Five years have passed since that Washington Post article, and I’m still incensed about it. Revealed within are myths about fantastic stories — myths we ourselves often repeat. Especially when we try to argue, rightfully, that we read and write stories to glorify God.
Let’s review the article’s opening so you may also be vexed, and ask: what did this writer ignore?
As the days tick down until Saturday, when a breathless world learns the fate of the teenage wizard, a new breed of fantasy fiction, with Potter-style stories, is emerging.
Like the Potter series, it has mystical creatures, macabre events, epic battles and heroic young protagonists.
But, unlike the Potter books, this genre has overt Christian tones: messiah-like kings who return from the dead, fallen satanic characters and young heroes who undergo profound conversions. What you won’t generally find: humans waving wands and performing spells.
Where to begin?
- Harry Potter already has such redemptive themes to be classified as “Christian.” (To be fair, this was shown more clearly in the final volume, released after this piece.)
- Harry Potter builds upon preexisting Christian and redemptive works of fantasy, such as those by J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, with messiahs returning from the dead, evil villains, and young heroes who are converted. Had this author not read the Harry Potter series to see the evil villains and young heroes converted, just like in previous novels by Christians? (The piece mentions only Lewis once in passing.)
- In this area, as I argued in a July 2007 column for Old Speculative Faith, Christ-followers had fantasy fiction first. We can also lay claim to post-apocalyptic fiction, medieval paintings, classical music, and science. We didn’t rip those off.
I could go on, debunking this exhibition of the apparent media template of “those oddball Christians just keep ripping off brand-new and original things made in the Real World.” But all those rebuttals would be secondary to this point: Christians had fantasy stories first because Scripture itself is a “fantasy” epic, the Epic Story, that is also perfectly true.
As I wrote in 2007 (with some edits made here):
Even Lewis and Tolkien themselves were inspired by a previous Source for epic fantasy fiction. That Source is revealed in the very comments of dozens of “Jesus-haters” (as Wayne Thomas Batson referred to them) following the Washington Post article. Nearly every one of those critics repeated a canard like this: “Ha! Ha! Why do you need fantasy? You stupid Bible-Belters already have the Old and New Testaments, ha! ha!” Then they laughed at themselves over such cleverness.
My reaction is more positive than they could have imagined: “Yes, that’s right, thou cleverest of secularist sneerers. The Bible is a fantasy, it is mythology. True mythology, that is. You’ve merely proven the point this article avoided: that the Bible is the archetype of all fantasy literature and good-versus-evil thrillers.”
After all, what do we find in Scripture? Ancient civilizations. A dark menace from a distant past. Warriors, kings, prophets, workers of miracles. Stunning displays of supernatural power. Crowd scenes, epic quests, and wars between true Good and Evil. Am I now referring to Israel B.C. or to Middle-earth?
Scripture is the source of all stories — the story of reality, the smaller “stories” of us as real people, and the stories we real people subcreate.
We must recall that truth when we’re discussing how our stories may glorify God.
So, any book that has some kind of a positive theme you can pull out of it, and is moderately well-written, can be used to glorify God.
Why didn’t you just SAY so?
While these issues may be difficult to communicate, here is one reason I didn’t just say so:
If I simply stated it like that, it’s nothing more than my paltry opinion.
Rather, I hope to base any truth about how Reading Is Worship on Scripture’s truth.
Let’s say I’m loving a book, and I know that technically my love for this book should glorify God. I might grab for some truths — even individual Biblical truths — as justification. After all, I know that God gets glory from all things, so naturally He is getting glory from this book enjoyment, right? Even if I’m sinning, He’s still getting glory somehow, right?
But here’s the problem: I’ve started with the wrong basis. I’ve started with: The stories I enjoy must be what God also enjoys. I haven’t started with His Story — which tells me more than I could know (or regrettably, often more than I’d like to know!) of what glorifies Him.
How would the wrong view work among human relationships?
ESB: Happy birthday, honey! Here is your gift.
LRB: Oh, thank you. It’s … it’s … (Opens the package) “Green Lantern: The Animated Series,” season 1, part 1?
ESB: (Beaming like a galactic Guardian battery) Wonderful, isn’t it?
ESB: Let’s watch it tonight! And how about I pick up dinner from Taco Bell?
His desires and His Story come first. His Word not only forms the pattern for all our stories, but reveals how He wants us to worship Him.
Without that Story, I can have all the great skills in a world, but I will surely fail to see the brightest reflections of His Story in other stories. And without that Story, I can have great motives to write well or share the Gospel or explore people and the world in fiction — but all my efforts to glorify or worship God will only do so “incidentally,” not as directly.
God decides how He gets glory. When we know more of that, we don’t feel slavish to overt spiritual appeals or duties. Rather, our joy is enhanced. So is our reading!
What Scriptures discuss how we glorify God? How might we miss those in our fiction-reading justifications?
Next week: More specifics about Scripture, God’s Story, and the “color spectrum” of His glory.