In October we took four weeks exploring some of the whys of evangelism. We invited guest writers to help explore the topic, and heard from a variety of perspectives.
Now it’s time for a shift. What “story evangelism” is actually in Christian novels, especially fantastical stories? What do we like? Not like? How could things be better? And what are some possible myths about “Christian fiction” as opposed to general fiction?
Austin, I’d like to start by sharing possible myths about Christian stories and evangelism.
The first myth may be that Christian stories spend all or most of their time John 3:16-ing the reader. No, they don’t.
Evidence? I think we agree that Frank Peretti’s novels—the angels-and-demons-and-men kind—are awesome. That’s not because those stories do not include the gospel preached. Of course they do. But in the Perettiverse the gospel is 100 percent assumed. God is real. Jesus lived, died, and resurrected. Angels are real. Demons are real and can get you.
The entire story is “evangelizing” you by presuming this is the state of reality.
Eventually Peretti gets to a conversion: once near the end of This Present Darkness, and once as the focal point of Piercing the Darkness. But the words are decoration for images.
I haven’t read many other Christian novels that use John 3:16-style “preaching” or conversion scenes as anything more than garnish, if they appear at all.
The second myth may be that Christian novels usually spell out the gospel. Often they don’t.
Plenty of the novels I’ve seen or read assume the gospel is real, yes. But then off the gospel goes to be another part of the story’s foundation, along with the understandable rules that Characters Shalt Not Be Seen Going to the Restroom.
E.g., going to the restroom happens, but off-camera. Such a scene would interfere with the story (and stories are most “realistic” when they show reality that has been “edited”).
Even a novel or series themed around specific Christian themes does not spell out the gospel. Steve Rzasa’s The Face of the Deep series explores the Bible and the reemergence of faith in a spacefaring culture. The story cites Scripture texts but does not spell out the gospel. It’s more about the characters and conflicts the Bible provokes.
This is why I crack up when atheists complain about Christian-authored novels and their supposed hyper-religious content. Most of the time the real “offenses” aren’t even there.
The third myth is that Christian novels only evangelize about “conservative” causes such as opposition to abortion, biblical sexual morality, or the goodness of America. Wrong again.
Right now I am reading a Bill Myers contemporary/sci-fi novel I haven’t read in years called Soul Tracker. It’s about David Kauffman, a non-Christian novelist1 whose daughter dies under mysterious circumstances, which turn out to include a shadowy corporation and a virtual-reality near-death simulator.
In Soul Tracker, Myers touches on life-and-death themes. He might mention abortion once.2 Early in the story he also includes a clear gospel presentation. And he tags a couple of hot topics such as homosexual practice and politicians who despise Christians.
But from there he veers into a surprising subject: the notion of Christians who are so fixated on “truth” that they are not showing unrestrained love for drug addicts, homosexuals and society’s despised.3
In fact, it almost—almost—becomes an uncomfortable level of telling-not-showing. Some characters get “preachy” about how loving God is and how much he respects free will, etc. It’s enough to give you and me, a couple of Reformed or Reformedish chaps, a bad case of the doctrinal grimaces. But hey, it’s not our story, it’s Myers’. Overall I’ve enjoyed it.
So if a person wants to complain about Christians supposedly “evangelizing” not just about the gospel but about only “conservative” issues, that person is actually behind evangelicals on this. We already have books that “evangelize” strongly about “progressive” things.
That is only a start. Your turn again. More myths? Or else legit complaints about Christian novel “evangelism”? And how can this help us find and enjoy better stories? Onward!
- I still don’t know why books sometimes feature heroes who are novelists. It does not seem to aid the plot or add much to the character. ↩
- Possibly that was just my interpretation because of one theme that is incidentally reflected in the Planned Parenthood videos. ↩
- The story actually deals in some stereotypes, including a hypocritical political leader who utters the words “taco-eating queer.” Either this is over-the-top or else exactly the cheesy, uncreative slurs some people do say. ↩