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Fictional Christianity

If it sounds right and they like the speaker, many will not blink an eye and drink the koolaid.
| Dec 10, 2013 | No comments |

242px-HIPPOMAN_A0057Christian fiction runs the risk of creating a fictional Christianity.

This risk is not unique to Christian fiction by any means. But whether it is an author, a theologian, or a popular pastor/speaker, filtering Christianity through one person’s theological lens tends to create a warped view of the Faith once delivered to the saints.

. . . knowing this first, that no prophecy of scripture is of private interpretation. For no prophecy ever came by the will of man: but men spake from God, being moved by the Holy Spirit.
(2Pe 1:20-21 ASV)

Consequently, in creating Christian fiction, we risk creating elements of fictional Christianity. The danger for the Christian reader is, especially with fiction, it is easy to simply accept something as truth unexamined. Reading fiction can bypass the analytical processes of the brain unless you are slapped in the face by a concept.

This happens in churches all the time. There were times as a pastor I would say things that I feared I’d get some disagreement on. No one would question me on it. Though I have no way to know how often my sermons were the subject of discussions around the Sunday lunch table.

Like Michael W. Smith’s song, “Wired for Sound,” so many don’t follow the example of the Beroeans, who tested teachings against the Scriptures. (Acts 17:11) Instead, if it sounds right and they like the speaker, many will not blink an eye and drink the koolaid.

How much truer for fiction when we turn off our minds to get lost in a fictional world?

Beyond whether any specific character is acting in a non-Christian way, whether they cuss or not, etc., is what primary themes does the story teach? Are they Biblical? Is their interpretation confirmed by other reputable sources?

By way of example, last week I started reading Kevin Anderson’s book, Hopscotch. Granted, this isn’t a Christian book, and I have no idea whether Kevin claims to be Christian or not. It is a science fiction story, based on the premise that in the future, people will learn how to move their souls or essence from one body to another. So a husband could switch bodies with his wife for a time, or a co-worker.

I’m currently about two-thirds into the book. So, no spoilers in the comments, thank you. As it stands now, it presents a very Gnostic way of looking at the body. Not that the body is evil, but it is disposable. Not important to who you are. Sexual morals are also non-existent, indicating a non-Christian understanding of marriage and sex.

However, I’m not done with the story yet. There is some indication that one’s identity is tied to the body by one character that lost hers. It could be the full story shows the emptiness of this type of reality, if it were true. It may reveal how free sex ends up degrading the person rather than benefiting them. I’m curious to see where the author goes with this story.

Even as we read for pleasure and to relax, we should not unquestioningly accept every “truth” presented. Not to judge the spirituality of the author, but to use fiction as iron sharpening iron, rather than a tool of judgment and legalism. To do that, you have to be more than a sponge, especially when absorbing your fiction.

What fiction have you read lately that highlights this concept?

 

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Randy Streu
Member

I wonder how many people developed their first real sense of eschatology by reading the Left Behind books. People (including authors, sometimes) need to understand that apocalyptic fiction is only that — even when it’s been Christianized.

Julie D
Guest

I did. (Admittedly, I was 12 or so at the time). I’ve since moved from a firm pretrib view to general “the world will end, God will come, no timeline known.” But it had a very strong hold on my imagination; not bad, necessarily, but I didn’t have as much discernment as I have now.

David Bergsland
Guest

Yup, it’s rough. I’m nearly finished with Jill Williamson’s “Blood of Kings” trilogy. It’s a remarkable piece of Christian fantasy. I was amazed at how drawn to it I was, and was praying about that. What the Lord has shown me is my old mental addiction to the idea of telepathy. Before the Lord got my attention in 1974, I was virtually addicted to this concept on fantasy and science fiction. I was just not aware of it until this week.

This is clearly [in my eyes] forbidden fruit. I see it as a dangerous ability to add to speculative fiction. It may not be evil, but simply dangerous. I suspect it will be the norm in the new creation. We experience part of this in our relationship with Jesus and his Holy Spirit.

But for me, it adds emphasis to the dangers you are talking about, R.L., in this posting. As I am seeking the Lord for confirmation about whether or not He wants me to start writing this type of book, He is giving me a strict set of guidelines about what I am to do about the content of this type of book. I’m excited to see what He’ll tell me is approved for me.

Paul Lee
Member

There were times as a pastor I would say things that I feared I’d get some disagreement on. No one would question me on it. Though I have no way to know how often my sermons were the subject of discussions around the Sunday lunch table.

I disagree with my pastor on a lot of things, but I never talk to him about them. He knows about some of my spiritual problems, so it’s not like I’m trying to conform outwardly.

I think a lot of people are intimidated by their pastors, even when the pastor is perfectly responsible, kind, and friendly. I think social separation goes with the job. Because you are a pastor, many people in your congregation will never be able to accept you as a normal friend or even casually talk to you about many of their concerns. At least, I know this is true of my relationship to my pastor, who is a good man. I don’t dislike him, and he tries to be nice, but I feel intimidated anyways. I can hardly talk to him.

Talking to the pastor always becomes awkward, because I feel a need to be too artificially nice and sincere, and I think the pastor sounds too nice, too. I also can’t shake the feeling that he doesn’t really have time for my petty theological quibbling.

This doesn’t mean I take everything the pastor says as immutable Gospel truth. I privately reject some of his teachings.

Leah Burchfiel
Member

Eh, this reads as entirely your mileage may vary to me. It’s based entirely on what your perception of Christianity is, and since denominations are things that exist, obviously not everyone agrees on what Christianity is/ought to be. This seems to be a thing that relies more on perception than anything else, since the reality is too multifaceted and contradictory to even be coherent. Not to mention the No True Scotsman tendencies.

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

In this comment, notleia is clearly stating that Christianity can mean many things, but also not mean certain things (including “the Bible is made up of myths). She’s also clearly contending that denominations are excellent indications of Christianity’s diversity, and that a Borg-like conformity that many denomination critics imply they want instead would actually be a bad thing. Have I read your comment with respect for your intended meaning, notleia? 🙂

Leah Burchfiel
Member

It’s a suitable interpretation, but there is much to be discussed in the concept of “does not mean certain things.” In my lit classes, my professors encouraged making new interpretations or insights as long as you had textual support. Let me tell you what a wide range of responses there were, some good and some stretching plausibility. So there is a good deal of leeway, and the categories would probably be better named “what it could mean” and “what seems implausible.” (And see my comment on inerrancy for my case that a solid portion of the Bible, specifically the Old Testament, could be myth.)

D. M. Dutcher
Member

R.L. no offense, but we aren’t babies. I’m really getting tired of the boundaries and worries about Christian spec fic in general. I know what Christian doctrine is, and I can tell what is fiction and what’s not. Even if not, this is what review culture is for.

I think there’s too much learned helplessness in the Christian world. Like people are helpless things that get information poured into them and can’t do anything but accept. The fear of this is leading to banal works that refuse to do what good fantasy and science fiction does; make you think. Stuff like this post reinforces this mindset.

If we treat our readers like babies, we’re going to give them infantile works.

David Bergsland
Guest

We have to treat them as babes, because they are still spiritual babes. We can’t even give them meat because it would choke them. You know the state of the church in America today if your eyes are open. We need to educate them, gently firmly, with humor, and a good time of serious play. The average Christian today has never read the Bible. I could go on for hours…

D. M. Dutcher
Member

Didactic fantasy is usually bad fantasy.

Writers tell stories. We don’t pull people into churches, we can’t teach doctrine except very subtly, we can’t get them to read the Bible, and we aren’t replacements for pastors, teachers, evangelists, or fellow Christians. If you try and burden us beyond the nature of the craft, you just get bad fiction.

I agree fully with the problems you state, but people overstate the power of the arts to fix them.

Ashlee Willis
Member

Great article and some very thought-provoking ideas. I do feel as a Christian I must be “conscious” about everything I do – and that includes the books I decide to read. If I read a book that has beliefs that are not Biblical, it is up to me to keep myself from being influenced by them. In other words, I need to know the Scripture well enough to know the difference between what I should believe and what is … well, fiction! It’s a hard line to walk sometimes. Thanks for the great thoughts!

Steve Taylor
Guest

It was Flavor Aid not Koolaid. (See I was paying attention).

The comment look interesting but I’ll have to take a day off work to read them. I might even have something worthy to add.