My last post related the fear of Mordor to the fear of engaging in evangelism and apologetics. The message was a reminder that while we may not be up against orcs and Nazguls, we are called by Christ to enter the Mordor of our neighbors’ hearts and minds. A place, as we know from our own self-reflection and Scripture (c.f., Matt. 15:18-19), that may just be more terrible than Tolkien’s Mordor itself. A place where only the forgiving and sanctifying work of Christ is powerful enough to destroy the tangled web of deceit, lies, and wickedness we call ‘ourselves.’ This cheery fact is also what makes us well suited to bring the forgiveness of Christ to others. Just as Christ stands between God and me, I stand between Christ and the sinner. Just as I am relatable to God through the work of Christ, Christ is relatable to the sinner through my very own sinful nature. I can eloquently speak the language of Mordor and slavery while boldly proclaiming the Gospel and freedom. This should bring some perspective on the classic evangelistic passage of Matt 28:19-20!
In this post, I take up the second insight I believe Mordor has for Christians engaging in evangelism and apologetics. The insight is the effect that follows from battle with Mordor. Anybody who has read Return of the King might wonder why after the climactic battle and rescue at Mt. Doom, the falling action, roughly one hundred pages (five chapters), is so drawn out. Undoubtedly, an epic the magnitude of Lord of the Rings requires much space for the reader to decompress psychologically as the narrative marches toward closure.
However, I argue there is more intended than a simple, affective decompression of the reader’s emotional investment in the characters of the saga. Frodo’s journey into Mordor, while victorious, came at a price to his psyche and understanding of his universe. A price, moreover, that is inherent in the evangelistic and apologetic task itself. No one recovers from a descent into Mordor this side of Valinor, and no one can fruitfully engage with non-believers without experiencing cognitive dissonance and altered views of the self, the church, and society this side of Eden.
The post-Mordor Frodo understood his uncle Bilbo’s cryptic lament at the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring regarding life as “thin…sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.” Likewise, once one takes to engaging in evangelism and apologetics, one quickly senses the stretched thinness of one’s own intellectual perspective. It has a humbling effect on the soul to struggle with foreign ideas and arguments. This is the reverse effect that often takes place when introduced to the study of apologetics. Dr. Rod Rosenbladt used to begin his class on apologetics with the statement that the first person you will convince of the faith might be yourself. I have since heard many apologetic lectures and interviews restate a similar conviction. However, just as apologetics strengthens one’s intellectual faith, meeting and conversing with Mordor humbles the intellectual faith.
Much like Jacob wrestling with God in the desert, we find our intellectual hips continuously put out of joint as we engage the culture around us.
Frodo was never quite the same because he was stuck between things he had seen, done, and heard as well as the promise of a reality where all was good, true, and beautiful. We find ourselves in the same predicament. The effects of Christ’s death and resurrection provide a glimpse of a life that is to come even while we struggle with the perfect forgiveness given us in a fallen world. This struggle between the eternal and the transient is intellectually exacerbated when we enter into conversation and argument with our Mordorian neighbors. Our minds are not given to comfort in this world and conversation with other minds is ground zero for intellectual crisis. As an aside, the struggle with Mordor and its effects on our intellect is most certainly related to the alarming statistic of between 60-80 percent of college students leaving their childhood faith! Mordor leaves its mark. Mordor’s ability to permanently alter us undoubtedly drives much of the fear of evangelism and apologetics discussed in my previous post. It is easier and more intellectually comfortable to circle the wagons, remaining in Rivendell than it is to venture into Mordor, the only place the battle can be fought and won.
Evangelism and apologetics put front and center a more general truth about the Christian life. The Christian life is a constant struggle to discern the Word of God. In some ways, Frodo’s post-Mordor perspective and one’s own battles with the denizens of Mordor reflects the very nature of this constant struggle. Much like Jacob wrestling with God in the desert, we find our intellectual hips continuously put out of joint as we engage the culture around us.
The frightening aspect of this struggle is the hidden nature of God acting within it all. God is always present and masked in our struggles with the outside world, during which we are never sure if we are wrestling with God, man, or the devil. In fact, it is highly likely that when you are engaged in battle against Mordor, God is not only drawing that person to Himself through your conversation but also using the mask of Mordor to challenge your own faith. This is that humbling of the intellect I mentioned earlier. Our interactions with others ought to make us more sympathetic to their cries from the wilderness while also driving us back to the unmasked God in Christ reconciling the world to Himself. It is the only truth that rights our broken intellectual hips and realigns our wilderness wanderings until that day we close our eyes in eternal rest, boarding the vessel to the Grey Havens onto Valinor.