True Authority Is Obedient

I have learned far more in Narnia than I can ever begin to explain, and so all I am going to try to do here is give you a small taste of some of the more important lessons I learned there. I hope that readers of these small sketches will be able to do what I have done, and read these books over and over for the rest of their lives. Each reading offers additional wisdom, but the wisdom is never simplistic—rather it is richly textured, reflecting the many different sources of Lewis’ insight.

One of the great lessons I learned in Narnia had to do with the meaning of true authority. C.S. Lewis has a great deal to say on this subject—on using authority the wrong way, using it the right way, and submitting to authority in the right way.

Let’s begin with the different ways that authority can be false. The Narnia books contain many different characters who try to abuse authority, but they only represent different ways to be grasping and selfish.

One of the obvious examples is Miraz, a usurper. For example, in Prince Caspian, what did Miraz do at the beginning of his rule? “When he first began to rule, he did not even pretend to be the King: he called himself Lord Protector” (PC, p. 59). Lewis is making a comment here about English politics in the 17th century—Oliver Cromwell, after he replaced Charles I in the rule of England, called himself the Lord Protector.

Then there is a denial of true authority in trivial, silly ways. In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, we see this kind of abdication of genuine authority. What did Eustace call his parents? “He didn’t call his Father and Mother ‘Father’ and ‘Mother’, but Harold and Alberta” (DT, p. 3). Just as it is wrong to grasp after authority that is not yours, so it is wrong to throw away authority that has been bestowed upon you. This is what the Scrubbs do.

There is a kind of imperious mentality that thinks that their rule must always be without constraint. In The Magician’s Nephew, we see that Jadis and Uncle Andrew both believe that they are “above the rules.” Both of them thought they had a high and lonely destiny.

“‘I had forgotten that you are only a common boy. How should you understand reasons of State? You must learn, child, that what would be wrong for you or for any of the common people is not wrong in a great Queen such as I. The weight of the world is on our shoulders. We must be freed from all rules. Ours is a high and lonely destiny’” (MN, p. 68).

And how was Jadis different from Uncle Andrew when she said this? In all that mattered, she was not really different at all.

“Digory suddenly remembered that Uncle Andrew had used exactly the same words. But they sounded much grander when Queen Jadis said them; perhaps because Uncle Andrew was not seven feet tall and dazzlingly beautiful” (MN, p. 68).

There is another kind of wrong authority, a greasy kind of manipulative authority. In The Horse and His Boy, we find out what kind of man Aravis ran away from. Lasaraleen said, “‘My husband says he is beginning to be one of the greatest men in Calormen” (HHB, p. 100). But when we meet him, we discover that he is a craven, crawling flatterer. He is willing to abase himself in the presence of the Tisroc, but he is doing this so that he can have that same kind of power over others when he is away from the Tisroc.

There is another kind of sneaky, manipulative authority. Aptly named, the ape Shift manipulates the simple donkey Puzzle to get his way. How does Shift manipulate Puzzle?

“‘Really, Puzzle,’ said Shift, ‘I didn’t think you’d ever say a thing like that. I didn’t think it of you, really.’ ‘Why, what have I said wrong?’ said the Ass, speaking in rather a humble voice, for he saw that Shift was very deeply offended” (LB, p. 4).

Shift turns the Golden Rule around. “‘Why don’t you treat me as I treat you?’” (LB, p. 9). But then when Shift actually gets into power, what happens? “The Ape was of course Shift himself, but he looked ten times uglier than when he lived by Caldron Pool, for he was now dressed up” (LB, p. 32). And how does he use his position? “‘Now attend to me. I want—I mean Aslan wants—some more nuts’” (LB, p. 33). He used his position of authority to get something for himself, and not to serve others.

There is also the denial of legitimate authority in order to hold that authority for yourself autonomously. We see this in the behavior of the dwarfs in The Last Battle. How do the Dwarfs react to their liberation? “‘We’re going to look after ourselves from now on and touch our caps to nobody. See?’” (LB, p. 83). What is their rallying cry now? “‘The Dwarfs are for the Dwarfs’” (LB, p. 83). Instead of submitting themselves in gratitude, they insist upon governing themselves.

All these examples show the problems that happen when authority is twisted. There are many different ways to get it wrong. But true authority is sacrificial and giving, and is embodied perfectly by Aslan himself. Aslan sets the pattern for all authority in these books, and it is the pattern of self-sacrifice and giving. This is the basis of all true authority. Even though it takes many different forms, it is recognizably the same kind of self-giving authority.

The Witch does not understand this kind of authority at all. What does the Witch think of Aslan coming to fulfill his agreement with her? “‘The fool!’ she cried. ‘The fool has come. Bind him fast’” (LWW, p. 151). But what was the Witch’s mistake? “‘It means,’ said Aslan, ‘that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know’” (LWW, p. 163). She did not know that the first will be last, and the last first. She did not understand the Deeper Magic of true sacrificial authority.

Because of this, we sometimes think we can never be sure if we are misunderstanding true authority also, just as the witch misunderstood it. And we sometimes think that sacrificial authority is not really authoritative at all—but it is the foundation of true authority. This is why Aslan is good, but not really safe. “‘Safe?’ said Mr. Beaver; ‘don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you’” (LWW, p. 80).

Not surprisingly, Aslan’s faithful servants, like Aslan himself, are sacrificial and giving, just as he is, and in the exercise of their authority they are very humble. For example, think about Aslan’s test of whether Caspian had the right kind of kingly character. “‘Welcome, Prince,’ said Aslan, ‘Do you feel yourself sufficient to take up the Kingship of Narnia?’ ‘I—I don’t think I do, Sir,’ said Caspian. ‘I’m only a kid.’ ‘Good,’ said Aslan. ‘If you had felt yourself sufficient, it would have been a proof that you were not’” (PC, p. 206). Those who would possess authority in the name of Aslan must not be full of themselves.

And when Cor is just learning that he is to be king of Archenland, he doesn’t like the idea at all. And shouldn’t a king be able to do whatever he wants? The answer is no.

“‘Tis no question what thou wantest’” (HHB, p. 222).

“‘The King’s under the law, for it’s the law makes him a king. Hast no more power to start away from they crown than any sentry from his post’” (HHB, p. 223).

King Lune explains very clearly to his son what it means to be a king.

“‘For this is what it means to be a king: to be first in every desperate attack and last in every desperate retreat, and when there’s hunger in the land (as must be now and then in bad years) to wear finer clothes and laugh louder over a scantier meal than any man in your land’” (HHB, p.223).

Authority flows to those who take responsibility. This is the kind of authority a righteous king has. He does not set himself up as a boss so that he can blame others. Rather, he sets himself in a position where he can take responsibility for what is happening—for good or bad—and in this way authority flows to him. When men seek to find someone else to blame when something goes wrong, authority flees from them.

Another way of saying this is that true authority doesn’t boss; true authority is obedient. And the more obedient someone is (to those in lawful authority over him), the more that someone grows in his own authority.

My favorite example of this is Trumpkin the Dwarf. What does Trumpkin think about the Old Narnians calling for help with the Horn? He thinks that such tactics “‘. . . are all eggs in moonshine’” (PC, p. 96). And when they decide to do it, and as a result Doctor Cornelius says that they must send messengers to at least two other places in case the promised help decides to come there, what does Trumpkin think about this? “‘The first result of all this foolery is not to bring us help but to lose us two fighters’” (PC, p. 97).

But then, how does Trumpkin demonsrate his true loyalty? When the decision is made, by Caspian, the one in authority, Trumpkin is as committed as anyone there to faithful obedience.

“‘But I thought you didn’t believe in the Horn, Trumpkin,’ said Caspian. ‘No more I do, your Majesty. But what’s that got to do with it? I might as well die on a wild goose chase as die here. You are my King. I know the difference between giving advice and taking orders. You’ve had my advice, and now it’s the time for orders’” (PC, p. 98).

But this does not make Trumpkin into a blind cult member, or a brainless foot soldier in some dictator’s army. His loyalty has set and very defined limits, and this is very important. What are some suggested allies for the Old Narnians? “‘There’s an Ogre or two and a Hag that we could introduce you to, up there’” (PC, p. 76). And what does Trumpkin think about that? When someone observes that they would forfeit Aslan’s favor if they were to take such allies, Trumpkin shows us exactly how we should react to such compromises. “‘Oh Aslan!’ said Trumpkin, cheerily but contemptuously. ‘What matters much more is that you wouldn’t have me’” (PC, p. 77).

In other words, Trumpkin knows that he is under authority when it comes to practical decision-making. Caspian is the king, and he must decide when, where, and how they will fight the enemy. Someone has to decide such things, and Trumpkin will give his advice, but he knows that the decision is not his to make. But if it goes beyond strategy and tactics and becomes a matter of whether they should join up with wicked ogres and hags, that would be a decision that is not Caspian’s to make. And if he tried it, Trumpkin would head on down the road. Trumpkin knows that authority is genuine, requiring obedience, and that it is also limited, requiring limits to that obedience.

This kind of heart provides a simple way to make decisions. For another example, in The Silver Chair, where do Eustace’s loyalties lie? “‘And what I want to say is this, that I’m the King’s man; and if this parliament of owls is any sort of plot against the King, I’m having nothing to do with it’” (SC, p. 54).

George MacDonald, one of C.S. Lewis’s heroes, once said that obedience is the great opener of eyes. And that is what we see exhibited in many ways in Narnia. Plain, simple, honest obedience to plain, simple honest authority. We can see how this obedience works. In The Silver Chair, what does the Knight say while he is bound in the chair?

“‘By all fears and all loves, by the bright skies of Overland, by the great Lion, by Aslan himself, I charge you—’Oh!’ said the three travelers as though they had been hurt. ‘It’s the sign,’ said Puddleglum. ‘It was the words of the sign,’ said Scrubb more cautiously. ‘Oh, what are we to do?’ said Jill” (SC, p. 166).

So what do they decide to do?

“On the other hand, what had been the use of learning the signs if they weren’t going to obey them?” (SC, p. 167).

And what is their thinking about it?

“‘You see, Aslan didn’t tell Pole what would happen. He only told her what to do’” (SC, p. 167).

Throughout the Narnia stories, we see the nature of true authority, again and again. True authority is not that which never has to submit; true authority is obedient, and in that submission it grows into the kind of authority that Aslan — who obeyed the deepest magic — had.

Father Hunger


We live in fatherless times. The symptoms are marked, and they are everywhere. In some ways, we have adjusted to it, and in others, we in the conservative Christian world have overreacted to this vacuum by trying to manufacture our own solutions to the problem, which invariably make it worse.

The Text:

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: and he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to the fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse”

(Mal. 4:5-6).


When John the Baptist was asked directly if he was Elijah, he said that he was not (John 1:21). And yet the question was a reasonable one. He was a prophet, like Elijah, and he dressed in the same way that Elijah did (2 Kings 1:8; Matt. 3:4). And yet, Jesus, when He was asked this same question, replied that John the Baptist was Elijah (Matt. 17:10-12; Mk. 9:11-13; Matt. 11:14). The question was asked because of this prophecy—when Elijah came, it would be just prior to the great and dreadful day of the Lord. In other words, Malachi says that Elijah would come as a forerunner to the Messiah, which is precisely the role assigned to John the Baptist in the New Testament. What would be the role of this Elijah? His task would be to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to the fathers, lest God come and smite the earth with a curse.

The Message of John:

It is interesting that the New Testament explicitly connects John to this prophecy, but it does not explicitly talk about this particular consequence of John’s ministry. But we know that this is what happened. So how did John bring this about? What did he preach? His was a baptism of repentance. His message was a message of repentance. “In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, and saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 3:1-2).

His message is a corporate message. He is not only the forerunner of the Messiah, but he is excercising this office by declaring the approach of a kingdom. He is declaring this to the nation of Israel. The prophecy of Malachi said that the alternative to hearing Elijah’s message would be that the earth would be struck with a curse. The relevant command of God (the fifth commandment) says that it is a command with a promise, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you (Dt. 5:16). The New Testament citation of this expands the promise—that “thou mayest live long on the earth” (Eph. 6:2-3). All of which is to say that this is not just another message on “the family.” This is actually a message about the politics of Christendom.

The Problem of Isolation:

Our temptation is to take passages like this one and give them a radical and individualized meaning. If you personally love Jesus, then you personally will have your children’s hearts turned toward you, and you will be turned toward your children. This great eschatological announcement, the turning point in all human history, turns out to be all about you and your white bread family values. This is entirely inadequate, and we will see that the Scriptures are actually explicit on this point.

Seek First the Kingdom:

You cannot make an omelet without breaking a few eggs, as the fellow said. But as another fellow observed, it is amazing how many eggs you can break without ever making a decent omelet. Keep this in mind as we consider the following. “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matt. 6:33). Jesus is here talking about food and clothing (all family issues), but does He ever talk about the family directly? Well, yes. “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:25-35).

Repent Ye:

Remember that John said to repent because a kingdom was about to arrive. And what will be the result of John’s ministry? The hearts of the fathers will be turned, remember? So how do we harmonize this with the radical demands of Jesus that we have just been considering? That which is surrendered in death before God is always raised to life in God. This is true everywhere, but is especially true of the family. It is mentioned by Malachi as one of the principle fruits of John’s ministry.

Corporate and Individual:

Remember the eggs and omelets. If you are an idolater—which means that your citizenship is primarily in some earthly kingdom or other—then you are not seeking first the kingdom. You have not heard John’s words about the arriving kingdom. But we are not told to repent of behavior that is personally destructive because “you need to get your life together.” You do need to get your life together, but not because Jesus is a 12-step program. We are told to repent because His kingdom is near. And so if you live your life without reference to that kingdom, regardless of how conservative and traditional your family values might be, you are only breaking eggs and not making omelets. God is the one who establishes our corporate citizenship, and He has told us how to enter into it.

A Great Kingdom:

The consequences of John’s ministry are described by Malachi, and this description is obviously the work of the Spirit of God. The hearts of the fathers will be turned to the children. The hearts of the children will be turned to the fathers.

We do not try to build strong families in order to build a strong kingdom for God. He has established an invincible kingdom, and when we seek this kingdom first, all these other things are added to us. The fact that these other things have not been added to us, the fact that we live in fatherless times, reveals our attitudes toward God the Father. Father hunger is one of the chief symptoms of our idolatry. It is the basis for our political follies. It accounts for the growth of the paternalistic state. But the solution is not to schedule numerous family retreats. The solution is to announce, preach, and declare that that the kingdoms of this world have become the kingdom of God, and of His Christ.

Which Instrument Are You Practicing?

This is a covenant meal. This means that the covenant features of blessing and cursing run right through the middle of it. In this covenant, God demands what He has always demanded from covenant-keepers, and that is faith in the only one who was a covenant-keeper completely, that is, the Lord Jesus. That is it—simple faith. Trust Him, rest in Him, come to Him, and feast in Him. He is the epitome of true humanity, and as You look to Him in faith, you are being built up into that perfect humanity.

The only alternative to this faith is unbelief. But we must be careful here, because an over-active and pious conscience has made us think that unbelief is any kind of failing, at any level. No, unbelief is rejection, not imperfection in your acceptance.

We are people of faith, we have faith. Do we have faith perfectly? Is our faith not to be improved upon? Are there sins and faults mixed in with this genuine faith? Of course, just as when you are learning to play the piano, you make mistakes. But even when you make mistakes, you are always playing the piano and not, say, the tuba. Such mistakes are not a disqualification for coming to the Supper—they are the precise reason why you must come.

Unbelief that disqualifies is persistent, hard-hearted, obstinate, willful, and this is the most important point about it, obvious to the whole world.

So do not spend your time researching your motives over the course of this last week to determine if you are fit to come. Any baptized person who is concerned over their fitness to come is, by definition, commanded to come. We cannot be reminded too often. This meal is not your reward for being good. It is God’s nourishment for those who would be good. It is God’s kindness for those who would grow up into Jesus Christ. So, come, and eat. Come, and drink. You are in Jesus Christ, and this is why you are welcome.

Here Am I And the Children You Have Given

The glory of the Lord fills His Temple, and the seraphim cover their faces. We are ascending before the Lord God now, and we too must cover our faces. God has made provision for us in this, and we cover ourselves in Jesus Christ. We ascend into the heavenlies in Him and through Him. We cannot go there by ourselves, which is good. If we could make it there in our own name, we would be instantly consumed. This is our position; we are ascending into heaven. This is our justification. This is our legal position. This is our everlasting and eternal status in the kingdom of God.

But these things should make us reflect on the processes of our sanctification, here, on earth. These truths have glorious relevance for how we speak and act. How were you speaking to your children in the car, on the way here? How will you speak to them after? How do you speak to them as you discipline and instruct them during this service of worship?

Do you speak to them in the kind of loving discipline that exhibits kindness in every word, a discipline that make them rejoice to be a disciple, to be under this discipline? Or do you speak with impatience? Harshness? Annoyance?

We understand that teaching little ones to grow up loving the public worship of God is difficult work. But that is no excuse for doing it badly, no reason to chase your children away from the joy of approaching God in His throne room. If you are engaged in this great work of teaching them to love this place because they love how you bring them here, then confess your failings as they arise and continue in your good work. But if you do not know how to teach your children in the public worship of God, and you find yourself continually exasperated, then seek help. Otherwise, you are simply bringing your children before the Lord in order to try to chase them away. And the Word teaches us that this greatly displeases the Lord.

Let Him That Thinks He Stands Take Heed Lest He Paint

“For many artists, ‘it became an acknowledged pastime to ‘shock the burghers’ out of their complacency and to leave them bewildered and bemused’ . . . While this stance may seem heroic, it also contains the seeds of arrogance that helped bring art to its knees—disdain for any other viewer of the art, including patrons and the public . . . legions of no-talent ‘artists’ have covered their lack of skill with a misplaced surfeit of pride” (Robert Knight, The Age of Consent, p. 148).

Classrooms Are Normal

“I want to defend the Christian classroom as a normal and appropriate way to teach children, one that has been used for millennia by covenant parents and that should not be rejected for modern ideological reasons. Covenant schools were common before the time of Christ. The classroom can (and often should) be rejected for practical reasons, but that is another thing entirely” (The Case for Classical Christian Education, p. 196).

Rallying Points

“Whether it is a public hanging, a war, or a televised glorification of violence, a culture’s righteous violence will fascinate its onlookers. It will be a spectacle. Regardless of the rhetoric and details of its justification, if a society can heighten that fascination and bring it to a cathartic sacrificial conclusion, then the sacrificial violence will be a pharmacological cure for the society’s internal animosities” (Gil Bailie, Violence Unveiled, p. 87).