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Welcome To Christian Entertainment

Stories by Christians should reflect timeless truths, grow naturally from the author’s worldview, and glorify God in striving for excellence. Which, by the way, isn’t a code word for “Let’s use blatant Christian themes.”
| Apr 26, 2016 | 6 comments |

Are you ready for a happy stroll through a world bright with feel-good moments, happy families, unrealistic expectations, and sentimentality?

rolling fieldsWelcome to the landscape of Christian entertainment.

Don’t worry, the flowers are always in bloom (despite the occasional thorn), conversion experiences abound, healing themes flow like the waters from the Fountain of Youth, and the details are wrapped up in a sunny yellow bow.

Shadows are but lingering thoughts, barely given substance in the light of intensely happy sunbeams. Bonnets are as common as rain showers in England, and the people living in this happy world are nice.

Even the villains, who seem to have their bad language vocal chords permanently damaged.

Most importantly, the fare served breakfast through dinner is a healthy, predictable diet of Christian themes, Christian ideals, Christian philosophies, Christian lingo, and Christian morals.

Anything less is questionable, perhaps evil, and therefore should be confined to the forbidden chasm of H-E-double-hockey-sticks. (You know, the dark, sulfuric, flame-bathed place.)

To be fair, this description (sarcasm intended to make a point) doesn’t encompass the entirety of Christian entertainment. However, it illustrates the reality of what we commonly refer to as Christian fiction—books, movies being the primary storytelling devices.

Christian fiction is notorious for being, shall we say, subpar when it comes to most storytelling elements. Why? Because the message, the purpose of the book, becomes the dominant force, crushing plot, character, nuance, and creativity down like an avalanche leveling trees.

Must it be this way? Must stories by Christians always hammer the nail on the head so the reader can’t possibly mistake the book’s agenda?

The answer is a resounding NO!

I submit that blatantly Christianized books cause more harm than good. They paint the world, and our place within it, in overly positive terms that lead to discontent when we find out how broken and messed up everything is. They undermine excellent storytelling. Most egregious of all, perhaps, is the way it inundates the reader with the Christian message, to the point where it becomes an annoying, repetitious buzz.

Stories by Christians should reflect timeless truths, grow naturally from the author’s worldview, and glorify God in striving for excellence. Which, by the way, isn’t a code word for “Let’s use blatant Christian themes.”

By way of example, let’s look at two heralded stories rooted in the Christian worldview.

Lord of the Rings and Narnia.

Quality (Not Christian) Fiction

J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. LewisI can hardly imagine anyone who doesn’t appreciate the quality found within the pages of these timeless tales. Both those were written by Christian authors. Both contained themes obviously derived from a Christian perspective of life and the world.

Granted, the elements in Narnia derived from Christian roots were more obvious, but never explicitly stated. To the believer, the similarities are undeniable, but to the secular reader, the subtle echoes aren’t annoyingly overbearing.

Lord of the Rings, on the other hand, is much more vague. Tolkien insisted his intent wasn’t to write an allegory. Again, while the echoes of truth are apparent to the Christian, they’re veiled behind resonant themes, a breathtaking setting, relatable characters, and a gripping tale.

Imagine if Tolkien had approached Lord of the Rings with the mindset of, “I’m a Christian, therefore my work must obviously be Christian.” What do we get? Here’s my imaginative interpretation:

  • Frodo wearing a cross instead of a Ring
  • Sam reciting scripture verses when the road becomes dark
  • Frodo actively evangelizing Gollum
  • Gandalf heralded as a direct representation of Christ
  • A lack of any magic, good or otherwise
  • Minas Tirith and Helm’s Deep as symbols for building walls of protection around our lives so the evil forces can’t get in

You get the idea.

In such a scenario, the weight, the beauty of the tale are lost, sacrificed in favor of preachiness.

Lord of the Rings is one of the most profound works of fiction penned. Not because it resides in the land of Do Good, Be Good, Feel Good, but because it reaches into the dirt of a fallen world and mines the gems of truth we can all understand and appreciate.

Zachary Totah writes speculative fiction stories. This allows him to roam through his imagination, where he has illegal amounts of fun creating worlds and characters to populate them. When not working on stories or wading through schoolwork, he enjoys playing sports, hanging out with his family and friends, watching movies, and reading. He lives in Colorado and doesn't drink coffee. He loves connecting with other readers and writers. Find him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google Plus, Goodreads, and at his website.

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Yaasha Moriah

Zachary, it’s like you’ve been listening in on the rants I’ve been subjecting my poor family to! C. S. Lewis recalled in his autobiography, Surprised By Joy, that as a young adult, he was on the lookout for books that seemed to understand the nitty-gritty of life. As a (sort of) atheist, he was frustrated that the books that most fit that description were written by Christians. Of course, he later became a Christian, but I don’t think he ever set out to be a Christian writer. He was just interested in a particular story and wrote it the way the story came to him and pleased him. Tolkien, as you pointed out, insisted that LOTR wasn’t allegorical, yet we can clearly see Christian elements in it. The point: Neither was TRYING to be a Christian writer.

Fast forward to today, and a new generation of Christian writers all want to be the next Lewis or Tolkien and use speculative fiction as an evangelism tool, but it feels formulaic and overtly evangelistic. (I did laugh when you mentioned that “Frodo would be actively evangelizing Gollum”–too true!) I think we’ve forgotten what made Lewis and Tolkien’s stories actually WORK, for Christian and non-Christian alike. Lewis, in fact, argued for Christianity to be latent:

“What we want is not more little books about Christianity, but more little books by
Christians on other subjects—with their Christianity latent. You can see this most
easily if you look at it the other way around. Our faith is not very likely to be
shaken by any book on Hinduism. But if whenever we read an elementary book
on Geology, Botany, Politics, or Astronomy, we found that its implications were
Hindu, that would shake us. It is not the books written in direct defense of
Materialism that make the modern man a materialist; it is the materialistic
assumptions in all the other books. In the same way, it is not books on
Christianity that will really trouble him. But he would be troubled if, whenever he
wanted a cheap popular introduction to some science, the best work on the
market was always by a Christian.”

And, in closing, I leave with another quote by Martin Luther:
“The Christian shoemaker does his duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.”

HG Ferguson
HG Ferguson

Zachary, I agree with you in the main about the shallowness of what passes for much of Christian entertainment, these days, and you rightly decry the absence of craft and quality. But let me offer a bit of counterbalance. You speak of worldview, and rightly so. But I can give you a counter list of your items that “christianize” LOTR. Today we have a plethora of stories by professing Christian writers that bear little to no resemblance to what is actually said in the Bible, but ape closely the works they imitate by writers who most certainly do not share the same worldview we are supposed to have. In this world, our world, the world as God made it and is governed by the Bible and the Bible alone, there is no “good magic” for example. Nowhere from Genesis to Revelation is magic ever called “good.” It is called something else, toevah, a Hebrew word meaning something so repulsive it makes one vomit at the sight of it. This does NOT mean we cannot enjoy great fantasy stories like Harry Potter or Alan Garner’s forgotten masterpiece The Weirdstone of Brisingamen — as stories, to delight and, if I may say, enchant us. But God’s servants in this world, our world, do not practice magic, nor should it be called good, nor should we do so because it is popular and lucrative to do so. We are fast moving toward “christian wizards” and at this rate it won’t be long before someone dares to call the Lord Jesus Himself “the great wizard” and think he is serving God. Ghosts are also becoming quite popular in Christian novels now and while I like a good ghost story (The Haunting, The Turn of the Screw, the film version of Ghost Story) and am writing one myself for publication this fall [Jezebelle], too many of these same tales are bringing in notions of unfinished business, contacting the dead, even mediums cast in a favorable light (something damned by God in the strongest terms [Is. 8:19ff]). These notions do not reflect a biblical worldview nor do they honor the God of all Truth. In our zeal to make good quality shoes, let’s not carve a pentagram on top so people might actually buy them. Let us not be like the world, nor write like the world. That’s my plea, let’s craft our stories according to the Way God has crafted His. Thank you for calling us back to quality and a desire to please Him.

Leah Burchfiel
Leah Burchfiel

I has a confused. Just how did we get from deploring poor storytelling to warning against magic? Because fiction?

Parker J. Cole

Mike Duran did a very powerful post the other day about what’s edgy for some is obscene for others, or in some cases, tame to some as well. And then he went on to say how some Christian readers don’t want to read about anything that may throw them out of their comfort zone. A lot of people freak out the use of magic, swearing, sex, and other vices a bunch of people on Earth actually do.

I think my response may go a little bit off topic so forgive me. For me, I enjoy a good horror story (not gore — that’s just torture porn for some people) and I’ve come to appreciate a horror writer who is Christian by the name of Jess Hanna. I listened to his R-rated short story on the Untold Podcast a few weeks back entitled, If it causes you to sin.

Perhaps some would say the idea has been done before, and maybe it has, but Hanna’s depiction of this story to me went to the root of the human condition. The character in the narrative doesn’t state whether or not he’s Christian. He just comes to the conclusion that the voices in his head are accusing him of sins. So many sins and it grieved him. He tried to ignore them but they kept bothering him until he decided to cut off his hand. Then the voices get quieter as he goes about trying to discover the best way of doing it.

The story struck me particularly because it’s horror element showed something I don’t some people appreciate — the reality of a truly repentant heart. The character knew he’d sin, acknowledged it, and wanted some way to atone for it. Now, of course, most of us know that when Jesus said this, he was speaking metaphorically. But the point was that the main character reminded me of a very twisted, but quite logical depiction of the publican who Jesus used in his parable about the Pharisee and the publican who went to pray. Horror, to me, shows the depravity of the human condition, pulls back the veneer of humanism, and lifts the veil of total transcendence and points quite clearly at the human heart God understands so very well. That the heart is ‘desperately wicked’. In Hanna’s story, the character is truly repentant but he doesn’t understand the grace of God and feels compelled to atone for his sins, which is quite logical despite the madness of the idea.

Hanna represents those of us under the massive umbrella of speculative fiction who find a certain attraction to the dark nature of human heart but understand the call of God’s light from the darkness. Of course, in Hanna’s short, he could have had a HEA ending where the character realizes the importance of God’s grace — but he doesn’t! It’s a frightening tale of the limitations of human atonement for our sins without the blood of Christ.

Yet, some Christians would COMPLETELY MISS THE POINT because they heard the word ‘horror’. Yet, as I mentioned earlier, there are people who are naturally attracted to darkness. They don’t try to hide from it; they embrace it. A fictional character I’ll use is Heath Ledger’s depiction of the Joker. The Joker, having grown up with a rough childhood, embraced the darkness within himself. And at one point in the movie, he puts two sets of people against each other because he wanted to see the human heart at its worse. He got a full grasp on the human condition which some people refuse to accept.

All of that to say that in Christian entertainment, darkness SHOULD exist, and to pretend it doesn’t shows a lack of realism. I used horror to illustrate my point with Hanna’s short story. For anyone who wants to listen to it, you can to to untoldpodcast dot com which is a podcast for Christian spec fiction of a wide variety.

Thanks for letting me say my two cents.

HG Ferguson
HG Ferguson

Two cents? More like $2 million. Thanks for your support of the unacceptable genre…THAT…and you are dead on about missing the point. Thank you!!!

Parker J. Cole

We’ll agree to disagree.