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‘A Wrinkle In …’ Truth?

Despite its classic status, Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time” is kind of boring me. But are the author’s apparently universalist beliefs even more concerning?
| Jun 12, 2012 | No comments |

Just a moment ago I posted this on Facebook (slightly edited here):

Folks who’ve read and enjoyed A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle: Help me out here. Reading right now seems a chore. The “uncanny child” thing is already wearing on me, the “Mrs.” characters a bit too forced-whimsical, and protagonist Meg is passive and uninteresting. Does it get better? Or is all this actually such literary genius that I simply haven’t recognized yet?

Instantly afterward, an email arrived from Fred Warren. He let me know that his final installment of his Legend of Intaglio comedy novella series will be (alas!) delayed.

This less-amusing replacement results from Becky’s May 28 question, Which [Christian Speculative Books] Are Required Reading? and my May 30 followup Define ‘Christian Speculative Story.’ Because, it turns out, not only is L’Engle’s debut yet beloved classic fantasy boring to me (at least four chapters in), but the author had questionable beliefs.

In starting this discussion, I will assume at least two presuppositions, as follows:

  1. A “Christian speculative novel” must be written by a professing Christian. (This does not rule out other authors who work according to Christian worldview tenets, but it does seek to distinguish specific-Christian stories from general-redemptive stories.)
  2. “Christian” is defined according to Scripture, simplified into the historic creeds and confessions that reflect Biblical truths. (Our faith statement borrows from these.)

Now, I want to recognize that historically, Christians have been sadly loose with the truth when it comes to fantasy novels and authors. Some Christians seem to flatly lie about, say, J.K. Rowling and the themes and content of the Harry Potter series. Others have wrongly concluded that C.S. Lewis was a universalist — that is, that Lewis believed Hell would only be temporary, if it exists at all, and that God is too “loving” to show His holiness for eternity.

Madeleine L’Engle (1918 – 2007)

So I may be wrong about this. Maybe Madeleine L’Engle was one of those folks who, say, are simply confused about one belief and somehow — perhaps out of ignorance — this does not infect their otherwise-orthodox faith. Maybe L’Engle recanted later. Still, there is this:

All will be redeemed in God’s fullness of time, all, not just the small portion of the population who have been given the grace to know and accept Christ. All the strayed and stolen sheep. All the little lost ones.

L’Engle, Madeleine (1974). The Summer of the Great-grandmother. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. pp. 164.

With this statement, L’Engle would not be permitted to join Speculative Faith’s writing team. Far worse, it would mean that she could not rightly join a visible local church, part of the invisible Church, that seeks to teach and live out the Epic Story of Scripture, the Gospel.

Space doesn’t permit a full criticism, but here is why: Universalism is a well-intended but false belief, that tries to “liberate” Christianity from the concept of Hell by implying or claiming outright that eventually all people will be drawn into Heaven. What it does, though, is reject at least three truths:

  1. The clarity, sufficiency, and truthfulness of God’s Word.
  2. The nature of God Himself, by saying that He not only disregards justice but His own love (for being so rude as to be unclear in His Word about our eternal fates).
  3. Man’s meaningful choice, by saying it doesn’t really matter what you believe about God or His Story in this world. God doesn’t care about your free will. So even if you hate Him and want nothing to do with Him, ever, He’ll make you like Him someday.

So with that in mind, am I wrong to believe that L’Engle was a lifelong universalist?

Would it be wrong to read her books?

I’ll go ahead and answer: no, not if I recognize her possibly wrong beliefs and practice discernment as I read.

Perhaps the most significant question: should we carry her books in the Speculative Faith Library of Christian speculative fiction? Especially when we already have books by authors whose personal theologies could be flawed (e.g., Catholicism, end-times-ism, etc.?).

Just so you know, no books will be “officially” removed or critiqued by the whole Spec-Faith team. This is merely my personal exploration.

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susanne lakin
Guest

Interesting, I didn’t know she held to Universalist teaching. I suppose we could get kind of nit-picky and start drawing lines on doctrine and determine who really is a christian and who isn’t, and whether a novel written by an author who belives in post-trib rapture should be excluded while a pre-trib rapture person would be included. TN publishers publish novels with “a Chrsitian worldview” yet I’ve heard that includes numerous authors who do not profess their faith in Jesus as God’s means for salvation. I realize they are looking more at the bottom line, but I suppose their criteria is more focused on the book and its content rather than the doctrinal beliefs of the author. I am sure if I were grilled by some here with spec faith, many of my “liberal environmentalist” views about God and the Bible might be considered heresy. I do take Scripture out of context, too, in my fantasy series, to use for my own end. Some don’t approve of that either.

So…back to A Wrinkle in Time (I actually wrote Time Sniffers as a tribute to that novel!). I like the section where she quotes from Corinthians. As a Jewish atheist kid growing up and who loved that book, I had no idea she was quoting the Bible. I’m sure God has used some of those 6 million copies sold to help kids like me eventually become believers. Did I know she was a Universalist? No. would I have cared? No. But the book moved me a lot, and I loved Meg and the message and the theme of love conquering all. You might have to be a kid to truly love Wrinkle. It’s pretty simplistic and entertaining, yet has some deep messages written in a way that teach kids some important lessons about love and loyalty. Just my two cents…

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

From Susanne:

TN publishers publish novels with “a Chrsitian worldview” yet I’ve heard that includes numerous authors who do not profess their faith in Jesus as God’s means for salvation.

At this point I’m not questioning the practices of any particular publisher, or a publisher that markets its books as “Christian fiction.” That’s another issue. From my perspective, if a Christian publisher is selling a book whose content contradicts true faith — as defined by Scripture and clarified by the historic confessions — and if that book is selling like hotcakes among Christians, the main problem is not one of permissiveness at the publisher, but of wrong discernment among Christians.

I realize they are looking more at the bottom line, but I suppose their criteria is more focused on the book and its content rather than the doctrinal beliefs of the author.

Yet in general, an author with Biblical doctrine beliefs will produce a book that — despite any lack of quality in its content — will at least uphold basic truth. Conversely, someone with anti-Biblical beliefs will, generally, produce a book that takes such beliefs for granted, or even contradicts them (e.g., The Shack).

Right belief leads to right life practice — Christlike love, striving for God’s holiness, desiring to know Him — and a natural desire to base a story-world on Truth.

I am sure if I were grilled by some here with spec faith, many of my “liberal environmentalist” views about God and the Bible might be considered heresy.

“Heresy” is a strong word that should be used only for someone who denies the basics of the faith: God’s nature, Christ’s nature and the reason Christ came, and the state of man and the way man is saved and restored to relationship with God. This is, historically, how the word has been used, and Christians should maintain the same use today. Secondary beliefs, like how we care for The Environment or when and how the “end times” occur, are not matters of heresy. I think they can, however, result from flawed or shallow views of how God reveals His nature and will.

I do take Scripture out of context, too, in my fantasy series, to use for my own end. Some don’t approve of that either.

So far I haven’t read those books, so I wouldn’t know! However, I think there’s a difference between “tributing” God’s Word with a turn of phrase or quote (as, for example, Shakespeare might do), and appropriating another author’s (or Author’s) work to use in a way contradictory to his, His, or her original meaning.

I’m sure God has used some of those 6 million copies sold to help kids like me eventually become believers.

Agreed. Because He is sovereign, He can use anything. I’m sure that just as He used the orthodox-but-flawed Left Behind series to point me toward greater stories and His own sovereignty, He could use an even more-flawed book like The Shack or even The Da Vinci Code to save people for His Kingdom. He can use anything for this, such as tsunamis and car crashes. But I don’t advocate these things, and as a general rule, would try to save someone from such disasters if I could!

Amy Rose Davis
Guest

I, too, have always been troubled by L’Engle’s beliefs. I’ve been especially troubled by the reverence many Christians use when speaking about her. And yet… I really enjoyed her work when I was young. You have to remember–I grew up when the whole YA category wasn’t really a category. L’Engle’s books were in a category that wasn’t really an official category back then (the late 70s/early 80s). So for a young girl who wasn’t ready for grown-up books but needed something more than baby books, they were a welcome addition to the library.
I will say that I tried to re-read them a few years ago and was bored stiff. They are definitely fare for a younger crowd.
But here’s the thing I have to ask/point out. You say L’Engle wouldn’t be asked to be part of the Spec Faith team because of her universalist comments, and that’s fair and as it should be. But what about J. K. Rowling (since you mention her)? If she weren’t who she is–if she were just an aspiring and/or struggling author with a first book or two out there, would you recognize the value in the Harry Potter books, or would you be hung up on a few instances of cursing or the suggestion that ghosts roamed this magical castle?
I ask because I think about what makes a “Christian” book. I say that I do not write Christian fiction because I don’t want people to expect it to be clean. It’s not clean. But my doctrinal beliefs are about as far from universalist as you can get, and I fall very much in line with the tenets I’ve seen you all espouse. I just happen to believe that in order to represent the truth, sometimes characters have to be really messy. Occasionally, that means someone sleeps with someone outside of marriage or drops an F-bomb or steals something or blasphemes. But the themes in my work are very much in line with the doctrinal tenets I see here on Spec Faith. Of course, my work is also independently published, and I know you don’t review indie work, either.
I guess my only point is that perhaps each individual work should be evaluated based on its own merit. If you find a work that represents strong values and themes in line with the doctrine of Spec Faith (like Harry Potter), then maybe you just need your own rating system. If you find a work that is not traditionally published but represents strong values and themes that you agree with, don’t shy away from it.
As for people who write for you, I think it is important to have certain doctrines that you expect your contributors to agree with. When I signed on to be a leader with my daughters’ American Heritage Girls troop, I had to sign a statement of faith. But if an author doesn’t necessarily agree with your faith and still manages to write stuff with good themes that represent values and principles that are in line with biblical teaching, I don’t see why you can’t review the work and/or include it in your library.
Disclaimer: This is not a request for you to review my books or ask me to write for you. These are just the thoughts that occurred to me as I read the post. 🙂

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

From Amy Rose Davis:

You say L’Engle wouldn’t be asked to be part of the Spec Faith team because of her universalist comments, and that’s fair and as it should be. But what about J. K. Rowling (since you mention her)?

If such an insanely amazing opportunity were to occur, I’m sure we would give it a shot. Some — including friends of mine — have said that Rowling has an orthodox confession of faith. (By the way, I use “orthodox” here not to describe a particular denomination but to mean “basic” or “mere” Christianity as revealed in Scripture and summarized by the historic creeds and confessions of the Church.) Even if that were true, though, Friday guest spots are typically taken by authors who publicly espouse Christian faith and do not conceal this faith in their stories. Here I’m just shooting from the hip, though. A person’s faith is not defined by particular groups or whether he/she has a “Christian publisher,” but by his/her publicly shown belief.

If she weren’t who she is–if she were just an aspiring and/or struggling author with a first book or two out there, would you recognize the value in the Harry Potter books, or would you be hung up on a few instances of cursing or the suggestion that ghosts roamed this magical castle?

From my view, I hope you know me better than that! My answer: not at all. And of course, there is much to admire and love about the series’ Christian influences. Its themes of redemption and love are striking, especially in the final book. Yet that brings us back to the question of how one defines “Christian speculative stories.” A non-Christian author’s story can be redemptive, and even superior in truth and beauty to a Christian author’s story, yet Speculative Faith’s mission is to promote specifically Christian novels and authors, and to explore all speculative stories.

Others have commented on the “clean” vs. “non-clean” dichotomy. From my view, Christians can debate how much “grittiness” is too much for the most amount of readers, and so on, but this is not automatically a matter of “heresy” or actually contradicting the faith. (More and more, based on this discussion and others, I see a need for Christian teachers to clarify what beliefs are worth fighting over because they are “salvific,” and which ones can be held or discussed among true believers.)

Of course, my work is also independently published, and I know you don’t review indie work, either.

Well, here’s the text from the novel submission form:

We accept submission of self-published novels. However, if your novel is self-published, we especially recommend including a review of your book from an independent source.

Maybe that will help! And while the team doesn’t have a specific review squad (yet), you may have seen that we recently upgraded the site, with renewed emphasis on honest yet gracious reviews, featured on the very front page. Anyone can submit a new review, or even his/her own previously published review.

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

I confess that I didn’t visit here much for a while. I think something you were doing in your updating process was making the site really hard to read for me, or maybe I didn’t have the right plug-ins, or… I dunno.

Every once in a while the software likes to stay out late and wakes up in the morning with a terrible headache. It’s not the stereotypical Perfect Software!

But maybe one take-away is to remember that there’s a difference between recognizing a theme that’s in line with biblical teaching and revering an author whose beliefs aren’t.

This is an issue of recognizing specific grace vs. common grace. And because many Christians are trained to think oh, that “doctrine” stuff is just dry trivia that has nothing to do with real life, they get confused about it.

In extreme cases, they assume that some celebrity or author must be a Christian because he/she said or did something halfway Biblical; then they get confused when that same person a) turns out to be homosexual, b) gets divorced three times, c) expresses a belief in a crucial area that isn’t exactly Biblical. Or, in a related symptom, Christians assume that someone needs to be a Christian in order to say or do anything Biblical, when in fact Jesus, not glossing over truth either way, was very clear that even evil people can do good things (Matt. 7:11).

For instance, there’s a theme of self-sacrifice in The Hunger Games, but to my knowledge, Suzanne Collins isn’t a professing Christian. But we can recognize the theme and talk about its value even if we don’t revere Collins.

Thus our tagline: Exploring epic stories for God’s glory. Our only limitations are in genres (epic stories, meaning speculative ones) and in mission: for God’s glory. The Library, however, means to promote specifically Christian authors and books. We would not put The Hunger Games or Harry Potter in there, despite the Biblical themes that those stories may contain. However, we have put L’Engle in there, in essence saying that “as far as we can determine, this author is an orthodox Christian and these beliefs imbue her works.”

Can a Christian be an “accidental universalist,” and ironically be true despite her public rejection of this crucial Biblical truth? I am not sure if we could say this about anyone, without implying that simply had to be ignorant of His Word.

In this case, one might also fault L’Engle with woefully misunderstanding the very reason why Christ had to die. Yet many true Christians may get this wrong.

I think that’s what disturbs me about L’Engle’s work–I hear too many people revere her as a paragon of Christian faith, when really, her doctrine does seem to trend toward the universalist side. I guess I see it as a little bit of author worship.

I’m with you. I think we can respect authors, witness God’s work of “common grace” in them, and even with wisdom promoting them to other readers, without elevating them this high, or stating or implying that “well, the story is so great and so beautiful and so faith-imbued, he/she must be a real Christian.”

Anyway, now that I can read the site again, I’ll visit more often and put more burrs under your saddles…

Yee-haw.

Amy Rose Davis
Guest

Ah, software that gets into the sacramental wine… 😉
 
Sometimes when I’m really feeling obnoxious, I quote Christopher Hitchens to my friends. They can’t understand why I would think such a horrible person could have said anything true! But Hitchens was actually brilliant at calling universalists on their teachings and saying, in effect, “you can’t actually call yourself a Christian if you believe that. It goes against Christian doctrine.”
 
It’s troubling to me that Christians will accept at face value the label “Christian” and then immediately believe and trust everything that person says/does. When my kids were smaller, I had a discussion with another Christian mom about babysitters, and she was adamant that only Christians would babysit her kids. Well, that’s a great ideal, but to be honest, I had a friend who *wasn’t* a believer at the time, but who was (and is) such a competent woman that I would never even hesitate to leave my kids with her. There were folks in the church I wouldn’t leave my kids with if you paid ME. This may seem like a tangent, but my point is that too often, we assume the label “Christian” on either a book or its author (or anything else) automatically allows us to forego discernment. The flip side is that we automatically think anything WITHOUT that label MUST be false, dirty, icky, bad, evil, etc. That’s a failure of the corporate church, I think.
 
All of this said, I will say that in my own work, one of the reasons I try to create entirely new worlds is so that I won’t run into quite so many issues of bumping up against facts or truths of the Bible. I can represent true themes or ideas through religions, magicks, or supernatural beings without being confined to strict biblical accuracy. For example, in The Taurin Chronicles, there’s a strong element of earth magic. My point in developing it was to explore the concept of a curse on the earth. I thought, “what if the earth fought back?” But I didn’t want to set that whole idea in *this* world because the way I’m exploring it would seem to indicate some paganism, and that would go against biblical accuracy. By setting up an entirely different system and world, I had more freedom to make up the rules. (The earth is still subject to a single god in my series, though, and there is a strong monotheistic theme.)
 
Thanks for the great discussion. It was a lovely way to distract myself from my stinkin’ manuscript. 😉

Amy Rose Davis
Guest

Hmm, that’s interesting, Rebecca. I don’t see a rating system as “policing.” I see it as “informing.” Like with movies–we don’t automatically assume that movies rated G are okay for our kids. We look at details. And there are some PG-13 or R-rated movies that we’d rather view as a family than another awful Alvin and the Chipmunks movie. We watched Apollo 13 as a family the other day and watched The Hunt for Red October a couple of weeks ago. We watched Amazing Grace and discussed the themes of slavery and social conscience. We let our older three watch The Passion of the Christ. In general, violence and cursing don’t bother us too much, but we try to avoid movies with sexual content. So a movie rated PG because of sexual innuendo might be actually worse than a movie rated R for violence and cursing.
 
My whole point is… A system that says “we give this a particular rating because of this, this, and this” is actually helpful. It allows the consumer to discern ahead of time. A man who struggles with pornography can just know that if there’s sexual content in a book or movie, he shouldn’t go there. A woman who is struggling to control her tendency to cuss might know that reading a lot of profanity tempts her to cuss more, so she can avoid a book with a lot of that stuff in it.
 
All that said, you all probably don’t have the time to set all that up and mess with it, and that’s fine. It’s just something that I find useful when it’s there, but it doesn’t bother me when it’s not.
 
 

Rebecca LuElla Miller
Admin

too often, we assume the label “Christian” on either a book or its author (or anything else) automatically allows us to forego discernment.

Thanks for another great line, Amy! 😀 This, by the way, is why I would be against any rating system here at Spec Faith. I want people to talk about books and from reviews and recommendations and book blurbs, make up their own minds. I don’t want to become the Speculative Book Police, saying what should or should not pass Our Standards. Ugh!

Becky

Amy Rose Davis
Guest

I confess that I didn’t visit here much for a while. I think something you were doing in your updating process was making the site really hard to read for me, or maybe I didn’t have the right plug-ins, or… I dunno. For whatever reason, I got weird characters and bizarre formatting, so I just stopped visiting for a while because it was giving me a headache to try to read posts. 😛 I *thought* I remembered something about you not reviewing indie work, but I could be wrong. In any case, I doubt that my work is right for your team anyway (although I think Kaci liked it).
Speculative fiction is just a tough nut to crack no matter what. I will still recommend L’Engle’s work to younger kids because when you’re a kid and you need something more interesting than Magic Tree House books, they’re great. And compared to a lot of YA, they’re pretty tame and they have some decent themes in them. But maybe one take-away is to remember that there’s a difference between recognizing a theme that’s in line with biblical teaching and revering an author whose beliefs aren’t. For instance, there’s a theme of self-sacrifice in The Hunger Games, but to my knowledge, Suzanne Collins isn’t a professing Christian. But we can recognize the theme and talk about its value even if we don’t revere Collins. I think that’s what disturbs me about L’Engle’s work–I hear too many people revere her as a paragon of Christian faith, when really, her doctrine does seem to trend toward the universalist side. I guess I see it as a little bit of author worship. Maybe that’s why the series is held in such high esteem, and it’s possible it doesn’t really live up to that esteem.
 
Anyway, now that I can read the site again, I’ll visit more often and put more burrs under your saddles… 😉

Rebecca LuElla Miller
Admin

Jumping in to make a couple comments, Amy.

There’s a difference between recognizing a theme that’s in line with biblical teaching and revering an author whose beliefs aren’t.

Great line! I’m like to put that in our header in place of some of the other quotes we have up there!

Since I am involved in scheduling a number of our guest bloggers, let me just throw in the fact that we don’t have them sign off on our statement of faith.  I’ve invited a couple people who are published by a general market press and may or may not be Christians. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I’d love to have Anne Rice be a guest here and discuss what she’s currently thinking about spiritual things.

In the same way that I don’t think reading books that are not Christian is something to avoid, I don’t think reading blog posts by people who have different views is something to avoid–as long as it’s clear their views and ours are different and as long as we can enter into civil discourse.

The fact is, however, that to my knowledge, all our guests have been professing Christians, and I suspect most, if not all, would agree with our statement of faith. It’s just not a requirement.

So if Dean Koonz  guests here some day, know that he didn’t have to sign off on what we believe. 😉

Becky

Amy Rose Davis
Guest

Oh, I don’t think *guest* authors should have to sign a statement of faith. That wasn’t what I was saying. I’m not even sure regular posters should. I was just saying if you *did* require that, I would think it would be a good thing. I figure when you have a team of folks like this, someone is editing something at some level–or at least reviewing before posting–and so therefore if I see it posted here, it had to pass muster on some level. I write a weekly column for Fantasy Faction, and I figure if I said something completely out of line, I’d get called on it. Granted, it’s a secular site, but still–I have to pass muster somewhere!
 
Glad you liked my line. That was one of the more coherent ones for the day. 😉

Kessie Carroll
Member

Stephen, you haven’t even got to the part that always troubled me so much. The rest of the book is okay, but pretty early on, in the angel bit, they equate Jesus with Buddha and a bunch of other religious figures. Like He was just one more good teacher “fighting against the darkness”.
 
I read her Walking on Water book, and aside from being a mystic, I didn’t find too much doctrinally wrong with it. Of course, I wasn’t looking for Universalist themes, so I’ll have to go through it again with an eye peeled. But she never explained why she equated Jesus with lesser men. In Walking on Water, she seems to revere Jesus the proper way. I just don’t get it.
 
I didn’t know she was supposed to be a Christian until years after I read it. I just read it because it was on all the recommended reading lists. Same with Julie of the Wolves, which contains a two-page rape scene. Don’t trust everything on those book lists.

Kaci Hill
Member

Okay, I have to ask, Julie of the Wolves has a rape scene? I read the book two or three times as a kid and don’t recall anything like that.  Where did that happen?

Kessie Carroll
Member

It’s at the end, when she has a flashback of why she’s living with the wolves in the first place. Her forced-marriage husband gets dared to “mate his wife”. I didn’t know what was happening, and had to show it to my mom. She had to explain it. It’s written very vaguely so a kid won’t understand it.

Kaci Hill
Member

Oh! Yeah, I was so young I didn’t pick up on it, but I remember the dare now. It just….didn’t register. And it just never would have, at that stage.

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

Stephen, you haven’t even got to the part that always troubled me so much. The rest of the book is okay, but pretty early on, in the angel bit, they equate Jesus with Buddha and a bunch of other religious figures. Like He was just one more good teacher “fighting against the darkness”.

See, this is the kind of thing that confuses me, too. If we are to draw any “limits” in books that are by nature challenging and speculative, directly equating Jesus with other religions’ heroes may be ruled out. It would be better not to Name-drop at all.

As Amy has pointed out, Christians (and “Christian publishers”) have far too many limits against Edgy Content. These seem calculated not to protect readers from sinful temptations, but to protect them from something that might actually challenge them. That is a bad reason for such limitations. We should oppose them.

Yes, I know some authors would have a character cuss or commit immorality just for the Stunt of it. (Hee hee hee, look what I did, I’m such a naughty Christian; this is Not Your Momma’s Novel.) But others, I’m sure, include such material as a means to recognize the natural state of man. Man is selfish, sinful, deceptive, and deathly dark, apart from the grace, truth, and Light that comes only from Christ.

Again, none of this should be cause to fear a particular book, or to lambaste the author, or even to say it’s absolutely not “Christian fiction” and shouldn’t appear in the Speculative Faith Library. But it is cause to learn and discern, for His glory.

Kessie Carroll
Member

My problem with the edginess of Julie of the Wolves wasn’t that it was just edgy. It’s that it’s meant for 8-10 year olds. I know that books in the 70s and 80s pushed the “edgy” envelope, but come on.

Teddi Deppner
Guest

I like Amy’s idea about having a rating system that covers not only the typical movie rating items (violence, sex, language, etc) but also the author’s doctrinal beliefs and/or the doctrines espoused in the book itself. That way, people who care about those things could get a feel for things.
On the other hand, I’m a firm believer that God uses things for His purposes. If we all had to wait to be published until our beliefs were settled in their “final form” or our doctrine perfect, no Christian fiction would ever be written. 
“You shall know them by their fruits,” is something of a plumb line. L’Engle’s books have a history of having been a light in the darkness and a positive influence during the youth of many who later came to Christ. I didn’t know she was Christian when I read them, but I knew they drew me — just as the Narnia series did. Looking back at my childhood, I see many of the authors I was drawn to were Christian, but I had no idea of that at the time.
There are people who blast C.S. Lewis for his beliefs and refuse to read his fiction because his doctrine doesn’t measure up to their standards. Fine. That’s their choice. I say, let the Holy Spirit convict each of us.
Regarding the question of what to carry in your library or recommend here, I’d say if there is some question about the book or author then put a note next to it explaining why it’s controversial and then let the readers decide. 
And don’t feel bad if you’re not getting into the story. It was a different era and while it appealed to me as a child, I don’t know that it still would. Many of the classics I read as a child I don’t care to read today. Standards and styles for “good writing” in the 21st century would exclude MANY old classics from getting published!

Morgan Busse
Member

Stephen, I’m in agreement with you. I read A Wrinkle in Time a year ago and was a bit disturbed with what L’Engle wrote. I can’t recall her exact words, but the impression I had was that she believed all religions led to God. And I couldn’t agree with her on that.
 
Amy, I don’t think Stephen was talking about clean or not clean fiction. I think what he meant is that L’Engle does not seem to adhere to the core belief of the gospel, that is, that all have sinned and only God, through His sacrifice on the cross, can save us. 
 
One way I picture it is like a target with a bulls eye. The bulls eye is the core of our belief. But the further you go from the bulls eye to the outer rings, the more gray areas become and the more people differ in their beliefs. But for there to be commonality, the center must be the same for everyone. We either agree or disagree on the gospel. That is the pillar of Christianity.
 
Cuss words, sex, violence… those are part of the more grayer outer circles. They don’t really make or break Christian fiction. It is the center that does. What does the author write about the truth of the gospel (or imply, since sometimes it is not written in a straight forward way)? A writer’s worldview will eventually bleed into his or her writing. And if that worldview is contrary to the gospel, then, in my opinion, it is not Christian.
 

Amy Rose Davis
Guest

I realize Stephen wasn’t talking about clean or not clean in his post, but it made me think of that because my work wouldn’t be considered “Christian” fiction. No “Christian” publisher would touch my work with a 10-foot pole, even though it’s clean and traditional by the standards of the rest of the publishing world. And as Susanne pointed out, some of the authors published by Thomas Nelson do have some troubling beliefs even if their work is clean enough to be published by a Christian publisher. My point was simply that sometimes we’re a lot more concerned with “clean” rather than “true.” Sometimes, “true” is messy and you have to show the messy to highlight the true.
I agree with you that worldview makes it into our fiction, and I agree that “clean” is part of the gray outer circle. I guess that was kind of my point: evaluate each work and each author based not on rigid adherence to a clean standard or an insistence that the work be traditionally published, but rather on the story, the worldview, the author’s professed faith, and the truths represented in the writing.

Kessie Carroll
Member

Also, gray areas are where you get the really fun speculation of speculative fiction. I’m my current WIP, my hero is wrestling with the question of where being a werewolf falls in modern Christianity.

Chestertonian Rambler
Guest
Chestertonian Rambler

I’ll throw in a couple of comments to mix things up.

It seems a historical fact that a lot of Christians have been positively influenced by either non-Christians or Christians  with theology that seems unorthodox. The devout Catholic Thomas Merton, for instance, was hugely influenced by the unorthodox Christian poet William Blake. (He also, ironically, was partially converted to Christianity by reading a sermon in a novel by the atheist James Joyce. Joyce was attempting to satyrize Christianity, but Merton saw in the sermon a Christianity that was superior to Joyce’s own view.)

Lewis, of course, is the famous example. He credited the pagan Roman Virgil for first opening his eyes to the fact that there might be a god, and gave as much credit to the Christian Universalist fantasy-writer George MacDonald as to the Catholic Tolkien for his conversion to orthodox Christianity.

Even the apostle Paul argues, at one point, that pagan philosophers were speaking the truth of Christianity.

So I guess the question is: “what if L’Engle is unorthodox?”  I certainly don’t think that means her stories are going to always be dangerous or will lead people astray. 

On the other hand, I think it *is* dangerous to take an orthodox author of fiction too seriously. This happened to Frank E. Peretti with his This Present Darkness series. In that series, he featured angels and demons, and imagined (based on Scriptures, but enhanced by his imagination and sense of fun) how angels and demons might engage in spiritual warfare. After two books, he heard about people who were taking his imaginations as truth–and he stopped writing books in that series. He knew that people were failing to discern the difference between his imagination (which, like any human imagination, was still flawed and still being sanctified) and the truth of Scriptures.

He ended up fleeing to fantasy; when he wrote a book about a dragon, no one believed he was on par with Scriptures. But I think his insights are true for all of Christian fiction. Since all Christian stories are made-up attempts to imaginatively grasp how God and humanity work in the world, and since Christians who write them are still limited, shouldn’t Christians discern true and false ideas within even Christian fiction?

After all, Paul advises us to discern truth and falsehood even in sermons. 

Nissa Annakindt
Guest

Perhaps there is no such thing as Christian fiction. There is only Protestant fiction, Evangelical fiction, Catholic fiction, Lutheran-Church-Missouri-Synod fiction….
And some might say only one kind is really, properly Christian enough to be read by Christians, and then skip off to buy that best-selling novel written by a secularist.
 
 

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

Nissa, I’m not sure what you mean. I think the only way one could say this is if one exaggerates the differences in truly Christian denominations and discounts the common Epic Story of the Gospel that all true Christians, regardless of denomination, believe. My first question, then, would be: what is that simple yet epic, mythical yet true Gospel Story? And second, what is that story not?

For too long Christians have ignored the Biblical doctrine of common grace and discernment based on truth, not appearances (as Amy illustrated in her example about the friend who only trusted a “Christian”-labeled babysitter). But now it seems many overcorrections abound. God’s common grace in non-Christians’ lives, civil government, and secular (even if redemptive) stories is not the same as His specific grace to those He has saved for His glory. That’s a vital distinction.

Kaci Hill
Member

I get the twenty-first response. 0=) 
 
So, having no more knowledge of L’engle than her name,  inquiring minds must ask: Since the book is a work of fiction, was this the writer’s belief or the character’s belief?

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

Jesus, however, defeated the darkness. He can’t be equated with common-grace scientific leaders. Again, this is what happens when people overcorrect for previous Christians’ misunderstandings of God’s specific and common grace — they perceive everything as specific grace. This is not the same as universalism. But it is a universalist impulse.

Moreover, from a Christian’s perspective, Buddha contributed to the darkness.

By now I’ve actually read that quote. (Thanks for the heads-up about it, Kessie — it turns out I then arrived at that very portion last night.) If there’s any doubt about the author’s intent, and what seems clearly an intent of equating Christ’s work with that of others, I’ll post the quote here. It seems to illustrate a profound difference between the more-Biblical worldview of other writers, including Lewis, and that of L’Engle. She equates the work of Christ and other “good leaders,” including religious leaders and scientists. But Lewis and others show how these are actually under the dominion of Christ, following His grace and light.

Kaci Hill
Member

I guess I’m still asking. I don’t personally agree with everything my characters say in a book.  Honestly, I don’t always agree with Gandalf.  I’m still not sure if I agree with Aslan’s speech about the young Calormene soldier near the end of The Last Battle, either.  But that’s why I’m asking. A character making the statement doesn’t necessarily reflect the beliefs of the writer.

Galadriel
Guest

That would be my first question too. And especially, one must put the section in Wrinkle in context. The question was something like “who have fought the shadow?” (I’m too lazy to run up and get my copy now.). I don’t think it’s an equalizer–it’s just a way of categorizing. Micheal Phelps, Usan Bolt, and Aaron Rogers are all athletes, but it’s not putting them on a hierarchy..

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[…] she holds, fleshes out very Christian and redemptive concepts more powerfully than L’Engle in her Wrinkle-y theology. Yet by the end of the whole Harry Potter story, it’s revealed that Harry is not only fighting an […]

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[…] me, that may also contribute to my recent dislike of A Wrinkle in Time. Several people who say they love it have apparently grown up with the story. It’s […]