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The Obscurity Of ‘purity’ and Christ-honoring Art, Part III

“I hope to finish this series by outlining some Biblically based starter concepts, as best I can, next week.” That’s what I said more than three months ago. But I haven’t posted a thing to Speculative Faith at all in […]
| Jan 8, 2009 | No comments |

“I hope to finish this series by outlining some Biblically based starter concepts, as best I can, next week.” That’s what I said more than three months ago. But I haven’t posted a thing to Speculative Faith at all in between, and that just makes me feel annoyed with myself.

But I suppose I can be glad for the delay. Maybe I can write more effectively about this issue now than I could have before!

My first part of the series dealt with the view that seems the least popular in American Christendom: the legalistic idea that Christians should avoid “bad” stuff and think only about wholesome and inoffensive things. I say that’s the least popular view, given the state of the western Church nowadays, and I kind of cheated writing about it because taking a stand against legalism is very popular (and, dare I say, too easy).

But as I wrote in part 2, some professing Christians head to the opposite extreme: the idea that media choices can’t really affect us, so we can exposure ourselves to all the R-rated crap we like. After all, to think otherwise would be Legalistic, and we don’t want to be like that, right?

In response, I’m offering (Lord willing) a more Biblically balanced view. In the last column, I touched on many Scriptures relating to what we put into our minds and suggested that the Apostle Paul didn’t suggest Christians avoid exposure to all kinds of evil, such as violence or curse words, because they would hurt us or allow the Devil to have “footholds.” Instead, he asked, Would whatever it is glorify God? And he did have a lot to say about avoiding sexual immorality in particular — which is one of the easier sins by which to be tempted in media.

Now I hope to continue this concept, and outline ways this especially affects writers and readers/viewers of the speculative faith-fiction genres.

Bad news comes first

Some weeks ago, I was telling someone about a Star Trek: Voyager episode I had recently viewed. In “The Killing Game,” aliens called Hirogen have taken over the lone starship. The creatures’ culture emphasizes hunting others above everything else, and they’ve brainwashed some of Voyager’s crew members into believing the crew is part of a holodeck story involving French villagers trying to resist Nazis. (The story ends spectacularly, with holographic Klingons from another simulation battling aliens and Nazis alike.)

At one point in the story, one of the holographic Nazi characters is extolling the grandeur of Hilter’s Third Reich. “No one can deny us, no power on Earth or beyond,” he proclaims with stern Aryan arrogance. “Not the Christian Savior, not the God of the Jews. We are driven by the very force that gives life to the Universe itself.”

Apart from being one of the rare mentions of God, much less Christ, on Star Trek, I simply needed to pause the DVD at that point and recover. Whew. It took a moment to realize this was a picture of true history. There were, and still are, people who think this way. The program presented it for what it was: evil. And this was one of those moments in which I almost prayed for this character to be defeated, then realized my disbelief had been suspended quite high, and that my prayer could be redirected to reality instead.

In that moment, darkness was clear. But then, God and His truths seemed even clearer.

Someone might react with revulsion, though, wondering, How in the world could you stand hearing that? Such an objection is confusing to me. After all, Scripture is full of blasphemous statements, too — if taken out of context. Psalm 14:1 says, “There is no God,” then rebuts it. Ecclesiastes is full of philosophical wanderings that often resemble stream-of-conscious thoughts, and just as often seem to deny God. False doctrines in the church are frequently echoed in the epistles, then refuted and crushed by the Truth.

Moreover, the whole Bible is structured around this example, and I wish many Christians — on both the “legalistic” and “cheap grace” sides — would see that better. How we echo the Gospel, both in fiction and “nonfiction” ways, is strongly affected by our starting points. Do we begin with the good news first, or the bad news?

A Biblical balance of Grace and Truth

Both all-good-news and all-bad-news kinds of “Christianity” (or real Christianity affected by false teachings) often try to overcorrect the other extreme. People who’ve been exposed to “too much truth,” and not enough love and mercy, swerve the opposite way and try to grab more grace, and those who’ve lived their lives with “too much grace,” and few reminders of truth, head the other direction and overdose on truth.

Author Randy Alcorn has a great little book about this — The Grace and Truth Paradox. It’s small, less than 100 pages, with a very simple message: Christ as the Word came to bring both grace and truth, and Christians need to embrace the same.

It’s such a simple message, of course, that many Christians miss it in their “nonfiction” lives. I maintain we need to put both grace and truth in our fiction, too.

Sure, those who’ve been overexposed to either legalistic or libertarian mutations of “Christianity” may need to receive more teaching about either God’s grace or His truth. But the best solution is to include both in balance in our fiction writing and reading. That will help prevent overcorrection into one error or the other, and thus a lack of emphasis on God at the center, not just Avoiding the Other Error Which is The Worst Error of All.

To do otherwise is to fall into an age-old trap, as C.S. Lewis observed:

[The Devil] always sends errors into the world in pairs — pairs of opposites. And he always encourages us to spend a lot of time thinking which is the worse. You see why, of course? He relies on your extra dislike of the one error to draw you gradually into the opposite one. But do not let us be fooled. We have to keep our eyes on the goal and go straight through between both errors. We have no other concern than that with either of them.
C.S. Lewis, from Mere Christianity

Biblical starter concepts

So what’s the “best” way to balance grace and truth — and light and darkness, righteousness and recognition of this world’s evils — in fiction? I might condense my suggestions from this and my previous two columns, based on how the Bible itself balances these:

  • Avoid unrealistic views of the world and thinking about only pure things if you follow Christ. Bad things will happen. Sometimes we must get our hands dirty.
  • Recognize the world’s evils exist, and be as realistic as Scripture is, in your storytelling. But don’t focus on particular presentations of sin — especially sexual sins — so much as to titillate readers. (These standards vary, and it requires prayer, careful discernment and asking people questions to stay balanced.)
  • In echoing the Gospel, especially, skipping the bad news about human depravity is just as damaging as skipping the good news about grace and love. Make sure a Biblical balance is included — focusing on Scriptural truth and grace, and not just overcorrecting the perceived extreme of one or the other.
  • Most importantly, I would suggest: maintain your own exposure to Biblically balanced nonfiction about good and evil, truth and grace, light and darkness, spiritual safety and taking risks in the name of the Kingdom. I think that if we are overexposed to “cutesy Christianity,” both our spiritual growth and capacities to withstand evil will be stunted. At the same time, overexposure to blood-and-guts truths of the world not only leads to depression about sin’s presence, but temptation to give in to those evils, forgetting that God will win.

I would add to that last that growing in balanced, in-depth study of Scripture and nonfiction works about the Bible are helpful to Christian authors for many other reasons. Some of those I might elaborate upon in a future column. But I think I’d like to write something about “Scripture, superheroes and human sin nature” first!

So there it is — at long last, the complete The obscurity of ‘purity’ and Christ-honoring art column series on Speculative Faith. I hope it was helpful, and I’d love to hear any reactions about this or the previous two columns. Soli Deo gloria!

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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