Last week I stated the case that reading changes us, even when we read “just for fun.” The same might be said about watching TV or seeing a movie. It’s fiction, it’s stories that not only introduce ideas we can think about but characters and action that can engage us.
Stories serve as illustrations and as examples, but they also reinforce or, conversely, confront deeply held values or traditions. They introduce their audience to new ways of doing things, even if the “new way” is actually an old way.
Some Christian writers, I suspect, hold the belief that stories should primarily serve as examples, which in turn reinforce the truth of Scripture. I like those stories and I think they can be an encouragement to believers. Take, for example, the true story, made into a movie, about Bart Millard, lead singer for the band MercyMe, and what brought him to write the popular song “I Could Only Imagine.” I find his story inspiring, encouraging. It strengthens my faith.
But what about the stories that challenge and confront? Are Christians not supposed to write that kind? Or read them?
Actually, I think those are exactly the kind that Christians should write for the questioning world—not treatises defending our faith, but stories about people who living in this world that is filled with ideas and ways of doing things that call into question the things Christians believe, that the Bible teaches.
I’ll name just a few things that are more and more prevalent in our culture and which stand against a Christian worldview, things which stories can, and should, challenge and confront:
1. Truth is relative, not absolute.
A shocking number of people believe this idea of truth in western culture. Consequently the idea has grown up that something might be “true for you” but “not true for me.” Of course the application of that idea depends on context, but when it comes to God and what He reveals in Scripture, there is no equivocating, even when we can’t fully comprehend. For instance, God is love, even when I, like Job, am not experiencing loving circumstances. My limited perspective and temporal circumstances don’t cancel out the truth about God.
2. “Family” means whatever you want it to mean.
Some seven years ago the New York Times ran an article asking “How do you define ‘family’?” The salient question in the article was “Do you think a new definition of family is starting to emerge in our society?”
Last year a website called CyberParent ran an article that concluded,
Now more than ever before, it is important for people to understand that when it comes to what is a family, there is no such thing as normal. Every person, every child, every parent, every couple has a unique situation, and to try and define everyone in one black and white term would make no sense.
Family is not defined by biology, or marriage, or even a home. Family is the people you love and who love you back, the people you feel safe around, and the people you can count on to be there when you need them.
Yes, times change, but when it comes to understanding God as our Father, the Church as the bride of Christ, the role of husbands described as like Christ who gave His life, and so on, I have to wonder if our society isn’t losing a lot that “prepares the heart” for the gospel, when we redefine a basic unit of society such as “family.”
3. The Bible is a book of fairytales.
The corollaries, of course, are that God does not exist, the supernatural is simply a part of your imagination, there is no impending judgment, heaven and hell are not real places, and there is no afterlife.
Not everyone believes all of those ideas, but I suspect that may change. After all, if we remove the foundation, why shouldn’t the whole building collapse?
4. Sin is a myth and people are actually good and deserve only good things.
Never mind that universally people still agree nobody is perfect, the growing perception is that whatever a person does that makes him “not perfect” is still not sin. It’s actually a way our society is divorcing a person from responsibility for his action. He might have had a bad childhood, which caused him to develop antisocial behavior. He might have been the victim of a crime or government misconduct or religious abuse, or any number of things, all of which certainly do make up an individual’s experience, but none of which remove his responsibility for his own actions.
5. Government should fix things.
Perhaps some parts of the country or western society have a different take on this one, but over all the trend seems to be to turn to government to protect us from ourselves. Not common sense. Not family (even the redefined one), not the neighborhood or the community, not the church. School maybe, if it’s a public institution. Then it can make sure kids have a good breakfast, the proper instruction about gender issues, one view on the origin of the universe, safe zones and trigger alerts, and many other issues that the government thinks is important.
These ideas and many more contribute to a worldview that infiltrates our books and movies. And where are the stories challenging or questioning them?
Christians have a great opportunity to serve as prophetic voices, as voices of warning, that these trends don’t end well, that Truth does exist and so does sin, that the Bible is not a fairytale, and so one.
In many ways, Christian writers couldn’t be living in a better time, because people need somebody to challenge the prevailing worldview, because people love stories, and because digital publishing has changed the writing industry. Now we writers need to step up to the task.