Thursday, July 30, 2015

We Are All Descendents of Cain: A Theology of Beowulf - Introduction

We Are All Descendents of Cain: A Theology of Beowulf - Introduction

In his book On the Shoulders of Hobbits Louis Markos reveals the relationship between narrative and theology and why we need a proper understanding of both. He writes:
Though the restoration of theology and philosophy to their proper place is essential and primary, it needs to be accompanied by something else that will embody and incarnate it in the life of each individual citizen. For Western civilization has lost more than those laws, creeds, and doctrines on which it was built; It has lost as well the sacred drama that gave flesh and bone to those ‘naked’ creedal statements. We need the truth, but we also need to know how to live in and through and by that truth.

What we need, in short, are stories. (10-11)
The relation between narrative and theology is evident both biblically and experimentally. The primary sources on Jesus are predominately narrative yet it would be inaccurate to suggest that the Four Gospels are simply a collections of stories. They are, in a real sense, works of theology. It is also true that our lives - our stories - are a reflection of our theologies. The decisions we make, the friends we choose, the words we speak, and the bridges we burn are a reflection of per-conceived theological conclusions.

This is the real beauty of fiction. By drawing us into another world, the author is drawing us to consider theology. In recent years, this idea has repeatedly been made evident in the classic works of J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis. These two deeply religious men wrote masterful works of fantasy that were as much a reflection of their theology as it was their creativity.

There is another classic, more ancient work that reveals the relationship between narrative and theology that is increasingly gaining more attention: Beowulf. This is the first in what will be a series of posts on the theology of Beowulf which, I believe, centers on the anthropological conclusion that we are all descendents of Cain like the monsters of the story.

Admittedly, we are here today discussing Beowulf because of the work of JRR Tolkien. Not only did he incorporate portions of Beowulf in his Middle-Earth stories (like Smaug the Dragon) but he was the first significant figure to draw our attention to the old English tale. He did so in a major lecture a year before publishing the Hobbit.

In recent years my love for Beowulf has grown immensely and I find myself reading and studying it over and over again. I love the story, the writing, the role it has played in both Tolkien and Lewis, and the theology behind it.

Before we explore its theology, it will be best to examine the story's significance and its narrative. To that we turn to next.

For more:
"Beowulf": A Review
A Shrewd Apologetic: Doug Wilson's Take on Beowulf
Beowulf: Resources and Links
Clash of the Gods: Tolkien's Monsters Documentary
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