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Stories For Christians 4: Treasures For Churchian Dragons

How to train your Churchian Dragon, who reflexively rejects fiction that doesn’t fulfill wrongly defined “practical” needs: be strongly Biblical, praise true pragmatism, encouraging existing enjoyments, earn trust by telling, and reach hearts with stories.
| Sep 15, 2011 | No comments | Series:

Churchian Dragons are among us.

By that term I mean not false Christians, or ignorant Christians. I mean Christians who do practice discernment and seek excellence in other ways, mostly about spiritual things, Bible study, and church practice. But then they forget all that when it’s time to discern a Story.

Exactly opposite to Lewis’s “watchful dragons,” they permit only overtly “practical” religious Things, and suspect others of being at best useless. They will give some fiction authors safe passage, but only if they trust them for their beliefs and perceived  practical benefits. And they forget that a story’s true benefit comes not from it helping us make converts or modify behavior, but from it motivating us to enjoy God Himself.

It’s easy to give criticism — not so much to correct it. And even while correcting it, it’s also easy to slip into too much of an anti mindset. “Those darned legalists who can’t enjoy stories for their own value. …” In other words, the same attitude legalists practice: reactionary.

Here’s hoping this series conclusion doesn’t come across that way.

Instead, what happens should we come across a Churchian Dragon?

He stands in front of the gates to his church or home, eyes flaming, nostrils snorting steam.

You stand outside, with your stories, the focus of those glowing crimson eyes.

He’s let in C.S. Lewis, mainly because he heard somewhere that The Chronicles of Narnia is Good for the Children and it’s Allegory. Frank Peretti got in, mainly because he Showed How Important Spiritual Warfare Is. And others have bartered passage.

But you — you’re under suspicion. The Dragon doesn’t know you.

You could be one of those sorts who secretly despises Christians who sincerely wish to avoid the world. A heretic. At best a compromiser.

More likely, you’re one of those high-minded types who claim Story gives us more than “practical” benefits. But all the Dragon wants is a Thing to be exchanged for something “better”: converts, behavior, safety, helping the children.

The Dragon wants treasure. From many story advocates, he’s only gotten wood chips. “Trust me,” the wood-chip-tosser insists, “these are valuable. Just eat them and you’ll see!”

What we need, perhaps, is to give Dragons the “treasure” they seek. Just enough.

Enough to persuade them along the way that Story gives us even better treasures.

1. Be strongly Biblical.

O great Churchian Dragon, noble beast guarding thine sequestered lair, hold thy fire!

This author does not ignore the fact that many people abuse Story for causes that God hates.

And I do not suggest man’s explorations of truth and beauty are equal to God’s Word.

Rather, I remind you that in Scripture, God Himself encourages us to use imagination to enjoy and delight in Him. Explicitly, He commanded His people to build a tabernacle in His honor, with artistic excellence. He also included Psalms, Proverbs, and other books that did not simply repeat the Law. These fleshed it out, explored it, and expressed love and delight in God, and included honest portrayals of our struggles to understand and love Him.

God did give us His revelation in a form that certainly does include information, legal codes, doctrine exposition, and moral exhortation. But implicitly, all that serves the greatest Epic Story, with Himself as the main character and the Gospel as the plot, told and shown.

This isn’t useless accoutrement, O Dragon. It is useful. Sharing stories is, in fact, Biblical.

If you doubt me, look at how I’ve lived and what I’ve said, for I also wish to honor our King.

2. Praise true pragmatism.

O Dragon, this visionary author does not offer “try this and see if it works for you,” for vague reasons. Rather, he gently asks you: have you defined “what works” apart from the Bible?

(Brief break in character.) Previously I rejected many Christians’ reasons for reading fiction (if they do) because they’re based on moralistic pragmatism. Let that not be confused for an objection to any kind of pragmatism, or arguing for frivolity. Rather, I am a pragmatist.

I merely suggest that we need to define pragmatism how Scripture, not tradition, defines it.

Many Christians have wrongly defined pragmatism as “whatever works to give us more and better Christians.” They want the result. So they simply ignore, or at best assume, the source and the “chief end of man.” But our mission not just a pyramid scheme to get more converts.

Yes, evangelism and morality are vital. But we don’t need to keep telling ourselves “go witness” or “be good,” or only read books repeating that, if we have lost ourselves to be enamored with God Himself, enjoying Him. The good results naturally follow.

You see your sin as more disgusting than you ever would have thought. And it’s in between you and God. So the sin has to go. Who would choose filth when confronted with diamonds?

Of course, we would, were it not for this splendorous, infinite God Himself saving us.

3. Encourage existing Enjoyments.

O great Dragon, why turn your fire upon your humble visionary-novelist servant when other things that you enjoy, which have even less “practical” value, escape your blasts unscathed?

Everyone is already enjoying certain things anyway. These are things that Christians should reject, if they filtered them through the same wrongly defined pragmatism that keeps most visionary stories locked outside the Dragon-guarded gates.

After all, if you see no moralistic purpose in “fantastic” stories about things that aren’t real, why do you season your food?

Why have music in church, when only teaching would suffice? Or for that matter, you could forsake all other teaching and only read from Scripture?

And for those who do read fiction, but only about “realistic” subjects (such as books with Amish women on the covers who look forlorn, probably because someone forced them to wear eyeliner and blush to get their pictures taken for the covers), I ask: why do you need those? Why not blast thine fire upon them also?

I simply point out, most audacious Dragon, that your standards are not consistent.

Either declare all these Things worthless, and not fit for converting sinners or encouraging better behavior, and deny them all entrance. Or consider applying a more Biblical standard.

4. Earn Dragons’ trust by Telling.

Dragon, can we not be friends? You weary of taunts from those even claiming to be in your own caves, who decry thee as old-fashioned, fearful, provincial. Yet many of us are also weary of making the taunts, for reaction only is not helpful to any of us, nor is it sustainable.

Therefore, let us come and reason together.

And I offer my friendship, my help with the things you want.

Would you appreciate reassurance of my goal to honor God, not in “useless” or self-defined ways, but in the ways His Word claims we should honor him? That is what I offer you.

I will also endeavor to speak your language. If we storytellers can discuss knowing secular culture in order to reach it, surely we can also seek to know even the most “fundamentalist” cultures. We can learn how you think, do our best to help you with your goals, and show you Christ’s truth and love through our stories — even as we also try winsomely to persuade you to enjoy God personally through visionary tales.

Your children need good books? I will do my best to give them. They will include the values you love, yet for the motives you may neglect — that this gives us more of God to enjoy.

With you I will stand, in Biblical, local churches with all their flaws and oddities. I’ll agree with you on the sorry state of our world and even churches, bad entertainment these days, and our need to discern — so long as your criticisms are truthful and gracious.

Lord willing, you won’t hear legalism from me. You’ll hear love for you, the nonfiction truths you love, and yet also the gracious challenges that any Christian should give another.

5. Reach Dragons’ hearts with soul-winning stories.

Yet Dragon, I do not simply give you something that will help someone else. I desire to win souls with God-honoring stories. By that I mean not only “converting a non-Christian,” but winning over your soul, really your whole person, whom the Spirit has already saved.

I’ll also encourage you to see fiction-writing and all other “unspiritual” jobs as ministry.

Dragon, this may be familiar ground to you, but it is not for me. When I’m writing stories, I tend to think like a Gnostic. This is mere material. I use my head and my heart, running in the background, yet God isn’t personally interested in this. If He is not, then I must quit and do something else to honor Him. However, if He is, then it is false piety for me to act as if He checks out and rolls His eyes every time I go back to that novel work.

Stories can encourage us. In the best stories, we can see God. We see ourselves as we are, and how we should be. We see God’s beauties even in a fallen world.

With great stories, we glorify God and enjoy Him.

Noble dragon, may I enter?


What wrong “practical” notions do some Christians have, which they expect stories to fulfill?

Am I on-track to suggest these come from revivalistic, must-make-conversions assumptions?

Have you found that graciously addressing this wrong kind of pragmatism helps? Or do you use other ways of communicating how God, His truth and love, are honored in storytelling?

E. Stephen Burnett is coauthor of a nonfiction book about parenting and popular culture (title TBA), to release 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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Jenni Noordhoek

“…books with Amish women on the covers who look forlorn, probably because someone forced them to wear eyeliner and blush to get their pictures taken for the covers…”

I absolutely cracked up at this. (Not a fan of Amish/Mennonite womens fiction. XD)  

On-topic, I actually sometimes can be a churchian dragon even though I regularly refuse to write for the crowd. I question whether I should read anything that isn’t inherently ‘useful’ because I have an underlying expectation that it’s stupid to read things that don’t preach at me. I question whether I’m really being benefited by intaking secular works (i.e. the science fiction shows I like) because even though I’m learning things about how I view the world by comparing to how other people view the world (you run into so many interesting worldviews in secular works which are kinda fun to contrast with your own) … is it right to do it? That kind of thing.

So I’d say that a probably wrong practical notion that many Christians have is that the fiction needs to be beneficial in some way.

I don’t think it’s always from a conversion-heavy background, though. I think it’s from the assumption that you need to be practical and useful in order to be worth anything. (which can affect not only stories but also people. It’s pretty painful, and I’m questioning whether or not that’s a good assumption) 

And I usually just give up and go away when somebody’s being annoying. XD I don’t like causing fights and if somebody else doesn’t want to read/watch the stories I like, that’s their loss. XD  


Ditto on the Amish fiction.  Thanks for the tips.


I’m not sure if a drive for conversion is the source as far as books are concerned. It may have been once-upon-a-time, but today it just seems to be how they were taught and how it’s always been done. True critical pragmatic thought requires actual thinking. Energy and effort and time are needed. It’s not conversion of the lost they really care about (in their guardedness against fiction). They are caught in a worn trench of accepted normal. Easier to discard fiction in general than apply discernment. Most of those other areas where they seem to have a more healthy view of what is biblical can be engaged in passively, and less effort is needed in appropriate discernment. 

We can hear music and the lyrics and figure out pretty quickly if it is glorifying to God or guiding the foolish down the path of destruction. It is so much easier to watch a PG movie you are not completely sure of with your kids- experiencing it together and knowing you can talk about it together afterwards- than to read a story out-loud with a child who feels that is babyish because they know how to read and can do it faster on their own; or to try to read many books you have no personal interest in because you know your child is interested and wants to read it. If you haven’t read it yourself you can’t be sure to know what they are taking in, even if they do talk with you about the books.

So how does one know which authors to trust their children too? Cover art and synopsis? And there you have the Dragon’s dilemma. Easier to guard against the potential dangers in a story with magic, good witches, or whatever worldly agenda might be laced into it- than to make yourself read a book you are not really interested in and already biased against for the sake of your children… or accept another person’s evaluation of books. As far as many of these dragons concerned the treasure isn’t any material goods- it’s the minds of their children and even their own, that they are guarding against false teachings the only way they know how.

Our life schedules are so full these days. Reading is not the primary source of most people’s entertainment because it takes time and effort to get through a book. How much more effort to think about what you are reading while you are reading it? Especially if you never developed a love for reading when you were young, or if you’ve never learned how to discern what is good without setting your barriers out ridiculously far to insure safety.


I agree with all your points on writing for Christians by-the-way. Not arguing against any of that. I’m just questioning if we understand why the problem seems to be with fiction books as opposed to other media, and if these very good suggestions adequately satisfy the dragons to let the treasures I’m offering through. If it’s really not about whether fiction is seen as beneficial, but more about how do I monitor and discern the content of fiction without actually reading it? – then are there other things we can do to help the dragons out? like maybe develop a rating system endorsed by trusted authorities? Put a gold foil sticker of approval on anything that passes the biblical criteria?

Kessie Carroll
Kessie Carroll

For myself, the best way I’ve found to filter books is by reading reviews of them on Amazon, both the good and the bad ones. But I imagine that option’s not available for everyone.


Negative reviews tend to upset me, as they often seem to be written in a very arrogant dismissive or insulting tone. Their harsh words stick with me some time whether I decide to read the book or not. And if I do- and like it as much as I tend to do with books I’ve taken the time to pick out- those negative words come back to haunt me… but now it’s personal, because they’ve also insulted anyone who could enjoy such writing and now that includes me. Just give me the facts please and thank-you. Is there such a thing? Or is it all too hopelessly subjective?

I so wish there was a Pandora (the on-line radio, not the box or the jewelry) style system for books. That it would take hundreds of factual qualities about stories, and then you could search for books by inputting a story or author you already know you like, and it would generate a suggestion list.

I know Amazon sort-of but not really tries to do this- but there it’s based on what people purchase together- not on actual qualities of the books themselves. Goodreads is now claiming to do this based on how members have rated the books they’ve read and how that compares to what you have read… sounds like a better system than Amazon but I haven’t tried it yet (just found out about it today)- maybe someday someone will try my idea, but I am aware it would be insanely time consuming to create such a database as I’ve suggested.

Kessie Carroll
Kessie Carroll

I think Patrick makes a good point, about parents having major filters in place to protect their kids, or they are “caught in a worn trench of accepted normal”. 
Which, of course, means they’ll keep reading rehashes of the same historical romance novels and ignoring the edgier stuff, like Dekker and Brouwer.
But as someone pointed out (I can’t remember who, sorry) pointed out that homeschooler kids are both reading and writing fantasy and science fiction, and a whole crop of them are reaching adult age. I’m one, myself. We want more, and it’s hard to find in Christian markets.
Or it’s written by Gilbert Morris. /needlessvenom
So I think that all the adult spec fic authors should keep on cranking out books and honing their craft, because there’s a bunch of young adults out there who are looking for something good. And as dragons go, they’re small, hot, hungry ones who will try all kinds of things, looking for treasure. At least, I know I am.
Now I’ll keep reading this book Aberat by Clive Barker. 😀


Ahem. Who is Gilbert Morris?
And now…
Stephen: kindly evaluate any one or all of the first 4 Harry Potter books using your rubric above. (I’ve only read the first four, so cannot compare ratings on any past that.)
I await your evaluation with high anticipation!

Kessie Carroll
Kessie Carroll

I don’t know if Gilbert Morris is still around, but ten or so years ago, he was writing Christian kids fiction. I picked up his 10+ book fantasy series and my brother picked up his 10+ book Civil War series.
Book 1 was excellent. Book 2 almost as good. By book 10, it’s a mindless slog through pages of boring characters, flat, predictable plot. All the books had the same formula. They just had different settings and fantastic cover art. The first book was always awesome. And by the last book, you’re cursing your choice to spend $15 on each of the 10 books.

Leam Hall

I like being a dragon, it explains the caustic attitude and bad morning breath.
On the other hand, I am easily depressed by world events and all the bad news of the day. When I read a novel I want to be encouraged to be deeper, more loving, and less ambivilant. If I wanted more depression I’d head back to reality and watch television. 
Well, scratch that last bit, we got rid of our television some years ago and are happier. We’re selective about our books from a “worthwhile investment of time” perspective. While a good Christian author with a good book is preferable I’ll read Ludlum even though he can’t seem to keep his facts straight. Good pacing though. I doubt you really need a rating system that’s overly detailed. Sort your friends by genre-preference and when they find a book they really enjoy have them send out a note on it. Utilize social media, don’t spend too much time on books you wouldn’t suggest a friend read, and see what happens.
As is there seem to be lots of Christians writing in many genres. However, as a neophyte writer I have no idea how to find them or how to find recommendations on them. If you can overcome that problem you will have made a big step forward for the entire community.

Nikole Hahn

I’m a recovering churchian dragon.I used to jump on the bandwagon with other Christians about books like Harry Potter, while I read Grimms Fairy Tales. Yes, I was also a hypocrite. Now I see how Christian speculative fiction holds much value. In fact, I write it because I have always loved fantasy. It’s always been in my love–this longing for another world.