What Tolkien Can Teach Christians About Our Current Moment

One of the great things about JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings is his uncanny ability to relate truth about the human condition through his made-up fantasy world. This is what brings me back to the books again and again. Of late the evangelical community in America has been in turmoil, almost as if it is at war with itself. As I have watched this unfold, I keep coming back to Tolkien’s great work. There is a section in Tolkien’s work which offers us guidance with our current issues—the Scouring of the Shire.


At the end of the major conflict in The Lord of the Rings, the Hobbits return home. They expect to find it as they left it—peaceful. Sadly this is not the case. Despite having experienced victory, their homeland is overrun and their people are oppressed. This reality shocks our heroes, yet they are prepared to handle this challenge precisely because of what they just went through. Their experience showed them the cost of denying reality and compromising with evil-- it only makes matters worse. For the Hobbits, the worst part is not the actions of their enemies, but the state of their own people.

There are three groups of Hobbits living under the new order who all have responded differently. It is these groups which illustrate the various camps within evangelicalism today as secularism, Cultural Marxism, and progressivism assault the church. Like the different groups of Hobbits living under oppression, evangelicals have responded to our new found reality in different ways. Here are the groups in Tolkien’s work:

  1. The Peasants- The majority of the Hobbits fall into this group. They lived in constant fear of their oppressors and what they might do next. This fear did not drive them to resist, but to submit even more to those who were actively destroying them.  When Frodo and his friends return, they are unaware of all the new rules they are supposed to obey. So they start accidentally breaking rules, which causes the peasants to tell them to “Stop!” The philosophy of the peasants can be summed up as: “Don’t rock the boat, you are only going to make matters worse. If we obey, things will at least be better than if we don’t.” The problem is things were already terrible. It is their ongoing inaction and cowardice which led them to this oppression. Eventually, Frodo and company begin to intentionally break the rules. More on that later.
  2. The Shirriffs- This group of Hobbits embraced the new order. Their job was to carry out the will of their oppressors, making sure their own people followed the rules. They are turn-coats, who either love power or who actually prefer the new way of life to the old freedom they once had. It is this group which saddens Frodo and company the most—how can someone turn on their own people and side with those who are seeking the destruction of their people? The Shirriffs turn out to be weapons of the enemy, and not really Hobbits at all in any meaningful way. 
  3. The Resistance- This group is smallest of the three groups. They wised up to what was occurring and revolted against the new order. This led to most of them being locked away. There are too few people in this group to launch any meaningful resistance. So they wait for their fellow countrymen to wake-up. Eventually, because of the leadership and rule-breaking of the returning Hobbits, most of the prior two camps join in the resistance and retake the Shire. This only happened because people were moved to active resistance. 

So what does all this have to do with us today? The evangelical movement is in a time of identity crisis. As the secular world increases its hostility to faithful Christianity we are all faced with a choice—to resist by remaining faithful or to compromise. Compromise can look like that of the peasants, who do so by remaining silent and submissive to the new overlords, or it can come by outright betrayal. We are currently seeing both.

There are also evangelicals striving to remain faithful, but whenever they sound the alarm, others tell them to knock-it-off—If we keep talking like this, it will only make matters worse.  It is here that we should hear the echoes of how Frodo and company were greeted when they returned, “You can’t do that! It’s against the rules!” The problem is we are already at a terrible place from where we once were. The boat needs to be rocked more, not less. Whose rules are we going to follow anyway? This camp in evangelical is marked by the same cowardice and shortsightedness of the peasants.

Cowardice is one thing, but betrayal is far more demoralizing. There are many today who call themselves evangelical who are nothing more than Secular-Shirriffs. They see their job as having to enforce the new ways of thinking and the new moral order of our day on evangelicalism. Whether it is in the guise of social justice (which rejects the basics of biblical justice) or the pursuit of supposed relevancy, we see on a daily basis an increase of the ranks of the Secular-Shirriffs. The problem is not only their presence but that they are exerting  influenceon the camp of peasants.

So what shall we do? What can we do? The same answer we are always are given in Scripture, repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.  If you find yourself bent toward cowardice, you need to repent. Trust in the power of God to conquer the progressivism of our day. Jesus is King of Kings and he is currently ruling from on high. Refuse to convert to the new morality of our day and join the resistance—this is what repenting and believing will look like. We must come to terms with the reality that compromise and appeasement has led us to where we are today. It would be insanity to return to that vomit thinking it will taste better this time.  We need resistance, not appeasement. 

If you find yourself promoting the ways of the world as good, let me ask you this, “Do you love the Church as your people, or are you ashamed of the bride of Christ? Do you love Christ, or do you love the world?” You cannot love both. If you truly agree with the trajectory of our culture, then fully embrace it. Leave evangelicalism behind, as you already have in practice. Stop wagging your head at those of us who are loyal to Christ. If though you really want Christ and his kingdom, then return to his teaching and show allegiance to him and his people. Repent of your double-mindedness and throw yourself upon the mercy of God. Above all else and stop doing the job of those who are anti-Christ, and join the resistance.   

Tolkien’s work reminds us of our tendency toward both cowardice and betrayal when faced with persecution. He reminds us we can only overcome our current challenges by honestly identifying our enemies, working together as one people, and refusing to submit to the new order. Open defiance is not only the best strategy but the only one. This requires courage, a strong moral vision, perseverance, and a humble dependence on the grace of God. It also means we need to stop fighting among ourselves. Like the Hobbits, we too know the King has already won, and his Kingdom is coming. Now all we have to do stand and fight for that kingdom.