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What's a Christian to Do with Harry Potter?
Chapter Four, Page One

Please note that the page numbers online do not correspond with the pages in the book.  All footnotes are on this page

What would Jesus do? This question, posed in the Christian classic In His Steps by Charles Sheldon, has become so familiar as to be reduced to WWJD? But how do we determine what Jesus would do, particularly in the kind of divisive debate where well-versed Christians disagree as they do over Harry Potter? It is precisely this kind of situation, involving personal opinion and individual application of Scripture, in which the WWJD? question becomes most useful.

            In the fictional story, In His Steps, a pastor challenges members of his church to take a pledge. For one year they agree to ask, What would Jesus do? before making any personal decision. They agree to consider what the Bible has to say on the matter, pray about it, ask God for wisdom, seek godly counsel if necessary, then come to their own conclusion on what they believe Jesus would do.

            They were necessarily relying on dictates of conscience, because the question was to be a matter of personal reflection before the Lord. They were not to poll their friends to see what their friends thought Jesus would do in their situation. Nor were they to pry into their friends business regarding personal decisions and volunteer their opinion of what they believed Jesus would tell their friend to do. Once the individual gained a conscientious conviction in answer to their personal question, What would Jesus do? they pledged to do it regardless of the consequences.

            At one point in the story a man who owns an establishment that sells hard liquor, wine, and beer asks the question: What would Jesus do? After prayerful consideration of many passages in the Bible that mention drinking wine, the first miracle of Jesus being to make water into wine for a wedding celebration, and strong warnings about drunkenness throughout the Bible, he gains a personal conviction that Jesus would not sell hard liquor used primarily to get people drunk. He decides to discontinue the sale of hard liquor, but has no such conviction over selling beer and wine.

            At a meeting of the people who took the pledge, he is questioned critically about his decision to continue selling beer and wine by a man who is a recovering alcoholic. To that man, beer and wine represent drunkenness because whenever he took one drink he could not stop himself until he was drunk. The store owner reminded his friend that he had followed the pledge: he prayerfully considered all of Scripture and came to a personal and conscientious conviction about his decision. In this case, as in many of this nature, what made the difference with regard to the answer was the personal history of the individual and what the matter meant to that person.

            It follows that each persons answer would seem the obvious one -- to their mind! It would take some consideration and adjustment to broaden their perspective to see that another Christian might not make the same associations, and therefore; would come to a different decision. And -- most importantly for Christian unity -- that both personal decisions, while different in terms of personal boundaries and conduct, could be right before God.

            This is a good analogy for the debate over whether or not Christians should read or allow their children to read or see the Harry Potter stories. You may have noticed in the in the previous chapter that the pro and con positions depended on the associations each person made in their mind. These often reflected the personal experience of the individual. One man even appealed to this as part of his argument, saying, I know from personal experience that it is not okay... and who can effectively argue with that? No one. Therefore, personal experience as well as the associations in our own minds regarding the disputed matter all come into play.

            Thus, it is not surprising that Alan Jacobs, who is a college professor of English at a Christian institution associates Harry Potter primarily with classic literature. For him, the issues are defined by his study of the history of magic in literature and science. Alison Lentini, a writer with the Spiritual Counterfeits Project, has degrees in Romance languages and literatures from Princeton University, also looked at the Harry Potter books from a literary perspective. However, before coming to Christ, she was involved in Wicca and neo-paganism. She has personal experience with occult practices that correspond to some of the subjects at taught at Hogwarts. For her, the issues are defined by her knowledge of occult practices that are being practiced in our world today. Her study of literature is taken in light of her experience. Both referred to and compared the Harry Potter books to the Chronicles of Narnia (although I didnt include those remarks in the excerpts); however, their interpretations of Narnia and are contrary. These two Christian scholars came to entirely different conclusions about Harry Potter. Whats more, both wrote convincing arguments to support their cases for and against Harry Potter. Furthermore, I believe both of their conclusions are right -- for them!

            Its one thing to see how two people can look at the same work of literature and see two different things. But how can two Christians can use the same Bible and come to opposing positions about what is right, but still both be right with God? There is a biblical explanation for this, covered under the heading of disputable matters (found in Romans 14, 1 Corinthians chapters 8-10 which will be covered in more detail later). In such cases, where cultural, personal, and spiritual issues overlap, individual Christians have to finally agree to disagree. Sincere Bible-believing Christians, who seek the Lord with all their hearts, can be led by the same Holy Spirit to opposing conclusions. This is not relativism or situational ethics, not compromising our commitment to godly conduct under mere social or political pressure. This is a personal decision about the appropriateness of disputable conduct when there can be legitimate differences of opinion between Christians. Yes, the Bible does allow for cases.

Clearly, the issues raised over Harry Potter dont lead to a single Christian position. Its a disputable matter because we are not debating whether or not it is okay for a Christian to practice witchcraft, or cast a spell. The Christian position on that is clear. We agree that we should never participate in anything listed in Deuteronomy 18:9-14, never practice any form of occult involvement. But reading Harry Potter is not the same as practicing or even -- as some assert -- promoting witchcraft. However, some can take it to mean that. Therein lies the disputable part of these issues that Christians are debating in earnest.

            Asking What would Jesus do with Harry Potter? can be helpful when we have to deal with disputable matters. But it is only useful to dictate personal choice about our own conduct. It loses its usefulness when we turn it into a rhetorical question to tell someone else what Jesus would have them do. The letter to Christianity Today from the twelve-year-old boy in the previous chapter, showed he had seriously considered the issues in light of Gods Word, and came to a definite conclusion that it would be wrong for him to read Harry Potter. He clearly associated reading them with involving himself in witchcraft that the Bible forbids.  Therefore, it would be sin for him to do so.

            However, he then went a step further, writing,

            I cant picture Jesus recommending the Harry Potter series as good reading... Its so obvious that these books are bad.[1]            Another letter to CT appealed to the WWJD? question, arguing along these lines, Do you think Jesus would be proud of a parent who gave their child such a book?[2]  

 

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