In “Art and Evangelism” I stated
We writers don’t have to incorporate all Truth into our stories because, above all else, we can’t.
Instead, we can give our own feeble glimpse of God’s work or nature in order to contribute some small addition to the reader’s knowledge of our great God.
As one of our commenters pointed out, this type of fiction which doesn’t put Jesus front and center may not impact an unsaved reader the way, say, a Billy Graham crusade would.
But clearly, not every non-Christian is ready to receive the message of humankind’s fall, lost state, need of salvation, and rescue by a loving God through the blood of His precious Son. Something intervening takes place to bring a lost soul to the place where he is willing to listen to the salvation message.
Louie Zamperini, the subject of the movie Unbroken, comes to mind. When he returned to the US from the prisoner of war camp after World War II, he experienced all the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, at the time an unrecognized consequence of living through something as horrific as Louie had gone through.
Though he had made death-bed-type promises to God during his ordeal on the ocean and in the Japanese camp, he experienced recurring nightmares and fell into a life of alcohol abuse.
Nightmares began in prison camp and plagued Zamperini long after he returned home to California.
“The nightmares were every night,” he said. “I couldn’t get rid of it.”
Time wasn’t healing his wounds; it was making them worse. One night Zamperini dreamed he was strangling the Bird [the abusive commander of his prisoner of war camp]. Instead, he woke up strangling his wife. Scared and desperate, he started getting drunk to forget about the horrors that plagued him.
With her husband out drinking every night, Zamperini’s wife Cynthia filed for divorce. After surviving so much, Zamperini was about to lose everything. (“After ‘Unbroken’: Billy Graham and Louis Zamperini” by Kristy Etheridge
Four years after returning to the US and on the brink of personal disaster, Louie went to a Billy Graham crusade and accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior. He recounted the event:
And then Billy was quoting another verse from the Bible that gave me my answer: “If thou shalt confess with thy heart,” you know, “with thy mouth, and believe in thine heart that God would raise Him from the dead thou shalt be saved.” [Romans 10:9] Well, I knew then it had to be a heart belief, you know, besides the head. And so I knew, I knew, what I should do but I didn’t want to do it, because I…I…I felt that…well, I felt that if I made a decision that I’d be the biggest hypocrite in the world because I knew I couldn’t live a Christian life. But then other things were said that I grabbed on to at the meeting about the Lord upholding me with the right hand of His righteousness. I thought, “Well, if I had help, maybe I could make it.” And then…I was ready to leave the tent. I got to the main aisle when Billy began to say things like that and mentioned something about the Lord helping us. And I thought, “Well, if I had help maybe if I can make it.” It was then I turned to the right, went back to the prayer room and made my confession of faith in Christ. And then, boy, it was a complete turnabout. (Interview with Louis Zamperini by Dr. Lois Ferm on May 16, 1976)
But what prompted Louie to go to an evangelistic crusade in the first place? The soil of his heart had been prepared when he was a teen, his adversity brought him to an end of himself, but he needed something to prompt him to look to God for his answers.
In short, his wife persuaded him. She was the catalyst that moved him, and God used His Word and the preaching of a man to open Louie’s blind eyes.
When my father [Billy Graham] invited people to turn their lives over to Jesus Christ, [Louie’s wife] responded by accepting Him as her Lord and Savior. That night Cynthia informed Louie that because of this decision she had made, she would not divorce him.
Louie was thrilled. Though he was skeptical of her religious experience, he began to see changes in her. (“After ‘Unbroken’: The remarkable story of Louis Zamperini’s faith,” Franklin Graham)
Soon after Cynthia persuaded Louie to attend the crusade himself.
God can use a spouse, a neighbor, a TV show, a painting, a novel—whatever He chooses—to prepare a person’s heart or to prod him to a place where he hears the gospel.
Fiction might also lay out the plan of salvation, and some may respond. But in this post-Christian era perhaps the novels that can be most effective are those that prep ground, do the in-between work, or serve as the catalyst to bring someone to a place where they can hear the clear teaching of God’s word.
A type is “a person or thing symbolizing or exemplifying the ideal or defining characteristics of something.” For those who don’t know about the sacrifice Jesus made for the sins of the world, they might most need to read about a person exemplifying such a sacrifice. Same with any number of other things that define Christianity—a sovereign God who loves unconditionally, humans who fell from grace, just judgment for disobedience, and so on.
Too many Christian writers see their role as that of the teachers. Certainly incorporating the gospel into a story is not wrong, but neither is it the only way a story can be Christian.
Writers and readers alike need to understand that God can use a story in the process of evangelism. Louie Zamperini’s own true story has impacted thousands of people. So might Christian speculative novels that introduce readers to the characteristics of the Christian faith through the use of types.