Myth As Apologetic

Myth As Apologetic

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Following the delivery of an intriguing story, Jesus would often proclaim, “Those who have ears to hear, let them hear!” The power to convey message through story is essential to the Gospels and an intriguing dynamic of human nature. After a long day at work our spouse asks us, “How was your day?” We tell a story. We gather around a Thanksgiving meal, catch up with distant family members and tell stories. Week after week we hear sermons and study Sunday school lessons to discover the truth of God’s word, largely in story form. Joan Didion, an American author, once said, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” Didion’s words hold true as we examine our lives, all of which contain an ensemble of stories.

I have a passionate desire to tell stories and to do it for the glory of God, and so I enjoy learning more about the subject. Scholars Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell speak of the importance of storytelling and myth to the human condition. Campbell suggests, “Over these many decades of being a keeper of stories, I have come to see that almost invariably every story, myth, legend, saga, and folktale begins with a poignant question of one kind or another.” [1] Campbell and Jung speak from a key perspective on the universal importance of myth in our lives. Recently I happened upon a unique term in my readings. In an essay concerning missions to Wiccans and Mother Goddess Devotees, John Morehead III, states:

 “A very fruitful method for presenting the gospel to Wiccans is through what is known as ‘mythic apologetics.’ This is a style of apologetic that uses myth in a variety of ways to communicate the gospel. One approach is through storytelling as exemplified in the novels of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.” [2]

After reading these brief sentences I said to myself, “Mythic apologetics—this is what I want to be doing with my life.”

C.S. Lewis examines salvation history as the Great Story, answering those “poignant questions” from a Christian perspective. In God in the Dock, Lewis writes: “We must not be ashamed of the mythical radiance resting on our theology…If God chooses to be mythopoeic—and is not the sky itself a myth—shall we refuse to be mythopathic? For this the marriage of heaven and earth: Perfect Myth and Perfect Fact.” [3]  This “marriage” is the Incarnation leading to Resurrection; it is the person of Jesus Christ—fully God and fully man—come into the world.

J.R.R. Tolkien (a friend of Lewis), in keeping with his knack for inventing entire languages, invented his own word to address his understanding of Christ. He calls it the Euchatastrophe. In On Fairy Stories, Tolkien states, “Far more important is the Consolation of the Happy Ending. Almost I would venture to assert that all complete fairy-stories must have it. Since we do not appear to possess a word that expresses this opposite—I will call it Eucatastrophe.” [4] The great apologist John Warwick Montgomery quotes Tolkien on this venture, “The Birth of Christ is the Eucatastrophe of Man’s history. The Resurrection is the Eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy.” [5] The coming of God into the world as flesh to live among us was the pinnacle of history, the height of heroism, the myth to which we hold.

There is often great misconception concerning the definition of “myth”. Many moderns dismiss myth as something false or “of legend.” Myth is story—it is the collections of stories that bind us and make us who we are. Every culture has its own story and all cultures are invited to take part in the Story. God has invited us to take part in his Story and by the craft of story-telling, he gives us a bridge to speak to the human condition. We all yearn to understand the great questions of our existence and we seek to find the answers in numerous ways. As Christians, we hold to Jesus’ invitation, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me,” (John 14:6).  Christ has given us story and by story we proclaim Him. May those who have ears to hear, hear!

[1] See Campbell, Joseph,  The Hero with a Thousand Faces, 3rd ed, (Novato: New World Library, 2008), 24.

[2] John W. Morehead, II offers an introduction to the subject of Mythic Apologetics, given in the essay as a missiological tool for reaching Wiccans and Mother Goddess Devotees. See Hexham, Irving, ed., Rost, Stephen, ed., & Morehead II, John W., ed., Encountering New Religious Movements, (Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic & Professional, 2004), 217.  

[3] See Lewis, C.S., “Myth Became Fact,” God in the Dock: essays on Theology and Ethics, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), 67.

[4] See Tolkien, J.R.R. On Fairy Stories. (New York: HarperCollins, 2008).

[vi] Montgomery quotes Tolkien’s On Fairy Stories. See Montgomery, John Warwick, ed., Myth, Allegory and Gospel, (Minneapolis: Bethany, 1974), 11.


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