Most Christians would agree that fiction is okay. We can enjoy fiction and not sin — even the “weird,” “gritty” stories. But Scripture never says, “Whatever does not proceed from evil motives is neutral.” It says, “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23). That’s a very high standard. Does enjoying fiction meet it?
Many Christians defend their fiction enjoyment by saying “it’s not sinful” or “it reminds me of the Bible.” But as noted last week, they may be tripped up by this criticism:
Christians are saved for a mission. It’s summarized by Jesus’s Great Commission (Matt. 28: 16-20). He said to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing and teaching them. We work to spread the Gospel, organize churches, support our families, and more. Given all of those clearly defined parts of our mission, why spend time reading or defending fiction?
I’ve already covered one response to this toughest fiction criticism: that critics would need to apply this criticism more fairly. If obvious Great Commission work is our chief end, why only criticize fiction? Why even wish dishes? Clean carpets? Buy new cars?
Undeniably, even foreign missionaries have downtime. The next time they come to your church, consider: much of their activity is very “unspiritual.” Hours spent in a plane flying overseas could be valuable time spent not witnessing. Once in the city or village, do missionaries spend 100 percent of their time evangelizing? No. They walk or drive, buy groceries, make home repairs like all of us. They aren’t super-spiritual beings who suddenly have no human needs and only ever preach, teach, and get persecuted.
How may even those overseas missionaries redeem their inevitable downtime? What could they do when they’re not doing those “more important things”?
I would also ask fiction critics: what motivates those “more important things”?
The same chief end we all live for: desiring and “getting” more of God through worship.
Man’s chief end
Though they are vital elements of God’s plan, Creation, Christ’s death and resurrection, and even the Great Commission, are not the goal of His Story. What is that end? The same as our chief end, as famously proclaimed by the Westminster Shorter Catechism:
Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.
And as author and pastor John Piper also famously notes, clarifying the phrase:
Man’s chief end is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever.
Who faults a Christian who is captivated by the sight and splendor of a roaring waterfall and is moved to praise God. Who says this Christian has “more important things to do”?
Rather, we know we enjoy/glorify/worship God in different ways. That includes stories.
As Russell Moore said, in an article that released the same day as last week’s column:
I’ve found that most people who tell me that fiction is a waste of time are folks who seem to hold to a kind of sola cerebra vision of the Christian life that just doesn’t square with the Bible. The Bible doesn’t simply address man as a cognitive process but as a complex image-bearer who recognizes truth not only through categorizing syllogisms but through imagination, beauty, wonder, awe.
Ever notice how few Christians view worship music as unnecessary? No one interrupts “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart” (Eph. 5:19) to claim we should be doing “more important things.” Why not? Because all these are important. All these are worship. Anything we do is (Col. 3:23).
A critic may say, “But the Bible never commands story-enjoying, only singing.”
That’s not true. Scripture gives us many examples of God-glorifying worship.
But aside from that, consider the Psalms referenced in the above verse. The songwriters of Scripture crafted art, over decades, based not only on propositional truth (the Law they loved) but the glory of God in our world. They weren’t sitting in offices writing this stuff. Imagine their walks in the wild that inspired their songs, which reference mighty leaping whales, gleaming starscapes, crackling thunderstorms, and wind-whipped tree branches, all of which praise the Lord.
To get to the worship songs, we have other, non-singing worship. We stop singing by ourselves and listen to God’s creation sing. We lose ourselves in His wonders.
And without this, we will have no incentive to evangelize or do “more important things.”
Next week: what crucial question must we ask about Story? What is that positive answer (beyond our defensive reminders that nothing is overtly sinful about stories?) By contrast, what assumptions do we often have about “the chief end of stories”? How do these contradict what Scripture assures us is “the chief end of man”?
But for now, what is your “chief end” for living, and for enjoying stories?