It can be hard to define what makes fiction Christian. So let’s define, instead, what doesn’t make fiction Christian. These are things that might come from a Christian worldview, or have Christian meaning … but not necessarily. Let’s begin with …
Christian symbols such as crosses or churches; warding off vampires with holy water or crucifixes; fighting demons with Catholic rites, Latin phrases, holy water, crucifixes, etc. Symbols can be divorced from their original meaning, and Christianity has, if I may put it this way, entered into the lore of vampires and demons. Modern writers who draw upon the lore of these mythical creatures may employ the Christian bits in it, but these bits do not always carry either Christian truth or a Christian spirit. Elements of Christianity may be cut off from the whole of Christianity, and then they are fractured and dead, like branches cut off from a vine. A crucifix or those impressive Latin phrases can even be used in a magical or superstitious way, spiritual power that comes from things rather than God.
To bring the issue into greater clarity, consider how superstition and pagan beliefs are entwined in the lore of many fantasy creatures, from elves to centaurs. Warding off an elf with iron doesn’t make a book superstitious, and warding off a vampire with a crucifix doesn’t make a book Christian.
The resurrection of a character, however heroic or powerful. I’ve heard of a lot of Christ-figures in famous fantasy, whether Gandalf or Harry Potter or Aslan. They usually aren’t; Aslan is the exception that proves the rule. A heroic death, followed by resurrection, holds scant parallel to Christ’s death and resurrection. In the first place, the evil Christ died to save us from was our own; this is rarely echoed even in fantasy’s heroic deaths. In the second, there is nothing extraordinary about resurrection in science fiction and especially in fantasy. Characters in fantasy novels are like witches in Narnia: You can always get them back.
“Clean” content. I am almost reluctant to offer this one, because I would hate to sound like one of those people who bash the very idea of clean content. I still offer it, because it’s true. Clean content is defined by what isn’t there. An absence is often a very good thing – I personally have had houseguests who made me feel this with conviction – but it is by definition negative. For a book or movie to be Christian, an actual presence is required, a positive thing.
Good values; or, basic human decency. This appears to be closely related to the last, but curiously enough, these two are often deployed by different crowds. It is applied to children’s movies and to adult-oriented Hollywood flicks alike. In the second scenario, the “good values” argument goes like this: The movie may be nakedly secular in its philosophy, with crowd-pleasing violence and routine abuse of God’s name, but it shows approval of courage or friendship, or disapproval of disloyalty or cruelty. And these are all, of course, good and true things. They are also such fundamental, and such common, decency that possession of them is moral sanity. They do not make a work Christian.
The common thread in all of this is that none of these things are, in themselves, bad; they’re just not enough. A Christian book or movie is not one that avoids enough bad content, or espouses the sort of virtues that even hypocrites and sociopaths pay lip service to. It’s not even one that possesses Christian forms or symbols. A Christian book or movie goes beyond all this to something hard to define because it is hard to quantify – a certain spirit, a certain meaning.