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Why Don’t Christian Writers Speculate According To Scripture?

We have an infallible, Spirit-inspired revelation of God’s work in the world from the beginning of creation. Why, then, don’t we Christian speculative writers more often take what we know from the Bible and speculate on what the world might look like?
| Apr 14, 2014 | 53 comments |

The_Holy_BibleI’ve long contended that Christians can and should include spiritual truth—theology, if you will—in our stories. At the same time, I believe truth about God ought to open up our imaginations as we grasp the ramifications of a world ruled by a sovereign God who can do the impossible.

We also have an infallible, Spirit-inspired revelation of God’s work in the world from the beginning of creation. Why, then, don’t we Christian speculative writers more often take what we know from the Bible and speculate on what the world might look like?

I know, some have. We’ve certainly seen a good deal of speculation about angels and demons and Nephilim. But I’m thinking, for example, more along the lines of what the world as a whole once looked like in light of what Genesis says.

Some writers, such as Brian Godawa, have taken particular people from the pages of Scripture and speculated about their lives and the world in which they live. That’s not quit what I’m suggesting, though. Rather, I’m wondering if we couldn’t imagine the world the way the Bible describes it, and use that as a basis for our stories.

For instance, what would the world look like if people lived to be 900 years old? How would that affect society? What might a person be able to learn in 900 years? Stories with this idea as a basis wouldn’t be Biblical fiction. They would be utilizing a fact Scripture revealed as once true of our world.

Here are a few others: What did the world look like that caused God to say, “Nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them”? What would the world have been like with one language? With only one large land mass? What would it be like to live in a temperate climate year round, with no rain?

What would it be like to hear God’s voice? To have Him warn against sin crouching at the door, to have Him ask, Where’s your brother?

What would it be like to have the earth divide into continents? To have someone violate God’s created order and take a second wife? To have someone live a righteous life and to disappear because he’d been taken away by God?

Understand, I’m not actually advocating for more speculative Biblical fiction. Rather, I’m suggesting that the Bible shows us things that are beyond the accepted norm. However, instead of using those in our stories, we tend to accept what we learn from secular history books and scientific theory, and make the secular norm the groundwork for what we write.

Consequently, since archaeology has no evidence of an advanced early civilization that aimed to reach the heavens, and science theorizes that early man was primitive, having evolved from apes, we Christians think within those boxes rather than beyond them to the world pictured in Scripture.

Oh, sure, we may stand against the ape idea, but we still have early man living in primitive circumstances as Stephan Lawhead does in his imaginative and thought-provoking Bright Empires series.

But what if God’s creation of humans in His image meant that we had a greater capacity to think and create than we have now. I mean ten times greater. Or a hundred times greater?

Adam_and_Eve019What if humans could communicate with the animals? God gave Adam and Eve dominion over the rest of creation, after all. How were they to exercise this dominion if they essentially lived separate lives from the animals?

I’ll admit, some of my thinking on this topic has been sparked by how reviewers have reported the way the Noah movie depicted life on earth.

To be clear, I’ll say again, I don’t think we need a flood of new speculative Biblical fiction—a Christian version of Noah, for instance. That seems to be the knee-jerk reaction to things we Christians don’t like that come from secular pop-culture.

Rather, I’d like to see our approach to fiction broaden. I’d like to see us take the Bible seriously and ask more what if questions about Biblical history rather than secular history or scientific theory.

I’ll move my examples out of Genesis. Psalm 18, written by David, has an incredible verse about God’s response to David’s prayer for protection:

The the earth shook and quaked;
And the foundations of the mountains were trembling
And were shaken, because He was angry. (v 7)

What would the world be like if God answered every prayer by His people with that kind of judgment? What would that do to humankind’s understanding of Him? How would such a world be different from the one shown by the Greeks?

Maybe I’ve not read widely enough and Christians are writing these types of stories. If that’s the case, I hope readers will leave comments with the titles and authors of books that speculate grandly about the world the Bible shows.

Too often, however, when I see speculation about the world the Bible reveals, it revolves around something like half-angels.

It seems to me, those stories aren’t really using the world of the Bible but speculating about what would be if the world of the Bible was different from its revealed existence. That’s one type of speculation, certainly, and it does require imagination. But why aren’t we Christian writers doing more when we have such great source material?

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Michelle R. Wood
Member

Forgive me for potential facetiousness, Becky, but I’m not exactly sure what you’re asking for.

I’ve seen examples of everything you’ve listed; some examples that come to mind are Ice by Shane Johnson (due to spoilers I won’t say exactly which scenario it relates to) and Havah by Tosca Lee (God speaking directly to Adam and Eve). But it seems like you’re advocating for something beyond merely “fill out the biblical narrative;” in fact, some of the scenarios bandied about sound like clear alternative history possibilities, a world where the continents didn’t divide or mankind’s life wasn’t shortened.

Perhaps that’s where my confusion lies. On the one hand, “I don’t think we need a flood of new speculative Biblical fiction,” and on the other, “I’d like to see us take the Bible seriously and ask more what if questions about Biblical history rather than secular history or scientific theory.”

For starters, I don’t really understand the division between Biblical, secular, and scientific theory. Is there actually such a division? I think we both believe the Bible to be a true, accurate account of God’s work in His creation; therefore, the Biblical narrative is not relegated to the realm of ethereal spiritualism but also of the material world, which includes the arts and the sciences.

In truth, man may try to claim a secular existence but we as Christians believe God is master of all. As an example, did He truly have no impact on ancient China and America until Western missionaries arrived? Perhaps that’s the sort of speculation you’re after. But if I were to write an account of someone from ancient China having a spiritual journey towards Yahweh (something I’ve toyed with in sketches), it would necessarily be extra Biblical; that is, it would not occur within the context of the Bible’s stories, as we have no specific revelation from God on His doings outside of the Middle East for that period of time. Such a story would necessarily rely on the work of archeologists and cultural historians, which would involve understanding that nation’s culture and legends. I wonder, then, if such a work would be accused of being unbiblical and too reliant on secular source material.

As another example of my confusion (which I hope I’m communicating with the desire for dialogue that I intend), you write:

Psalm 18, written by David, has an incredible verse about God’s response to David’s prayer for protection:

    The the earth shook and quaked;
    And the foundations of the mountains were trembling
    And were shaken, because He was angry. (v 7)

What would the world be like if God answered every prayer by His people with that kind of judgment? What would that do to humankind’s understanding of Him? How would such a world be different from the one shown by the Greeks?

I don’t see how such a world would be different from the one posited by the Greeks. After all, they no problem simultaneously believing that lightening was caused by Zeus and that study of the natural world could explain it, or that mathematicians could theoretically measure the same world that Atlas held. Most ancient cultures grasped at religion and science in equal measures for daily living, neither one supplanting the other in their worldview. Our division of these two facets of life is more due to the Enlightenment and post-Modernism, which has led to the unfortunate belief that we can actually live without a spiritual element in our lives. That, more than anything, makes me leery of anything that attempts to separate faith from reality.

Leah Burchfiel
Member

I want to half-like this comment, because yes, there are things that exists that Becky is describing, or something like them. Heck, there was L’Engle’s take on the Noah story in that one book of hers whose title I can’t remember. A little (or a lot) WAT, but it was interesting.
On the flip side, pretty much no to everything else. I’m getting tired of being dragged behind the anti-science wagon because I’m culturally associated with creationists. #thisiswhywecan’thavenicethings
As for the God-in-China thing, I dunno how well that would work. First of all, which period would we be talking about? Pre-Buddhist? Post-Buddhist? From my fuzzy memories of world lit class, I don’t think they had a concept of sin, between Daoism and Confucianism. Ethical and unethical behavior, yes, but not necessarily sin as in our definition. (Though I wonder if we put too much emphasis on sin ourselves.) And I wonder if Christianity translated to ancient Chinese terms looks mostly like Buddhism. Where’s a world religion professor when you need one?

D. M. Dutcher
Member

That was Many Waters, and yeah kind of WAT. I think they had mini mammoths in it or something. 

Michelle R. Wood
Member

On the flip side, pretty much no to everything else. I’m getting tired of being dragged behind the anti-science wagon because I’m culturally associated with creationists. #thisiswhywecan’thavenicethings

Just for clarification before I write more: did my comment come across as anti-science?

Leah Burchfiel
Member

Yes, yes it did.

For starters, I don’t really understand the division between Biblical, secular, and scientific theory. Is there actually such a division? I think we both believe the Bible to be a true, accurate account of God’s work in His creation; therefore, the Biblical narrative is not relegated to the realm of ethereal spiritualism but also of the material world, which includes the arts and the sciences.

That sounds very much like you fall in line with the six-dayers, and they are pretty much by definition anti-science, because science says “hahahaha–no” to that idea.

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

ROFLOLOLOL notleia. As if “science” is an actual physical human Grand Imperial Emperor who can “say” anything. #reificationfallacy 😉

Michelle R. Wood
Member

Stephen, I’m going to say this as someone who enjoys your posts and cares for you as a sibling in Christ: you’re criticizing notelia for using a common rhetorical device (personification) instead of addressing her concerns, which I do not believe is helpful to the discussion. We all know what she means, we have all used such a device, and I really don’t see how this comment furthers a conversation that I would hope can remain civil. Please take this comment in the spirit of love it is offered.

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

Point and the spirit with it taken, Michelle! For clarification, I can understand the metaphor (“science” = “the majority of scientists,” etc.), but I’m not sure everyone who uses this kind of shorthand does get this point. I also doubt that people understand scientists have biases just as much as any other human. Therefore we’re not really talking about a Platonic-ideal Science or Scientists; we’re talking about human beings who have religious beliefs and mixed-up worldviews and preferences and histories with certain religions and therefore reactions for or against them. Ergo my comment: intended to lead to the very same more-formal followup that I just gave away. 🙂

Michelle R. Wood
Member

First, notleia, thanks for your thoughts on my story idea. To answer at least one of your questions, it would have been pre-Buddha, in very ancient times. The nature of sin is something for an entirely different post and discussion, which I won’t take up more room on this thread to discuss at this time.
 
Second, please see my responses to Stephen and Becky (yes, that big wall of text without spaces: sorry for that, my computer froze before I could edit the comment to add them).
 
Third, thank you for letting me know how my comment came across to you. I did not mean to express that sentiment, and I am always open to critique on how I can communicate better.
 
Finally, to the meat of the matter: I took the time before answering you to respond to both Becky and Stephen first, to show you that I do not wish to mock you or disparage you. You are a person, and I believe I am called by God to love and respect all. I believe we have a special obligation to be show love and respect to our brothers and sisters in Christ, which I try to do even when I disagree with them, the same way I do for my biological siblings. I have never met Becky or Stephen in person, but have engaged in many conversations with them virtually, and come to deep affection for them both due to their work here. We have not always agreed on everything, but have always found common ground in our commitment to Christ and love for Him and His Church. I have found the majority of people on Speculative Faith to be like-minded in that sense, going out of their way to show grace and curtsey to all.
 
I’ll admit, notelia, the first time I saw a comment by you on this blog, I thought you were simply a troll. It appeared you were only interested in beating down others. I have since seen that such a description is too limited and that you are able to express opinions outside of that narrow description. That being said, I find your constant need to make every topic of conversation about your particular issue (creation, specifically “six-dayers”) exhausting. As you interpreted me by my comments, I must interpret you by yours, and it appears you have a definite axe to grind against that community; when one has such an outlook, every topic becomes a tree. I am also wearied by your lack of grace for those who disagree with you. I am not a “six-dayer,” but that does not mean I summarily dismiss such people out of hand, in the same sense that I do not accuse people who believe in theistic evolution of unbelief.
 
You may note that I have not told you what I believe on the matter of God’s creation. That is because such a conversation is really tangential to both Becky’s original topic and my response, and yet you leapt on that as the overwhelming gist of the conversation, sidetracking this thread into a realm it didn’t try to address. Regardless of your intentions, that behavior is by definition trolling. I don’t like it. It’s unfair to Becky or the others trying to discuss the actual topic at hand. Therefore I will not devote any more space on this thread toward explaining myself or my beliefs: it’s not the right venue for that discussion.
 
I have never known Speculative Faith to deny anyone a voice: if you feel so strongly about this topic, I suggest you ask permission to write a post or series on it here, or even elsewhere at a forum of your choice, where we could better understand your feelings on the matter and engage with you. In such an event, or in a private conversation, I will be more than happy to engage in a discussion on the scientific merits of current evolutionary theory and its place within my theological understanding of the Bible.

Leah Burchfiel
Member

Oh, believe me, I’ve questioned why I even come here in the first place if I end up disagreeing with roughly half of the content, but I’ve come to think that I occupy a valuable space in being the (often lone) dissenting opinion, because I don’t think Christianity is defined by being conservative and/or literalist. Otherwise I would peace the shell out of this website — and probably the whole of Christianity. (I don’t mean that as a threat, I mean that as in “the Spirit is leading me” kind of thing, though that’s a really, really weird and contradictory way to put it.)

I say “anti-science” because that’s how it looks to me, though I try to distinguish between the six-day literalists (with whom I’m losing patience, sorrynotsorry) and the more flexible (and, to me, more reasonable) Intelligent Designers who can accept the things that come out of mainstream scientists’ mouths without making sounds like disgruntled sugar gliders, except without the cute factor.

Robert Mullin
Member

Notleia, I understand your position. There are plenty of people out there who use completely unscientific support for their literal interpretation of scripture. On the flip side, there are plenty of people out there who use completely unscientific support for their belief in evolution. Fanaticism is not a partisan issue, I’m afraid.

However, it might surprise you to realize that there are actually quite a few scientists who believe in a six-day creation. I would highly encourage you to look into publications like the Creation Research Society Quarterly (of which I am an editor) or even the Answers Research Journal, both of which feature peer-reviewed articles by scientists. The whole “religion vs. science” debate has been wrongly framed from the outset; when it comes to origins, all views are inherently religious, because while you can make feasibility models and predictions, you cannot actually witness the past. Just because one view is naturalist and one is supernaturalist in no way changes the fact that when it comes to origins, all we have is speculation.

David Bergsland
Guest

I will not be quoting scripture in my next book because I have an alternative scripture which is my own paraphrase of the Bible. I’m on a separate world with it’s own rules because I want to avoid like the plague doctrinal issues, denominational ridiculousness, and so on. Hopefully, the reader will be able to easily apply the lives of the characters in the book to their lives today in the world. At least that’s the goal.
However, to actually use this world as a what-if scenario invites dismissal as a fundamentalist, pentecostal, charismatic, evangelical, baptist, catholic, Roman catholic, or whatever statement the character makes which might imply any of the above. Personally, I fit into all of the categories just listed. I’ve been a member or pastor of  all the listed churches [except Roman Catholic, but I was saved, reborn, & filled with the Spirit in a Roman Catholic Charismatic Bible study in the mid-1970s though I was still an Episcopalian back then]. In the present age, we need to step outside “reality” to make true reality more real and our message more potent.

Tim Frankovich
Guest
Tim Frankovich

Michelle, I also thought of Ice immediately. 
 
Others include The Genesis Trilogy by Kacy Barnett-Gramckow, and Cradleland Chronicles by Douglas Hirt. Both cover many of the topics listed in this posting.

D. M. Dutcher
Member

Time for a new writing challenge centered around this then Becky?
 
I think I get what you say. You want more real speculative fiction based on what-if’s inspired by the Bible. Like what if God was with nations, and he did things in the modern day that were equivalent to what He did with Jericho, knock the walls down. A lot of Christian SF is just the written equivalent of movie novels; not so much speculative as space opera and punch-em-outs. 
 
It could be done, but a lot of them might not be strong enough to make for a novel. Idea fiction is often better as short stories.

Alex Mellen
Member
Alex Mellen

I had a friend who imagined a world without women–Eve hadn’t been created, but other Biblical events were unfolding. He had a great story and might still try to publish it, but from talking to people, we realized he would basically lose half of any audience he tried to reach–the women.

Leah Burchfiel
Member

That might be worth exploring if it were handled right. No women, how is reproduction handled? Is God still doing to the dirt-to-man thing? Then that wipes out the concern about marriage, inheritance, and the vast, vast majority of the sex-related commandments. If they’re not organized by tribe and family, how are they organized? Adopted sonship? Do they even bother with individual inheritance or would communal property end up being more practical? How would the division of labor be handled? How would things traditionally described as “feminine” be seen?
And it’s totally open for Rule 63. I might have to put this in the memory banks for future word-dinking.
 
And if I see this concept taking “men are from Mars, women are from Venus” angle, I might have to reach through the Internet and strangle the author if only for the horrendous cliche factor.

D. M. Dutcher
Member

I had an idea similar, except instead of creating, an event in the future winds up changing women into a different species. Think Frank Herbert’s the Lazarus Plague, but different. Problem is every time I get a cool idea, I’m at a loss who would publish it. I feel like I’m too secular for Christians, and too Christian for secular people.

Robert Mullin
Member

dm, I have voiced those exact sentiments regarding my own writing. Hence, indie publishing. 🙂

Tim Frankovich
Guest
Tim Frankovich

Ice is NOT Biblical fiction. You could argue that a couple of chapters in the middle of the story is Biblical fiction, but not the whole book – it’s set in the 1970’s! The other two I mentioned could mostly fall into that category, but they’re highly speculative, especially from Hirt. I don’t put them anywhere near the same category as Iscariot, not even remotely. Iscariot doesn’t have Ragnarok and exploding planets…

Adam Graham
Member

I have a couple alt. earth stories that take some speculative elements from the Bible. There’s one that combines Jacob wrestling with an angel and the story of Jesus and the Centurion, and I also have another dimension where there was no Flood that will appear in Ultimate Midlife Criss.  Of course, neither story is quite published yet, so unless you hack my computer, you won’t be able to read them for a while. 🙂

Julie D
Guest

I didn’t really understand the question at first either; some of these comments clarified it a bit, but I think I’ll chew on the topic a bit more before responding.

Robert Mullin
Member

Becky,
 
I think I get the gist of what you’re saying. K.G. Powderly’s WINDOWS OF HEAVEN novels are a highly speculative historical science fiction series about Noah & Co., but his were the first to give me some inkling of what it would be like to live that long and see that much. Although I don’t touch on the sorts of things you mention in your post in my first book, some of them are tangentially related (SPOILER ALERT). When I came up with the concept of why there are humans on a number of different worlds, I decided that they should all have their origins on Earth, but that no one would remember it except in mythic terms, because the event that precipitated the Flood cut them off from their planet of origin. So people developed technologies without fossil fuels, ships are made by guilds rather than automation, etc. And people from different worlds have different lifespans (one character is around 50, but looks 30s), though none live quite as long as their antediluvian progenitors. The societal ramifications of a single landmass are something I have not personally explored, but it’s an intriguing notion.  Interesting food for thought.

Michelle R. Wood
Member

OK, after reading through the comments and responses, I think I understand better what you’re proposing Becky. I certainly agree there’s too much fixation on the “angels/demons” stories in Christian spec fic. But I don’t see how any of the topics you’re proposing we do tell stories about (longer lifespans, space exiles, human/animal communication) are somehow Biblical in the sense that they are unique to Scripture as opposed to general mythology or speculative fiction.

For example, Robert’s suggestion that “they should all have their origins on Earth, but that no one would remember it except in mythic terms,” immediately reminded me of Asimov’s Foundation series. The trope of a centuries-old being that appears youthful is seen everywhere from Tolkien to Star Trek (sorry Robert, not trying to pick on your idea, just using the example I felt came closest to what Becky was discussing). Animal/human communication, whether it be with dragons or dæmons, is also a very common aspect of fantasy stories. Certainly the origin of why any of these things occur may differ in a Christian spec fic novel, but so to do they differ in the general market. I’m unsure how we’re being “Biblical” by utilizing ideas that are rather Jungian to the genre.

I feel like there’s a false dichotomy here, “Biblical” versus “secular,” and I’m not seeing evidence to support why the speculations of one or the other (at least in terms of general story ideas, as opposed to the execution and potential moral underpinning of said ideas) are more related to God’s Word. Could you clarify further what you think the difference is, or should be?

Robert Mullin
Member

sorry Robert, not trying to pick on your idea, just using the example I felt came closest to what Becky was discussing

 
No offense taken; it’s hardly unique to me. The reason I brought it up was that it was directly inspired by the scripture, as opposed to, say, artificially lengthened lifespans due to better medicine, science, etc. , so it seemed like the sort of thing she was talking about.

Julie Bihn
Guest

Children of the Earth by Catherine Wells (2nd in a trilogy but the only one I read) isn’t Christian but it basically has the story of Leah and Rachel (different names/societies for all, but same idea). Eventually Wells in effect speculates how Jacob’s relationship with Leah changed when he had an extended period alone with her (I don’t remember if the Rachel died prematurely or not). I liked that idea much better than Biblical fiction because you can clearly see the parallels between the Biblical people and the fictional characters, with none of the “would Jacob have really done that” baggage…it felt more plausible to me than if it had been Biblical fiction, and maybe even more respectful of the Bible’s truthfulness.

Julie Bihn
Guest

The whole book wasn’t quite Leah and Rachel; I took it more like “what does this established character do when he marries the woman he loves and has to marry her unattractive sister too and also there are spaceships and I think time travel.” 😉 I don’t recall them having the same number of children as their Biblical counterparts or anything. I guess I’m generally more character-driven than setting-driven overall. (One could almost argue Tolkien-inspired Elves are like the 900-year lifespans…)

Robert Mullin
Member

Julie, I’m not positive, but I think that the elves in Tolkien’s world were more like unfallen man, and the Numenoreans were more like antediluvian man (a parallel made stronger by the Atlantis-style sinking of their island).

Matthias M. Hoefler
Guest
Matthias M. Hoefler

I think Becky’s dropped a lightning bolt on us.Initially I wanted to apply what she wrote and then come back and talk about it, but my current projects are in the way. I am going to do this, though.

I’ve not heard this suggestion before. We are all persuaded the Bible is “profitable” for “teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness.” Could we now say “all scripture” is good for imagination as well?

Maybe the more obscure the premise, the more original it would be? Am I right in thinking one of the payoffs expected is originality? Another would be spending more time in the Bible, or at least thinking about it.

An aside: New or old earth? Irrelevant. God created the world last Thursday.

I found this: “[James Frey] gives another great example of a premise in the Bible story of Samson and Delilah–the premise of that tale being that Repentance leads to a glorious death. As Frey explains, the Samson story’s premise is really stating that: God’s love leads to great strength, which leads to heroism in battle, which leads to haughtiness and arrogance, which leads to temptations of the flesh, which leads to betrayal, which leads to defeat and disgrace and blindness, which lead to repentance, which leads to a restoration of superpowers, which leads to a glorious death. The premise, as stated above as “Repentance leads to a glorious death,” is just a shorthand way of saying all of that.”

Not what Becky’s going for here, but a related idea. The bones of what happened to Sampson could be used as a framework for a story in a completely different setting. So her desire for us to draw on the Bible as source material is present, but handled differently.

Becky wrote: Why, then, don’t we Christian speculative writers more often take what we know from the Bible and speculate on what the world might look like?

And again:But why aren’t we Christian writers doing more when we have such great source material?

My guess is too many of us don’t know our Bible well enough to work this out practically. I thought a good bit about other possibilities to add to our brainstorming session, but I couldn’t come up with one.

How would we go about finding useable “premises”? A concordance isn’t going to get us there.

She’s given us an alternate way to read the Bible – mining it for scraps of truth that could be magnified and broadly applied to generate original storytelling.