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Making Sport Of End-times Thrillers, With Ted Kluck

Nonfiction/sports/personal/fiction parody author Ted Kluck on spoofing “Left Behind,” evangelical kitsch, Christ-figures, growth as writers, Christian publishing and how most “young restless Reformed” readers aren’t (yet?) into fiction.
| Mar 11, 2011 | No comments |

Author Ted Kluck on spoofing Left Behind, evangelical kitsch, Christ-figures, growth as writers, Christian publishing and how most “young restless Reformed” readers aren’t (yet?) into fiction.

E. Stephen Burnett: Today brings us Ted Kluck, author in multiple genres: sports and sports biography, doctrine and theology, cultural-Christianity parody, and now also end-times-thriller parody. With Kevin DeYoung, his pastor, he coauthored the two books that first brought him to my attention (more on that below): Why We’re Not Emergent and Why We Love the Church.

I have to ask first about these: what led to these books, especially for a sportswriter who (I’m guessing) could have thought, Can I write about this?

Ted Kluck: Back five or six years ago when the emergent church™ was having its fifteen minutes of fame, I think people in our church assumed I was a lot cooler than I actually was/am, and started giving me Rob Bell, Don Miller and Brian McLaren books to read. Those books, in addition to being semi-interesting to read at times (Miller), were full of theological red-flags that were apparent even to me, a non-seminaried sports guy. So I approached Kevin, who is now a bona-fide A-List Reformed™ Superstar, and we launched the alternating-chapters idea for Why We’re Not Emergent. The rest, as they say, is about two-years worth of publishing history.

ESB: I mentioned it was Why We’re Not Emergent that brought your and DeYoung’s names to my attention. It’s a bit cliché by now — it was a “Young, Restless, Reformed” (YRR)-style Conference, in 2008, which also happened to offer all kinds of Deep-Doctrine Solid Books. So now you’re more well-known for those, yet you’ve expanded your repertoire with your own publisher, Gut Check Press, and more, including a book on adoptive fatherhood, and The Reason for Sports: A Christian Fanifesto. How’s that working out?

“What would Christianity look like if we were all college sophomores?”

Ted: Actually, we have that YRR-style conference to thank for whatever sales those books accomplished. Nothing sells books like Reformed bloggers. As to how it’s working out…(awkward chuckle)…it’s up and down. The books that didn’t get (for whatever reason) the wholesale Reformed Seal of Approval definitely haven’t sold as well. The take-home here is that I need to get either D.A. Carson or J.I. Packer to write the forewords for each of my books, regardless of subject matter. Gut Check Press has been the silver lining in a year or so of writing that has been kind of dark-cloudish. Gut Check has been nothing but pure fun and we’ve made…wait for it…HUNDREDS of dollars.

ESB: Are the YRR sorts of Christians following your efforts into other genres? (Very possibly a leading question here. …) If not, what books do the Gospel-driven, Puritan-quoting, affectionate-parody-worthy Christians like best to read?

 

Ted: Let me pause here to appreciate your questions. Okay. The short answer is no, they haven’t followed my efforts into other genres. However, that’s not to paint YRRers with a narrow brush in terms of their reading tendencies, which tend toward the following:

1.) Each other.

2.) John Piper.

3.) People who are old and dead.

4.) C.S. Lewis (but only in the sense that they love Lewis because he is old and dead and also because it gives them a chance to talk about the theological reservations they have vis-à-vis Lewis…we YRRers LOVE having theological reservations about things/people).

5.) John Piper.

ESB: Tell us about Beauty and the Mark of the Beast. It’s “a dispensational thriller,” “written by committee,” first online, but later to be published by Gut Check Press. Sure, it’s a bit late after the fad, the site says in the FAQ — but it’s not the first time Christians were late to imitate something years after its peak. In fact, if there’s anything evangelical Christians are original with, it’s end-times thrillers — even if they are “tacky, embarrassing, and mockable.” Want to expand your thoughts on the genre and its hangers-on?

Ted: Let me answer this question by telling a quick story. When I first visited the offices of the publisher responsible for Why We’re Not Emergent, Why We Love the Church, The Reason for Sports, and Hello, I Love You, I was housed in a building called “Jerry B. Jenkins Hall” which was also home to a giant, muralish portrait of Jerry B. Jenkins who as you’ll recall was one half of the juggernaut that produced all 186 volumes of the Left Behind series. It was at that moment that the seed was planted for this project, which I’m sure will be every bit as successful, financially. Gut Check, as a company, realizes that there’s a good buck in the end times racket.

ESB: Do you have or have you read the whole Left Behind series? (I do, and I may be the only YRR bloke who not only possesses all the books, mostly first-prints, but still feels some fondness for them).

Ted: I was introduced to these books in 1999 while I was living in Lithuania and waiting for the world to end in 2000, so they were timely both in the sense that they were in English, which was a huge plus in Lithuania, and they were about the end of the world. I think I read the first two or three of them and learned that if you have the right kind of tricked-out Jeep, you too can survive the rapture. It was a really formative time for me. And man, I hate to say it but I think you just lost your YRR card with that admission…expect some “confrontations in love” real soon.

ESB: (If Mark Driscoll can dress “grunge” and enjoy beer, I can enjoy my Left Behind memories because this is Missional.) If you follow modern evangelical Christian fiction offerings, what’s your take on them? I’m thinking here of two areas in particular: your views on how Christian novels are doing in showing Christ’s truth and the Gospel in fiction, and how authors are doing in terms of creativity/originality/non-tackiness.

Ted: I actually have no idea here. I don’t really follow modern evangelical Christian fiction. However (endorsement alert), Gut Check published a novel called 42 Months Dry: A Tale of Gods and Gunplay by a promising young novelist named Zachary Bartels, that will blow your mind all over your face. It’s a modern day retelling of Elijah and the prophets of Baal, and reading it is like watching the best kind of action movie.

ESB: What’s your familiarity level with “speculative” fiction — Christ-exalting fantasy, sci-fi, etc.?

Ted: I actually have more familiarity with crochet and cooking (thanks to my wife, Kristin) than I have with this genre.

ESB: What about other “YRR” readers or writers you may know — do they enjoy Christian fiction, criticize what’s there, and/or hope to do better? With all the Gospel-driven emphasis on taking back art, and writing more-Biblical and more-creative music (and not simply ripping off what the world does and instead making it all clean, saying “Jesus,” etc.), I’m curious whether YRR types are also considering fiction.

Ted: I don’t think YRRers have “reclaimed” (things we love: reclaiming things like art, fiction, the city, adoption, sex, etc.) fiction as of yet. And actually I don’t see them/us doing so. We’ve (YRRers) have done a better job with rap music so far (see: Lecrae, Trip Lee, The Voice), than we have with fiction, which is either encouraging or discouraging depending on how you look at it.

ESB: Here’s also one of the main reasons I had hoped to host you here: a single footnote in Why We Love the Church. It’s on page 70: “I’m typing this at roughly the same time as the latest Batman movie, The Dark Knight, hits theaters. Just as in the Star Wars saga, expect Christian reviewers to find spiritual significance in the film so as to sort of allow themselves to like it with a clean conscience (see also: U2, and books like The Gospel According to Tony Soprano) when they should probably just go ahead and like it anyway.”

(I also saw The Dark Knight’s substitution/scapegoat motif, but didn’t feel I needed to find it to enjoy the film.) And I think I know what you mean there; but of course I’d rather hear more thoughts from you on that. (Of course, that may be a whole separate column someday — a prospect we’d not oppose).

Ted: Yeah, I think I was just explaining that it would have been okay for Christians to like The Dark Knight even without finding the substitution motif or whatever. I really never “got” our (Christians) wholesale embracing of Lord of the Rings or The Matrix either. Personally, I find a lot of theological/socio-political imagery in Sly Stallone’s seminal work, Rocky IV, in which he singlehandedly ends the Cold War. So much so (the imagery) that Zach Bartels and I co-wrote an academic white paper about it over at the Gut Check Press website. Spoiler alert: Apollo Creed = Christ Figure.

ESB: What might be some ways Christian fiction readers and writers, especially in “speculative” genres, can seek God’s truth and the Biblical Gospel, but also find ways to more creatively present these truths and glorify Him in stories, and not be all kitschy and embarrassing?

Ted: Honestly I think the best thing Christian writers can do for fiction (or nonfiction) is to grow in personal holiness and sanctification, pray for our writing to glorify God, be in God’s word consistently, and just plain old get better at the craft. When we’re reading great novelists, we’ll be much less likely to get all kitschy and embarrassing in our own work, unless, of course, we’re trying to be kitschy and embarrassing (see: Gut Check’s end times thriller).

ESB: Bonus question: I must ask you about the male (and homeschooled) wrestler who turned down a chance to win a state championship, because it would have involved wrestling a girl.

Ted: I actually agree with the kid refusing to wrestle, but it bums me out that they (the state) put the kid in that position in the first place. I can sympathize with him not feeling entirely comfortable with that, for a variety of reasons. For what it’s worth, I’m fine with girls wrestling, but they should have a different division, and have their own state tournament, etc.

ESB: Now I’m out of questions, unless you want to make one up and answer it for yourself. Also, your next book’s or books’ release(s) dates and details?

Ted: Working on a book on discipleship and car restoration (seriously) that I’m really pumped about. Writing it with a guy who kicked cocaine addiction and has been in and out of jail several times. We’re fixing up an old Triumph Spitfire together…that one is called Dallas and the Spitfire and is being published by Bethany House Nonfiction sometime next year. Also doing a book with former Buffalo Bills quarterback Jim Kelly that Faith Words is publishing.

ESB: Thanks much for your time, Ted. Godspeed to you and yours!

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Esther
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Random comments:

The reason ESB has a first print collection of all the Left Behind series is because he is a collector of the arcane, weird, and anything connected with superheroes. As his mother in-law, this makes me ponder my position in ESB’s life…

Ted’s cigar gives me pause, as I have recently been informed that the fact that C.S. Lewis smoked a cigar all his life is definitive proof that he was unregenerate. Check it out (for fun!)–http://harrypotterpower.com/lewis.html

Here’s my question for ESB, Ted, et. al.; there are so many good books out there–whether they are written by dead people, John Piper, C.S. Lewis or live people. This always intimidates me because I have a great deal of practicality in my veins–I can’t figure out why I should work so hard to write something that will be inferior to what is already out there.

There HAS to be a foundational, scriptural reason for Christians to write spec fic besides making a buck or an inner passion to do so (because in spite of the emergent implication to the contrary, passion does not equal excellence).

So what is the point of “reclaiming” spec fic as regenerate writers when so many others have already done such a great job?

Next question: why isn’t it considered rude, mean or hateful to mock a series of books written by Christians? Is this iron sharpening iron?

Krysti
Guest

Great interview! I’m thrilled that someone spoofed the Left Behind series! My ex made a get well card for a friend a few years ago that spoofed the cover of one of the books. As I recall, his friend had had hip surgery on, um…well. Laughter is very healing, wouldn’t you agree?

A few thoughts on whether smokers can be saved:

I once told an artist who visited our station on the mission field that because she smoked, she was going to hell. –Granted, I was five years old. –Also granted: my parents told me I was out of line.

I added “telling people they were going to hell for smoking” to the list of things I was forbidden to say to other people, and then discovered new (and improved!) impertinences.

I think some reformed persons may need The List–if we’re seriously discussing whether smokers, like Lewis, can go to heaven.

While cigar smoking is a nasty filthy habit (and if you smoke anything–not just a cigar–I can’t get be near you afterwards for health reasons), I believe that God loves and draws us to Himself as we are. He loves us in spite of the pong of all the bad things in our lives, and is more than able to love us into giving them up, too. But HE works His will in us on His timetable; not ours or someone else’s. (Ex: C. S. Lewis isn’t smoking NOW… ;-))

I still hope Ted Kluck wasn’t REALLY going to smoke that “hidjous thang.” Yuck. And now I will stop being impertinent and go back to minding my own beeswax…

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

I think some reformed persons may need The List–if we’re seriously discussing whether smokers, like Lewis, can go to heaven.

Some folks who’ve come to believe the Reformed view of the Gospel and salvation haven’t yet caught up to how those big-picture beliefs affect things like, oh, showing love to other believers in doctrinal discussions and other areas (this is what put me off the stuff for a few years, though I didn’t know what it was), or the fact that a Thing is not the sin — one only uses a thing for sinful purposes.

I’ve encountered “YRR” folks who have the same mysticism-based fear of Objects, such as paintings or drawings of mystical creatures, contrary to their own belief that God is sovereign and demons, while real and evil, are by contrast pathetic.

Perhaps I could rewrite yesterday’s column to be about this issue instead, simply by performing a word-processor find-and-replace to substitute phrases like “fictitious cussing” or “using Bad Words” with “smoking.” …

Amy Rose Davis
Guest

This is a great interview! I’ve been following Kevin DeYoung for a while, ever since I read “Just Do It” and adopted the phrase “liver shivers.” (Hey, I’m in Oregon. It was new to me.) I’ll have to start following Ted now, too. Did you know it is possible to crochet *and* know a lot about speculative fiction?

I love what you said about being able to enjoy something without having to find deep spiritual or parallels. Sometimes I want to slap people for not just having the guts to say they liked something. It’s okay. You can like movies and songs and books that aren’t deeply spiritual.

Also, Stephen, your mother-in-law is full of awesome. 🙂

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

This is a great interview! I’ve been following Kevin DeYoung for a while, ever since I read “Just Do It” and adopted the phrase “liver shivers.” (Hey, I’m in Oregon. It was new to me.)

That exact phrase was also new to me — though the mindset behind it was not. For years I’d not behaved like I had to get a sign from God before I made Big, Decisions, but still I 1) feared Big Decisions more, 2) thought that if I did seek some kind of advance supernatural confirmation, that would be more Spiritual. Thank God for books and resources — DeYoung’s reminders among them — that show these beliefs to be without spiritual foundation. And in fact, as one recent article suggested, they can be based on actual attempts to practice divination (yes, even worse than the supposed occult magic in Narnia, etc.!).

I love what you said about being able to enjoy something without having to find deep spiritual or parallels. Sometimes I want to slap people for not just having the guts to say they liked something. It’s okay. You can like movies and songs and books that aren’t deeply spiritual.

This is how I get away with enjoying The Tick cartoons. These contain absolutely nothing redeemable, except perhaps a truth akin to the proverb “a merry heart doeth good like medicine” or something Biblical like that.

Also, Stephen, your mother-in-law is full of awesome.

I know! She tells me that all the time! 😀 (JK! LOL! Ha ha!)

Rebecca LuElla Miller
Admin

For those who may not realize it, each individual author here at Spec Faith speaks only for him or herself. We do not have a collective brain or an editorial board that filters what we post.

Hence, not all of us are in agreement on any number of topics, and you will find us from time to time engaging in dialogue that shows our differing opinions.

That being said, I have to answer Esther:

Next question: why isn’t it considered rude, mean or hateful to mock a series of books written by Christians? Is this iron sharpening iron?

Some of us do consider it rude, mean and perhaps even hateful to mock the work by other Christians.

To be honest, I almost didn’t get past the title of this post. I don’t know Ted Kluck, but I do know Stephen and have too much respect for him to go that direction, and in the end, I was glad I waded past the parts that gave me trouble.

Becky

Esther
Guest

>>For those who may not realize it, each individual author here at Spec Faith speaks only for him or herself. We do not have a collective brain or an editorial board that filters what we post. <>Some of us do consider it rude, mean and perhaps even hateful to mock the work by other Christians. <>Also, Stephen, your mother-in-law is full of awesome. 🙂 <>I know! She tells me that all the time! 😀 (JK! LOL! Ha ha!)<<

And I'm right…

And now…anyone want to take on the other question I asked seriously? To save you the trouble of scrolling up, here I have copy/pasted it:

Here’s my question for ESB, Ted, et. al.; there are so many good books out there–whether they are written by dead people, John Piper, C.S. Lewis or live people. This always intimidates me because I have a great deal of practicality in my veins–I can’t figure out why I should work so hard to write something that will be inferior to what is already out there.

There HAS to be a foundational, scriptural reason for Christians to write spec fic besides making a buck or an inner passion to do so (because in spite of the emergent implication to the contrary, passion does not equal excellence).

Esther

Esther
Guest

Piffle. ESB! The comment software ate my answer! It looks nothing like I wrote.

Esther
Guest

I’ll try again. As I am not sure what all the code I can see just below this comment box does, I will not use it. Which will make the answer a bit harder to read, and for that, I apologize.

Rebecca said: “For those who may not realize it, each individual author here at Spec Faith speaks only for him or herself. We do not have a collective brain or an editorial board that filters what we post.”

And for that I am very grateful! As my mother often reminds me “If two people think exactly alike, one of them is unnecessary.”

Rebecca said: “Some of us do consider it rude, mean and perhaps even hateful to mock the work by other Christians.”

I am also grateful that at least one person has attempted to answer one of the actual questions in my post!

I believe, Rebecca, that a scriptural case could be made for the propriety of public mocking/sarcasm of a Christian artist/author’s work under certain circumstances. Jesus Himself often used sarcasm and even mocking language (at least once that I know of!) to give opportunity to those who were hardened or unthinking to hear the message. The circumstances under which I believe it may be allowable for sport to be made of the LB books are these:
1) the “Christian” nomenclature used as a marketing ploy without regard to whether or not it was a real life confession
2) the lack of careful exegesis of scripture before crafting a product/story based on same
3) Allowing the success of the first venture to lead to further attempts, but with even less scriptural basis and lower quality craft than before, which lead to:
4) the mocking and defaming of the name of the Lord and of His Bride.

If you have another thought, I’d be interested to hear it.

I also think it is healthy and humble when we as Christians laugh at ourselves publicly when we’ve been publicly stupid. (I said this much better the first time…arrghh)

Amy said: “Also, Stephen, your mother-in-law is full of awesome.”

Thank you, Amy. Here’s my question: am I awesome in an arcane way, a weird way, or a superhero way? Or some twisted combination of two or more of these qualities? IOW–what shelf does ESB put me on when he is through playing with my mind at the end of the day?

Perhaps I don’t really want to know the answer to that question ;P

ESB said: “I know! She tells me that all the time! 😀 (JK! LOL! Ha ha!)”

And I’m right…

And now…anyone want to take on the other question I asked seriously? To save you the trouble of scrolling up, here I have copy/pasted it:

Here’s my question for ESB, Ted, et. al.; there are so many good books out there–whether they are written by dead people, John Piper, C.S. Lewis or live people. This always intimidates me because I have a great deal of practicality in my veins–I can’t figure out why I should work so hard to write something that will be inferior to what is already out there.

There HAS to be a foundational, scriptural reason for Christians to write spec fic besides making a buck or an inner passion to do so (because in spite of the emergent implication to the contrary, passion does not equal excellence).

Esther
(presses “submit comment” with trepidation)

Amy Rose Davis
Guest

Esther,

I’m going to go with arcane. And also superhero, because I’m a mom and I think all moms are sort of superhero-ish on some level. We all have a li’l Elastigirl in us. 🙂

Regarding your other question… I write spec fic, but I don’t market myself as a Christian author because my writing includes some things that would be offensive to many Christians. And as far as having a foundational, scriptural reason for anything, I don’t think there’s anything UNscriptural about pursuing a career that’s ethical and moral and provides an income. I mean, I could easily go get a job as an executive assistant (which I’ve done before) and no one would question my spiritual motives in working in that particular position. I’m not sure that my spiritual motives should be necessarily questioned in regard to making a living as a writer.

Regarding genre… Does the genre matter? I could write Amish romances or children’s chapter books or any number of other categories or genres. Would it matter on its face what my chosen genre is?

Regarding something that is perceived as “inferior to what is already out there…” That’s quite a subjective idea. There are plenty of folks who don’t read Piper or Lewis, or who have read them and not enjoyed them. The art is in the telling. As a writer, I have a story to tell, and whether it’s inferior is for the reader to judge, not me. I can work to make certain it’s as well-written as possible, but at the end of the day, it’s a subjective decision on the part of the reader whether it’s inferior or not. Besides, one can only read the same things so many times before one wants something new… Why can’t my work be the new thing that gives an additional perspective or a new twist on a story or whatever?

I agree wholeheartedly that passion does not equal excellence. However, excellence is often in the eye of the beholder. I’ve read many things that for the life of me I could not figure out why they were successful. I’ve wanted to shout “The emperor has no clothes!” many times (sometimes I do). But the stories find an audience…

Now, that’s all kind of a global answer, not necessarily a Christian one. For me, we can debate the content of my book and whether it upholds Christian standards and such separately. But I purposely wrote it with many biblical images in mind and woven into the plot and themes, and there is an overarching redemptive theme to the whole series. It’s my hope that a secular reader might be intrigued enough to find out more about me, and perhaps about my beliefs. I’m certainly not hiding them–I’m just not advertising them, either.

I hope that’s a little bit of an answer… 🙂

Amy

Rebecca LuElla Miller
Admin

Esther, thanks for re-posting your comment. I know how frustrating it can be to lose your thoughts. 😉 You’re not the first person who has had a tough time figuring out the html tags below. I ignore those and use the ones I learned from my blog. For a quote, I put blockquote inside the little carrot thingies. For boldface type, use the b, for italics the i or em. Links are almost the way they’re shown below, but not quite.

Anyway, on to your questions. As far as the Left Behind series is concerned, I’ll have to say, I haven’t read the books, so can’t speak to your points. I have, however, met Jerry Jenkins and heard him speak at a conference. I found him to be humble, gracious, mindful of God at work in his life, and desirous of helping others in their writing career. I guess I wonder how he would feel to have other Christians talk about his work in a disparaging way. I know I’d be embarrassed if he Googled his name and found Spec Faith to be a site that made fun of what he’s done. And, shocking though it may be to many who look down on the (lengthy) series, people have come to Christ after reading Left Behind.

Am I saying it’s perfect? There’s a reason I only read a few chapters of the first book. But because I saw flaws, I don’t think I have a right to say, That passel of children with warts all over their faces isn’t up to my standard, so I get to point at them, laugh at them in public, and encourage my friends to ridicule them by drawing caricatures of their warty faces. I won’t do that because their daddy is a brother in Christ and because I want to treat other Christians the way Jesus said would attract the world, more than I want to get my friends laughing with me.

As far as whether or not the latter books in the series were “necessary” or were merely a way of stretching it out to make money … I think it’s important to remember that publishing is a business. I imagine each house hopes every book they print will make money. And if they have a series that is making money, should they say, We need to stop putting these books out because they’re bringing in money! 😮 Or should the writer who is offered a seven book contract on top of the five book contract (or whatever Jenkins/LaHaye had), turn it down because, well, some folks might not like that the series is so long.

Sometimes I think we criticize without putting ourselves into the scenario and considering the point of view of the people involved.

Do I wish publishers would have more of a ministry mind? I do. I also wish they wouldn’t saturate a market with product until consumers get sick of what they’re offering. But our culture doesn’t seem to understand the principle of “leave them wanting more.” Marketing today seems to operate more on the idea that if there’s a drop of blood left, we need to squeeze just a little harder. It’s apparently the current wisdom.

It’s also not unique to the Left Behind series and its many sproutlings.

OK, I spent way longer on this than I intended, so I’ll need to answer second big question, which I think is so important, a little later.

Becky

Esther
Guest

And I’ll be working on a reply to you both. Good points from all…lovely discussion. More to come…

Rebecca LuElla Miller
Admin

This always intimidates me because I have a great deal of practicality in my veins–I can’t figure out why I should work so hard to write something that will be inferior to what is already out there.

Hi, again, Esther,

One thing your comment presupposes is that whatever we write will in deed be inferior. That means that John Piper should never have written because Matthew Henry and Jonathan Edwards and Charles Spurgeon had already written. Yet John Piper is now named by some as one of the greats.

How do we know who will be the next great novelist? No one thought books about an 11 year old wizard by a debut novelist would be anything, let alone a series that would prompt any number of non-fiction works examining what she was saying or not saying in her stories.

And who’s to say, that a novelist can’t be used by God like C. S. Lewis, only on a small scale? That we don’t know who will read our works, now or in the future, makes writing especially important, I think.

That the world continues to write, putting their worldview out there for the next generation to absorb, ought to show us Christians our need to engage the culture, too. In addition, Christ called us to be light. One way we can do so is through story. Our culture loves story — it’s part of the postmodern mindset. Why would we not use the vehicle they love the most to engage them regarding truth?

As opposed to your question, why should we, I tend to think, Why are we doing so little?

Becky

Esther
Guest

Note to self: if you ask writers to write about writing, you will get writing. Lots of it.

Lol! Let us see if I can do justice to all you have both said.

Amy said: “And as far as having a foundational, scriptural reason for anything, I don’t think there’s anything UNscriptural about pursuing a career that’s ethical and moral and provides an income. I mean, I could easily go get a job as an executive assistant (which I’ve done before) and no one would question my spiritual motives in working in that particular position. I’m not sure that my spiritual motives should be necessarily questioned in regard to making a living as a writer.”

Rebecca said: “As far as whether or not the latter books in the series were “necessary” or were merely a way of stretching it out to make money … I think it’s important to remember that publishing is a business. I imagine each house hopes every book they print will make money. And if they have a series that is making money, should they say, We need to stop putting these books out because they’re bringing in money! Or should the writer who is offered a seven book contract on top of the five book contract (or whatever Jenkins/LaHaye had), turn it down because, well, some folks might not like that the series is so long.”

Let me state unequivocally that I believe writing can be an ethical and moral way of providing an income, and that that is good. Obviously, it lends itself to unethical and immoral ways of providing an income as well, but as we are all talking between Christians here, we’ll leave that part of the argument alone.

But if that’s the only reason I as a Christian write, that is cause for concern. I would say the same thing if I were an executive assistant. If a Christian is working as an executive assistant only because it makes money, that is cause for concern.

Because as Christians everything we do is to be done as unto the Lord,.

Making money, supporting ourselves and our families, is a godly pursuit as long as we do so within the guidelines of scripture. A Christian is not allowed, for instance, to gain income by employment in that which we title in our culture “the oldest profession”. So there are some employments that are outside the camp for me.

Because writing is a mode of communication and an art, then the scriptures that direct us concerning the use of communication and art are applicable. Add into that the fact that the LB books were supposed to be based (however loosely) on scripture, and to my mind that changes things entirely: when you run out of scripture, you’ve run out of material, and yes: you stop even though there may be money to be made by continuing. Publishing is a business, but as Christians, we must put the business of bringing glory to God as our first priority. Jenkins and LaHaye, et. al did not, imho. It’s not just because the series is too long, but because the series went past the bounds of scripture that makes what they did so questionable in my mind.

Amy said:” Regarding something that is perceived as “inferior to what is already out there…” That’s quite a subjective idea. There are plenty of folks who don’t read Piper or Lewis, or who have read them and not enjoyed them. The art is in the telling. As a writer, I have a story to tell, and whether it’s inferior is for the reader to judge, not me. I can work to make certain it’s as well-written as possible, but at the end of the day, it’s a subjective decision on the part of the reader whether it’s inferior or not. Besides, one can only read the same things so many times before one wants something new… Why can’t my work be the new thing that gives an additional perspective or a new twist on a story or whatever?”

Rebecca said:” That the world continues to write, putting their worldview out there for the next generation to absorb, ought to show us Christians our need to engage the culture, too. In addition, Christ called us to be light. One way we can do so is through story. Our culture loves story — it’s part of the postmodern mindset. Why would we not use the vehicle they love the most to engage them regarding truth? “

I heartily agree with both comments. Go for it! (my own intimidation is mostly likely because I don’t have a story to tell, and couldn’t make a buck trying to if my life depended on it. So saying that I don’t write because there are already so many good writers out there is a way to save face, dontcha know.)

Rebecca:”As opposed to your question, why should we, I tend to think, Why are we doing so little?”

Great question! If you have time, scoot over to my blog and knock around in the Art And All That series of posts. Why ARE we creating so little art? And in particular, why are Christians creating so little TRUE ART?

Of course, True Art is of a specific kind (not type or genre, but motivation), and not accomplished without significant sacrifice. So few are willing to make that sacrifice: indeed, I often wonder if I have made enough of a sacrifice…

Rebecca said: “Am I saying it’s perfect? There’s a reason I only read a few chapters of the first book. But because I saw flaws, I don’t think I have a right to say, That passel of children with warts all over their faces isn’t up to my standard, so I get to point at them, laugh at them in public, and encourage my friends to ridicule them by drawing caricatures of their warty faces. I won’t do that because their daddy is a brother in Christ and because I want to treat other Christians the way Jesus said would attract the world, more than I want to get my friends laughing with me.”

I do not agree that your analogy is as analogous as you may think. Children are created by God, and if He created them with warts, then we should honor that as such. Books and writing are another matter. They are created by mankind, and in this case Christians who are supposedly offering them not only as a godly way of supporting themselves and their families, but as acts of worship, and therefore fall under “iron sharpening iron”(Prov. 27:17) and “encouraging one another to good works” (Heb. 10:24).

We as Christians have to be willing that, when we create and perform/display/publish a work of communication/art, we subject ourselves to that process of iron-on-iron and possibly even to a sharp rebuke (Titus 1:13) if necessary.

Now…am I saying that this mocking parody of the LB series is a good piece of writing that has potential to get the attention of Jenkins et. al and help them make an effort to increase the quality of their work? Not necessarily. Obviously, the same scriptural concepts and principles apply to the form and content of the rebuke as do to the original work. But could a mocking parody be a good, godly, scriptural, and perhaps fun way to encourage fellow writers to take more care in their work before God and the world? Yes, I think it could.

I haven’t a notion why this particular mocking parody was written, nor have I read it. But in theory, I hold that it is possible to use such a thing to encourage other Christian artists to look carefully at their work to make sure that it is the best act of worship they can offer.

Rebecca said: “I have, however, met Jerry Jenkins and heard him speak at a conference. I found him to be humble, gracious, mindful of God at work in his life, and desirous of helping others in their writing career. I guess I wonder how he would feel to have other Christians talk about his work in a disparaging way.”

I think it’s important to consider the effect on the other person if you are going to make a criticism of them. But what bothers me about your above statement is that you seem to be saying that because a person 1) claims to be Christian, and 2) acts like a Christian, he shouldn’t be subject to rebuke or encouragement to do better. I will have to disagree with that, if that is what you meant. Many people have met Bill Gothard and claim that he is a humble, gracious man, mindful of God at work in his life and desirous of helping others do the same…but BG has repeatedly been proven to twist scripture, manipulate people, and act unethically, among other things. Should we, because someone has met him and he seemed awfully nice, refrain from rebuking and calling him to account for what he is doing? I don’t think that is scripturally defensible.

And that’s all for tonight…I mean for this morning, haha! It’s Spring Break, or I wouldn’t have even had time to write all this, but now it’s time for bed!

I look forward to any replies. ESB…where in the heck are you? Get in here and listen to this lively/lovely discussion. You might learn something!

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

Esther:

Now…am I saying that this mocking parody of the LB series is a good piece of writing that has potential to get the attention of Jenkins et. al and help them make an effort to increase the quality of their work?

Well, they’re kind of done with the work, so any spoof now would be more about a previously popular series than anything current.

By the way, I’ve never understood the criticism of “the series is way too long.” Those who made that criticism often also criticized the fiction for supposed shallow characters, or even “too many characters die,” or whatever. For such critics: that’s silly. It is a seven-year Tribulation in which the novels are set. Not only does that contain a lot of deaths, but that would require a lot of books to cover events.

And even if the authors signed for extra books or what-have-you, what’s wrong with that? Seems some Gnostic assumptions are inherent here: that business and making profits are intrinsically bad, or at least less Spiritual. Amen to Becky here:

[P]ublishing is a business. I imagine each house hopes every book they print will make money. And if they have a series that is making money, should they say, We need to stop putting these books out because they’re bringing in money! 😮 Or should the writer who is offered a seven book contract on top of the five book contract (or whatever Jenkins/LaHaye had), turn it down because, well, some folks might not like that the series is so long.

Back to Esther:

[C]ould a mocking parody be a good, godly, scriptural, and perhaps fun way to encourage fellow writers to take more care in their work before God and the world? Yes, I think it could.

I make similar arguments in tomorrow’s column, The potential of affectionate parody.

I haven’t a notion why this particular mocking parody was written, nor have I read it. But in theory, I hold that it is possible to use such a thing to encourage other Christian artists to look carefully at their work to make sure that it is the best act of worship they can offer.

There’s that, and I think such parodies can also help Christians laugh at themselves in a Godly and truly humble way, and not be so serious (also in a Godly and humble way, not a Joker make-light-of-everything way).

But about the Gut Check Press parody, I offer this excerpt from tomorrow’s column:

Most of what’s there seems to poke gentle fun at the responses of some end-times thriller fans, and the worst kind of the-end-is-near reactionaries. Actually a lot of what is there doesn’t spoof Left Behind as much as pop evangelicalism, obsessions with Christians sports celebrities, even legalism.

Esther:

But what bothers me about your above statement is that you seem to be saying that because a person 1) claims to be Christian, and 2) acts like a Christian, he shouldn’t be subject to rebuke or encouragement to do better. I will have to disagree with that, if that is what you meant.

Not to speak for Becky, but I doubt that’s what she meant. She’s tangled with folks who jump for the he’s-a-nice-guy-so-don’t-touch-him-ever-ever line as quickly as they can. It seems her main argument is that Jenkins has legitimately glorified God through his writers-mentoring work and his other writings.

About that I would agree — yet I also see some deficiencies in other great Christians, such as, say, John Piper. I know of someone who tried to meet him, and was bothered by how grumpy he seemed — but people get grumpy! Piper is also waffly on the whole origins issue, and many question his association with Rick Warren (and by proxy Warren’s baffling bent toward acting as if Christianity and other religions are just separate paths to the same felt-needs goals). Does that mean I should shun Piper? No way. In fact, it helps me recall that only Christ would do everything perfectly, and put Piper’s ministry in perspective (something I’m sure he would appreciate!).

But what about parodying Piper? I love doing that — though at this point I’m much better at imitating Loud Passionate Piper rather than Quiet Sober Piper. People often parody the things they love, whether it’s Lord of the Rings or Christian leaders or popular stuff, or even — this is perhaps best of all — spoofing ourselves.

There’s a great video out there of a guy who, onstage, imitates Christian pastor/author/leader C.J. Manahey, in both voice and gestures — with Mahaney himself in the audience, splitting his sides and nodding over and over, Yup, that’s me!

I myself can vocally imitate one of my church’s pastors, throwing in catchphrases and everything, and I love the guy! (I wonder what an imitation of me would sound like?)

Anyway, more thoughts on that are in Thursday’s column.

Esther:

It’s not just because the series is too long, but because the series went past the bounds of scripture that makes what they did so questionable in my mind.

And because the series is so long, and I haven’t read it in a while, I’m not sure which un-Scriptural parts you’re thinking about — I wouldn’t mind hearing some! Yes, I do recall a lot of emphasis on Your Decision to be saved, and other things like that which aren’t heresy at all, but could be taken to an extent that God’s sovereignty is downplayed in favor of man’s free will. However, I think the Left Behind series doesn’t get the credit it deserves for a lot of reasons:

1. Originality. Christians pretty much invented the end-times fiction genre. (They invented the Amish Fiction genre too, but let’s not own up to it, at least not in public and on the internet.) And the Left Behind series is the best of that field. I’ve read other books, and they just can’t hold up. Left Behind even ages well, partly because of reason number 2 …

2. No date-setting. If people used the Left Behind books to say that Jesus could return by 1999/2000/2001 or whatever, that’s not the authors fault. All they did was ask “what if He returned and the Tribulation began at roughly this point in history?” That’s just downright speculative, and that’s great. And in interviews and nonfiction materials, both Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins were clear: we are not date-setting, because Jesus Himself said no one can know.

3. The Gospel. You can’t read a Left Behind book without hearing it. And as far as “preachiness” goes, the series fairly well avoided that. Why? It’s a series about the Christian end-times, for crying out loud. The Gospel kind of goes along with it perfectly. To downplay that would be unrealistic.

4. A loving yet holy God. This comes out even more when one compares the series to more-recent wunderkind literature such as The Shack. Despite any default-evangelical excesses here and there, I would venture that the God of the Left Behind series is clearly the Biblical God. He is love, yes, but in this case it’s very hard to say “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” Throughout the series are horrible tragedies, deaths, persecution, martyrdom, and reminders that the plagues of Revelation are judgments. One of the most notable conversations I recall was between characters about how they should speak to the world about the plagues and judgments. We already know God is using them to judge, one Christian leader says. Let’s emphasize instead, for those who will listen, that God is also trying to get their attention. Squishy? Maybe. But such a conversation strikes me as realistic. And it’s not un-Biblical at all.

Anyway, I could go on, perhaps in another column, but I kinda do want to stick up for my boys. I can safely say that if it weren’t for Jerry Jenkins and the Left Behind series, I wouldn’t be writing or contributing to Speculative Faith today!

At the same time, I think one can affectionately parody either fans’ excessive reactions to a franchise we love (think “Mary Sue” Elves) or the series itself. More on Thursday …

Amy Rose Davis
Guest

One minor thing on affectionate parodies… Even VeggieTales spoofed Lord of the Rings, and it was hilarious–as much for grown-ups as for kids. And VeggieTales was spoofed once on Saturday Night Live. We always say, “You know you’ve made the big time when SNL spoofs you.” 🙂

Great discussion, all. 🙂

Amy

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