Dorsett, professor of evangelism at Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School. “Because he wrote in so many different literary genres — frequently illuminating a doctrine or an insight through more than one — he reaches a wide range of people.”

Lewis’ Christian devotees find meaning in his works such as his book “Mere Christianity,” a collection of radio addresses he gave in the 1940s that explains the common beliefs among Christians of different denominations.

“He concentrated on ‘mere’ Christianity, by which he meant the central core of orthodoxy,” Travers said. “I think his greatest contribution to Christian thought is that he rehabilitated the importance of ‘the argument from desire.’ That is the idea, with Augustine and many others, that God created every man with a restlessness in his heart that only God can satisfy.”

Some readers see the Christian symbolism in the Narnia books as readying the “restlessness” of nonbelievers to meet the real gospel story by endearing an allegorical scenario to them.

“Lewis hoped the Christianity suffused throughout the stories would help children and adults recognize the truthfulness of the Christian gospel,” Travers said.

In “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” for example, Aslan gives his life for a human sinner and is later resurrected.

“Here he has communicated truth through fantasy or children’s fiction. For children and adults, these works communicate biblical truth in ways that are magnetic, clear and unforgettable,” Dorsett said.

On Dec. 9, “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” a film production of Walt Disney Pictures and Walden Media, will open in theaters.

The story, adopted from the first Narnia book published, follows four English schoolchildren who find the magical land of Narnia when they push through the back of a wardrobe. Here they meet Aslan and help him defeat the White Witch, who has cursed the land with eternal winter.

Christians nationwide are already finding ways to tap into the film as a teaching and witnessing opportunity. For instance, LifeWay Christian Resources has a Narnia-related Web site — www.lifeway.com/narnia — that offers outreach materials for churches.

Other publishers and authors are also readying companion material, such as author Michael Pritchard. Pritchard developed a children’s workbook titled “Lessons from the Lion” to accompany the movie. The 30-page workbook  offers discussion questions, puzzles and drawing opportunities that correlate with each chapter of the book.

“The hope is that parents and children will read it together. Then, using the workbook, parents can discuss things with them and help them see how it ties into their spiritual life,” said Pritchard, who formerly served as a youth worker at Bellevue Baptist Church, Memphis, Tenn., and currently is an actor with the area KidCity biblical drama team.

“This story does present the gospel in such a strong and visible way for a child, and Christian parents can help them take hold of the message,” he said of the workbook, available at www.lessonsfromthelion.com.

“And if a parent isn’t a Christian, it would be a great way for them to learn about Christ as well.”

It’s that adult audience that Lewis scholar Peter J. Schakel of Michigan-based Hope College was aiming for when he recently published “The Way Into Narnia: A Reader’s Guide.”

The book offers a brief look at Lewis’ life, as well as themes and meanings for each of the Narnia books.

“I very deliberately aimed for general readers,” said Schakel, whose other books on the subject targeted academic audiences. “My hope is that the book will enrich and enhance the experience of reading the Chronicles of Narnia.”

Schakel said he is excited about the film because it will introduce the Narnia books to a new group of fans but added, “When I start to see plush Aslans and Narnia lunch boxes and Happy Meal toys — I think I’ll cringe.”

(BP, RNS contributed)

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