(This article is an excerpt from The Harry Potter Bible Study: Enjoying God Through the Final Four Harry Potter Movies)
Besides the theologians we have in Scripture, there has not been another theologian as influential in the church as early church father Bishop Augustine of Hippo. Although he wrote extensively, his most important writings were against the Pelagians. This group was named after their main leader Pelagius. He was a British monk known for his piety and strict discipline and was later condemned as a heretic.[i]
Augustine taught all humans born since the Fall possessed sinful natures (original sin) from birth (Gen. 3).[ii] Pelagius, on the other hand, believed all humans were born as innocent beings who later developed a sinful nature by freely choosing sin from the example of other sinful human beings.[iii] In other words, Augustine believed the world is evil because humans are evil, while Pelagius believed humans are evil because the world is evil.
Often in ministry I have observed evangelicals who claim to believe all humans are born sinners (Augustine), and yet live as if their children will be corrupted by outside influences (Pelagius). Parents may profess their children are sinners, but they seek to protect them from a sinful world as if the world is the problem. The problem with our children is not outside influences but is instead their inside influences (Matt. 15:10-11, 17-20). If you and I merely protect our children from external sinful influences, which is impossible in an evil world, we will not address the source of their sin: themselves. Our children are what is wrong with the world; the world is not what is wrong with our children.
Instead of living as if our children “will be” corrupted by the world, we should teach them to handle their own sinful natures in a wicked world. In order to communicate this reality, we must tell our children they are what is wrong with the world. We must teach them they are sinners (Rom. 3:23) in desperate need of a Savior (John 14:6). Apart from His life, death, burial, and resurrection in their stead, there is no hope for them (Rom. 6:23). Christ’s finished work is their only hope for being reconciled to God the Father (Rom. 10:9-11; Col. 1:19-22).
By the time our children are 18 years of age, they should be prepared to live in a wicked world in which they are part of the wickedness. Though some may be saved, they must be prepared to face temptation since they still live in an evil world. We must thoroughly teach them the Scriptures and how to recognize the difference between truth and lies in their surrounding culture. If we believe the world is the problem, we will try to shield them from the world; however, if we believe they are the problem, we will instead teach them how to hide the Word of God in their hearts so they might not sin against God (Ps. 119:11).
Because we cannot separate our children from their sinful natures (Augustine), we must prepare them to handle their sinful natures. We must cultivate the fruit of the Spirit in our children, realizing they will always desire wickedness on earth; yet, they must learn to appropriate and cultivate the self-control of God the Holy Spirit, His fruit in their lives (Gal. 5:22-25). One of the biggest problems of children raised by evangelical Christians is they are not prepared to live in this world. Unfortunately, Augustinian parents are practicing the methodology of Pelagians. Our children do not know how to handle temptation whenever they cannot escape it because we have falsely deified our ability to protect our children, thus hindering the cultivation of personal self-control in their lives.
In other words, while trying to protect our children through legalistic boundaries, we have not prepared them to live in this wicked world. Yet temptation will knock on the door unannounced and uninvited (at times welcomed with open arms), and no amount of legalistic boundaries can stop it. If we have not taught our children how to respond to temptation by teaching them how to discern, we doom them for eventual failure.
One way to help our children cultivate discernment in this wicked world is to engage in the media wars with them as a guide. Just as Paul told the Corinthians, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1), we too must say to all of our observers, “Be imitators of my media participation, as I am of Christ.” Allow me to clarify my suggestion to purposely put ungodly behavior in front of your children. I’m not suggesting you expose children to immorality so that they will know what is immoral. We do not want to tempt our children to sin. Rather, I am suggesting parents thoroughly teach children the Scriptures, and then teach them the difference between truth and lies in pop culture, in light of the Scriptures.
All forms of media, regardless of their rating, intended audience, genre, etc., contain truth and lies woven together into an ungodly web. We must teach our children how to untangle this web. One way to teach our children how to separate truth from lies is to show them how to use discernment as they participate in media. In our media-driven world, our children will participate in media, and they will either participate like Christians or like non-Christians. Unfortunately, many evangelical Christians participate in media like non-Christians, simply drinking deeply of all they see and hear without separating truth from lies.
The purpose of media participation is worship. In order to enjoy God through media, Christians must submit to God’s revealed Word in light of Christ’s finished work and take every thought captive to obey Christ (2 Cor. 10:5). In other words, Christians must be on their knees in their cultures worshiping God through recognizing His fingerprints in the media produced by God’s fallen image-bearers. In the words of Augustine, Christians must plunder the Egyptians:
For, as the Egyptians had not only the idols and heavy burdens which the people of Israel hated and fled from, but also vessels and ornaments of gold and silver, and garments, which the same people when going out of Egypt appropriated to themselves, designing them for a better use, not doing this on their own authority, but by the command of God, the Egyptians themselves, in their ignorance, providing them with things which they themselves, were not making a good use of [Exod. 3:21-22; Exod. 12:35-36]; in the same way all branches of heathen learning have not only false and superstitious fancies and heavy burdens of unnecessary toil, which every one of us, when going out under the leadership of Christ from the fellowship of the heathen, ought to abhor and avoid; but they contain also liberal instruction which is better adapted to the use of the truth, and some most excellent precepts of morality; and some truths in regard even to the worship of the One God are found among them. Now these are, so to speak, their gold and silver, which they did not create themselves, but dug out of the mines of God’s providence which are everywhere scattered abroad, and are perversely and unlawfully prostituting to the worship of devils. These, therefore, the Christian, when he separates himself in spirit from the miserable fellowship of these men, ought to take away from them, and to devote to their proper use in preaching the gospel. Their garments, also,—that is, human institutions such as are adapted to that intercourse with men which is indispensable in this life,—we must take and turn to a Christian use.[iv]
Evangelical Christians must train themselves and their children to plunder pagan media for the “gold” and “silver” and put them to Christian use.
[i] Justo L. González, The Story of Christianity: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1984), 214.
[ii] Ibid., 214-215.
[iii] Ibid., 215.
[iv] Marcus Dods, ed., The Works of Aurelius Augustine, Bishop of Hippo: A New Translation, Vol. IX – On Christian Doctrine; The Enchiridion; On Catechising; and On Faith and the Creed (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1892), 76.