/ / Articles

Define ‘Christian Speculative Story’

What is this thing called Christian speculative fiction? Readers and writers are still debating that question. How do you define it? Care to defend your definition?
| May 30, 2012 | No comments |

What is this thing called Christian speculative fiction?

Readers and writers are still debating those definitions, and I think that’s okay.

Coming soon: Speculative Faith 3.0, with an upgraded library and other features (click to enlarge).

The most recent  instance was Monday at this site, in the comments here. Rebecca Miller admitted her original question was more broad, about which Christian speculative stories — besides Lewis and Tolkien — would be considered required reading. Still, some of the submissions were from a wider field of reading than what most would consider “Christian.”

To prove that, we must define Christian speculative fiction/stories. How do you define that?

Here’s a possible pattern for discussion:

  1. Write a short definition of Christian speculative fiction/stories.
  2. If you like, break down the words and phrases with sub-definitions.
  3. Any bonus comments, with evidence or preemptive rebuttals of criticisms.

Here’s what I mean.

1. Definition of Christian speculative stories.

Here’s my working definition for discussion/revision.

Christian speculative stories are fantastic tales that are written, or otherwise shown, clearly yet naturally from a Christian worldview. That is, the hero and plot reflects Christ and the Gospel, the characters reflect real people, and the story-world and style reflect reality and God’s truth, wonders, and creativity.

2. Phrase breakdown.

Christian speculative stories are fantastic tales

  • We’re speaking here of story-worlds including things we don’t normally see: fantasy, technology, creatures, alternate histories, miracles, and so on.

that are written, or otherwise shown,

  • These include novels, television, plays, motion pictures, and so on.

clearly yet naturally from a Christian worldview.

  • What this means: the hero/plot, characters, and world run on Biblical “rules” — not necessarily God’s “will of command” or revealed will, but His sovereign will (e.g., sin brings consequences, we don’t always have answers this side of Heaven, He is God).
  • What this doesn’t mean: every character finds God or finds answers to every question.
  • What this means: the author is knowingly telling the story according to Biblical “rules.”
  • What this doesn’t mean: the author is clearly a professing Christian (but I’m not aware of a case in which a non-Christian author wanted to write a specifically Christian story).

That is, the hero and plot reflects Christ and the Gospel,

  • "The Avengers" has a basically Christian worldview, true heroism, and self-sacrifice. But is it a "Christian story"?

    What this means: the hero in some sense is a Christ-figure, and sin and grace are seen.

  • What this doesn’t mean: any hero, even if he sacrifices himself, counts as a Christ-figure.
  • Example: the alternate gospel “story” of Mormonism, a fantastic tale with other planets and everything, is not the original Gospel. This goes beyond intra-Church debates over baptism or “Calvinism” vs. “Arminianism,” for the Mormon concept of Jesus and His mission, the Gospel, is skewed to the point of being a false “Jesus” and false “gospel” (Galatians 1: 6-9). For more, see here.

the characters reflect real people,

  • As in reality, characters behave like actual humans, not one-dimensional clichés. They show the Biblical truth that man is sinful, yet can be redeemed, and that even sinful people can do good, even if they have bad motives (Matt. 7:11).

and the story-world and style reflect reality and God’s truth, wonders, and creativity.

  • What this means: in such a story, God is “seen,” even if He seems hidden. He’s shown in a way that nature itself reveals Him. “His invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20)
  • What this doesn’t mean: God and His nature are seen just as clearly as He is revealed in the Bible. Scripture is final, only-certain revelation from God Himself. So no speculative novel need also try to act like the final, most-comprehensive word on the subject.
  • What this means: the story includes truth, not always accessible or resolved or seen, but always present — even behind the scenes, even just out of reach.
  • What this does not mean: beauty in style and craft don’t matter if the story has truth.Truth without beauty is a lie. Beauty without truth is ugliness.

3. Bonus: why read newer Christian speculative stories?

Becky later asked this question:

I’m beginning to wonder–we have a lot of writers who stop by, and readers who read general speculative fiction, but do we also have visitors who read “Christian speculative fiction”–the books we have here in the Spec Faith library, the books many of our guest bloggers write?

Even C.S. Lewis would want you to read other Christian fantasy novels.

I’ve also begun to wonder if Christian readers are reading anything besides classic fantasy — works by Lewis, Tolkien, MacDonald, etc. — and secular speculative novels. Recently I had to razz a friend from church who was only recently pushed into reading The Hunger Games. His reason: it wasn’t Lewis or Tolkien, so why read anything else?

I’d rephrase his question, and not only because this brother happens to lead the singing at my church: it isn’t by Isaac Watts or Charles Wesley, so why sing any other song?

Rather, God should be worshiped with “a new song,” played excellently (Psalm 33:3).

And if worship is more than singing, and it is, we must also enjoy new stories for His glory.

Browse our Library shelves. On June 1, we’ll launch an upgraded Speculative Faith, with new cross-reference options, organization, and featured reviews. It’s the best way we know to find new authors and novels, similar titles, and fantastically unique means of worshiping God — not only with classic fantasy or secular books, but with Christian speculative stories.

E. Stephen Burnett is coauthor (with Ted Turnau and Jared Moore) of The Pop Culture Parent: Helping Kids Engage Their World for Christ, which will release in spring 2020 from New Growth Press. He also explores biblical truth and fantastic stories as editor in chief of Lorehaven Magazine and writer at Speculative Faith. He has also written for Christianity Today and Christ and Pop Culture. He and his wife, Lacy, live in the Austin area and serve as members of Southern Hills Baptist Church.

Leave a Reply

avatar
  Subscribe  
Notify of
Paul Lee
Member

Christian speculative stories are fantastic tales that are written, or otherwise shown, clearly yet naturally from a Christian worldview. That is, the hero and plot reflects Christ and the Gospel, the characters reflect real people, and the story-world and style reflect reality and God’s truth, wonders, and creativity.

I’m slightly surprised that I have no disagreement with this definition.  This definition describes what I try to find in all speculative fiction.  I have not cared about classifying Christian speculative fiction separately from general speculative fiction, only about identifying and rejoicing in universal Christian truths and themes in stories, about discussing how all good stories reflect Christian truth to some degree.  This definition might change my mind; maybe there really can be a category for Christian speculative fiction.

 

In Monday’s column, The Wheel of Time series was mentioned in a couple comments.  I’m a fan of that series, and I believe it fits this definition of Christian speculative fiction.  I wouldn’t have named it before, since it’s general market, and I thought the purpose of defining CSF was to identify a community of Evangelical Christian writers who market their works to Evangelical spec-fic fans despite having different goals for the Christian element in their works.  (This was why I wasn’t interested in defining CSF.)

I can make many general market speculative fiction stories fit this definition of Christian speculative fiction; I can often find these elements in them if I want to see them.  With some works, this takes more wrangling than with others.  It requires little wrangling to see these elements in The Wheel of Time for me.  By comparison, it’s even easier to see The Lord of the Rings in this definition.

Bethany A. Jennings
Member

My own simple definition, off the top of my head: “A Christian speculative story is one which explores ideas of fantastical things that do not exist in the real world, and is also told from a Christian worldview.”

By “a Christian worldview” I mean that the story operates under the basic assumptions of that worldview, i.e. there is one almighty and powerful God who created everything, there is such a thing as absolute right and wrong, the world is fallen and human beings are all sinners, etc.

I would only disagree slightly with part of your definition, Stephen, in that I don’t think the hero/heroine of a story needs to be a Christ-picture in some way in order for it to be Christian speculative fiction.  Sometimes the Christ figures in stories are side-characters, or there are multiple small pictures of Christlike sacrifice from various characters throughout the book.  (Frodo suffered to rid the world of great evil, yet Gandalf was the one who died and rose again, and Aragorn was a king coming into his kingdom…within LotR we have many little Christ pictures, but I wouldn’t say any one protagonist is a direct Christ figure, per se.)

I also don’t think a story needs to have realistic characters to be Christian speculative fiction.  It could still be CSF even with wooden, shallow characters…it would just be really BAD CSF.  😀  I think it’s a little unfair to imply that poorly written books are not part of the genre because merely their authors lack writing skill.  Maybe that’s not what you meant, but I thought I’d toss in my two cents…

Bethany A. Jennings
Member

HURRAY!  The edit button is back!!  Thank you to the webmaster…!

I am now editing this comment to add that the upcoming SpecFaith update looks pretty nice, too! 🙂

Rebecca LuElla Miller
Admin

Great comment, Bethany. I have only read the comments up to this point, but I agree completely with what you said.

Becky

Literaturelady
Guest
Literaturelady

Thank you for posing this question; I’m curious to see what everyone has to say! 
 
I’ve never put my definition of Speculative Fiction into words, but I’ve always imagined this genre as separate from fantasy, for some reason.  For example, fantasy contains all kinds of supernatural events, fairies, glowing swords, and elements like that; while Speculative Fiction focused more on alternate history, or exploring “what if God worked differently on another planet/world,” or “what if the world was created differently; how would that impact life now?”
 
I would also say that your criteria of characters reflect real people, and the story-world and style reflect reality and God’s truth, wonders, and creativity should apply to every genre outside of Speculative Fiction.  (R. M. Ballantyne does that extremely well in his historical fiction novels!)


Honestly, I don’t read much Speculative Fiction, either new or old (with exceptions) simply because I’m not sure I agree with the content of the books I research.  I have very high standards for fantasy–and if a book crosses the line, it’s out.  Or if it seems to cross the line, it’s out.  That, and I have such a vast library already, there are plenty of titles to keep me happy (not to mention limited bookshelf space!).  I read Tolkien and Lewis (also Lewis’ non-fiction), Sir Walter Scott, R. M. Ballantyne, Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens, Ray Bradbury, Lloyd Alexander, Allen French, various miscellaneous titles, and Shakespeare.  Shakespeare to the point that, in sooth, his language and style oft creeps into my own words and there takes up abode.
[Exit]  🙂
Blessings,
Literaturelady

Timothy Stone
Member

I think your basic definition works, Stephen, as does your quibble over the presence of a self-sacrificial Christ-figure not being perhaps good enough as the sole definition. IN Western Literature, the self-sacrificial hero is a very common trope, as he is a very respected concept in Western culture and history.
 
That said, I do think that the definition must be more open at times. The main character being someone who struggles with faith and goes through a spiritual journey (within his fictional world’s religious structure) is a hallmark (to me) of speculative Christian fiction. I say this because most secular fantasy has what tvtropes.org calls the trope of “Devil by no God”. Essentially, they have a Satan analogue, but no God analogue, or else the God analogue is evil as well.
 
Looking at fantasies, the idea of a good and holy God or Creator that empowers the hero(es) to fight the Devil figure is unique in fantasy. As is teaching notions that specifically reference Bible doctrines. The Wheel of Time deals with the champion of the Creator facing the Dark One (devil figure) to stop the DO from destroying history and reality. The Attolia series deals with the will of God, and even a Providential destiny, via the fictional variants of the hero’s gods.
 
Sanderson’s Mistborn has the main characters being the prophesied one and her husband who sort of fills out the prophesied role with her. A side character, who is a main character, but below the main two in importance goes through horrible doubts of his faith due to tragedy and seeing his faith not be fulfilled, as well as wondering how God can allow suffering. At the end, he discovers that he, not the other one he thought was the prophesied one, is the “hero of ages”.
 
I would say that my definition is where, despite the author’s views, Christian speculative fantasy “reflects” a Christian worldview or Christian ideas. I think this definition being looser is necessary because it allows in more good works while still excluding works that have little value to the Christian. Also,  technically under a strict definition, while Lewis would qualify with Narnia, Tolkien would himself (given his ornery nature of applicability versus allegory) have argued against including his work in Christian spec faith by your definition. I think mine is loose enough to include important works, including LOTR.

Timothy Stone
Member

An addendum to my previous work. It may seem unnecessary to add this part, but just in case, I will. If an author (who is not a Christian) somehow has Christ infused in his work, but trashes the Bible, or some such *coughTerryBrooksinWordandVoidorLegendsofShannaracough*, then that does not count. The rest of his work before the past ten years is better. And trust me, there are authors out there that seem really neat in having a Christian POV or Christian ideas, until they put in something stupid and then they become useless to a believer.

Morgan Busse
Member

Timothy, I have to agree with you. I like Terry Brooks. But his recent books are not his best, and I really hated his seeming attack on marriage.

Izzy Stevenson
Member

I think I mostly agree with your definition in the article, though I might agree even more with  Timothy Stone ‘s definition. 

 I also agree with Bethany A. Jennings. I don’t see why the hero, or any of the other character in the book really, would have to be a Christ figure for it to be considered Christian SpecFic. The Old Testament, for example, doesn’t have a “Christ figure” since Christ hadn’t come yet, and that’s *the* Christian book and our main example for anything related to God. And today, there isn’t really a Christ figure here on Earth because Christ has already died and risen. A modern novel might not have any specific Christ figure present, because of this. So, if there are examples in books outside of SpecFic where no Christ figure is present, surely there would also examples inside fiction that is actually *speculative*.

Rebecca LuElla Miller
Admin

Stephen, I think you’ve done a good job clarifying your definition. The thing is, you’ll find industry professionals, and even some of our regular columnists here at Spec Faith who have a different definition.

In fact, earlier this month over at my own site, I wrote a post about this subject: “Christian Fiction: The Definition Matters.”

My own views are closely aligned with yours, and I’d love to see more Christian worldview fiction, published by Christian, indie, or general market houses.

I do have one area that hasn’t been mentioned yet that I disagree with though. I think the communication of Christian truth can’t be “accidental” and have the work considered Christian. For example, some people looked at Avatar as “Christian” because they saw the hero as incarnational. Uh, no. The possibility was there, but the story took that concept and turned it on its head. The hero instead of coming from glory came from a place of evil, and the place to which he translated was good and pure and spiritual–not exactly parallel to Christ.

In the post I referred to above, I put in a line to my definition that might be impossible to determine, but here it is:

I believe a work is Christian if it is purposefully infused with the Christian worldview — not subliminally, as the writers who say our stories become Christian naturally because of our condition as Christians.

Here is more from that post explaining my position:

If a reader expects purposeful communication of a Christian worldview, however, he can expect a story for other Christians or for non-Christians. He can expect an overt message and a clear presentation of the gospel, or the unique Christian understanding of truth communicated through types or symbols.

In other words, the latter understanding of Christian fiction is a broad, more inclusive category. Yet it is not stories with “anything goes” content as one can expect if “Christian fiction” is defined as fiction written by Christians. (emphasis added)

Becky

 

Timothy Stone
Member

I need to explain better, Stephen. In Mustborn, Sazed loses his faith and rediscovers it, just in time to save the day. His faith is true, and he rediscovers this BEFORE he saves the day.
 
I think too many books, in showing struggle are TOO dark, TOO violent, or TOO angsty. The rest are perhaps often TOO light. A book that shows the struggle for faith in the midst of hardship, with the right balance, so it doesn’t go to extremes, is something every Christian needs more of. That’s why I call Mistborn Christian Speculative Fiction. It shows someone having faith even when there is no proof. Such emphasis on faith is a Biblical concept in the books.
 
Heh! I loved how the writers and actors got in fruit past Roddenberry’s militant atheost attempts to preach secularism.

Timothy Stone
Member

Mistborn, not Mustborn, lol. Shouldn’t use Mobile version to post at places. *Blush*

Izzy Stevenson
Member

Now that I think about it, I think the term “Christian Speculative Fiction” is a phrase, like many others, that can have multiple meanings, all of them just as valid than the others (though in different ways).

Some I can think of are:

1. The actual genre. Speculative fiction  that a Christian purposely writes to be Christian, whether overtly or not. Whether they fail or succeed in this goal determines whether it’s BAD Christian SpecFic or GOOD Christian SpecFic. As someone already pointed out, it doesn’t necessarily change its genre just because it fails to do what it attempted to do.

2. Speculative fiction that has genuine Christian elements, intended or unintended, including stories written by non-Christians.  This definition is different from the previous one as it is not so much a *genre* as it is an *observation* on the part of a reader. It may or may not be the sort of thing you put in a Christian bookstore. But it is the sort of thing where a reader might say, “Oh! This is very Christian.”

Timothy Stone
Member

I think you have a point, Sir. I would say that Narnia is in the first one, and LOTR is in the second. While Tolkien defended the Catholic worldview in his letters of LOTR, he would have probably been apoplectic about any who called LOTR part of a “Christian” genre.
 
Morgan, yes Ma’am, that irritated me too. I just started with Brooks after years of  hearing him trashed (unfairly I think I’ve discovered recently) over Sword of Shannara. But recently, I have started the Word and Void, and the suggestion that it is Christians who are the evil ones to  bring about Brooks’ fictional apocalypse. His very UNsubtle jab at those who think their faith is the way to Heaven or disagree with homosexuality, really irritated me. Then I hear that in Legends of Shannara, Brooks has a religious order that is a thinly veiled caricature of Christianity attacking our faith. He pretty much admits this when asked. It really irked me. I’m not going to read his books from the past ten years, that’s for sure.

PaulC
Guest
PaulC

I love this definition, and its accompanying explanation, in (nearly) every way.
My one thought I’d like to toss into the discussion is that this definition defines a story partly by its author. As has been mentioned, Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson’s books couldn’t be included simply because their theology – outside of, not necessarily inside, their books – is unbiblical. For instance, sure, you can probably find evidence of Sanderson’s LDS beliefs in his works, if you dig hard enough; but on the whole the messages and themes of his books are entirely truthful and even Biblical. His works do convey both beauty and truth.
Excluding Jordan and Sanderson for their beliefs opens another can of worms, though: should authors that claim to be Christians but have flawed/heretical theolology – theology flaws that aren’t always obvious in their books – be excluded from this category? Technically, yes. As some have brought up, George MacDonald; or, who comes to mind for me, Brian Davis of Dragons in Our Midst.
It’s a question of which is more important, the author’s intended message, or the message that is actually conveyed? Admittedly, the title Christian Speculative Fiction does include that word Christian. So it may be technically accurate to exclude books written by non-Christian authors. However, I would argue it’s not terribly useful or necessary to do so. What is in my opinion more relevant, important, and applicable is whether or not the message that was actually conveyed reflects Biblical truth, rather than what the author might or might not have intended to convey.

Paul Lee
Member

Excluding Jordan and Sanderson for their beliefs opens another can of worms, though: should authors that claim to be Christians but have flawed/heretical theolology – theology flaws that aren’t always obvious in their books – be excluded from this category? Technically, yes. As some have brought up, George MacDonald; or, who comes to mind for me, Brian Davis of Dragons in Our Midst.

We’d better be careful, or we would end up excluding everyone. We’re probably all heretics to each other. C.S. Lewis was very fond of MacDonald, and although C.S. Lewis was not exactly a modern Evangelical in his doctrine, his writings and even his direct teaching in his nonfiction have encouraged and strengthened many of us in the faith, helping us to form our own beliefs about secondary doctrines. If we include Lewis even though he seemed to think that some non-Christian can be drawn to God by the Holy Spirit while still in false religions, even though he was too mystical and abstract for modern American Evangelical tastes, can we rightfully exclude MacDonald when Lewis would probably have included him, despite the fact that Lewis disagreed with MacDonald’s universalist philosophies? (I just read The Great Divorce, and Lewis directly names and argues against MacDonald’s universalism near the end of that book.)

I strongly agree with the rest of your comment though.  Authors don’t have the authority to dictate how readers are to interpret their works.  The reader is the final authority on the meaning of fiction, not the author, because it is the reader who is affected through the story and who applies his or her own thoughts and experiences.  So, if we Christian readers of speculative fiction find Christian truths in books written by non-Christians, then the truths that we have discovered are really there!

Kaci Hill
Member

Excluding Jordan and Sanderson for their beliefs opens another can of worms, though: should authors that claim to be Christians but have flawed/heretical theolology – theology flaws that aren’t always obvious in their books – be excluded from this category? Technically, yes. As some have brought up, George MacDonald; or, who comes to mind for me, Brian Davis of Dragons in Our Midst.


Personally, I think I have to agree with this.  I haven’t read Robert Jordan and I’m almost halfway through “Well of Ascension,” so bear with me. While I don’t believe  LDS to be a part of Christianity,  I think it might be better to to include any story that involves particular Christian themes. Truly Christian themes are universal truths and therefore, while the particulars might be off, in general the exploration of said truths is valid.  (Ex: Murder is considered morally wrong on a universal level. But societies disagree on what qualifies as murder.) Personally,  on that scale I’d probably include a dozen books, movies, and TV shows that are neither written by Christians nor intended to have a Christian theme or message but have, despite that, a universal truth that cannot be denied.
Now, to fairly go about a truly Christian, orthodox message would involve a much narrower scope involving the bare-bones requirements to actually be Gospel truth.  And I’d likely  come up with a very, very short list just because there actually is a pretty broad playing philosophical playing field before you hit “not Christian.”

Timothy Stone
Member

By the by, Ma’am. What do you think of Well of Ascension and Mistborn in general so far? Um, though the ending to Hero of Ages is bittersweet, I warn you, it is not quite as depressing as Well of Ascension is.

Galadriel
Guest

I want to say something like C.S. Lewis’s definition of what Narnia is.

A story that reflections how God’s work of redemption would play out in a world that is different from ours in a significant way, including but not limited to the presence of other rational species,  different technologies/magic or different choices by mankind.

Timothy Stone
Member

I said this before, but I can say it again for emphasis, that if a definition is too restrictive, then LOTR itself can not fit into it. If one is going to go by reader interpretation, the idea of “applicability” as Tolkien put it”, or else private correspondence to place something in the realm of “Christian Speculative Fiction” when Tolkien would not, then how do you not use reader interpretation for secular works? Now, if you wish to exclude Tolkien from the list of such books, then that is consistent. Otherwise, you are mining his letters for the “extra push” to define his works in a way he neither presented them, or would have himself termed him. This is, to me, very inconsistent. Use the same looser standards in general, or keep him out. I vote for the looser definition, to open up avenues to more examples of Truth, whether from LOTR or other works.
 
Now, let me be clear here. I believe that the author’s point of view is the “true” point of view for how something is to be interpreted. But I also think that there is some validity to how the reader wants to do so. So Tolkien, or Jordan,  or Sanderson (not a believer like the first two, to be sure) may not consider their work to be in the Christian Speculative Fiction genre, but we can, and that’s perfectly legitimate, as long as we admit also how they thought.

Kaci Hill
Member

Write a short definition of Christian speculative fiction/stories.

Never ask a lit major something like this.
1. Fiction written  from a orthodox Christian worldview, typically by a Christian (but not necessarily).
2. Any story containing Christian elements and themes. (Ex: I would include the pilot of Leverage; Sweet Home Alabama; The Book of Eli; The Lakehouse; some Doctor Who episodes – even if DW is a smorgasboard); and, now that I’m watching it, and despite the rather Buddhist perspective, certain aspects of Avatar: the Last Airbender – I am such a sucker for a redemption story;  the Jesse Stone movies; Thor; Tangled; etc.)
 
 
And I am now out of this discussion because I am in the middle of “The Well of Ascension” for the first time. Bah humbug on all of you! 😛

Timothy Stone
Member

A little broad Ma’am, but it works. I thin that while the definition can not be too broad so as to say that EVERYTHING short of Terry Goodkind and so forth are in the genre we discuss, that too narrow a focus leaves out a lot of truth.
 
Oh, and when you’re done with that trilogy Ma’am, read the novella Alloy of Law. Great stuff.

Kaci Hill
Member

It’s broad by design, or else there are several authors whose writings simply don’t fit the core, orthodox Christian worldview – and that is not counting a debate on whether or not LDS should count.  To take the stricter position is to disclude writings based on any non-Christian POV – and that would include anyone who strays too far on foundational, core Christian beliefs.
I basically offered both definitions , though I should have, as others did, included the third definition of  “speculative fiction written from a Christian worldview with a Christian audience in mind”.
 
I don’t want to discuss the Mistborn Trilogy until I’ve read all three, so I’m sort of avoiding those questions for the time being.  It’s all one story, for me,  rather than three.  Thanks, though, I’ll put Alloy of Law on the list.

Paul Harry
Guest
Paul Harry

I have read all of the comments up to this and I totally agree with you Bethany. More success !

Fred Warren
Member

This is a tough nut to crack, and I often wonder if it’s even possible to craft a definition that’s truly satisfactory. The outcomes always seem either too restrictive, too permissive, or too convoluted. We’re also compelled to make exceptions to include our personal favorites or exclude stories we dislike.

I think Stephen’s definition, in its current form, is too convoluted, though it does a great job of putting all the pieces on the board. It loses utility with every additional sentence and explanatory sub-paragraph. This definition needs to be concise.

Becky introduces the quality of intent or “purposefulness,” that is, a Christian story is meant by the author, from its inception, to be a Christian story. I agree that when you set out to write a Christian story, that’s probably what you’ll get. However, without an explicit declaration from the author, it’s hard to prove or disprove intent. Did the author really mean to say that? Did he mean it enough?

Then we have the problem of orthodoxy, and who defines it. Kaci refined Izzy’s criteria into a pretty concise package:
1. Fiction written from a orthodox Christian worldview, typically by a Christian (but not necessarily).
2. Any story containing Christian elements and themes. 

I think point 1 encompasses intent, while making room for those of us who sometimes find our Christian worldview (or divine inspiration) taking charge even when we’re not trying to write a “Christian” story. However, as others have noted, it’s also possible to intend to write a Christian story but be so burdened with misapprehensions about Christianity and/or Christians that the final product doesn’t reflect a Christian worldview. Assessments of orthodoxy can be problematical. As Bainespal observed, one man’s orthodoxy may be another man’s heresy, and it can be hard to identify objective truth on some questions. Even in this little forum, we’ve already expressed differing levels of tolerance for doctrinal eccentricity. So, I think we still have the problem of adequately defining what we mean by “Christian worldview.”

Point 2 is too permissive for the purposes of definition, but I think it identifies exactly what we cover here at SF. We find the Christian elements and themes that are strewn across the spectrum of speculative fiction, intentionally or not, and talk about them. We don’t limit our discussions to “Christian spec-fic,” however we define it.

Timothy: I said this before, but I can say it again for emphasis, that if a definition is too restrictive, then LOTR itself can not fit into it.

I think that’s a good rule of thumb. I hereby dub this the Stone Limit for Christian Speculative Fiction, and add to it, the Warren Limit:

If a definition is too permissive, His Dark Materials will fit into it. This is a set of stories with an intentionally anti-Christian worldview explicitly affirmed by the author.

Timothy Stone
Member

I see your point Stephen, but here is my point, for clarification. If there is any misunderstanding, it is my fault, so I will attempt to do better. Is Christian speculative fiction include stories seemingly against the author’s will, or that he himself would not have included? Because to include LOTR in that genre, you specifically have to say that Tolkien meant it in a way that he explicitly did not. 
 
Now, Tolkien and Lewis both placed great value on reader interpretation. Lewis himself both criticized those who stick too closely and unerringly to an author’s position. Yet he also criticized those who tried to say that an author means something he does not. Giving your own opinion, while admitting the author’s point of view seemed to be his solution.
 
I guess what I am saying is that we are saying that since Tolkien was a Christian, it was okay to categorize his work in a way that is expressly against his intent, while for those who are not Christians (Sanderson) or Christians who wrote “secular” fantasy (Jordan) but both showed Scriptural truths, that we’ll leave them alone. I just can’t wrap my mind around how this isn’t problematic and doesn’t amount to just saying that we like Tolkien as a classic, so let’s “grandfather” him in.
 
I also think that this does restrict us from many examples of Truth that we can find in other works. And that seems to be against the point of discussing these ideas of Christian speculative fiction, or Christian ideas in fiction period, if we exclude works right off the bat.
 
Sir, to answer your question and also refer to Stephen’s “common-grace” example, I would say that it is easier to differentiate than first appears. Two authors off the top of my head, Pullman and Terry Goodkind for instance, may have truths embedded therein at some points, but they clearly are critical and even hateful of Christianity and Christians. They are clearly not anywhere near Christian in scope.

Kaci Hill
Member

Fred: Point 2 is too permissive for the purposes of definition, but I think it identifies exactly what we cover here at SF. We find the Christian elements and themes that are strewn across the spectrum of speculative fiction, intentionally or not, and talk about them. We don’t limit our discussions to “Christian spec-fic,” however we define it.

 
It was a bit broad, I know, but I don’t know how else we could actually include things like Ender’s Game and Mistborn, or anything that’s unorthodox but not necessarily heretical. In fact…
 

Stephen said: There’s a third category, in between the two, which I would call redemptive story or Judeo-Christian story. (This term is similar to the adequate description of America, not as a “Christian country” or a “secular country,” that is, founded on either of those worldviews, but a country founded on “Judeo-Christian” beliefs.)

This is actually more in line with where I was going with my second definition.
 

Fred: Assessments of orthodoxy can be problematical. As Bainespal observed, one man’s orthodoxy may be another man’s heresy, and it can be hard to identify objective truth on some questions. Even in this little forum, we’ve already expressed differing levels of tolerance for doctrinal eccentricity. So, I think we still have the problem of adequately defining what we mean by “Christian worldview.”

Yeah, which is why I tried to boil that statement down to bare, bare bones. My personal “unorthodox but Christian” category is pretty big, to be honest, and I’m much more lenient with fiction, all in the name of exploration.

Stephen: Hey, I asked. And now I suggest that absolutely, a Christian speculative story must be written by a professing Christian. To say otherwise seems to yield an overly broad definition, and seems to say that either a story is “Christian” or anti-Christian.

This sort of goes back to my treacherous little second definition.  How does it eliminate the “a-Christian” category?
 
Keep in mind, guys, I said “Christian themes.” I didn’t say “Christian fiction.” Leverage is not a Christian show. However, in the pilot Nathan Ford offers the others a chance at a new life and the means to carry out that new life. He facilitates, he leads, and they follow his principles.  Nathan himself is a bit of an unredeemed hero; and season three deals strongly with penance, repentance, and redemption through Eliot.  Thor is not a Christian show, but, well, you wrote that series.  (I stretched it with Avatar; and in all fairness we’re stretching it with Doctor Who, too.)  Sweet Home Alabama is about reconciling a marriage – which is why I like it. Those are not Christian stories, but they do possess Christian elements.
 

But, unless I’ve missed something above, I wonder which authors would seem to be ruled out. Again, I suppose I am suggesting that “Christian speculative fiction” should be limited to Christian authors. Otherwise, while some Christians ignore the reality of common-grace truth-echoes in the world, this says the nonbeliever’s understanding of Biblical themes can be superior to a believer’s, and ultimately that cannot be the case.

 
Then, by rights, we have to disclude anyone unorthodox or simply not Christian – including beloved Mormon authors and eccentric, borderline heretical supposedly Christian authors. This takes Ender’s Game, Mistborn, DW, Thor, and the Avengers off the table.
 
Anyway, how does it suggest a non-believer’s understanding to be superior or inferior?  A justice-themed book is a justice-themed book.  A book praising the sanctity of human life is a book praising the sanctity of human life.
(Aside: I really need to stop going out of order.)
 

Stephen: But, unless I’ve missed something above, I wonder which authors would seem to be ruled out.

I’m not offering my short list. However,  let me put it to you this way: Who’s understanding of universal truth is more consistent with Scripture (and remember  I have not read the former): The Shack or Ender’s Game?   Young is a professing believer. Card is a Mormon.  The Shack or Doctor Who? The Shack or Thor?
Believers have the Spirit inside them. That doesn’t mean we automatically have cosmic understanding and comprehend the depths of divine wisdom.  So yeah, there’s plenty we do not understand without the Spirit’s help. But sometimes, maybe sometimes, Gentiles are a law unto themselves.

Stephen: I’ve never thought a division like that is necessary. Here’s why — because while Christians and non-Christians have different G/gods, and we have different sources of ultimate authority (Himself vs. ourselves), we do share two thing: this world and the world of story. Nonbelievers are already playing according to God’s rules in creation and story sub-creation. It’s a touchpoint, and a bit of a cheat (for the Christian!). Thus, the Christian author can write for both, and if he is a good one, all will be drawn in.

 
It’s one I heard once.   But  I have to say that while, yes, of course you can write for both, but most people seem to be naturally bent toward one or the other.
 
 

Fred Warren
Member

Stephen,
I didn’t intend to ding you for writing a complex definition, particularly as a first draft–it was an example at hand of one of the three problems we invariably fall into when we try to do this. It may very well be that there’s no definition that is both concise and complete.

From your reply to Kaci: And now I suggest that absolutely, a Christian speculative story must be written by a professing Christian.

Ah, this is a change from the original formulation,  which didn’t demand a Christian author. So this is an essential, but not sufficient condition. That is, “Christian fiction must be written by a Christian, but a Christian author does not necessarily imply a Christian story.

Any time a Christian writes a story, and is not actively trying against writing it from a Christian worldview (and why would he/she want to do that?) his/her story is a Christian story.

Arguably, then, the Harry Potter books are Christian stories. *ducks for cover*

From your reply to me:

I would argue that Scripture defines the basic Christian worldview…

Yes, but I think if we’re trying to build a definition here, we have to go beyond “Just look in the Book.” Statements of Faith make things a little clearer, but I’d propose that’s still not enough–a worldview describes how we apply those beliefs as we interpret the world around us. Yes, your bullet points beneath the initial definition do touch on this.

Any definition of Christian Speculative Story cannot rule out Scripture itself, or any book, chapter, verse or portion of the Bible.

Hmm. We’ve been trying to define Christian speculative fiction, and while Scripture contains the truth that should underlie all Christian fiction, it’s neither fiction, nor speculative. It’s probably reaching too far to demand that a definition of Christian spec-fic be applicable to the Bible itself. We certainly couldn’t include stories that repudiate Scripture (which I think is what you mean here), and I’ve not yet seen a proposed definition that would.
 

Rebecca LuElla Miller
Admin

I’m not seeing the discussion–hope it hasn’t been lost in the make-over.

I just wanted to say, I understand now why we had the responses Monday to what books belong on the influential and on the best lists of Christian fiction. Clearly we have varying definitions, so our lists include a wide variety, too.

I think the given should be that professing Christians write Christian fiction. Whether we believe the stories must have redemptive scenes, a Christian worldview, or Christian themes, none of that is truly possible if the story isn’t written by professing Christians.

I understand and agree that I as a believer can read general fiction and find parallels with a Biblical worldview, but it is a lack of discernment, I suggest, to turn around and label those stories as Christian. The truth is, there will be much of those stories that is NOT Christian because the world does not believe what Christians believe.

I’m uncomfortable with the Judeo-Christian aspect of this discussion–wish I had it in front of me. That term is really a replacement for certain moral values. Jews do not believe in Jesus Christ (no news flash there, I realize 😉 ), and therefore fiction that would appropriately fit under a “Jewish beliefs” heading cannot be considered Christian. Moral, yes. And I think there is a definite place for and need of stories with Judeo-Christian underpinnings. But when it comes to definitions, those books are not the same as Christian fiction.

The point is, Christian is a divisive term. It sets apart that which adheres to the teachings of Jesus Christ. One way or the other, Christian fiction must reflect Jesus. Otherwise we might as well agree to the term religious fiction or universalist fiction or moral fiction. Judeo-Christian fiction is right there with those terms, I believe.

Becky

Timothy Stone
Member

I personally don’t see the problem with the term “Judeo-Christian”. Obviously, Jews are not Christians, as any who don’t accept Christ’s free gift of salvation are not. However, it is a good thing to acknowledge that the NT is not contradictory with the OT and instead forms one complete whole and narrative with it. To acknowledge that Christianity was from Judaism, as the fulfillment of the prophecies in that faith is fine with me. It also helps associate instead of pit them against each other, and thus combats the heresy of “replacement theology” so-called.

trackback

[…] Define ‘Christian Speculative Story’. […]

Marion
Guest

Stephen,
Thanks for this article.
I needed to read a basic definition of Christian Speculative Fiction and your definition helped.
I link this article to my blog.
Marion

Marion
Guest

Stephen,
I have a question for you.
Can a Christian Novel just be entertaining?  Is that possible?
It seems we are trying to nail the down a definition and message….that we are forgetting that stories should be entertaining.
“Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot.”  {Ecclesiastes 5:18 ESV}
I wrote that scripture to show that God’s word mentions having enjoyment and it seems in our modern Evangelical culture that gets dismissed or overlooked.
And as Christian Fiction is growing into becoming a viable genre….it seems everyone wants to have this great meaning, but entertainment and enjoyment gets left behind like 8-track players.
I’m just wondering if anybody else feels this way?
Of course, a good story should have meaning and depth.  However, I believe it should be entertaining and enjoyable to read first and foremost.  Let’s not leave that out of this definition for a “Christian Speculative Story.”
Marion

Kaci Hill
Member

Yeah, I think that ties in with the OT where God said he wanted them to make the priests’ robes a certain way “for glory and beauty.” In other words, it was attractive and dignifying, so why not?

Sockpuppet
Guest
Sockpuppet

If a story contains truth and is beautiful, then why  do we care to define it as “Christiantm” or “non-Christiantm?” If something is true, why should we care about its origin? As it says on the SF Statement of Faith,”We believe God can and does let His truth be echoed in His creation, for all truth is His truth and remains so even if it is found in a story that does not specifically credit Him. Still, we believe the Bible is the only inspired, infallible, and authoritative Word of God, and our only sure source for knowing Who God is, what the Gospel is, and what we must do in response.”
Why?

Bethany A. Jennings
Member

My thinking is that we refer to it as specifically Christian to recognize that the Christian faith is the only source of truth – being based, as it is, on the Scriptures.

Also, a Christian book would inevitably point us toward the Lord in some way, whereas any story can contain generic truth without doing that (i.e. it might portray to us that everyone is flawed, which is true, but that is a long way from saying that we are all sinners and in need of Christ).

Thoughts, anyone? 

trackback

[…] 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 […]

Martin LaBar
Guest

Thanks for doing this.

Is there no room for non-human intelligent beings in Christian speculative stories?

I have also attempted to define, or at least describe, Christian literature, primarily fantastic, here: http://sunandshield.blogspot.com/2011/02/describing-christian-novels.html

Sockpuppet
Guest
Sockpuppet

C.S. Lewis was pointed to Christ by the myth of Baldur’s death and resurrection. Most modern fantasy stories contain a surprising amount “Christian” elements.