We can talk at length about how stories aren’t wrong. We can defend story choices with Scriptures about where sin really comes from (it’s not from the world, but from sinful hearts). We may point to a superhero movie or fantasy epic in which good and evil are clearly defined, true sacrifice lauded, and heroes fight to save their worlds.
See? we exclaim, gesturing to a page or screen. This is great stuff. Look at the Gospel echoes in this! That character reminds me of goodness. That hero reminds me of Jesus.
It’s very true. I’ve said that myself. It’s frequently said on Speculative Faith.
But … it could all come crashing down if someone raises his eyebrow and says:
If you want to be reminded of those things, why not simply read the Gospels again, or hear a sermon or read a nonfiction book about goodness or Jesus and what we should do for Him? Aren’t there more important things to do than reading and defending stories?
‘More important things’?
For me, the most recent occasion like this came during a friend’s online conversation-starter about Christians’ entertainment choices. Naturally I pitched in. Naturally I found myself in some deep discussion. One woman, very kindly and sincerely, asked this:
The fruit probably looked fine to Eve by her standards. Do you think, then, since our heart is deceitful above all things (Jer 17:9), that we should try so hard to legitimize our entertainment or are we to redeem the time, if nothing else, since entertainment activities can keep up from more important things?
Quite a fair question, and already a challenging one. I’ll try to make it even tougher:
Christians are saved for a mission. It’s summarized by Jesus’s Great Commission (Matt. 28: 16-20). He said to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing and teaching them. We work to spread the Gospel, organize churches, support our families, and more. Given all of those clearly defined parts of our mission, why spend time reading or defending fiction?
In response, a story defender might say something like this.
Story defender: “There’s nothing wrong with it. Biblically, you can’t say that something is sinful if some Christians can enjoy it without sinning. I can read this and be reminded about the Gospel, goodness, and more.”
Story objector: “That doesn’t address the main point. What is right about wanting to spend all this time on fiction? If you want all these things, just cut out the ‘middle man.’ If you want to be reminded of the Gospel or goodness, read the Bible. Or do something more worthwhile, like sharing your faith or helping in your church.”
Or a defender might respond like this:
Story defender: “It’s harmless entertainment. Don’t be a legalist. Attitudes like this too often give Christians a bad name. Jesus died for our freedom. That’s what I practice.”
Story objector: “Your view misses the fact that Jesus died to set us free from sin and to make all our desires be like His. Would He be happy about you spending all this time reading or defending stories instead of fulfilling the Great Commission? Would He be happy with you dismissing concerns about ‘neutral’ entertainment as ‘legalistic’? Again, there are more important things Christians should be doing besides defending fiction.”
There. I’ve made the criticism as fair and formidable as I can. Now let’s try to answer it.
Rejecting negative reasons
Notice the similarity in both those story defenses: they’re based on what a story is not.
The first says a story is not worldly or a source of real temptation, so it must be okay.
The second says enjoying a story is not legalistic or repeating other Christians’ errors.
Either one, at best, raises stories to the level of “neutral.” There’s one problem. For the Christian, nothing is neutral. You do an action out of faith, or not out of faith. Even for something “neutral” like eating questionable meat, if you doubt it’s okay, it’s wrong:
But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.
Those defenses of story are not based on a positive reason that “proceed[s] from faith.”
But if that’s true about fiction, it’s also true about everything. This afternoon I cleaned up the house. Did I do that “proceed[ing] from faith”? I loaded my dishwasher. Now I’m writing this column, which includes checking Scripture references. Am I doing this “proceed[ing] from faith”? Or not from faith?
Any challenge that we have “more important things” to do than explore what Scripture says about stories applies to all our actions. Taken to its logical conclusion, we could question any action. Why vacuum the carpets at church? Why have ambition at your workplace? Why pull weeds in the garden? Aren’t there more important things to do?
Actually, that’s one objection: that the story critic isn’t also questioning everything else.
But still, we need to discern and articulate a positive reason for why we read stories — Christian, speculative, and anything in between — and spend time defending them in our discussions and thoughts.
My suggested answer is partly hinted in the title of this series.
But I’m first curious about your answer. Consider the best objections to stories that you’ve heard, either simulated here or spoken in reality. How would you respond?