Wednesday, December 28, 2005
Narnia as atonement theology beyond the stone table
The stone table cracks. Aslan, who has given his life for Edmund, returns from the dead. This was my childhood understanding of the Lion, Witch and Wardrobe. In doing so, I was trading on traditional atonement theories; Jesus/Aslan as substitute, giving his life for someone else. So I was pleasantly surprised in watching the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, to find a number of layers added to traditional understandings of the atonement.
A brief overview of atonement through the ages: Throughout the centuries; 3 main ways of understanding atonement – how Christ made at-one-ment for humanity have starred.
Victor Christ is the victor. Pushed to extremes, Jesus becomes the bait, which the devil swallows hook, line and sinker. In doing so, the devil is tricked. This is one of interpreting the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Aslan tricks the witch because he knows a deeper magic.
Inspiration Christ is the greatest example of love. The manner of his life and death are a triumph of love. This in turn, motivates us in our Christian lives. And so the Witch whispers in Aslan’s ear of his foolishness, thinking that love could triumph.
Substitution Christ offers himself in our place. The problem of sin demands a legal payment. Christ becomes this payment.
Contemporary concerns: Handled poorly, these understandings present serious problems for Christians. Do we want to follow a God who tricks people (Victor)? What should be the place of sacrificial love in Christian behaviour, particularly when relationships become abusive (Inspiration)? How vengeful does this make God? What sort of Father would sacrifice his son (Substitution)? These concerns warn us that traditional atonement theories need to be handled with care.
I found it fascinating that in the movie, the motives for Aslans death all come from the mouth of the witch. She urges adherence to the code of violence. She questions Aslans sacrificial love. This suggests we need to handle with care. Aslan suggests this is her “interpretation” (very postmodern word). In doing so, we are allowed a moment of hermeneutical suspicion. How much should we believe the White Witch? How much might her chilling icy darkness be distorting her “reading”? Alongside this call for care, the movie brought some more metaphors to the surface.
Relational redemption: In recent years I have pondered 1 Peter 2:9, 10, where once those who were no people are now the distinctive people of God. This suggest a relational and communal understanding of at-one-ment, in which the significance of Christ births a distinct community.
In the movie, Aslan initiates the return of Edmund well before the stone table. He lets the wolf go and so Edmund is saved and the family is re-united. He encourages practices of forgiveness and the children move beyond distrust. Finally, they tumble out of the closet, back into the real world, as allies in shared adventure. Once no people, now the Pevenses children are a distinctive family. Such at-one-ment is secured by Aslan well before the stone table and suggests quite a fresh understanding of the atonement.
Integrator of Creation – In Colossians 1, the at-one-ment of Christ offers integration to every atom and molecule. Christs death is cosmic in significance and tree hugging a normative Christian practice.
In the movie, the mice eat away Aslan’s ropes. The trees talk. The breath of life redeems stone creatures. The movie offers a vision of at-one-ment which is environmental in its scope and global in its concern. The death and life of Aslan are integrally linked to the whole planet. We are offered and environmental angle on at-one-ment.
Conclusion: The Bible describes the atonement in many ways (Jesus as victor, as sufferer, as martyr, as sacrifice, as redeemer, as reconciler, as justifier, as adopter, as pioneer, as merciful). The Biblical data is like a diamond, reflecting the beauty of at-one-ment in many different facets. It is sad when we get locked into one part of the diamond and limit Jesus death to one narrow interpretation.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe suggests we adopt a hermeneutic of suspicion toward traditional atonement theories. We are forced to ponder how much we should trust the words and motives of the White Witch. The movie then turns the at-one-ment diamond, hinting at a relational redemption achieved through Jesus life as well as death. It suggests a cosmic view of the at-one-ment of creation.
I have a chapter on contemporary atonement images being published in Proclaiming the Atonement, edited by Mark Baker (forthcoming from Baker Books)
For Narnia quiz go here.
For Narnia church service go here.
For my reflection on atonement in another contemporary movie, go to Open Letter to Mel Gibson.
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
narnia church service
Sunday morning was a Take a Kid to Faith Church service (interactive, all ages learning together). We did a Lion, Witch, Wardrobe Church Service and also prepared a Movie Resource guide.
Here’s the environment: complete with real life wardrobe, fir tree, cradle and Advent candles. Note the use of rear projection to enhance the forest feel.
How to make a “forest”? Cut our bits of paper to look like trees and rear project using a Par 38 green light. Very simple. Works well.
We showed some movie clips from the BBC 1988 film. We had a Narnia quiz. We reflected on this Advent art piece, with the kids colouring in a photocopy of the art piece while the adults listened to this advent reflection.
We had placed blue and yellow ribbons on the seeds. By way of response, people were invited to welcome the Christ child by bringing their ribbon forward to lay a cloth for the cradle. We finished by offering a movie resource pack, to help families in their movie watching.
I love Take a Kid to faith services and that sense of doing alt.worship for all-ages and learning together. I loved this service and the sense that we are resourcing people in making connections between the film and their Christian faith. To see the whole congregation, from kids to those using walking sticks, laying their blue and gold cloths on the cradle was quite moving.