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Receive Fantastical Stories With Thanksgiving

Four silent objections may get in the way of thanksgiving to God for fantastical stories.
| Nov 26, 2015 | 3 comments |

In a hungry world we can be grateful for all the gifts we’re given.

This year my wife and I spent most of our meals also enjoying stories.

Our thank-you prayers for food, which is a long tradition among Christians, have begun to blend with a tradition that is not so common—thank-you prayers for the stories we enjoy.

For example, one of our short prayers might go something like this:

Lord, thank you for this day. Thank You that we go through it. (A health-related prayer and/or prayer for someone we know.) Thank You also for this food and for stories. Help us to enjoy them both and glorify You. In Jesus’ Name, amen.

Fans have a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, as SpecFaith newcomer Zachary Totah reminded us Tuesday. Yet if we thank God for things like the Captain America: Civil War trailer, or Amish Zombies from Space (my copy just arrived), or any other favorite fantasy series, I wonder if this might seen strange, possibly even unspiritual or incorrect.

Four silent objections may get in the way of thanksgiving to God for fantastical stories:

1. Shouldn’t we thank God for nonfiction instead?

With all the lies and heresy out there, oughtn’t we focus on, say, doctrine and teaching?

2. ‘God did not directly give us stories.’

This one I discovered when writing a book chapter about popular culture’s origins. My coauthor flagged a phrase I kept using to the effect of “God gave us stories and songs.”

“Technically God doesn’t give them,” he told me. “God gives us the gift of making them.”

True. So why would we directly thank God for a story a human being directly made?

3. ‘A gift like food is neutral, but a story has sin-influenced content.’

The stories for which we thank God include anime stories. Often these stories include ideas and pictures that reflect God’s beauty or even His drama of personal redemption. Yet these stories also includes hideous examples of objectification. Characters are drawn with exaggerated bodily features, and posed and de-clothed for the purpose of making fans leer.

Usually those moments don’t bother me, though I do tend to look away.

But why would thank God for a story that includes corruption?

4. ‘Don’t be such a Christian about it; you’ll ruin the story/art.’

Recently I had a friendly Twitter exchange with a blogger about Doctor Who. I had written a Christ and Pop Culture article about the Doctor’s endorsement of being “prepared to forgive.” My acquaintance said he wasn’t as enamored with this story as I was. To him the Doctor’s rousing speech was over-the-top and not worth the attention.

“I think it’s too generous to read [Christian] categories into Doctor Who,” he said.

Maybe he meant something else. (I will need to ask.) But that phrase reminded me of folks who say that interpreting stories according to a biblical view is just so jejune. It’s a “Jesus juke.” It’s unnecessary. The story works apart from faith-propaganda. So if you thanked God for Art, doesn’t that ignore the fact that Art is good “for its own sake”?1

How to receive fantastical stories with thanksgiving

The apostle Paul implicitly answers these silent objections in 1 Timothy 4:1-5.

Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.

Within this text are four reminders:

  1. False teachers lie about the goodness of God’s gifts. Thus, thanking God in the right ways for His good gifts is one way Christians fight against false teaching.
  2. “Everything created by God is good.” We may think first of natural wonders like sunrises and teeming oceans. I do not put “popular culture” in this category, for God does not create popular culture. But He did create humans and gave us a mission to create culture.2 The very fact of culture-creation is His gift. With stories, humans can only rearrange parts of God’s ultimate Story of redemption, including the contrasting elements of sin and twisting that arise from our own rebellion.3 But …
  3. That does not mean the story is “neutral.” Paul says God’s gifts are good, but we cannot receive them without an intentional process. Something must change on the way to our receiving it. The gift is still not yet holy.
  4. Paul says, “[The gift] is made holy by the word of God and prayer.” That’s the key. Those “spiritual” activities like good teaching from the word of prayer to our Savior change the gift—or our use of the gift—to become good. So what if we say “art is for art’s own sake,” and we mean art is good without using the word and prayer to receive art with thanksgiving? the apostle Paul, backed by the Holy Spirit, would disagree.

I’ve found this perspective so helpful. Christians do not grow spiritually apart from other gifts like our enjoyment of stories. Instead, it’s all connected. By knowing God’s word and praying to Him, we literally “make holy” things like human story-making. And we will enjoy stories more when we are truly thankful to the Giver of all good gifts.

Note: This December I am stepping back from Thursday articles at SpecFaith to focus on other writing commitments. I hope to return in January, or shortly thereafter, with reviews to share.

  1. I loathe the expression that “art is good for art’s own sake” and the like. I find most meanings of the phrase as sentimentalist and reality-rejecting as the worst Thomas Kinkade paintings.
  2. Genesis 1:28.
  3. We might thank God for people who make stories, and ask for God to draw them to Him.
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.

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Greg - AKA Tiribulus

Stephen, I’ve watched you slide down this path of carnality long enough. Nothing is more “fantastical” than your tragic attempts to sanctify your idols.

Repent my friend.  Please? Before that spirit of unholy slumber sets so deep you’ll never get free.

Leah Burchfiel
Leah Burchfiel

IME, “Xian” is a pretty commonly used abbreviation for “Christian,” in the tradition of “Xmas.” It’s actually not that blasphemous: X is also the Greek letter chi, which “Christ” starts with.

But I do think he does have a legit point in that one shouldn’t impose Christian categories on everything. Maybe you can just get away with that in a Western-cultured show like Doctor Who, but it does a disservice to shows with bigger cultural divides than religious US/mainstream Britain.