More Christian fans of fantastical stories are getting disillusioned about sharing these with other Christians and the world. Therefore a first step to resolving this is to recognize our need for Christ’s Church in its God-given mission.
I thought saying this would bring challenges and objections, and I wasn’t kiddin’.
When I suggest, “We cannot take great, God-exalting beauties and truths (including stories) straight from individual Christians to the world by skipping over his organized Church,” and then, “It’s time to start asking the capital-C Church of Christ’s people how we can best help them,” there are some things I mean and things I don’t mean.
1. So should we ask church people what stories we can write for them?
No. That’s not my meaning for at least two reasons.
First, I’m addressing primarily fans of fantastical stories, then creators/producers of such stories first in their capacity as fans. When I suggested, “[ask] what [church friends] need from you as a fantastical fan or as an author,” this left the door open for the perennial view that Christian fantasy authors get things done mainly by writing fantastical stories, not mainly by enjoying and sharing fantastical stories (first others’, and then their own).
Second, as several commentators pointed out, many Christians in biblical local churches — which are part of the capital-C Church — have confused or incorrect views about what stories must do. These views include a) the “guilty pleasure” approach, in which Christians enjoy fantastical stories but feel others would condemn them, b) the “it’s all evil” approach.
Asking “What can I write for you (or folks like you)?” doesn’t address these core challenges.
2. What if my local church doesn’t get fantastical stories and songs?
Some SpecFaith friends said they could never share their love for fantastical stories in the local churches they know, without severe awkwardness or even spiritual condemnation.
In short this objection goes: My church friends don’t get fantasy or don’t get my love for it.
The solution starts with this: Yes. Yes, they actually do. They just don’t know it yet.
Their Book is full of fantasy. Their Gospel — the main Story of the book — is the ultimate “monomyth” in which a humble Hero on an epic quest trains, helps others, dies, then in a stunning plot twist slays the dragon anyway, returns to life and secures ultimate victory.
Alongside the Gospel the Book includes amazing miracles, ancient cultures, battles, and the fate of nations and ultimately the world. And ours is a religious faith grounded in all of this.
Fans may start planned “subversion” efforts by asking God to give you excitement for the Bible’s ultimate fantastical (yet true) Story of the Gospel. Then for church friends, we can draw more attention to the Bible’s most fantastical and strangest portions. Geek out over Jesus’s salvation, Moses’s miracles, Elijah’s taunts, Ezekiel’s visions. You might even start to work in some careful comparisons to pop-culture heroes who remind you of biblical truths. Even in healthful environments some people will give you odd looks. But that might not last as more people gradually realize you’re serious about being a geek about other stories and heroes so that you can better fulfill your chief end of loving the Gospel and the Hero Jesus.
3. What if my church stinks about building real-world friendships at all?
Other SpecFaith friends said the problem is even worse than “my church friends don’t get this part of me.” Instead their church is the sort in which they — or people altogether — are not even growing organized yet natural relationships in Christ. It’s all a big machine.
I wish I could offer some excuse or “prosperity gospel”-style formula to fix such situations.
I might suggest that sometimes people are more awkward in group situations, or certain religious environments, for other reasons besides “they are just rude and closed-off.”
But that’s not an excuse; it’s a mark of immaturity. Christ’s people must love one another in a diverse Body of Christ (the global Church) as organized into biblical local bodies of Christ (local churches). One-another love means learning and living and worshiping with people who enjoy all kinds of different things so far as they’re not actually sins.
If someone in a church enjoys fantastical stories (or doesn’t enjoy them), and gets the cold shoulder — e.g., worse than mere misunderstanding — that’s a sin.
All I can say is that I’m deeply sorry about and for churches where that happens.
This goes beyond the scope of this article, but one organization’s suggested “nine marks of a healthy church” does not include “The Right Views on popular culture and/or fantastical stories.” However, those nine marks do include biblical preaching/teaching and church membership with loving accountability — all based on the Gospel, the Story of the Bible that Jesus Christ saves and grows sinners. These biblical requirements will naturally lead to growth in love among diverse people, along with more-biblical views on stories and songs.
What if a church doesn’t care about Gospel-centered teaching, membership and all the rest?
In some cases Christians may need to seek other churches if they’re available. Our reason ought not be, “Because they don’t get the stories I love.” Our reason ought to be, “Because this church from the top down doesn’t get the Gospel, the Story of the Savior Whom I love.”
In other cases Christians may need to work with what they have, even in churches that don’t (yet) really care for the Gospel Story. This is annoying, but part of living in a groaning age in which the Church and local churches aren’t yet what they ought to be. For God’s sake —not first for geekhood’s sake — make do with your own Bible study, internet ministries, online sermons, and relationships with people who do want to regard the Gospel highly.
And in other cases, a church may be seeking Gospel-centeredness but its members don’t yet smile (even with amusement) on geeky Christians. Now the task becomes greater: You are on a quest in strange territory. Time to prove your devotion to Christ and find out how you can serve this tradition-laden land and earn people’s trust. Or as Michelle R. Wood said:
I’ve always found in any organization that work talks louder than talk. Be integrated into the church through ministry: offer to teach, offer to serve, offer in whatever way you can. Trust me, there is not a church on this planet (or nonprofit for that matter) that will turn away a dedicated volunteer. People are far more willing to listen and work with you when you’ve shown you’re willing to listen and work with them.
And you may be surprised what you find once you peel back the surface and really start talking to people, including the fact that they’re already fans to begin with.
Again, this may not always work. And in that case, you’re more than welcome to share your stories here and find community empathy and support.
Next week: Geeky fans sometimes do find a place in a local church and can begin to share the stories they love. It happened to me, anyway, and I hope to share some of my own story.