I grew up in a Christian home as the son of a vicar. In retrospect it gave me loads of things that I am grateful for, but in many ways I disliked being the ‘vicar’s son’ in a large church.
People treated you differently: Sunday school teachers really did say things like ‘I would have expected more from you Jonathan’ or ‘Honestly, what would your father say?’
I think for the children of church leaders it’s hard to separate out the difference between the church culture which we are so immersed in and the actual message of Christianity itself.
I felt church was boring and never allowed myself to be personally convicted by what I heard. ‘Church’ was just somewhere I had to spend time each week and I built defences about engaging with the message at the heart of it all.
A fresh environment
So one of the things I am MOST grateful for is that my parents could see the importance of me hearing the message in fresh and different environment. And when I was 16, a time when I was most disconnected from the church, my mum bent my arm to go to a CYFA youth camp in Devon.
It was here that I heard the message in a fresh way. I had a great time but I spent most of the week still keeping the message at a distance. But on the last night of this camp, the defences I had built crumbled. I remember the very specific moment, the 22nd August 1988, when I felt my heart changed through the Holy Spirit. I knew I was a Christian.
When I returned home from the camp that I re-discovered the set of Narnia books that were on my shelf. It was as a 16 year old that these books had a profound impact on me. Following the camp, my mum had bought me a Bible and in the back I wrote down various quotes which inspired me.
The first one I wrote was the end passage from the final Narnia book, The Last Battle:
‘The term is over, the holidays have begun. The dream is ended, this is the morning…Now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”
To be part of ‘the Great Story’: this is what excited and inspired me.
A sense of adventure
I was captured by was the adventure of faith that the Narnia books portrayed. That following Jesus could be something like following Aslan and fighting his battles with him.
For a similar reason the Book of Acts became my favourite book of the Bible – as it shows how ordinary, fearful and flawed people are captured by faith in Jesus and risk everything for Him – and change the world. I think the theme of adventure was a key desire for me.
The point of Narnia
In his book on Narnia, the former Archbishop, Rowan Williams asks the question ‘What is the point of Narnia?’ His answer is:
‘Lewis is trying to re-create for the reader what it is like to encounter and believe in God…The point of Narnia is to help us rinse out what is stale in our thinking about Christianity – which is almost everything…the essential thing is this invitation to hear the story as if we have never heard it before.’
This is what it did for me. Alongside the summer camps, Narnia was a key way that my vision and imagination about what being a Christian was fed and nurtured – it rinsed out what had become stale in my understandings of the Christian faith.
Integrated in the everyday
Williams makes the point that there is no church in Narnia, no religion even – following Aslan is integrated within the everyday ‘something worked out in the routines of life itself’. And actually, this is how faith operates on summer camps – the idea of following Jesus runs as a thread through the whole day – very different to a Sunday religion. This is what makes camps magical and powerful.
We so need experiences which can rinse out what has become stale in our understandings of God. For our family, it is the key reason why we help run a youth camp at Lee Abbey every summer. It gives us an experience of serving God and others which is real and powerful, utterly exhausting, but deeply renewing.
This post is taken from a sermon, Finding God in Narnia, preached at Christ Church New Malden in April 2017 as part of a series of seven talks on C.S. Lewis’ Narnia Chronicles. Click here to listen to an audio recording.
4 thoughts on “Re-discovering Narnia and rinsing out stale thinking about Christianity”
I like your line about the need to separate out the difference between the church culture which we are so immersed in and the actual message of Christianity itself.
We all need to do that. Each time I go to Lee Abbey to visit you, I am inspired by seeing so many young people enjoying time together talking about Jesus.
thanks John for all your support and encouragement. I had my parents there to listen to this talk so great to have the in-laws read it too!