The works of J.R.R. Tolkien have not only redefined a genre of literature but also had a far-reaching impact on culture in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Tolkien’s name has joined the ranks of authors such as Shakespeare, Milton, Dostoevsky, Donne, and Dickens who make us think differently about the world. In Theology and Tolkien: Practical Theology, an international group of scholars consider what Tolkien’s works (and Jackson’s film interpretations) can teach us about living out our theology in the world. From essays on Tolkien’s insights into community, what we can learn about our spiritual senses from encounters with the Nazgûl, the pastoral wisdom of Treebeard, to the theological value of food—including second breakfasts—we invite you to journey with us through Middle-earth as we engage the applicability of Tolkien’s works for theology and our world.
Douglas Estes (PhD, University of Nottingham) currently teaches at Friends University in Wichita, Kansas.
Part One: The Shire
1 Koinonia in The Lord of the Rings
2 Searching for Home in Middle-earth
J. Collin Huber
3 Love at the Burning Edge of Doom: Friendship and Biblical Theology in The Lord of the Rings
Chris Bruno and Mark Brians
4 “Her Heart Changed, or at Least She Understood It”
Christine Falk Dalessio
Part Two: Osgiliath
5 Gandalf Grey, Apostle to Men and Elves
6 Reading Barth on Jackson’s Set: Threefold Salvation in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
Jerome Van Kuiken
7 Art and Sub-Creation: Tolkien’s Theology of Art
Miguel Benitez, Jr.
8 The Culture Wars and The Lord of the Rings: Models of Christian Engagement
9 Theodicies in The Lord of the Rings
Rodrigo Follis, Fábio Augusto Darius, and Ismael Silva
Part Three: The Greenway
10 A Nutritious Reading: A Theological View of Food in Tolkien’s Writing
Federico Maria Rossi
11 Nazgûl and the Perversion of Spiritual Senses
Trevor B. Williams
12 “Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost”: Greed and Power in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Works
13 The Doom of Elves and Men: A Thought Experiment on Death and Immortality
Keith A. Mathison
14 Thinking Like an Ent: Treebeard and the Pastoral Wisdom of Eugene Peterson
Trygve D. Johnson
Estes has done a great service for scholars and fans of Middle-earth alike who want to dig deeper into such key Tolkien themes as friendship and fellowship, death and immortality, salvation and sub-creation, theodicy and the corruption of the senses, the art of power and the power of art, and even home and food. All the writers balance a critical eye with a robust love of the legendarium and a desire to be changed, theoretically and practically, by their interaction with Tolkien. I was particularly glad to see several of the contributors analyze Jackson’s films alongside Tolkien’s epic in a positive and fruitful way.
Each new generation of scholars re-discovers important texts by reading and interpreting them with new eyes. This is the aim of Theology and Tolkien, which unites a wide range of approaches in order to provide engaging insights into the ‘theology’ of Tolkien’s works in an easily accessible form, illustrating theological concepts by means of ‘practical’ applications to Tolkien’s texts.
Rather than assessing the compatibility of Tolkien’s legendarium with Christian theology, the essays in Estes’s collection use Tolkien’s Middle-earth writings to explore everyday themes such as friendship, home, and food, as well as more obviously theological concepts, like apostleship, salvation, and theodicy. Both sides of the equation benefit.
Tolkien and Theology, edited by Douglas Estes. Let me say at theoutset that this is an excellent collection of state-of-the-art Christian theological/literary criticism of Tolkien’s work, that fully reflects Tolkien’s own observation, quoted early on by Douglas Estes, that, “TheLord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work.” Further, as Estes also says in his Introduction, “When we read Tolkien… our imagination absorbs truth that we may not be able to explain in words, but challenges us, and changes us, to live differently.” Even if it does, we can try and explain this truth that challenges and changes, as is so effectively demonstrated by this collection.