/ / Articles

Fiction Christians From Another Planet! II: The Blind Ones

Why do many characters in Christian novels have little regard for God’s “novel,” the Bible? Worse, why do some authors adore characters who have wide, naïve, alien-like, unseeing eyes?

Why do many characters in Christian novels have little regard for God’s “novel,” the Bible?

Replacing humble yet robust love for God’s self-revelation, novel scenes may read like this:

“You can’t spend all your life ignoring God, Jim,” Thomas said. “You just need to believe.”

Jim knew that Thomas was right. Even more, he knew that he had been given much love throughout his life. To think that someone even greater than his own parents could love him like this was a nice thought. Imagine the world’s creator loving him. But Jim would need more than that. It wouldn’t do to accept the kind of blind faith these people had. He needed some kind of evidence or logic, something he could see, before accepting any belief in God.

— Original dialogue, based on that of an actual Christian contemporary/speculative novel

christian_blindfaithThis is one alien belief of the invasive Christian novel-character “Child-People” I introduced last week: exclusive promotion that is not simply of childlike trust to believe in Christ’s own words about Himself, but of blind faith that God exists, loves, and/or saves.

As if real Christians have not historically accepted various emphases and reasons for faith.

As if God Himself didn’t give more motives for faith: rewards, eternal life, escaping slavery to sin, defeating the Devil, and moreover, Himself. As if the Bible, God’s Story, did not exist.

After reading one novel’s example of this trope, I tapped out the following e-reader note:

Right. It’s not [enough]. Not this kind of “blind faith.” Why focus on [blind faith, or else a spiritual-quest MacGuffin] when at least some emphasis on the Bible and why Christians believe it would make the story more realistic? Why must the Bible be barely mentioned?

serieslogo_fictionchristiansfromanotherplanetI could say this is a Fiction Christian from Another Planet, and stop. We both know I won’t.

It’s easier to understand this perspective in real people. Even after Christ has declared His people righteous and sent His Spirit to start changing them, we’re flawed. We get distracted by other things. Even when we are reading God’s Story, we get things wrong. We base beliefs on overreactions. We invent theology systems apart from His theology.

But the problem doesn’t stop with characters simply ignoring His Word and viewing only “blind faith” as key to believe in God. Novelists even extol them as mature heroes, rather than at worst simpletons, or at best well-meaning “baby Christians” who are still growing.

Understand, I’m not condemning all Christian novels for presenting this view. Only some.

Also, I do not mean to devalue the fact that we do exercise a “childlike” dependence on God. But Biblically, this is not the same as naïve repetition of traditions or tropes such as “you just need to believe” or “seeing isn’t believing” or other phrases frequently used in holiday movies to defend the existence and love not of God, but of Santa Claus. Alas, in some novels these slogans are all I see from characters whom the story upholds as mature Christians.

So why do some authors adore characters who have wide, naïve, alien-like, unseeing eyes?

You can likely think of some reasons beyond a mere problem-diagnosis. Here I’ll give a few:

1. “Blind faith” is a proven controversy shield.

drudge_siren_unanimatedLet’s say I wrote a novel in which the main character started off as a silly-minded Christian but came to deeper faith — and later, thrilling action-adventures in a perilous overseas mission field — after he got ahold of thick books of well-argued Christian doctrine and systematic theology. Readers would go on red alert. Which doctrines? Which authors? Which (gasp!) church denominations? Too many Christians wish to avoid other doctrines or churches, so few authors or publishers will mention them. “Blind faith” is an easy out.

jesus_teaching2. It’s close to an untouchable trope.

Every Christian knows Jesus endorsed childlike faith in some way. If you repeat that belief in any form, few would disagree without coming across as cranks like myself. Oh, so you say that Jesus was wrong? No, I would say that Christ taught many other things besides “come to Me like a child” — and He never once said, “come like a child and stay that way.” In fact, much of what He said, and what His apostles said and wrote, taught the exact opposite.

3. Maybe authors simply haven’t met or learned from other sorts of Christians.

“I believe in a Person, not doctrine”/“I just believe”/“Just let go and let God” all sound very spiritual, and they have some truth to them. If you’re an author trained to try to make your stories very spiritual, it makes sense to include the most “spiritual” slogans and beliefs that you know. And if you’ve only encountered — or seen as heroic — blind-faith-minded people in your life, Christian heroes in your story will naturally sound like those people.

But other Christians exist who emphasize the authority of the Bible, the need to believe it with childlike delight but also a Christlike mind, and the need for organized truth  — in real life, not apart from real life, just as blood isn’t carried in a bucket but lets the body live.

Let’s see more of those kinds of characters, for God’s sake (and the sake of realism)!

Blind-faith characters can stay. They need to remind us that Christianity isn’t all reading and logic. But I’d be happy to meet more I-believe-because-of-the-Bible heroes in fiction.

E. Stephen Burnett 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
Kessie Carroll
Member

It’s really interesting to read this post in conjunction with Mike Duran’s post about that one comic book writer thinking that superheroes represent a move toward pantheism. http://mikeduran.com/2013/01/gods-help-us/
 
(I think it’s a sign the dude has been writing comic books too long, but that’s neither here nor there.)
 
So, on one hand we have the touchy feelly Christian authors who don’t really know this Jesus they’re writing about. On the other hand, we have the Godless people who are so desperate to worship anything, they’ll worship a pantheon and the environment. (But haven’t human beings always worshiped those things?)
 
It’s just amusing to see our educated, scientific culture moving backward. Or maybe sad, because Christianity is what brought us our educated scientific culture. Are we eagerly plunging toward the dystopian world we’ve been writing about for so long?

Christian Jaeschke
Guest
Christian Jaeschke

Nah. I think Morrison’s always been into pantheism. He’s steeped in the occult too.

Yvonne Anderson
Member

I love this, Stephen – also, Kessie, your comment. You say it all so well, there’s little to comment on. But we both know I will (ha ha).
I believe the kind of Christianity that’s portrayed in these stories is, unfortunately, what too many in churches believe in. It’s a touchy-feely religion insulated by warm fuzzies from the cold, hard, unyielding truths of the scripture.
Probably another reason is politeness, the unwillingness to offend. But it’s interesting that when Jesus was met with proud, unyielding types (and the world still has plenty of those), He didn’t talk grace to them; he talked about the Law and how they failed to live up to it. He reserved the message of grace for the broken. I’m not saying we should be preaching fire & brimstone out there; I’m saying we need to tell the truth like Jesus did, even when it hurts.

Michelle R. Wood
Member

after he got ahold of thick books of well-argued Christian doctrine and systematic theology. Readers go would on red alert. Which doctrines? Which authors? Which (gasp!) church denominations? Too many Christians wish to avoid other doctrines or churches, so few authors or publishers will mention them.

Amen, and amen! To me, this point is the crux of the matter on a lot of issues in the larger faith fiction community; to wit, we pretend like all Christians agree on everything. People don’t argue in the community of faith: it’s only strawmen in the forms of “hypocrites” or “unbelievers” who courageous Christians have to convert to the “one true way.”

The problem is, this “polite” fiction bares little resemblance to reality. It’s the same annoyance I have with all Christian characters in novels attending mega churches (or tiny nondenominationals making a stand against mega churches). No one wants to talk about all those little “details,” details that have divided brothers and sisters in faith for generations: predestination, transubstantiation, an age of accountability, pacifism. The list could go on and on.

I would love some day to read about two characters who go to different churches (of recognizable denominations) have an honest conversation about matters of belief. Sort of like how we all do all the time.

Christians are not zombies. We should stop pretending like we are.

Yvonne Anderson
Member

“I would love some day to read about two characters who go to different churches (of recognizable denominations) have an honest conversation about matters of belief. Sort of like how we all do all the time.”
If you ever find that book, it will be self-pubbed.

Teddi Deppner
Guest

You are so right, Yvonne!

Kirsty
Guest

Starfire has Christians of different theological persuasions in it, which I thought was interesting. OK, they’re not recogniseable denominations, because all the characters are dinosaurs…

Paul Lee
Member

Okay, so a lot of Christian novels uphold characters who “just believe” without good reasons for believing.  I can understand that.  Christian writers should show them struggling earnestly with their faith, showing the reasons that those characters personally need to believe.
 
I don’t understand how depicting the Bible necessarily helps in this.  For fantasies with secondary worlds, I think having an other-world Bible can often be cliche and cheesy.  Also, the vague “I just believe” sentiment can be extended to the Bible.  There is probably a lot to commend the statement, “The Bible says it, and I believe it, and that’s that.”  However, sentiments like that cause a lot of bad things.  That sentiment causes controversy among Christians, because we have different theological interpretations of the Bible, and we all think that the Bible “just says” what we think it says.  Also, that sentiment makes unbelievers think that we are stubborn and ignorant, believing myths for no other reason than because they are written in some old book, our minds closed to any objective searching of the truth.
 
I think characters need to struggle earnestly for truth, and that helps us in our own existential seeking and suffering.  I do not believe that anyone will ever find complete truth apart from the Bible (certainly not in opposition to it).  However, the Bible was revealed to us.  It’s part of our world, and it may or may not be directly relevant to the worlds of speculative fiction.  Even when it is directly relevant in fiction, the Bible only expresses truths that I believe the characters also need to work out personally.

Bethany A. Jennings
Member

A hearty amen to this post and also most of the comments!  I get really tired of the desperate, “Just believe!” from characters that are supposed to be religious or are the token Christians of the story.  To me, that speaks of weak or insincere believers, the ones who only attend church on big holidays, or people who are yearning for some meaning to their lives but don’t actually want to study and understand God’s word, and pick and choose the nice parts and happy promises and ignore the rest.  
I liked Michelle R. Wood’s comment about how she’d like to read a book with characters who are different denominations.  🙂  I actually try to do that with my books – sometimes it’s not obvious because doctrine won’t necessarily come up during the story (and obviously not all stories are set in this world), but I do create many of my characters that way because that’s my experience!  I have good friends who are mainstream evangelicals, friends who are Baptists, friends who are Presbyterian (my denomination).  I hate to see Christians of different denominations bickering and judging each other, so I like to write stories portraying friendship between them. 🙂

Galadriel
Guest

The denomination thing is funny…growing up, I had mostly friends from my denomination (Baptist of the Scandinavian variety) and a few Assembly of God kids at school. And in three years of roommates at a Christmas school, I’ve had 1 Assembly of God, one Catholic, and one Baptist, plus three that I couldn’t say for sure.  I’m actually attending an E-Free right now, but it feels a lot like my own denomination.  It’s interesting to see the differences between denominations, especially with the Holy Spirit.

SynCallio
Guest

@Galadriel: I know the feeling! I’m Mennonite, one of my dearest friends is Lutheran, and we’re both excited because a mutual, Mormon friend is coming to my church this weekend.

D. M. Dutcher
Member

Some problems I see:

1. It requires a lot of explanation. The reason why denominations differ from each other can be surprisingly subtle, and due not only to belief, but history. They can differ on only a few points, or differ radically on many. If you’re writing an action-thriller, you might find it hard to link a spirited discussion on two characters about whether or not Christ is really present in the Eucharist.

2. It’s also easier for writers to screw up. One of the things I have noticed in the Christian spec-fic blogosphere is than many male writers also tend to be pastors, priests, theology students, or involved directly in that aspect of the faith. A lot of us aren’t. At best, we are educated laymen, and even with research, we may not get certain aspects of theology correct. 
Also, bad apologetics can actually harm the enjoyment of a book for many people.

3. If it’s a conversion story, they simply aren’t going to be that deep in the Bible depending on the character. An analogy, if you are drowning and someone pulls you out of the water into a boat, you’re not really going to begin to get to know your rescuer till you are safe. Some characters may need convincing more than rescuing, but I think why we see so much “blind faith” in books is that they show the details most vital to the plot, and a full treatise on the Word may be counterproductive if the goal is showing conversion. As in the “blocks of explanation” I referred to earlier.

4. Some differences people aren’t going to like. Michelle Wood mentions predestination. I don’t think you can discuss this easily, even in novel form. George MacDonald was a Christian Universalist, someone who believes that Jesus’s sacrifice saved everyone, and one of his books indicated that even Lilith, the first wife of Adam, could be so. There’s speaking in tongues, and other charismatic practices many evangelicals would look askew at. Reformed churches sometimes feel almost like they are on different planets from the rest of us. Be careful what you wish for, I guess.

I’m not saying you can’t break all these worries to pieces with a finely crafted novel, but there are dangers I could see.
 

trackback

[…] In some novels I’ve read, the “nudges” aren’t merely supportive. They’re all a character has. Which again leaves me to ask why, and revisit some of my answers from last week: […]

Katie Jo
Guest
Katie Jo

Stephen,
I stand and applaud you.
You have eloquently expressed what I was seeing but couldn’t articulate.
I’m a 26-year-old who has been a Christian for aprox. 16 years, and, sadly, I’m extremely jaded with the Christian fiction market. I mean, I grew up reading some great Christian books, and they had their moments of glory, to be sure. I loved the Christian romances then…but now? All I find in those books now is the same “will I get married?” or “is God really speaking to me?” or “should I trust him with x situation and y relationship?”
GUH. Can we get some characters that trust God, already, and take some REAL risks? Can we get some books about women who won’t settle for a man who finally gets saved at the end of the book (but don’t really portray how marriage truly is)? I want to read about marriages that work through hard things but still stay committed (this single gal would love some real examples of married life for future reference). Can we get novels about spiritual warfare and men of God who will lay down their lives for Him and His Kingdom? Can I read about women who are real culture-changers and influencers?
*smooths ruffled feathers*
As I’m sure you understand well, trying to find a Word-filled Christian fiction novel is rather hard. I’m a meat-Christian (complete with my strong’s concordance and obsession with Hebrew and Greek word meanings) who has found that meat-filled novels don’t seem to exist. (I DID find a historical Christian fiction novelist, Tessa Afshar, recently–only read one of her books, but found it very refreshing).
However, all that to say, that’s why I believe God wired me to be a writer. I LOVE the Word, I must have Truth, I’ve gotta have reality as He defines it. I’m supposed to fill in the gap. I see a need–I’m aiming to fill it!
 
Thank you, Stephen (and other authors who are on this site) for being a forerunner and paving the way for young sprouts like me.  Let’s bring the Kingdom to earth–as Jesus prayed!–through our writing.
 
Grace and peace.

Teddi Deppner
Guest

Love your spirit, Katie Jo! Hope to see your name on a meat-filled book someday. 
 
Have you tried author Ginny Yttrup? Her two books “Words” and “Lost and Found” had (I thought) more depth to them than the usual Christian women’s fiction. 

trackback

[…] Planet(!) series. That novel included Christian characters, more or less, of the child-people, blind-faith, living-the-voices-driven-life sort. But Biblically speaking, they were separate from the body; if […]