Tim Keller Article Notes — The Lord of the Rings and Redemptive Art

In this article (conveniently posted as a pdf and archived at Redeemer City to City’s website), Tim Keller talks not only about one of his favorite series of novels, but also about how Christians can engage culture in the city.


I. The Importance of Christian community

II. The Difference between Christian Art and Propaganda

III. Christian “Messages” in LOTR



I. The Importance of Christian community

  1. LOTR was prodded along by the Inklings, most notably C. S. Lewis. Were it not for Lewis, Tolkein implies, LOTR would never have been finished, let alone published.
  2. Christians who come to the City to make an impact, beware: it won’t be down outside of a “stimulating and supportive community.”

II. The Difference between Christian Art and Propaganda

  1. Many believe that art that does not evangelize is inferior to art that does.
  2. Tolkein purposefully excluded any hint of “religion” in the LOTR world; instead, he allowed the “religious element” to be “absorbed into the story and symbolism.”
  3. Tolkein’s beliefs fertilized his imagination, rather than shaping his story in an allegorical or deliberate way.

III. Christian “Messages” in LOTR

  1. “Good vs Evil” is highly nuanced and biblical. No characters were bad in the beginning (not even the Dark Lord), and the greatest, most powerful characters have the greatest danger of succumbing to “the seductive power of self-glorification and lust for power.”
    1. There are no stock “very good” or “very bad”  characters; several good characters go bad, several bad characters are redeemed, and Gollum, a broken character, makes progress until a final destructive lapse.
  2. Rather than being a heroic quest, this is an anti-quest
    1. Characters aren’t trying to get something, but to lose something
    2. Heroes aren’t the strongest, they are the weakest
    3. Ultimately, salvation comes not from the amassing of power, but from the surrender of it.
    4. Frodo becomes so wounded by his task that “he loses the ability to enjoy or live in the world in order for others to have and keep the world” (Keller).
  3. A Christian, non-sentimental hope
    1. The ending of LOTR is sad; many have perished; Frodo’s wounds will never fully heal; Tolkein knew, as a Christian, that the world was more marred by sin than we cared admit
    2. Yet, the songs and poems in the story whisper of a future consummation, in which “everything sad will become untrue.”


“Since they originally “unconsciously” shaped the story, these messages do not demand that the reader convert to Christianity to understand or embrace them. Peter Jackson, the director of the movies, is a man of uncommon artistic skill and integrity, but he shows no evidence of sharing Tolkien’s Christian doctrinal commitments. Nevertheless, in an interview with Charlie Rose, he expressed so much admiration for the power and quality of Tolkien’s work, that he said, “We decided to honor him by not injecting our own messages into the movies, but rather by letting his messages come through without tampering.”That is remarkable. It shows that Christians may find less hostility to the gospel in the world if we incarnate it with the excellence and imagination that Tolkien did in his art.”

(See the full article at Redeemer City to City here).


About davestuartjr
Dave Stuart Jr. is a full-time teacher who writes about becoming better, saner teachers at He is a follower of Jesus Christ, a husband to Crystal, and a father to Hadassah, Laura, and Marlena.

One Response to Tim Keller Article Notes — The Lord of the Rings and Redemptive Art

  1. harmamae says:

    One of the reasons I LOVE Lord of the Rings! There is such a difference between Tolkien’s genius and the average “Inspirational”, blatantly evangelical-istic (by that I mean at least one character gets converted), books that I get at the library (yes, I do read them on occasion, but they get tiringly similar after awhile).

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