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