Should Christian Fiction Genres Exist?

Some readers argue that having a genre specifically for Christians isolates us from the world. But is this really the case?
| Mar 16, 2018 | 6 comments |

“The world does not need more Christian literature. What it needs is more Christians writing good literature.”

– C. S. Lewis

This quote, from one of the literary greats of the twentieth century, is one I’ve heard often in Christian circles. It’s a quote I generally agree with. Christian fiction has historically had quality problems and we need to emphasize the production of good literature rather than just literature with the Christian brand slapped on it.

However, some Christians take this quote in another direction. Not only should we de-emphasize the Christian fiction genre, but according to some, we shouldn’t even have a genre for Christian fiction in the first place. In the minds of some, “Christian fiction” is a retreat from the world where we insulate ourselves in closed communities with sub-par fiction.

Which leads to a question: should we really be avidly reading works of Christian fiction if the genre insulates us from the rest of the world?

Or, to put it another way: what is the purpose of reading Christian fiction? And how can we defend the genre to those who believe it’s automatically sub-par?

Tolkien vs. Lewis: two approaches to fiction

Since Lewis’s quote often comes into play in these debates, it may be helpful to compare the books he wrote to the books his fellow Inkling Tolkien wrote. Lewis, in The Chronicles of Narnia and The Space Trilogy, very much fell into the genre of Christian fiction as the books clearly displayed a rather explicit Christian worldview. Tolkien, on the other hand, in Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, shies away from an explicitly Christian worldview and doesn’t really fall into the Christian fiction genre.

While some readers may prefer one approach over another, neither is wrong—and it goes without saying how much these two works have shaped the speculative Christian genre. Indeed, few naysayers of Christian fiction that I know fault Lewis for his genre decisions. But why is that the case? What kept Lewis’ work from becoming escapist literature?

Let’s look at what Lewis did more closely. The Chronicles of Narnia don’t target Christians because Lewis wants Christians to become comfortable or insular in their subculture. He targets Christians because he wants to challenge and equip them to go out in the world and act like faithful Christians. In Prince Caspian, Lucy learns to follow Aslan and live out a life of faith even when no one else believes her. In The Horse and His Boy, Avery learns to stop worrying about what everyone else is doing and simply do the right thing herself. In The Silver Chair, Jill and Eustace learn to follow the right path and not be turned away from it.

In contrast to stories like God’s Not Dead which pat Christians on the back and vilify the other side, Lewis is far more concerned with challenging Christians for the flaws they fall into in his stories. As a result, far from isolating Christians from the world, Lewis equips Christians to engage the world.

One way to look at Christian genres

I frequently hear other Christian writers asking how explicitly they should tie their faith into the stories they write. The way I frame it for writers deciding between Christian and secular genres is to look at it between a choice between two options:

  1. General fiction (secular fiction) should explore what it means to live as a human in general.
  2. Christian fiction should explore what it means to live as a Christian in particular.

This principle has helped me understand the purpose of these genres as a reader. While a biblical perspective should influence everything that we do, God has revealed himself through general revelation and so general fiction can lean on that to showcase true aspects of the world we live in. But we need fiction that explores more than simply what general revelation reveals. We need stories that explore life as a Christian. These are stories that may not interest secular readers. And that’s fine.

We don’t need to feel guilty that secular readers may not enjoy works of Christian fiction. We shouldn’t fear that this means Christian fiction isn’t objectively good. Sometimes certain themes are much more applicable to one audience than another. Here’s what that can look like:

The Promise of Jesse Woods by Chris Fabry looks at a man who returns to his hometown to try and steer a woman away from a potentially-disastrous marriage. In doing so, the book questions our ability to save others, specifically in the context of the Christian life. The moral quandaries the protagonist struggles with may not be quite as relevant to unbelievers, but they are exceptionally relevant for believers.

To give an example from the Christian speculative fiction genre, Echoes from the Edge by Bryan Davis explores the struggle of a young man to forgive and move past his girlfriend’s sexual past before conversion. An unbeliever may not care for or sympathize with this struggle. But Christians will—and Christians need this kind of story.

Finally, while this last one is a film, Believe Me by Riot Studios is one of my favorite Christian films because of its critique of American evangelicalism. Because half the film satirizes various elements of evangelical culture, many secular critics don’t understand its references or point. But for Christians, it’s a thought-provoking and engaging story.

None of these stories have much to appeal to secular readers. But they’re not supposed to because they’re aiming at issues particular to Christians. As long as they’re good stories which aim to challenge Christians, we shouldn’t feel guilty about enjoying such stories. Far from isolating us from the world, they equip us to better engage as Christians with the outside world.

The purpose of Christian fiction

It’s certainly possible for works of Christian fiction to unhelpfully pander to readers rather than challenging them. God’s Not Dead would be one instance of this in the film realm. But bad apples shouldn’t cause us to write off the genre as a whole or bemoan the fact that there is a commercial genre targeting Christian readers. There are good reasons for enjoying and seeking out Christian fiction. We just need to make sure we’re finding works that actually challenge and equip us.

If you’ve largely written off the Christian fiction genre because in the past you’ve seen it as sub-par pandering, perhaps the problem is that you haven’t been reading the right works in the genre. There are many works of Christian fiction out there that are legitimately good stories and that challenge Christians in appropriate ways.

You don’t need to view Christian fiction as a sub-par genre. Some writers may treat it that way. But we can demand better as readers and seek out works that truly challenge and equip Christians to live more faithful lives for Christ.

The world may not need more Christian literature—but Christians do need Christian literature.

Read great Christian stories and even if the world may not care for them, that hardly makes a difference.

Stephen Hawking’s Death: One Christian’s Reaction

Stephen Hawking’s public atheism grew during his lifetime, but we can hope he knew the God he often wrote about.
| Mar 15, 2018 | 2 comments |

On the 14th of March, 2018, which ironically happens to have been Albert Einstein’s birthday (and Pi day), Stephen Hawking died.

As a theoretical physicist, most of his scientific contributions revolved around black holes (no irony intended), probably most significantly in that he noticed that quantum mechanics requires that over time a black hole would lose mass, something relativity would not have predicted (in something called Hawking Radiation). He also contributed to discussions of the origin of the universe, speculating that the entire universe may be essentially a singularity in reverse (something rather like a black hole vomiting up its guts)–though this idea is one some other physicists do not agree is viable based on observational data (notably Hawking’s past collaborator Roger Penrose).

Hawking was more than just a physicist who made some significant contributions to the understanding of the universe. He was the most famous physicist of my lifetime (though not anywhere close to being as important as Einstein was, to be honest) and a significant figure in popular culture. His long-term degenerative illness, Lou Gehrig’s Disease (or ALS), which restricted him to a wheelchair and a robotic voice, are well-known world-wide–or perhaps a better word would be “infamous.”

Stephen Hawking on Star Trek: The Next Generation in 1993 (with “Einstein,” Data, and “Newton”)

He was himself a science fiction fan, who appeared on an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, which I’ve seen, playing poker with Data, Einstein, and Newton. He also appeared The Big Bang Theory, Futurama, and The Simpsons (in episodes I haven’t seen).

He has been referenced in popular culture outside the shows he voluntarily cooperated with, including (believe it or not), Epic Rap Battles of History.

I imagine if you asked people prior to his death, “Who is the most intelligent person living today?” many would have put Hawking on their short list, perhaps in first place. His personal opinion concerning what if would mean for humanity to meet aliens made headlines worldwide. And he offered opinions on numerous other matters, such as Scottish independence (which he opposed).

I’ve read two of Hawking’s books in which he attempted to explain his ideas on the universe to a general audience. Not that I believe my opinions are hugely important (hey, I’m not a theoretical physicist), but I thought A Brief History of Time, first published in 1988,was interesting and informative. In contrast, I found The Grand Design, published in 2010, which went out of its way to say the idea of God is not needed to explain the universe, while at the same time saying that a unified theory linking quantum mechanics to relativity may not be possible, to be a massive cop-out. (My thinking: “You are both saying that maybe science may never understand a key and very basic feature of the universe and at the same time saying even though you don’t understand the universe you are sure God had nothing to do with it. Poor reasoning!”)

A Brief History of Time actually mentioned God on numerous occasions, though usually in the context of explaining how the universe does not work–that is, God could have made things work one way, but science things that isn’t correct, because etc. Hawking also stated at one point that he wanted “to know the mind of God” in his physics, which is something Einstein had said earlier, a statement he would later repudiate as a mere figure of speech.

While he made several prior statements questioning the idea of life after death and the existence of a personal God, it was not until 2014 that Hawking plainly stated he was an atheist and that he thought belief in God makes no sense. So it seems to me, as an outside and non-professional observer, that Hawking became increasingly hostile to the idea of God during his lifetime–while simultaneously adopting increasingly poorly-reasoned positions on the nature of the universe (in my opinion, of course). To me, the connection between the increased hostility towards God and deteriorated thinking seems obvious.

Perhaps there is also a connection to Dr. Hawking’s protracted suffering with ALS and his hostile attitude towards God. Though I don’t think so. In my observation, people who suffer usually find themselves feeling closer to God than those who do not.

I really cannot know what was in Dr. Hawking’s mind. I can hope that his increased support of atheism over time was merely a response to the atheism of his peers. Perhaps he actually might have wondered it God is real–perhaps he may have even secretly found personal faith. Perhaps he even was a “closeted” Christian. Though there’s no particular reason to believe that to be the case.

I hope Stephen Hawking finds a place in the eternity he publicly denied exists. Or perhaps, if God has allowed it, a Stephen Hawking from an alternate universe will find his place in eternity, in the presence of God.

I hope so.

Madeleine L’Engle on ‘Bad Religion’

The equation between bad religion and bad art is false.
| Mar 14, 2018 | 1 comment |

If it’s bad art, it’s bad religion, no matter how pious the subject.

The release of A Wrinkle In Time has brought this quotation to the surface. It sounds profound and is, I think, deeply wrong, but I don’t want to attack a lone, disconnected sentence. It would be better to return the sentence to its proper context, attempt to understand it, and then attack it.

The statement is taken from Madeleine L’Engle’s Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art. After some meandering, L’Engle expands the idea:

Basically there can be no categories as “religious” art and “secular” art, because all true art is incarnational, and therefore “religious”.

To understand what she means by incarnational, we must backtrack to an earlier passage, a sort of extended analogy that compares artists to the Virgin Mary at the Annunciation (it sounds less silly when L’Engle says it, but never doubt: It is really, in absolute and incontrovertible truth, just as silly):

[The] artist must be obedient to the work … I believe that each work of art … comes to the artist and says, “Here I am. Enflesh me. Give birth to me.” And the artist either says, “My soul doth magnify the Lord,” and willingly becomes the bearer of the work, or refuses; but the obedient response is not necessarily a conscious one.

The pithiest summation of all this is that art is religion. A more difficult, and perhaps truer, summation is that art is inherently religious because to create it is, consciously or unconsciously, a religious act – an act of obedience to the divine or, at least, to the transcendent. And this brings us back again to the original statement that to be guilty of bad art is to be guilty of bad religion.

Make no mistake: The guilt is real. L’Engle lightly comments in Walking on Water that the writer of a “shoddy novel” has “reject[ed] the obedience, tak[en] the easy way out.” So to write a shoddy novel is a moral failing. Your bad prose flows from your moral weakness and the holes in your plot darkly reflect the hole in your character.

The equation between bad religion and bad art, and between moral failure and artistic failure, is false. It is flat nonsense to believe that a bad story must come from disobedience to “the work” and never consider that it probably comes from the eternal gremlins of artistic endeavors, lack of time and lack of skill. I put great emphasis on skill, more than on any nebulously-rendered obedience; it’s real and practical and necessary. In art, as in sports, no emotion, belief, or effort is enough in itself. You must have the skill, too.

Art is not an obedient response to “the work” that, L’Engle imagines, somehow already exists and wants to be incarnated; it’s not a religious act. Art is work, in the same way that cooking a meal or building a bridge is work, and like all work, it can be done badly or it can be done well. Certainly the religion of the art can influence its quality. But to make the quality of a work’s religion synonymous with the quality of its art is as wrongheaded as judging love by its poetry. (And if we did judge love by its poetry, we would know from the greetings cards we have all given and received that the world is a cold, dark, loveless place.)

There is excellent art that is bad religion. There is bad art that is excellent religion. Religion and art are not so closely bound as to make one bad or good as the other is bad or good. To think they are is bad religion.

Lorehaven Launch: Enter the Editor

Lorehaven issue 1 launches this spring. Get to know our crew, including editor Elijah David.
| Mar 13, 2018 | No comments |

Lorehaven magazine releases in a matter of weeks.

We review the best Christian-made fantastical novels—and help you find truth in fantastic stories, with cover stories, articles, Roundtable discussions, and beyond.

This free magazine will release first to email subscribers. Sign up and read it early.

Meanwhile, we’re announcing the crew behind this particular launch, starting with:

Next up is a longtime friend and fantastical ally of mine. He goes back to the NarniaWeb online forum, where I first knew him as “Shastastwin.” Now I’m blessed to have his faith-fantasy-and-editing skills in service to the upcoming Lorehaven launch.

Name, role, and crew

Elijah David is editor of Lorehaven magazine.

Elijah and his wife, Jeana, have been married for almost 7 years. They have one active toddler who loves his cat, and a calico cat who tolerates her toddler.

Personal log

Elijah loves listening to new music, exploring stories in almost any medium, and creating (whether it be written, visual, dramatic, or needlework art). As an ambivert (sitting quite literally on the border between introvert and extrovert), he craves solitude and fellowship in fairly equal measure, and there’s nothing that satisfies his fellowship craving more than having people over to his house for dinner and games.


Elijah came to Christ at a very young age. He was raised in a church that, while Southern Baptist, had a formerly Pentecostal pastor. (They often joked that they were “Southern Bapticostal.”) In college, he met Jeana through their local church and the Baptist Campus Ministry. Nowadays, they worship and serve at White Oak Baptist Church a short way from home.

New worlds

Elijah loves just about anything fantastic in nature, along with a good mystery. He doesn’t mind horror as long as it’s hopeful rather than bleak. He is a fan of more franchises than he can count, but some of the big ones are Harry Potter, Star Wars, Star Trek, Marvel and DC comics (mostly the animated and film versions), the Dresden Files, Once Upon a Time, and anything Arthurian legend-related.

Albion Academy, Elijah DavidHe writes a broad mix of fantasy subgenres, but his published stories are Albion Academy (the first of four books in a modern Arthurian-related series with plenty of other myths thrown in) and the John Valley short stories (magical realism/low fantasy stories set in the South). He draws and paints whatever comes to mind and is currently working on a drawing series of 100 mythical figures.

Home base

Elijah blogs at about the books he’s reading and writing, the visual art he creates, and anything else that begs to be blogged. He can be found on Facebook, at Goodreads, and on Pinterest.

Next week—enter the review chief, Austin Gunderson.

We Need More Christian Fiction

Half the battle is believing that Christian fiction should do more than “create art for art’s sake.” I don’t see that position in Scripture. Rather, I think a more accurate statement for the Christian is that we are to create art for God’s sake.
| Mar 12, 2018 | 3 comments |

I know we at Spec Faith have made a plea for Christian fiction (as opposed to simply fiction by Christians) before, but I want to voice my concerns again.

One school of thought is that Christians simply need to write well and God will be glorified and the job of the author is done. Another school of thought is that the gospel needs to be declared in every story, and an example of someone repenting and changing is most desirable.

The problem is that the world seems to be winning the story-telling battle. How many books and movies and manga and drama contain the prevailing concepts of a godless worldview? Well, perhaps not godless. Many replace God with a man-centric view. We simply need to look within. The power is in us. We can do all things.

There is an increase of books about transgender issues and challenging authority, about terrorism and domestic violence. We see stories that suggest intentional fraud in religion and others that promote a pantheistic worldview. The one thing we don’t see is a story with a positive Christian role model or someone who believes the Bible. More often than not a religious person is depicted as phony or greedy or not that serious about his beliefs.

Speculative fiction might lead the way in showing this march toward life lived without thought of God. Stories largely reflect the values of society, and the violence, the sexual perversion, the preoccupation with pleasure, the absence of an emphasis on integrity are symptoms of what fuels real life.

So, I wonder, how can a Christian write well in this environment?

I don’t think writing a “beautiful” story is enough. The most obvious reason is that a story isn’t actually beautiful unless it deals with a large truth, a universal need. So we may think some stories are wonderful because they have a great plot and such engaging characters, but if they don’t also address something vital to the human condition, they fall short.

At the same time, stories that offer the gospel message, while truthful and absolutely accurate, may fall on deaf ears simply because readers can’t relate.

Over and over critics of Christian fiction remind us that stories are different from sermons, and they are. That doesn’t mean that stories should be silent about the most important things in life. Rather, stories are vital because they involve a reader’s emotions. In addition, stories can say in fresh ways what readers may have missed in more didactic formats.

Why is Christian story-telling fighting to find a place in the market?

I love many books by Christians, and a short glimpse at the Spec Faith library will show you that there’s no lack of titles available. I’ve edited some of these authors, I’ve reviewed a number of the books, I’ve read far more for pure enjoyment. But none of the recent sci-fi or fantasy titles are reaching “across the aisle” to the general market. Oh, sure, some might in small numbers, but I don’t see anything like the Left Behind phenomenon or the way The Shake captured readers.

I don’t know why Christian fiction can’t regularly be read widely, not because it’s theology is controversial, but because it’s just that compelling that readers talk about it and recommend it and get excited about it.

Some of the best books I’ve read come up short in some significant way: I’ve read some with characters that are forgettable; I’ve read others with convoluted plots; I’ve also read some that seem little more than frivolous; and yes, I’ve read some that are preachy.

What this boils down to, I think, is writers focusing on some aspects of fiction, but not on all parts. So you have some stories that have wonderful characters, but the action is episodic and doesn’t lead to a climactic conclusion. You can read a chapter, put the book down, even stop reading all together, because nothing is driving you to know what happens next.

Other books are action packed, and I find myself staying up late at night because I just can’t put the book down. But when I’m finished, I feel a little like “so what?” I don’t see how the protagonist made a distinct change or made his world better.

Above all, in some stories, I have to wonder in what ways they differ from what a non-Christian might have written.

I may not have said this before, but I think writing Christian fiction is one of the hardest things there is to do. How do we write well and remain faithful to the gospel message? How do entertain, and communicate the life-changing truth?

Half the battle is believing that Christian fiction should do more than “create art for art’s sake.” I don’t see that position in Scripture. Rather, I think a more accurate statement for the Christian is that we are to create art for God’s sake.

What that looks like in the end won’t be the same for any two books, not if done well. There simply is no formula. But if we Christians don’t use fiction to further the kingdom of God, we are cutting off one important communication tool.

I know that’s controversial. Just recently I heard another pastor on the radio disparaging “the arts” as a means of communicating the gospel. Certainly stories don’t replace sermons, but they can accomplish something sermons cannot, including reaching people who will not visit a church.

Of course, they won’t accomplish anything unless writers try.

Why Rick Created Froopyland: Exploring ‘Rick and Morty’

In ‘Rick and Morty’, Rick’s and Beth’s dysfunctional relationship ultimately leads to a twisted kind of love.
| Mar 9, 2018 | No comments |

Last week I discussed the nihilistic view of the animated series, Rick and Morty. Through the use of a multiverse, the creators of the show attempt to tell us that humans are insignificant in the scheme of things. However, the creators state that instead of answering unanswerable questions, focus on the family.1

This article will discuss the dynamics of each member of the family and how they represent all of humanity. The way to show this is to understand one aspect of Rick’s self-importance: Rick believes he is god. As in, god of his own universe or any universe he comes across. Which, in the context of the show, may be true. All the Ricks of each universe did come together to form the Council of Ricks. As far as we know, no one else had done anything like this. There isn’t a Council of Beths, Jerrys (although there is a multiverse Jerry daycare) or Summer. As the god, everything is supposed to work according to the way he wants them to. This becomes important when we delve into his family and his relationships with each of them. In essence we’re asking, “How does Rick (the god) solve the problems of those living in his universe?

To really give context, we have to skip ahead to the third season. The third season of the show takes a weird turn, which, given the content of the show itself, says a lot.

In the episode entitled, “The ABC’s of Beth” we discover the world of Froopyland. Froopyland is an artificially generated world created by Rick Sanchez from a collapsed quantum tesseract sometime in the 1980s for his daughter, Beth. The weather is always perfectly sunny, the river is a literal rainbow of breathable water to prevent drowning, and all the ground surfaces are bouncy to protect against injury. There’s not a parent in the world who wouldn’t love a Froopyland for their own.

It goes downhill from there. Rick tells Beth he created it because Beth displayed psychotic tendencies as a child. Froopyland was not built out of love for his daughter but to protect the neighborhood from her. She asked Rick to create some devilish devices, including pink sentient pocket knife that talked and rainbow-colored duct tape.  More on that later.

A return visit to Froopyland is enacted when Beth hears about one of her childhood friend’s father is up for the death penalty because it was thought he ate his son Tommy. What had actually happened was that Beth had taken Tommy to Froopyland with her. Jealous of his loving relationship with his parents and that he had a Nintendo, she threw Tommy into a honey pit and left him there and he’s been all this time. Beth wants to right her wrong. When she and Rick arrive, they discover that Tommy has survived all these years by bestiality, incest, and cannibalism. (Trust me, that’s all you want to know.) Way to go, Froopyland.2

Tommy refuses to leave. Beth ends up killing Tommy, cloning him, and then using the clone as evidence to free his father from the death penalty at the last hour. She’d rather kill Tommy than say I’m sorry. Much like Rick refuses to admit his own failings.

In keeping with the analogy that Rick is god of his universe or any universe, then his relationship with each of his family members is affected by this thought. A deep look at these family members however, show they all embody the innate flaws of humanity.

Beth: Rick’s daughter, Morty’s and Summer’s mom, and Jerry’s wife

Rick abandoned her as a child. The abandonment a child feels from a parent, whether it’s a physical separation or mental distance, leaves deep scars on them. Beth wanted to be a doctor but when she got pregnant by Jerry with her daughter Summer, she felt as if she had to settle for less. She sees her occupation as a veterinarian who specializes in horse surgery as beneath her. For his part, Rick can’t stand Jerry. He sees him as a weak individual that people make excuses for. Yet, Beth ultimately still loves her husband. One has to wonder if Rick had been there in her life, would she had fallen for Jerry?

Summer: Beth and Jerry’s daughter, Morty’s sister, and Rick’s granddaughter

When she discovers she’s an unwanted pregnancy, it devastates her. Until that moment, she was like any other teenager (minus Rick Sanchez) who was concerned about her status with her peers, and seeking approval, liking boys and whatnot. She, just like her mom, adores her grandfather although he’s a sociopathic, alcoholic, brilliant scientist. Finding out an awful truth about yourself can be heart wrenching. In her case, she found her presence was never planned. Yet, due to Morty’s horrible advice, she just pushes it out the way.

Jerry: Beth’s husband, Morty and Summer’s dad, and Rick’s son-in-law

His insecurities abound in the series. He’s unemployed, his children don’t rely on them, his wife seems more obsessed with keeping her father in her life than him. Insecurity about one’s place in the world or where you fit in can cause its own chaotic, downward spin. Jerry is always trying to prove something to himself. Rick deliberately sabotages their marriage. When Jerry tells Beth to choose between her father or him, she ultimately chooses Rick and plans to divorce Jerry. Instead of standing up to the dominant force that is Rick, he bows out.

Morty: Jerry and Beth’s son, Summer’s brother and Rick’s grandson

He is influenced a lot by the people in his family but the one who affects him the most is his grandfather, Rick. In the presence of his grandfather, a larger than life figure, he is forced to go along with him on their adventures in the multiverse. According to Rick, the reason why they travel on their adventures together is because Morty is a ‘cloaking device’ in which ‘Morty waves’ cancel our Rick’s ‘genius waves’. So in other words, Rick is using Morty for his own purposes. Unlike the other members of the family, Morty accepts Rick’s flaws and understand how his grandfather’s mind works.

The god of this world

Now, we come to the heart of Rick, the god of this universe and any other he chooses to inhabit.

In the episode I mentioned earlier, Rick states:

A dad makes a toilet look like R2-D2, and it breaks the front page of Reddit, but I’m Charles Manson because I gave you your own world instead of an iPad.

This, of everything he has said and done, shows us the true heart of Rick Sanchez. He wants to fix everything. That’s why science appeals to him. The way he fixes things however, often leaves the family members more screwed up than before. (You should watch the episode of Morty’s Mind Blowers. When Morty does something completely devastating such as causing an innocent man to commit suicide, Rick simply removes the memory from Morty’s head. However, Morty never learns from his mistakes.)

For Beth, Rick doesn’t want to admit he screwed up her life by not being there. Instead, he wants to take over the family as the dominant member of the house. But when things get too emotional, he runs away.

For Morty, to get over his insecurity, Rick takes him along on his adventures. The kids at the school who seem cool can’t even begin to touch Morty’s experiences as he travels to different universes. However, Morty doesn’t get the chance to interact with his classmates. He can’t get a handle on his crush for pretty girl Jessica or learn how to just survive in his own world.

For Summer, Rick acknowledges her free will to be whoever she wants despite the fact she was an unwanted pregnancy. Yet, he tends to favor Morty over Summer.

For Jerry, he just wants to get rid of him. Despite Rick’s protestations and ridicule of marriage and commitment, he’s still ticked off Jerry got his daughter pregnant. To me, he’s never gotten over that. But he does admit Jerry loves Beth, even if it’s as a leech.

Fans of the show really believe that Rick created Froopyland to stave off Beth’s sociopathetic tendencies. I disagree. Rick created Froopyland because…he loves his daughter. He made it safe so that nothing could harm her. As a matter of fact, despite what the creators will tell you, Rick loves his family. Loves them insanely. Else, why would Rick and Morty go on adventures together? In every universe, Rick and Morty are together. Yet, when you adapt a nihilistic worldview, that love becomes a chain. Self-gratification cannot reign supreme when love is involved, even a twisted love like Rick Sanchez’s.

There’s one episode where Rick is being held captive by “Evil Rick” from the “evil dimension.” “Evil Rick” shows him glimpses of his Morty. As he taunts Rick with the images of Morty as an adolescent to a baby, Rick smiles. His eyes cease to have that blank stare or cynical expression. For a split second, Rick’s vulnerability is seen and the “Evil Rick” sees it, too.  In yet another episode, Rick and Morty go to a universe where they get “psychologically detoxed’ “In other words, the worst things about themselves – Rick’s coarse attitude and Morty’s low self-esteem – are stripped from them. These toxic entities become sentient. Morty’s low-esteem embodies his kindness. Rick’s arrogance embodies his attachments. When the detoxed Rick shoots the toxic Morty, toxic Rick jumps in the way to protect him. You don’t jump in the way of a person you hate. In anything, you throw them into the path of the bullet.

Unlike Rick’s godhood, the God of the Bible is not flawed. He does not run away from his responsibilities as Rick did with Beth. Instead of taking your mistakes from you, He gives you one life in order to learn along the way. Instead of trying to make you feel better that you’re not important, He gives you purpose. Your insecurities, He invites you to cast them onto His shoulders. Despite the fact I believe Rick created Froopyland out of love for Beth, at the end of the day, he only exacerbated the problem by simply putting a Band-aid on the lack of his presence.  The God of the Bible says that He will be with us always.

There’s a lot more to say about this show which appeals and repels me in equal parts. It’s a great way to study nihilism and what happens when you can’t escape your own shortcomings no matter how hard you try.

  1. Did anyone catch what I just did there? 😊 .
  2. As a side note, when the show gets into how the bestiality happened in Froopyland, you gotta give it up for Darwinism in this respect—it doesn’t need a rational explanation. You accept it by faith. How it could happen makes no sense at all by any stretch of the imagination.

Annihilation: A Malignant Transcendence

The movie Annihilation shows a universe imagined to have generated itself without purpose or plan.
| Mar 8, 2018 | 3 comments
Travis Perry is a hard-core Bible user, history, science, and foreign language geek, hard science fiction and epic fantasy fan, publishes multiple genres of speculative fiction at Bear Publications, is an Army Reserve officer with five combat zone deployments. He also once cosplayed as dark matter.

Spoilers follow for the film Annihilation, though this post will refrain from revealing the ending of the movie and some other key information.

The film Annihilation portrays an alien landscape that fell down on a little-occupied section of Florida swampland, kept secret by the United States government. The area is contained in an iridescent bubble, called by those who research it, “the Shimmer.” Much of the landscape within the Shimmer is eerily beautiful, nearly transcendentally so, as is the bubble of iridescence itself. But like a malignant cancer, the Shimmer spontaneously grows continually larger, threatening to eventually envelop the entire world. Threatening to annihilate the human race.

Above is the backstory of this science fiction story that has horror elements. This film is rated R, with two portrayals of sex without nudity (in flashbacks of the main character), some use of the F word and other cursing (heaven forbid that modern people could face danger without dropping F-bombs…)–though actually not that much cussing, and some gruesome violence, mostly in regard to a single bear-like monster that attacks the team of researchers who enter the Shimmer, but also concerning some actions human beings take against one another. This is not a family film, but this is not a gore-and-blood fest either–nor is it hugely sexual, nor continually profane. I thought it was well-executed overall and worth seeing.

The main characters of Annihilation seen through “the Shimmer.”

Natalie Portman portrays Lena, a biology professor at Johns Hopkins University who was at one time a US Army soldier. During her time in the Army she met her husband, Kane, played by Oscar Isaac (known as the actor behind Poe Dameron to Star Wars fans). The film opens with Lena in her ordinary life, teaching about cell division and cancer, while she was mourning the loss of her husband, who disappeared a year ago in some sort of service to the Army that was so secret that she does not even know where he went or what he was doing. But did know he disappeared and is presumed dead.

She is propelled into the crisis of the story when she sees her husband suddenly outside her bedroom door, ill, not able to remember what he was doing for a year or why. It turns out he was part of a military team of volunteers that entered the Shimmer, and he’s the first one ever “seen or heard from again.” Soon government types take him and his wife (who they think may know too much and/or be exposed to toxic conditions) back to a top-secret location nearby the Shimmer, where Lena pleads to find out what happened to her husband. When she learns about the Shimmer, she offers to apply her prodigious skills as a biologist to help research it.

She is driven not just by a desire to help heal her husband (there’s a secret about her husband that is revealed later in the story that I will not discuss in this review), but also by guilt, since in flashbacks we learn she was having an affair with another man during her husband’s previous deployment(s), something he apparently knew without ever telling her or confronting her about (this betrayal is shown in the sex scenes without nudity). The film makes some commentary here about human self-destructive behavior, but in my view that aspect of the movie was not very important (though other people might disagree with me, of course).

Revealed in one of several flashbacks that establish how happy Lena and Kane were together in spite of being very different people (she the intellectual, he a “dumb soldier”), is a conversation I found very interesting, though it I don’t think it’s key to the plot. Kane tells Lena that “God doesn’t make mistakes.” Lena laughs and a bit playfully states “God makes mistakes” in an attitude that suggests she may not believe in God at all. Kane replies in a light tone, but more seriously than her, that she should be careful, because “God is listening to you right now.” Clearly Kane is a believer in God. And perhaps (though probably not) Lena is as well.

No one prays, of course, and there’s no clear suggestion that God in any way helps Kane or actually exists (in fact, I’d say the story implies God does not exist, though not blatantly)–Kane’s belief is instead probably intended to show how different he and Lena are and to underpin the idea that he’s not as bright as her (in the prejudices of those who produced the film). But he is perhaps the most selfless and altruistic character in the story. Which is a bit uncommon in modern films–those who believe in God, if there is anybody like that in a story at all, are far too often portrayed much worse.

After a relatively short time at the research center outside the Shimmer, Lena convinces the lead psychologist who picks the teams that go into the Shimmer, Dr. Ventress, that Lena should be a part of the next team to go. The psychologist, who has decided to head up this team herself, agrees.

The movie never comments directly on the fact that Dr. Ventress’ team is composed only of women, such as by one of the characters looking around and saying “Hey, we’re all women” or by Dr. Ventress explaining why she picked women. It just happens to be the case in the film. Each woman is stated to be chosen for a specialty, though each one also had personal reasons to volunteer for what they know is probably a suicide mission.

To me it made internal sense in the story that the team would be all-female. Previous teams, as far as was revealed, were composed of elite solders, presumably all men or mostly men, who never made it back alive. It made sense that the woman responsible for picking teams, when she decided to lead a team herself, would pick women to go with her. Why not? What was there to lose in trying an all-female team?

The other characters that accompany Dr. Ventress and Lena into the Shimmer I found convincing and interesting–though in the final analysis, they are wholly disposable to the story, though in radically different ways. It was Nadalie Portman herself as Lena that I found unconvincing in the soldiering scenes. She seems too scrawny to carry a backpack very far (none of the other women in the story seemed unrealistic in that respect, by the way), and did not seem to carry or use a rifle in a way that I would call realistic, though that’s based on relatively subtle things (like her use of a weapon sling or lack thereof).

When I mentally pulled on that thread of the story, i.e. the lack of realism around Nadalie Portman’s Lena, more of the plot unraveled for me. Ok, why hadn’t the Army ever sent robots in, programmed to gather data and return? (Electronic devices are shown to operate within the Shimmer, but radio communications through the barrier do not). Why not send someone with a cable, telephone or fiber-optic, to circumvent the radio problem? Or why not give somebody orders to return right away after crossing instead of ordering everyone to travel to the center of the phenomenon? Why not at least stick a very long pole through the barrier to take samples, for heaven’s sake?

It just doesn’t make sense to me that the essential plot condition of nobody every coming back from having been inside the Shimmer would actually happen–that there would be NO data about what was inside it prior to the protagonist’s team entering. For this plot to make sense, you have to assume researchers kept trying the same thing over and over and over, for three years, without results. Technically that’s possible, but it’s not how human beings normally act.

Once inside the Shimmer, the first thing that happens is the team loses track of where they are and what they are doing. They find themselves in a camp they apparently set up previously but cannot remember, having been there for four days based on food consumption. They realize their minds and perceptions are altered. But at first everything else seems pretty normal (though their compass doesn’t work, nor do radios, phones, or GPS).

As they progress deeper into the Shimmer, headed for the lighthouse where this alien disturbance first came to Earth, things get progressively stranger. They observe flowers of all shapes and types stemming from a single vine, plant-animals such as deer that have flowering branches for antlers, flowering vines that take the shape of human beings, and more dangerously, an alligator-shark combination and a strangely skeletal and truly horrifying bearlike thing, whose voice sounds like a human crying for help.

Josie, the young physicist on the all-female team, speculates that the Shimmer refracts everything, not only light and other electromagnetic radiation, but also DNA. And that “refracted DNA” was the cause of all the strange effects on plants and animals they were observing. Including the strange effects on them.

Annihilation does not assign any malice to these changes. There is no villain in the story. These things simply happen because something alien made contact with Planet Earth. Most of the time the things in the Shimmer are beautiful and awe-inspiring, sometimes they are terrifying. Sometimes both at once.

In fact the reasons the Shimmer exists at all are never made very clear, not even after Lena finds the lighthouse and enters it, where she finds Dr. Ventress, apparently in some form of contact with the alien force behind the Shimmer. “I don’t know what it wants,” exclaims Dr. Ventress at that point. “I don’t know if it wants.”

The alien Lena eventually meets, while it takes some unmistakable interest in her, remains incomprehensible through the end. Note this tale develops the plot slowly, with powerful, even awe-inspiring visuals, punctuated by violence that seems to happen “just because.” The movie presents the aliens and the changes they make in our world (perhaps or perhaps not unintentionally) as what I would call transcendent, because these things are both awesome and incomprehensible. In some ways this movie reminded me of Solaris, which also featured encounters with bizarre aliens in a beautiful but ultimately incomprehensible way.

But even though the aliens and their realm is transcendent, they act in the way evolution is believed to function. The alien life comes with a basic mandate to grow and expand itself as much as possible (though this is never clearly explained in the story, it’s obvious in the plot, most importantly because the Shimmer was always growing in size), not in a way that is deliberately hostile, but which just happens to be a threat to life as we know it, especially to human life.

Malignant cancer cells do not deliberately kill human beings either–they have no evil intent–but as they endlessly reproduce themselves, they displace ordinary cells, smothering them out, eventually killing the organism that generated them. It isn’t insignificant that this story started out with the main character examining cancer cells.

I felt this story embodied a quote first generated in 1927 by the British geneticist and evolutionary biologist J. B. S. Haldane (who was an atheist and who clashed with C.S Lewis). In a slightly different form from his original quote, he said, “The universe is not only stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine.”

Yes, in this story, the point of view that the universe is anonymous and incomprehensible and dangerous while at the same time beautiful is in full force. I don’t think those who wrote and produced the film meant Annihilation to be wholly understandable, which why they gave it an ambiguous ending that I will not describe here.

After the film I found myself feeling thankful that the transcendent God I worship actually does make sense. We may not know what his plans are, but we know he has them. We may be incapable of comprehending all of his thoughts, but we know that he has thoughts and that from his infinite perspective, they make sense. Which is far better than contemplating a universe in which beautiful things simply exist and we will never understand why, things that are beyond us, but at the same time mostly dangerously disinterested in us–things that are incapable of being interested in us.

This condition of a malignant, albeit transcendent indifference, which actually makes sense if you presume we live in a self-generating universe, is the real source of the terror in Annihilation. Thank God (literally) that his transcendence is of an altogether different type.

What’s a Body to Do?

Just how important is an intact body?
| Mar 7, 2018 | 2 comments |

In today’s social media-saturated world, people often bemoan our society’s obsession with the perfect body, especially on picture-heavy apps like Instagram and Pinterest. The truth is, the human race has always been obsessed with our bodies, and understandably so. Our bodies are the vessels of life on Earth and a good body usually means good genes which usually means better chances for survival and continuation of those genes. Infatuation with external appearances is just as prevalent in the animal kingdom among creatures in a particular state of mind. A good body is a highly desirable biological characteristic.

Mankind’s penchant for art, and more recently, photography has increased our corporeal awareness to nauseating proportions and has led to many destructive behaviors. Yet even if technology were suddenly done away with and we couldn’t scroll through Instagram to find inspiration for our next soon-to-fail yoga routine, we would still be consumed with how to look and feel good in our bodies.

Image copyright Netflix

Yet the body is not a trivial thing. God fashioned Adam and Eve with His own hands and in His own image, which strongly suggests that we look at least something like God. The Gospels, especially Matthew, gave keen attention to Jesus’ miracles of healing, not only as proof of His divinity, but also as a key component in the Kingdom of Heaven, which has no disease (Matthew 8:16-17). Our soul is what matters most but we are also meant to have healthy, beautiful bodies. This is just not possible in our fallen world but for those of us who have been saved, one day, this glorious hope will be realized.

I’ve been watching a grim yet intriguing show on Netflix called The Frankenstein Chronicles. I won’t go into the plot or character details but one thing that caught my attention is a group of supposed Christians who oppose the “anatomists,” doctors who use corpses for medical research. Their reasoning is that if the body is dismembered or destroyed, the dead won’t be able to join in the promise of the resurrection in the Last Days (1 Cor. 15:51-55). This is a very common sentiment throughout the ages of Christianity and is the grounds for which many people even today refuse cremation.

So just how important is an intact body? Obviously, the answer is “none at all.” How many Christians have died violent deaths and had their bodies utterly pulverized? Not only that, but think about the bodies of Christians that were neatly buried centuries ago. They are literally dust now. There is no symbolic significance of going into the grave whole so that one may come out of it in the same way. In 1 Cor. 15:50, Paul states that these frail mortal shells cannot inhabit the Kingdom of God. There is no need to worry about what state they are in because they are going to be totally done away with in the end.

Biblical promises about our bodies also give me comfort when I hear stories about people trying to upload their minds into computers in order to “live forever.” Heb. 9:27 says that “it is appointed for man to die once, and after to face judgment.” No one will live forever, even if a computer program mimics one’s personality. When the body dies, the soul will be judged, and if they are a believer, they will one day inherit a new and perfect body. That is the way God intended it from the beginning.

Our bodies do matter and we should take care of them, but we should also recognize that they will one day die and be replaced by something completely new. Personally, I’m okay with that. I mean, look at this place. Who would want to live forever?

Lorehaven Launch: Enter the Editor in Chief

Lorehaven launches its first magazine this spring. Get to know our ministry crew.
| Mar 6, 2018 | 2 comments | Series:

Please pray for Lorehaven, the new magazine from several creatives at Speculative Faith.

This spring, we release our first issue. You can sign up and read it early.

Our mission: to find truth in fantastic stories, and find more readers who love them.

Our destination: any fan of these stories by Christian authors.

Our craft:

  1. More than a dozen reviews of new, amazing Christian fantasy novels.
  2. Help to join (or even start!) your own virtual or real-world book club.
  3. A cover story focusing on a top creator of Christian fantastical fiction.
  4. Articles to help Christian geeks and parents grow as fanservants.
  5. A scintillating Roundtable discussion on a controversial topic.
  6. Soar wide over the fascinating world of a particular story genre.
  7. Time-travel to the histories of God’s gift of amazing stories.

Our crew: to be announced, each week, in alphabetical order.

We’ll start with yours truly.

Name, role, and crew

E. Stephen Burnett is editor in chief of Lorehaven magazine.

He met his wife, Lacy, during his early work as moderator with the NarniaWeb online forum. They have been married since 2009 and now live near Austin, Texas.

Personal log

Stephen has written and edited in the field of community journalism for more than ten years. For other venues, he’s explored themes of biblical truth, fantastical stories, and popular culture. He does this at Speculative Faith (since 2007), Christ and Pop Culture (since 2013), and Christianity Today (2017).


Stephen began life in a Christian family—homeschooled, even—and is grateful for that grounding. He’s since found a spiritual home in Baptist churches, especially whose teachers preach expositionally (verse-by-verse) through God’s word. He and Lacy serve as members of Round Rock, Texas-based Southern Hills Baptist Church.

New worlds

Stephen enjoys stories foremost as a fan. He explores nonfiction books and podcasts about biblical doctrine and apologetics, classic fantasy novels and films (naturally, C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien), DC and Marvel superhero tales (he’ll heartily defend Batman v Superman), several anime series (such as One Piece and My Hero Academia), and a few video games.

Meanwhile, he applies these pursuits to creating new stories in many genres. One explores the near-future of Christians who recover the purpose of missions in a secular age. Another follows an elderly deacon whose life and family are upset by his journeys to the afterlife.

Home base

Stephen writes weekly articles at Speculative Faith (currently on Tuesdays). Expect to see more from him at Christ and Pop Culture and other sites, as soon as Lorehaven is launched.

Next week: enter the editor, Elijah David.

Click here to sign up. You’ll be the first to know when Lorehaven issue 1 hits the cyber-stands.

We Have A Winner—2018 Spec Faith Winter Writing Challenge

Again, thank you all for participating, and watch for Spec Faith’s Summer Writing Challenge later this year.
| Mar 5, 2018 | 5 comments |

Congratulations to our 2018 Spec Faith Winter Writing Challenge winner:

Melinda K. Busch.

I’ll be contacting her privately about her prize. I honestly thought any of our four finalist might win, they were that good. And the close voting bears that out. So congratulations to the other three finalists for their excellent entries: Esther Brooksmith, J. L. Rowan, and M. A. Zeller.

Special thanks to all of you who participated. We had a great group of entries, more than last time, as I recall. It’s not easy putting your writing out there for others to read, especially when you have a limiting prompt and word count and you’re writing with a deadline. Thanks to each of the entrants for sharing their stories with us.

Also we wouldn’t have a contest without the visitors who commented and gave + votes during the first round. The comments in particular help us accomplish what this contest was created for—it gives writers feedback so they have an idea what readers think when they are engaged with your story or story fragment.

Finally, a hearty thank-you to those who voted in the poll to select the winner. Yes, we Spec Faith administrators and writers could serve as a judging panel, but I think the general reading public should be the ones to judge. We had a great turnout—the most voters we’ve had for our writing challenges throughout the years.

Contests like this are fun. The thing that continues to amaze me is how varied the stories are even though they all begin with the same first sentence. We had such a wide range of fantasy, science fiction, allegory, supernatural. That shows a lot of creativity.

For those who may have missed Melinda’s winning entry, here it is again:

By Melinda K. Buschr

Jenni fidgeted with her ring—the one only she could see—while she waited to hear the verdict.

The doctor sat behind his desk. His delicate fingers skimmed through pages of notes. “Ms. Lucien.” His words came in a sing-song as if he spoke to a small child. “You have one last chance to recant your claim to have sight. If you do this, I could discharge you immediately.”

She remained silent, staring at the ground. His empty eyes frightened her, almost made her wish she were still blind. But she could see. She had found the ring while feeling through her late grandmother’s possessions. When she slipped it on, the dark haze that had surrounded her since she could remember began to lift. Soon light flooded her consciousness, revealing a beautiful world. She shivered with delight at the memory of her first sight of a sunset, tendrils of colored clouds stretching across the sky.

When she did not respond, the doctor continued in his condescending tone. “Sight is a fairy tale, Ms. Lucien. If you will not recant, I can only conclude that you must be admitted for reprogramming.”

She twisted the ring and considered how to answer. To deny she could see would be a lie and Mother had taught her to value honesty; to speak the truth would doom her to remain a prisoner until she embraced darkness again.

Her decision made, she raised her head. Whatever may happen, she would rest on the truth. “I can see, Dr. Teneborn.” She slid the ring off her finger and let it clatter onto the desk. He felt for it and pulled it into his hand. “Put that on; see for yourself.”

He held it a moment, then set it back on the desk. “Foolishness,” he crooned, “to think a ring could grant sight. Do not fear, Child… we will cure you of your madness soon enough.”

– – – – –

Again, thank you all for participating, and watch for Spec Faith’s Summer Writing Challenge later this year.