Monday, January 07, 2008

The Modern-Day Christian Knight

One of the books I got for Christmas was Raising a Modern Day Knight: A Father's Role in Guiding his Son to Authentic Manhood* -- and a good choice, too, considering I have a son who really wants to grow up to be a Jedi (but I worry about his Sith tendancies).

What I found interesting about the book is that it uses knighthood as its central theme, but it's really more about raising a Christian boy who grows up to be a decent man. The evangelical Christian focus is no surprise, since the book is a "Focus on the Family" resource. Since I'm an evangelical Christian myself, both the medieval theme and Christian focus were welcome.

Evangelical Christians have a mixed relationship with medievalism. Though they sometimes borrow medievalist terms, for the most part the word "medieval" draws connotations of Catholicism that many evangelicals see as mostly a spectator religion.** While there are some groups like Campus Crusade for Christ, the word "crusade" there is used as the blandest of metaphors; it isn't like CCC is trying to drive the Muslims out of the Holy Land, or like they use a lot of medieval iconography.

The disconnect between the medieval and evangelical works both ways. I have found that medievalists tend to be the most Christian of scholars in English Departments. Even those who are non-Christian generally demonstrate a great degree of respect for Christian thought. The ethic seems to work like this: Scholars of the medieval have to gain familiarity with the important Christian thinkers of the Middle Ages, and so even when they disagree with them, they are familiar enough to respect them and see the notion of the "superstitious medieval church" as the kind of phrase uttered only by the ignorant. In other words, lack of respect for Christian thought is often thought of as a lack of scholarly acumen.

For that same reason, then, medievalists tend to view proper Christianity as more Catholic, especially in such areas as liturgy. Anglicans and Lutherans, by following similar forms to Catholics, are at least recognizable, but evangelical denominations tend to be ignored or considered "low Church" in both senses of the word "low."

So, why the use of the knight metaphor in this book? Author Robert Lewis's explanation could have been written in the introduction of almost any book of modern medievalism:
This medieval figure casts an impressive masculine shadow. Clothed in chain mail, brandishing a sword, and mounted on an invincible steed, the knight remains even today a symbol of virile manhood. Vestiges of knighthood still dot our cultural landscape, from our language to our ideals to our traditions [....] Even though historians would probably say the knight once popularized by literature was more an ideal than a reality, still he remains a powerful metaphor. In fact, I would be so bold as to argue that knighthood -- despite some of its shortcomings -- offers any dad a powerful outline for his son's successful journey to manhood. (11-12)

Lewis interprets the metaphorical outline of manhood in knighthood as boiling down to four principles:
  1. A Real Man Rejects Passivity (i.e., doesn't avoid social responsibility)
  2. A Real Man Accepts Responsibility He subdivides this into three categories: a will to obey, a work to do, and a woman to love. This strikes me as a good thumbnail sketch of knighthood in romances of troubadours.
  3. A Real Man Leads Courageously
  4. A Real Man Expects the Greater Reward He cautions that all of the above require duty and sacrifice, but that the knight can expect non-material rewards, such as an honorable name, respect of his community, etc.
Finally, Lewis divides a boy's childhood development into three stages: page, squire, and knight. In addition to offering advice on how to raise your son in each of these stages (such as teaching a particular code of conduct, etc), Lewis spends a great deal of time on the importance of ceremony to mark the movement of a boy from one stage to the next -- which for his own sons involved creating their own family coat of arms, which was then engraved on custom-made rings for the men.

In the end, the knighthood metaphor is of limited usefulness for describing the childrearing methods Lewis is proposing. At one point, he abandons it altogether for a volleyball metaphor (leaving me visualizing knights in plate armor on the beach spiking the ball). Perhaps the greatest usefulness of the knighthood metaphor isn't in its ability to describe raising boys, but rather in its ability to capture the imaginations of boys and inspire them to aspire to honorable manhood.

*I find all these slickly-marketed packages annoying. Stuff like that leads me to think that Rick Warren has, on balance, left a negative legacy for other evangelicals.
**Yes, I know that there are Catholic evangelical groups like the Fellowship of Catholic University Students. I'm talking about stereotypes here, not necessarily the reality.


  1. This description most strikingly reminds me of John Eldredge's book Wild At Heart, (which I read a few years ago, but didn't think that it went as far as it could with implications for his discussions)--in which Eldredge uses the image of a knight to describe the sense of adventure inherent in males. After clicking my way to the website for Raising a Modern Day Knight, I saw that it's actually connected to the same group as Eldredge's resources.

    As to the use of medieval terms in evangelical circles, a speaker at my parents' church used the word "crusades" yesterday to reference the tactics of the traveling-evangelist preacher William Booth (founder of the Salvation Army) in the 19th century. Of course, in the evangelical past, the term of "campus crusades" is not nearly a rarity. The use of the term in a sermon sent my mind whirling, wondering the implications of such rhetoric and its connections to the Middle Ages.

  2. It's true that the word "crusade" still floats around, meaning something like "a particular instance of mass evangelism," such as Billy Graham's crusades. Still, I can't ever recall seeing Billy Graham dressed like a Templar, or a sword at a Campus Crusade event, or any other medieval symbolism.

    Part of the problem might be the association of Christian knights with the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan -- one of the less honorable medievalist organizations.

  3. Anonymous12:38 PM

    Is Rick Warren being attacked for visit to Syria by interests that are foreign, pretending to be Christian?

    more at:
    MOSSAD "CHRISTIANITY" Rick Warren, James Sundquist

  4. Ever looked into the medievalist/chivalric symbolism of the Scouting movement?

  5. Steve,

    There used to be a group called The Knights of King Arthur, but I haven't found as much on them as I would like.