The Messiah Comes to Middle-Earth
How can we grasp the significance of what Jesus Christ did for us? Might literature help us as we seek to understand the Christian faith?
J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings has generated much discussion about the relationship between Christianity and literature. It is well known that Tolkien disliked allegory. Yet he acknowledged that his work is imbued with Christian symbolism and meaning.
Based on the inaugural Hansen Lectureship series delivered by Philip Ryken, this volume mines the riches of Tolkien's theological imagination. In the characters of Gandalf, Frodo, and Aragorn, Ryken hears echoes of the threefold office of Christ—his prophetic, priestly, and royal roles. Guided by Ryken, readers will discover that they can learn much about the one who is the true prophet, priest, and king through Tolkien's imaginative storytelling.
Based on the annual lecture series hosted at Wheaton College's Marion E. Wade Center, volumes in the Hansen Lectureship Series reflect on the imaginative work and lasting influence of seven British authors: Owen Barfield, G. K. Chesterton, C. S. Lewis, George MacDonald, Dorothy L. Sayers, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Charles Williams.
"Phil Ryken not only draws upon a wealth of Tolkien scholarship, he adds some marvelous insights of his own into the spiritual and theological dynamics at play in Middle-Earth. And then he uses all of this to provide us with much wisdom about the kind of leadership that can honor the prophetic, priestly, and kingly work of Jesus Christ."
"Phil Ryken brings his creative genius to bear on the beautiful work of Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. Utilizing the threefold office of prophet, priest, and king, Dr. Ryken invites us to see in Gandalf (prophet), Frodo (priest), and Aragorn (king) image bearers like ourselves, who, in facing the haunting realities of their own existence, draw us into a deeper understanding and reflection on our own life with God. Utilizing his own mastery of English literature combined with his wide access to and conversation with the best of biblical scholarship, Phil has crafted a real treasure that will both nourish and inspire you. Enjoy the read."
"Ryken effectively draws out Tolkien's subtle use of Christ's threefold office (prophet, priest, king) by filtering his argument not only through the best of Tolkien scholarship but through the Old Testament, the church fathers, the Reformers, and his own multifaceted role as president of a Christ-centered college."
"J. R. R. Tolkien wrote that what he called the 'story-germ,' the shape of a fictional narrative, grows from an author's experience in unpredictable ways. Tolkien was a deeply devout Christian who knew the Bible well. He insisted that he did not write in order to 'make a point,' and certainly not to express doctrine in allegorical dress. Yet Phil Ryken shows how profoundly Tolkien's imagination was shaped by Jesus Christ himself, revealing the rich theological insights we can receive from the great tales if we are attentive to them. This book is a treat, filled with surprises."
"In The Messiah Comes to Middle-Earth, Philip Ryken develops the notion that the presence of Christ in The Lord of the Rings follows a traditional tripartite form: prophet, priest, and king. Showing particularly how Tolkien develops this form through Gandalf, Frodo, and Aragorn, Ryken adeptly demonstrates that a knowledge of theology and Middle-Earth mutually illuminate Tolkien's texts. The plausibility of the book's thesis is also enhanced through responses from other notable scholars, including Sandra Richter, Jennifer Powell McNutt, and William Struthers. This book is recommended for all who wish to enhance their understanding of the Christian theology that undergirds the entertaining fantasy of Tolkien's Middle-Earth."
"Ryken draws from biblical studies, theology, and literature in a wonderfully integrated way: the result is abundant insight into Tolkien's Christian imagination. Erudite and still approachable, thoughtful and yet fun to read, far-ranging and deeply edifying. I am thrilled to recommend it."
"Ryken's smoothly written and highly accessible book…is well researched and effectively organized, and it provides a fresh perspective on The Lord of the Rings that highlights both its subtle Christian message and its flexible applicability to the challenges and dangers of our modern (and postmodern) world."
"The Messiah Comes to Middle Earth is a great way to teach Tolkien-familiar students about Christ’s threefold office as Prophet, Priest, and King."
"Ryken shows how Tolkien's powerful narratives can lead to wise and heart-felt application."
Introduction to the Hansen Lectureship Series (Walter Hansen)
1. The Prophetic Ministry of Gandalf the Grey
Response: Sandra Richter
2. Frodo, Sam, and the Priesthood of All Believers
Response: Jennifer Powell McNutt
3. The Coronation of Aragorn Son of Arathorn
Response: William Struthers