23
Jan
13

How Fictional can “Christian Fiction” Be (while remaining “Christian”)?


[subtitle: Can a Christian Write Non-Christian or Even Antichristian fiction?]

I recently wrote about my early writing ambitions, the study I did and the stories I wrote. Those ambitions never came to fruition but I haven’t given up on them. However things have changed significantly since those University days. Back then there were few restraints on what I wrote – I could tackle any topic, any style and any genre without too much concern. But now I see things differently.

At that time I was going through a spiritual crisis, battling with the beliefs I’d held throughout the previous decade or more. It was a time of questioning and the pushing of boundaries, trying to come to terms with what I did or did not believe and what I SHOULD believe.

My spiritual condition could be summed up in this (paraphrased from memory) description of a character in Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children: “he could not worship a God in whom he could not wholly disbelieve”. To me this describes someone caught between two camps. On the one hand not certain enough of the reality of God to fully devote his life to God; on the other hand not certain enough of God’s non-existence to cast aside all restraint to live a totally God-less life.

It was several years afterwards that I emerged from that crisis with a renewed faith, a development that has consequences for any writing ambitions that I’ve retained. I feel there ARE now restraints on what I write and how I write. There are responsibilities that twenty years ago I didn’t feel were relevant. There are types of writing that wouldn’t be appropriate for me to tackle, to state the obvious: pornography.

But the “restraints” go further than personal moral convictions and extend to the type of spiritual reality that a story portrays. A good friend of mine suggested that there are serious problems with any story that leaves God and the gospel of Jesus out of the equation. To my mind this doesn’t mean that every story a Christian writes (or reads) should contain specific references to these important spiritual realities, it just means that a Christian’s fictional world should remain consistent with the foundational spiritual truths they claim to embrace. The framework of a fictional world created by a Christian writer needs to have Christian realities at its core – even if that core is not specifically mentioned.

I became even more convinced of this yesterday when I read the following on the blog of a Christian author where he describes a major plot-point of his first published novel:
“…a man who’d been used by God to raise someone from the dead was sacrificed to a pagan deity. His soul was effectively imprisoned and the Land was cursed. That curse was maintained by each successive generation. One of my protagonist’s goals becomes to “free” this healer and return his soul to God.

Several reviewers pointed out that, in the real world, this was impossible.
And I pretty much agree.”

Further into his article he decries what he labels “the Theology Police” (a term he “wield[s] with lotsa snark”) who would criticise his story’s premise.

I have a very serious problem with the attitude the author is conveying. He seems to suggest there is absolutely no responsibility on Christian authors to remain true to even the most basic of the spiritual truths their alleged faith upholds. As if they can cast aside foundational truths to portray an alternative spiritual worldview all for the sake of story. As if the story takes priority over truth.

I’m sure many will agree with him and disagree with me – pointing out that he is an author writing fiction, that there are no limits on what he should be able to write in his own created fictional world.

Of course any fiction writer can create whatever reality they think suits their story – but whether that fiction writer can still legitimately refer to themselves as a Christian writer, or by the more flexible label of “writer who is a Christian” is debatable. For the writer (and reader) with no strong religious conviction all of this wouldn’t be an issue. But to someone believing in a genuine spiritual battle in which there are personal eternal consequences the situation ought to be entirely different.

In the case mentioned above, the author himself recognises the problem with the scenario his novel presents: as if the “soul” of a Godly many could be imprisoned after death and need to be freed to return to God.
What kind of spiritual “reality” and God is that portraying? And does it really matter as long as it’s entertaining?
I’d say it is a false reality and a false God, and YES it does matter.

Personally I’d prefer to read a well written secular novel by a non-believing author than one written by a Christian that protrays a counterfeit spirituality and a false God.

At least with the non-Christian author I have no false expectations about what I’d be reading.

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18 Responses to “How Fictional can “Christian Fiction” Be (while remaining “Christian”)?”


  1. January 23, 2013 at 2:57 pm

    For an interesting comment from a self-confessed member of the “Theology Police” see here:

    http://mikeduran.com/2013/01/christian-fantasy-novels-our-theological-buffer/#comment-109523

    And also a related entry on her own blog:

    http://mycropht.wordpress.com/2013/01/15/the-fiction-theology-police/

  2. 2 Marleen
    January 24, 2013 at 3:23 am

    Yikes. Are this guy, people like him, and (apparently) some publishers saying that all it takes for a person to claim to be a Christian author is to not cuss and and not put sexual scenes in ink? Maybe they think that’s a high standard. And maybe they think a “high standard” (or a few) is all there really is to Christianity.

  3. 3 Marleen
    January 24, 2013 at 3:49 am

    Here is something else, actually the first main thing I noticed.

    He (Mike Duran) said: In writing fantasy worlds, the author has a “fair license” to create her own laws. On the other hand, stories rooted in the here-and-now are somewhat bound by “the rules of this world.” In other words, I am free to sacrifice characters to pagan gods. I am not, however, free to allow those gods to be stronger than the Christian God.

    Unless, I write Fantasy.

    In writing Fantasy Fiction, not only can the Christian author be ambiguous about God or gods, she is free to create a world where that God / those gods interact with their creation and its denizens in whatever ways appropriate. So in Middle Earth, souls can be bound under lock and curse without a problem (see: The Dead Men of Dunharrow). In Stonetree, however, the “dead” must stay that way.

    Which is one reason I’m suggesting that Fantasy Fiction is so prominent among Christian novelists. Christian Fantasy novels provide a buffer against theological scrutiny. So the author can write what they want without fear of being nabbed by the Theology Police. After all, you don’t need to watch your theological P’s and Q’s if the world you create uses a different alphabet.

    So, now, there is one other thing to Christianity — that “the Christian God” be the strongest. If that is what there is to it, the faith of such a person is seriously in question as far as my view is concerned; I wouldn’t trust him. “In writing Fantasy Fiction, not only can the Christian author be ambiguous about God or gods, she is free to create a world where that G[g]od / those gods interact with their creation and its denizens in whatever ways appropriate.” I’ll stay away from buying Christian novels of all sorts I think (although, as well as because, I have read some Lewis and seen Tolkien movies). I avoid most Christian non-fiction too though.

  4. 4 Marleen
    January 24, 2013 at 4:13 am

    There is plenty of fiction to sort out of Christian history, by the way. I read that sort of thing.

  5. 5 Marleen
    January 24, 2013 at 8:29 am

    I don’t mean to say Christian fiction shouldn’t be written. It’s just that I don’t find the safety in it that I guess some people do — enough people for there to be a genre that publishers think will make them plenty of money (without four-letter words and the like) — the stamp of “Christian” shouldn’t work like that. The motivation seems to be sales based on the sense of being safe (and maybe some self-righteousness based on just enough). But maybe word can get around about particular authors who are more conscientious.

  6. January 24, 2013 at 8:51 am

    There is a problem when “Christian” fiction becomes a marketing category. The problem is increases when secular publishers have control over that category and their main priority is sales and profits and they have no concerns about “theological” soundness as long as people (Christians) keep buying the books.
    Considering the “theological” ignorance of many professing Christians today, they can get away with publishing bad theology as long as the books remain inoffensive (no sex, no gratuitous violence, no bad language).

    Being marketed as “Christian” and being sold in “Christian” bookstores gives the “theology” contained within the books an appearance of Christian legitimacy – a dangerous situation when poor (and even outright FALSE) theology is given that “legitimacy”.

  7. January 24, 2013 at 10:19 am

    Here is my experience with reading Christian Fiction. I was getting hooked on a certain authors books. He writes mostly fantasy, with a focus on serial killers. Because I felt a little uncomfortable with some of his material, I prayed for Yahweh to please let me know if this was the kind of stuff I should be reading, as this man claims to be Christian, and has written some inspirational book also. The Holy Spirit spoke to me loud and clear, and said what kind of Christian would write books about serial killers? I knew that instant to stop reading his stuff, and prayed for forgiveness, asking my Heavenly Father to cleanse my mind of such filth. His books have no redeeming quality, but whats sad about it, is many Christians, mostly woman read his stuff. Even my old Pastor endorsed him from behind the pulpit.

  8. January 24, 2013 at 10:47 am

    Michelle, maybe there could be a legitimate reason for a Christian author to write a story about serial killers but I can’t see one myself.
    A question that came to my mind is “what is a writer trying to appeal to within his/her readers and is it acceptable to do so?”

    For example, my early fiction writings leaned towards horror – but I see using horror fiction in a Christian context is problematical. I’m not saying it can’t be done – just that I can’t see a way to do it. I’d have to ask what effect on the reader I was trying to create. Can horror fiction be used to do anything other than appeal to fear or cause disgust? Is it legitimate for a Chrisitan author to appeal to those emotions for the sake of entertainment? I would say no!

    Sadly it seems Christian writers often mimic the world trends. Serial killer fiction is popular, why not have a “Christian” option? Wizards, elves and goblins are popular in secular fantasy fiction – why not create a “Christian” fantasy novel with them?

    Don’t be surprised when a “Christian” Fifty Shades of Grey finds its way onto the Christian book store shelves.

  9. 9 Marleen
    January 25, 2013 at 3:15 am

    I read all but one of Lewis’s “Chronicles of Narnia” when I was very young (I lent one of the set out and never got it back, and I don’t remember which one). I have no regrets about reading them and remember them fondly. At the same time, looking into them afresh, I decided not to recommend them to my own children. I don’t know how to explain it, but both the fact that I read them and the fact that my children didn’t are good.

    However, I decided to read more of Lewis something like four years ago. I liked a lot of what I read; but then I read something that I think was his re-do of some Greek story. I think it was a mistake for him to have done that one. [I also read one additional book of his, a non-fiction, maybe twenty years ago; it was fine.] I have a friend (from my adult years) who, beginning when he was in his middle years, read a lot of Lewis and liked doing so. I think he started with the science fiction space series (which I have not read), or maybe some non-fiction, and he liked it all… until he got to “The Screwtape Letters” (which I have not read in full but started) — and he said, “That’s enough.” Something about it turned him off to the whole endeavor.

  10. 10 Martin
    January 25, 2013 at 8:43 am

    Why does this genre exist in the first place. Now, I don’t believe anyone would put me in the theology police, but having worked in a Christian book shop many years ago when this stuff was getting off the ground, I can say it is trash!!!

    There’s so much in the plain text of the Bible to explore, so why do we need Christian fiction? Isn’t life hard enough already?

  11. January 25, 2013 at 9:09 am

    I have no problem with the idea of Christian fiction – as long as it remains true to the label. Unfortunately that isn’t the case with the publishing genre of that name. Most published under that category is not Christian.

  12. 12 Marleen
    January 25, 2013 at 10:50 am

    I don’t know if Lewis and Tolkien were the first, but they were writing as a bit of emotional or mental escape (and were very much in demand, at least I know Lewis was), for one thing, during the second WW in England (or thereabouts). I read half of the “Chronicles of Narnia” books to fulfill assigned book reports (where I got to choose what the books would be as long as the teacher would approve, and gladly approve she did). Someone had given me the set, and I probably would not have read them without the school requirement to read (I didn’t like reading much and only remember three other books I enjoyed reading myself before that in childhood). Shortly after I had read all of those that I had, an aunt (who became a librarian) gave me a Madeleine L’Engle book. I read it (during summer instead of for school) but didn’t like it. It seemed (weird and) different, to me, from Lewis. I learned very early that something being called Christian doesn’t make it good. For another one of those school assignments, I looked at a “recommended” list from the favorite English (and theology) teacher. That’s when I read “The Hiding Place” and… the rest is history.

  13. January 25, 2013 at 11:21 am

    I read some of Lewis as a child and I remember parts of The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe being read in class in primary school. I later read all of the books in my teens. At the time I was going through a phase of “song-writing” or at least lyric-writing and had the ambition of writing lyrics based on the Narnia books.

    Around that time I’d had a bit of an introduction to the gospel and could recognise a lot of biblical allusions in the Narnia stories – but that gospel introduction wasn’t comprehensive enough to cause concern about the mixing of pagan myth with those allusions.

    I don’t think today’s average reader would recognise the gospel allusions in the way someone in Lewis’s time may have done. There is far less knowledge of gospel basics in the general community now, and the mixture of pagan spirits and classical myth within the stories makes them more sympathetic to the religious syncretism pervading today’s western religious community.

    I remember reading a review of BBC TV adaptation of Lion Witch Wardrobe a long time ago in a Science fiction magazine. The review was highly critical of the blatant Christian message of the story. I doubt that any reviewer today would even recognise that “message”.

  14. 14 Marleen
    January 25, 2013 at 1:36 pm

    “I read some of Lewis as a child and I remember parts of The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe being read in class in primary school. I later read all of the books in my teens. ….

    Around that time I’d had a bit of an introduction to the gospel and could recognise a lot of biblical allusions in the Narnia stories…..”

    Yes, that’s what made writing the book reports fun.

    “At the time I was going through a phase of “song-writing” or at least lyric-writing and had the ambition of writing lyrics based on the Narnia books.”

    That would be interesting.

    “I remember reading a review of BBC TV adaptation of Lion Witch Wardrobe a long time ago in a Science fiction magazine. The review was highly critical of the blatant Christian message of the story. I doubt that any reviewer today would even recognise that….”

    My favorite (of two favorites) public school teacher — sixth grade — (in other words, not someone who taught theology) once started reading “The Hobbit” in class. She never continued. I wonder if a parent protested. I had been glad for a break in the day, but I wasn’t very interested anyway. And I really had no clue what we were listening to. I think Tolkien fits more easily into a secular setting.

  15. January 25, 2013 at 1:45 pm

    My introduction to Tolkien was a teacher reading part of The Hobbit.

    I later tried to read LOTR but never got more than half way through the second book. Unlike Lewis’s fiction I see no discernable Christian element in LOTR. it is based more on Nordic/Germanic myth. Christians have latched on to LOTR because of Tolkien’s religious affiliation – as if anything written by a professed Christian becomes Christ-friendly.

  16. 16 Marleen
    January 26, 2013 at 12:33 am

    Have you ever heard of “Watership Down”? Someone I know who did read LOTR also liked that (by a different author) and wasn’t into Lewis at all. I’m not sure he’d ever heard of Lewis before meeting me, while I’d never heard of this other person and his famous book (as far as I recall). I don’t know if the author of “Watership Down” was — is — considered Christian. After looking around a little, Tolkien isn’t always labeled as Christian like Lewis is; he’s also (fittingly) not categorized as children’s literature. The author of “Watership Down” is also not categorized as Christian, but is categorized as children’s. He’s also English. And while he served in WWII, he wrote significantly later than Lewis and began by telling stories to his daughters.

    Here are a couple of links…
    http://whitchurcharts.org.uk/2012/11/art-exhibition-nov-3rd-4th-2012/
    http://whitchurcharts.org.uk/events/whitchurch-arts-award/whitchurch-arts-award-2010-richard-adams/

  17. January 29, 2013 at 7:13 am

    Yes, I read Watership Down many years ago. I’ve owned a few copies of the book. My original copy was lent to someone at work – and never returned.

    I eventually bought a new copy and someone form church borrowed it – it was never returned. Then a couple of years ago I found a hardcover, illustrated copy in a junk shop for three dollars. I haven’t read that one yet.

    I heard an interview with the author and he would describe himself as a christian – however it was clear fomr the rest of the interview that his “faith” was cultural.

  18. 18 Marleen
    January 30, 2013 at 12:55 pm

    I think I’ll read it. I’ve found out about a feature with which I can seamlessly switch back and forth on my reading tablet from a professionally recorded reading to my own reading of the text.


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