Harry Potter to Hosea: Professor inspects underlying Christian themes in influential modern literature

Photo Illustration by Rebecca Flannery
Photo Illustration by Rebecca Flannery
By Rebecca Flannery
Staff Writer

Stories like “Harry Potter,” “The Hunger Games” and “The Iliad” may all have underlying themes to edify Christianity, said Dr. Gregg Garrett, professor of English.

Garrett was selected to give the annual W.C. Dobbs Endowed Lecture Tuesday in George W. Truett Theological Seminary.

His lecture, titled “From Homer to The Hunger Games: Imaginative Reading for Preaching, Teaching, and Formation,” covered books and stories not originally intended for Christian practices, but often seen as relaying Christian themes.

“Harry Potter is the most popular fictional story in the history of history,” Garrett said. “It has, like many books have done, shaped almost everyone who’s ever read it or seen it on screen. Students in my classes say the story of Harry Potter has taught them to be human.”

Garrett said “Harry Potter” is the primary book Facebook users have mentioned as being influential on their lives. Lada Adamic and Pinkesh Patel, Facebook data scientists, performed the study he mentioned in his lecture. In the study, “Harry Potter” is ranked No. 1 and the Bible is ranked No. 6.

“We could groan about dropping rates of biblical literacy, we could offer up a Jeremiah sermon about how people are falling away from the true faith, we could talk about how the bible should be the top book of every person’s list,” Garrett said. “Or we could reflect and we could carry away what may be the most important lesson in this Facebook study: these stories and many others changed people’s lives.”

Josh Carney, lead pastor at University Baptist Church, said he uses “Harry Potter” references frequently in his sermons because the artistic themes and plot reflect back to God.

“To be human is to be created in the image of God,” Carney said. “Whatever our own personal stories may be, they still belong to God’s story. They are inherently godly.”

Curt Kruschwitz, associate pastor to college and community missions at First Baptist Church of Waco, said while he doesn’t use “Harry Potter” or “Hunger Games” references in his sermons, he values the usage of current events and literature to make connections to scripture.

Something far more important than entertainment is happening in great stories, Garrett said. Augustine’s adage, “Wherever truth may be found, it belongs to the Lord,” is a typical argument for being able to interpret otherwise secular stories as being relatable to Christianity, he said.

“However, I don’t believe every story will shape us to be closer to God and our neighbor,” Garrett said. “You should be able to discern which works are bringing you closer to God and to your neighbor and which are not.”

Joshua Hays, research fellow with the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor, is in the works of having a book published about the similarities between Star Wars and Christianity. He said those who strongly oppose the idea of secular stories being relatable to scripture are often closed-minded.

“I think it’s a lot of preconception they come to the text with,” Hays said. “It’s looking at things on a surface level and not leaving room for imagination.”

Garrett said coming to the text with filters already identified would be beneficial in reading stories with an open mind.

“Works that reveal the face of evil, or that shed light on human venality, or explain our impulse toward violence or the attraction of any of those false desires that seek to replace God with tiny and imperfect substitutes might be edifying to us,” Garrett said. “Light can shine powerfully in dark rooms.”