Embracing the wildness of faith

Bill over at The Thinklings put up a post yesterday quoting Chesterton at length (something almost always well worth doing) on the value of fairy tales for children, and concluding with some additional thoughts of his own:

This really resonates with me, because from a young age I rode like a squire through the Arthurian legends, crouched quietly in the belly of the horse with Odysseus, galloped alongside Centaurs in Lewis’ Narnia, and went into the dreadful dark of Moria with Frodo and Sam. These led me one day to open up a Bible and begin reading what Lewis would call the “true myth” of the ultimate, and fully historical, defeat of the dragon.

As parents we should, of course, protect our kids. But I think Chesterton makes a compelling case here for not limiting them with politically correct, neutered fiction that contains no dragons. How will they ever know that the dragon can be killed?

I think Bill’s absolutely right about that. As Chesterton says in the essay he quotes,

Fairy tales, then, are not responsible for producing in children fear, or any of the shapes of fear; fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already, because it is in the world already. Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.

This is much the same point Russell Moore makes in the post I quoted Monday, and so it’s no surprise that Bill follows up today by quoting Moore as well. He also adds an extended quote from Danielle at Count the Days on the absurdity that passes for “Christian education” in so many places. It’s a great post:

The other day, in my Religious Education class, this question was posed to us:

“What do you want to teach a child by the time they are 12?”

During class we were supposed to get in groups and discuss what we thought kids need to know by that stage in their lives, and honestly, I was kind of appalled by the answers I heard. . . .

One girl had the audacity to call me “harsh” because I said that they need to know that they are sinners. How can anyone have an appreciation or understanding of salvation without first knowing what sin is and that they are a sinner? I understand that the average child cannot comprehend the intricacies of theology, but what Jesus-loving Children’s Minister can look at the kids in their ministry and knowingly keep the whole Truth from them? Bible stories are great and important in building a foundation for these kids, but knowing who Zaccheus was, or being able to sing the books of the Bible in order isn’t going to get anyone any closer to Heaven. Just sayin’.

I guess the reason it frustrated me so much was because I was thinking of my own (future/potential) children. I don’t want my ten/eleven/twelve year old thinking that “being a good person” or being “obedient” means anything without having a personal, intimate relationship with Christ. I mean sure, I want obedient children ;), but in the grand scheme of things that would not be on the top of my list.

And then perhaps the most important point she makes is this:

Children can be taught all kinds of things as long as they are taught in love and kindness. Give kids the opportunity to understand, instead of withholding Truth from them. Offer them the whole Gospel, not just cartoons or cut-and-dry facts. I know I probably sound like some hardcore beat-truth-into-them type of lady, but I hate the thought of kids wasting what can be the most influential years of growth on pointless trivia or partial Truth.

Amen. This is something of a soapbox of my own, and has been for a while—I don’t post on it a great deal, just on occasion, but it’s something I care quite a bit about in my congregation, and with my own kids—that so much of what we call “Christian education” in the church is just awful, trivial, milk-and-water stuff aimed at teaching kids to be nice, dutiful little serfs rather than at raising them up as followers of Jesus Christ.

The problem is, I think, that too many adults—and not just adults in the church, either—have lost touch with the wildness of the world, and the wildness of their own hearts. Part of it, as N. D. Wilson says, is that our rationalistic and rationalized, scientific and scientistic, we-are-civilized-and-we-can-control-everything culture tends to teach us to see all things wild and perilous as evil; we have tamed immense swaths of our world, made it comfortable and predictable, orderly and obedient, and so we see these as good things, and anything that threatens them as bad.

This logically leads us to lose sight of the wildness of evil, both within us and outside us. Hannah Arendt had an important insight when she wrote of “the banality of evil” (an insight which I believe is much less understood than quoted), but it’s equally important for us to understand that while evil is indeed dreary and banal, uncreative and far less attractive than it likes to pretend, it is not thereby tame and predictable and contained. We get reminders of this when things like 9/11 happen, but if we can convince ourselves that such things are outside our own experience—that their lesson doesn’t apply to us—then we do so as quickly as possible, convincing ourselves that our own lives are still safe and tame and under our control.

The consequence of this domesticated worldview for the church is that too often, we’ve tamed our faith. We have trimmed it to fit what this world calls reality instead of letting our faith expand our souls to fit God’s view of reality, and we have ended up with a domesticated faith in a domesticated God. After all, if we don’t see our world as a big, wild, uncontrollable world that threatens us and makes us uncomfortable, we don’t need a big, wild, uncontrollable God who makes us uncomfortable and calls us to fear him as well as love him; a god sized to fit the tame little problems we’ll admit to having will do nicely.

There are various antidotes to that, but one of them is, to bring this back around to Bill’s post, to Chesterton, and also to Tolkien, a keen acquaintance with the world of faerie. We need stories that do not only show us the wildness of evil somewhere else (for many of our movies and books do that much), but that show us the wildness of evil in our own hearts, and also the wildness of good. We need stories that powerfully communicate, not only rationally but also viscerally, the truth that (to borrow a line from Michael Card) there is a wonder and wildness to life, that true goodness is a high and perilous thing, and that the life of goodness is an adventure. We need to learn to hear the call to faith as the call expressed so well by Andrew Peterson in his song “Little Boy Heart Alive”:

Feel the beat of a distant thunder—
It’s the sound of an ancient song.
This is the Kingdom calling;
Come now and tread the dawn.

Come to the Father;
Come to the deeper well.
Drink of the water
And come to live a tale to tell . . .

Take a ride on the mighty Lion;
Take a hold of the golden mane.
This is the love of Jesus—
So good but He is not tame.


Photo © 2008 by Wikimedia user Corinata.  License:  Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported. 

Posted in Books, Children, Discipleship, Fantasy/science fiction, Religion and theology.


  1. Yes, this is fantastic. I was hoping you'd talk about the "wildness of good" – if not, that was going to be what my comment was going to be about.

    But, yes cubed.

    See how well you do when you drop the politics? 😉

  2. On a more serious note, the wildness of good, the perilous nature of true goodness and true beauty, has been a major theme in my thoughts ever since I first read Tolkien. It's one of those things that I think we really need Story to understand, because it's so hard to communicate propositionally. I certainly have never figured out how to do so to any sufficient degree; the most I can do is invite people to seek it out for themselves.

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