Fictional Christianity

If it sounds right and they like the speaker, many will not blink an eye and drink the koolaid.
on Dec 10, 2013 · No comments

242px-HIPPOMAN_A0057Christian fiction runs the risk of creating a fictional Christianity.

This risk is not unique to Christian fiction by any means. But whether it is an author, a theologian, or a popular pastor/speaker, filtering Christianity through one person’s theological lens tends to create a warped view of the Faith once delivered to the saints.

. . . knowing this first, that no prophecy of scripture is of private interpretation. For no prophecy ever came by the will of man: but men spake from God, being moved by the Holy Spirit.
(2Pe 1:20-21 ASV)

Consequently, in creating Christian fiction, we risk creating elements of fictional Christianity. The danger for the Christian reader is, especially with fiction, it is easy to simply accept something as truth unexamined. Reading fiction can bypass the analytical processes of the brain unless you are slapped in the face by a concept.

This happens in churches all the time. There were times as a pastor I would say things that I feared I’d get some disagreement on. No one would question me on it. Though I have no way to know how often my sermons were the subject of discussions around the Sunday lunch table.

Like Michael W. Smith’s song, “Wired for Sound,” so many don’t follow the example of the Beroeans, who tested teachings against the Scriptures. (Acts 17:11) Instead, if it sounds right and they like the speaker, many will not blink an eye and drink the koolaid.

How much truer for fiction when we turn off our minds to get lost in a fictional world?

Beyond whether any specific character is acting in a non-Christian way, whether they cuss or not, etc., is what primary themes does the story teach? Are they Biblical? Is their interpretation confirmed by other reputable sources?

By way of example, last week I started reading Kevin Anderson’s book, Hopscotch. Granted, this isn’t a Christian book, and I have no idea whether Kevin claims to be Christian or not. It is a science fiction story, based on the premise that in the future, people will learn how to move their souls or essence from one body to another. So a husband could switch bodies with his wife for a time, or a co-worker.

I’m currently about two-thirds into the book. So, no spoilers in the comments, thank you. As it stands now, it presents a very Gnostic way of looking at the body. Not that the body is evil, but it is disposable. Not important to who you are. Sexual morals are also non-existent, indicating a non-Christian understanding of marriage and sex.

However, I’m not done with the story yet. There is some indication that one’s identity is tied to the body by one character that lost hers. It could be the full story shows the emptiness of this type of reality, if it were true. It may reveal how free sex ends up degrading the person rather than benefiting them. I’m curious to see where the author goes with this story.

Even as we read for pleasure and to relax, we should not unquestioningly accept every “truth” presented. Not to judge the spirituality of the author, but to use fiction as iron sharpening iron, rather than a tool of judgment and legalism. To do that, you have to be more than a sponge, especially when absorbing your fiction.

What fiction have you read lately that highlights this concept?


As a young teen, R. L. Copple played in his own make-believe world, writing the stories and drawing the art for his own comics while experiencing the worlds of other authors like Tolkien, Lewis, Asimov, and Lester Del Ray. As an adult, after years of writing devotionally, he returned to the passion of his youth in order to combine his fantasy worlds and faith into the reality of the printed page. Since then, his imagination has given birth to The Reality Chronicles trilogy from Splashdown Books, and The Virtual Chronicles series, Ethereal Worlds Anthology, and How to Make an Ebook: Using Free Software from Ethereal Press, along with numerous short stories in various magazines.Learn more about R. L and his work at any of the following:Author Website, Author Blog, or Author Store.
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  1. Randy Streu says:

    I wonder how many people developed their first real sense of eschatology by reading the Left Behind books. People (including authors, sometimes) need to understand that apocalyptic fiction is only that — even when it’s been Christianized.

    • Julie D says:

      I did. (Admittedly, I was 12 or so at the time). I’ve since moved from a firm pretrib view to general “the world will end, God will come, no timeline known.” But it had a very strong hold on my imagination; not bad, necessarily, but I didn’t have as much discernment as I have now.

    • R. L. Copple says:

      True, Randy. The Left Behind Books are based upon one interpretation of the end times, and historically, not a mainstream interpretation. and has Biblical holes. Definitely not what you want your source of Biblical interpretation to be based on, especially uncritically.

  2. Yup, it’s rough. I’m nearly finished with Jill Williamson’s “Blood of Kings” trilogy. It’s a remarkable piece of Christian fantasy. I was amazed at how drawn to it I was, and was praying about that. What the Lord has shown me is my old mental addiction to the idea of telepathy. Before the Lord got my attention in 1974, I was virtually addicted to this concept on fantasy and science fiction. I was just not aware of it until this week.

    This is clearly [in my eyes] forbidden fruit. I see it as a dangerous ability to add to speculative fiction. It may not be evil, but simply dangerous. I suspect it will be the norm in the new creation. We experience part of this in our relationship with Jesus and his Holy Spirit.

    But for me, it adds emphasis to the dangers you are talking about, R.L., in this posting. As I am seeking the Lord for confirmation about whether or not He wants me to start writing this type of book, He is giving me a strict set of guidelines about what I am to do about the content of this type of book. I’m excited to see what He’ll tell me is approved for me.

    • R. L. Copple says:

      David, yes, this is an example of being aware and thinking about what one is reading.

      I am not suggesting you change your mind about the telepathy concept, but I am curious. What do you see as the danger of using telepathy in a story? Do you see it contradicting your understanding of the Bible and theology in some manner, or do you feel it is a personal issue of conscious–an eating meat issue?

      Thanks for your comment and thoughts.

      • Yea, I see it tied closely with the occult. I’ve been praying about whether the Lord wants me writing fiction. I came to the Lord in 1974 out of a serious involvement with LSD, expanded consciousness, and the occult. As far as I can see, there are many things we can do but they are forbidden in this creation. For example, Astrology has merit but it’s forbidden. The same is true of divination. Accruing power for ourselves out of ourselves rapidly leads us into bondage from a lying demon if we are not very careful [in fact, self power is normally sin]. Though there is scriptural evidence that Jesus, the disciples with Him, Phillip, and maybe Paul experienced teleportation— we are not given control of that power. Though Paul could claim to have visited one of the churches “in the spirit”, astral projection [though real] is a forbidden occult power.

        I’m thinking telepathy is also in this area of occult power. I read “we shall know as we are known”. That to me means mind to mind communication. But that seems to be relegated to the next creation. All of our communication here in this creation is supposed to go to the Lord and He can disseminate it as He chooses.

        So, I’m seeking wisdom and confirmation on whether the Lord wants me to write high fantasy. I want to know what limits He would put on that in my writing. What another writer does is between him or her and the Lord.

        One thing I am sure of: this level of teaching [writing fiction] is a very serious responsibility. Teachers are judged more strictly, and I are one.

        • R. L. Copple says:

          I can understand your concern about it. I’d never equated telepathy with the occult. But I’ve never seriously dabbled in it either.

          For me, it would boil down to a story’s basis for telepathy. Is it simply a biological ability, as in Jill’s books, or does it arise from some form of black magic, or is it understood to be from God? A lot of it would depend on how the story treats it.

          But yes, each of us have to establish our own boundaries. But to return to my original point, it isn’t so much whether it has telepathy, but what its use and treatment in the story says about our faith. For instance, if a book has telepathy based on occult practices, but over the course of the book, that is illustrated as destructive and ending horribly for those involved, that could still be a Christian treatment of the subject in a positive way.

          It isn’t so much whether a book contains this or that sin, but how it treats it that sends a message either in sync with Christianity, or divergent from it.

        • Hey brother, I appreciate your desire to put the nonsense and dangerous teaching behind you and instead stick to what Scripture says.

          That leads me, though, to ask whether Christians ought to take the pagans’ word for what “counts” as legitimate paganism (or even a counterfeit or Satanic miracle) over what Scripture says. In all of the OT’s and NT’s warnings against occult participation and sorcery, it never says anything against forbidding “teleportation” or telepathy, or “shape-shifting,” or many other mythical practices. God seems to see those contemporary notions as not even a risk for His Old Covenant people (perhaps because they are in fact impossible to pull off apart from His miraculous enablement). Indeed, His chief reasons for avoiding actual occult crap is because it infringes on His unique right to guide His people and to predict the future if He wants to.

          More at Winners Don’t Do Witchcraft.

          For this reason, I’m okay with imaginary telepathy in a fictitious world. It’s a made-up power, not an actual power. If someone thinks he/she can actually do that, I would first question their desire to worship anything other than Christ. That’s the real problem, methinks, not violation of a specific (and impossible?) “no mind-to-mind communication allowed” Scriptural statute.

          • I have no problem with your beliefs on this. However, I feel I’m being called to write a fantasy that is spiritually true, depicting on another world how the spiritual works in our world. That means I have to be much closer to biblical truth than many books are.

            There are two real problems with the occult. 1] They tend to be worshiping the creation rather than the Creator. 2] They are an attempt to amass personal spiritual knowledge and power.

            It’s easy to see how telepathy [or the illusion of the same] could work in an occult setting—demon communication between spirit guides [though the deluded occultist might believe that it is real]. I can see it in a believer’s life also, but it would be under the control of the Holy Spirit, maybe messages transmitted by angels?

            The occult has astral projection or spirit travel. It seems as if believers have teleportation, but again it is not under their control. When Philip left the eunuch he just appeared in Azotus.

            So, I’m just sorting out what I can allow in my new world while remaining true to scripture.

            • dmdutcher says:

              I’m going to be blunt here. Don’t write fantasy.

              Unless you can make peace with the fact that magic in a novel is fictional and has absolutely nothing to do with its practice in the real world, you won’t be able to do a good fantasy novel.

              You have to read fantasy first, and read it extensively, before you can write it. If you can’t, and you seriously need to consider how these fictional elements may affect your own life or that of another believer, you’re better off taking the ideas and writing mystery, westerns, technothrillers, or other genres with them.

              I’m not belittling your struggles one bit. But I’m not getting the sense that you can even read it safely, let alone write it. That’s going to mean that you won’t be able to write a good one. It’s better you write something that you like, read, and are unconflicted about than try to do something like this.

              • I’ve read hundreds of fantasy books beginning in the mid-1960s. I read 150-250 books a years. I’ve read 5 Christian fantasy book in the past 6 days.

                My goal is to do something better. a fantasy on a different world that will stun people with its power. If you don’t think the power of God can trump magic, you have a problem, sir. Stop that, in the name of Jesus [whatever His name is in the book] is all it takes to bust magic. Magic is children playing at being gods under the delusions of demons.

                It’s nothing compared to the work of the Holy Spirit: disappearing pacemakers, tumors falling out as black lumps on the floor, the dead being raised, walking on water, teleportation [Jesus got in the boat and immediately they were at the other shore], feeding the 5,000, new teeth growing out, blind eyes that see, the cripples walking and leaping, water into wine, how much more do you need?

              • dmdutcher says:

                Let me put it this way.

                Imagine someone told you that they wanted to write a thriller novel, but they had issues with guns in their past, believed firmly in gun control, were writing for people who didn’t like violence in thriller fiction, and haven’t read a secular thriller book in fifty years. Would you buy a book from this guy, or expect him to fix the genre?

                Or would you say “Hey, you should probably look into writing cozy mysteries instead? A lot of the elements you mention fit into that genre better.”

                That guy may very well change it, but he’s got a lot of things that are going to hamper his writing and can lead to some really bad fiction if he isn’t careful. Even reading CSF can’t help, because in thirty years of people writing it, at best we’ve just reached the level of 1990 Mercedes Lackey or Tim Zahn. The worst of it often reads like someone hasn’t cracked open a fantasy book at all and are writing it based on the Tolkien film they saw last night.

                Having a call doesn’t excuse this. If God has called you to write fantasy he’s going to call you to be current on the genre and be a skilled writer, just not morally correct. You’ve got to take a hard look at what you can do, and you might find that instead writing historical fiction might free you from a lot of the worries and concerns about magic you may have, while enabling you to keep current on secular trends without always feeling you are sinning.

                Or you might be okay with it, but you’ll need to work twice as hard to write good fiction because you have so many restrictions on what you can do. You’ll have to accept that maybe you can’t do epic fiction without magic well, but you can write a different kind like sword and sorcery where magic is always bad. You realize there are trade-offs and accept them and the results.

                I’m sorry that I’m direct in speaking like this, but no one ever is honest about it. They just say “ooh, you have a call from God!” and that turns their brains off. We desperately need people to think about what they write and where their talents are used to greatest effect.

  3. bainespal says:

    There were times as a pastor I would say things that I feared I’d get some disagreement on. No one would question me on it. Though I have no way to know how often my sermons were the subject of discussions around the Sunday lunch table.

    I disagree with my pastor on a lot of things, but I never talk to him about them. He knows about some of my spiritual problems, so it’s not like I’m trying to conform outwardly.

    I think a lot of people are intimidated by their pastors, even when the pastor is perfectly responsible, kind, and friendly. I think social separation goes with the job. Because you are a pastor, many people in your congregation will never be able to accept you as a normal friend or even casually talk to you about many of their concerns. At least, I know this is true of my relationship to my pastor, who is a good man. I don’t dislike him, and he tries to be nice, but I feel intimidated anyways. I can hardly talk to him.

    Talking to the pastor always becomes awkward, because I feel a need to be too artificially nice and sincere, and I think the pastor sounds too nice, too. I also can’t shake the feeling that he doesn’t really have time for my petty theological quibbling.

    This doesn’t mean I take everything the pastor says as immutable Gospel truth. I privately reject some of his teachings.

    • R. L. Copple says:

      True. A pastor certainly doesn’t get a lot of negative feedback in most cases. Most people are not that confrontational. And like you, a leader can be intimidating, or also, there is such a respect for the office you don’t want to publicly disagree with them unless your talking outright heresy.

      But at one point my theology had shifted (one reason I’m no longer a pastor in that denomination) and I preached some things that I knew went against general Nazarene understanding as spelled out in the manual. I had a two older retired ministers in the congregation as well. One of them fairly outspoken when they felt I needed to know something.

      The only feedback I usually received was “Good sermon, pastor.” One exception. I used an illustration out of a book for sermon illustrations, that unknown to ignorant me, used a derogatory term for an older single lady. I had several older single ladies in the congregation. I received feedback on that before I reached the back door to shake hands. lol.

      • My wife is the pastor in our household, though I still have responsibility as the head of the house. The isolation of a pastor is a serious problem. We found that she could not share any spiritual problems without causing a general sheep spasm even panic. It’s not supposed to be that way. But that’s the way it is in the States today almost everywhere.

  4. notleia says:

    Eh, this reads as entirely your mileage may vary to me. It’s based entirely on what your perception of Christianity is, and since denominations are things that exist, obviously not everyone agrees on what Christianity is/ought to be. This seems to be a thing that relies more on perception than anything else, since the reality is too multifaceted and contradictory to even be coherent. Not to mention the No True Scotsman tendencies.

    • In this comment, notleia is clearly stating that Christianity can mean many things, but also not mean certain things (including “the Bible is made up of myths). She’s also clearly contending that denominations are excellent indications of Christianity’s diversity, and that a Borg-like conformity that many denomination critics imply they want instead would actually be a bad thing. Have I read your comment with respect for your intended meaning, notleia? 🙂

      • notleia says:

        It’s a suitable interpretation, but there is much to be discussed in the concept of “does not mean certain things.” In my lit classes, my professors encouraged making new interpretations or insights as long as you had textual support. Let me tell you what a wide range of responses there were, some good and some stretching plausibility. So there is a good deal of leeway, and the categories would probably be better named “what it could mean” and “what seems implausible.” (And see my comment on inerrancy for my case that a solid portion of the Bible, specifically the Old Testament, could be myth.)

  5. dmdutcher says:

    R.L. no offense, but we aren’t babies. I’m really getting tired of the boundaries and worries about Christian spec fic in general. I know what Christian doctrine is, and I can tell what is fiction and what’s not. Even if not, this is what review culture is for.

    I think there’s too much learned helplessness in the Christian world. Like people are helpless things that get information poured into them and can’t do anything but accept. The fear of this is leading to banal works that refuse to do what good fantasy and science fiction does; make you think. Stuff like this post reinforces this mindset.

    If we treat our readers like babies, we’re going to give them infantile works.

    • We have to treat them as babes, because they are still spiritual babes. We can’t even give them meat because it would choke them. You know the state of the church in America today if your eyes are open. We need to educate them, gently firmly, with humor, and a good time of serious play. The average Christian today has never read the Bible. I could go on for hours…

      • dmdutcher says:

        Didactic fantasy is usually bad fantasy.

        Writers tell stories. We don’t pull people into churches, we can’t teach doctrine except very subtly, we can’t get them to read the Bible, and we aren’t replacements for pastors, teachers, evangelists, or fellow Christians. If you try and burden us beyond the nature of the craft, you just get bad fiction.

        I agree fully with the problems you state, but people overstate the power of the arts to fix them.

    • R. L. Copple says:

      What you wrote sounds like you’re reading into the post points made in other related blog post. I’m only stating the obvious for those readers who are prone to not think through the theology being presented, and do what you said, make it a point to think about, not, as I said in the post, a means of condemning the author.

      From what you said, you should be agreeing with the gist of what I said. If people just read fiction with their mind “turned off,” they aren’t going to be thinking about it Obviously that doesn’t apply to all fiction readers, but it does apply to many. So I think the reminder/warning is worthwhile. If the shoe doesn’t fit, don’t put it on.

      • dmdutcher says:

        If you have to caution readers to avoid reading fictional Christianity in a work, the flip side is the very first line: Christian fiction has the potential to create fictional Christianities frequently enough to warn readers about. This leads to writers seeing it, and scrubbing their works clean of ambiguity or nuance.

        It’s doubly ironic considering we never see this about, oh, Doctor Who or Neil Gaiman or whatever secular geekery is the flavor of the moment. Sorry if I’m going beyond the substance of the point some, but it feels like yet another burden heaped on CSF.

        • R. L. Copple says:

          I’d suggest to you that it is a rare work that contains zero fictional Christianity. As I stated at the beginning of the article, anything filtered through one person will tend to be off here and there. Even me! There are also accidental theological conclusions that miss the edits that the author wouldn’t agree with themselves.

          It isn’t a matter of getting writers to scrub their stories of anything offensive or such, but an awareness on the part of the reader that no author will get it 100% right since they are human, so they should read with discernment.

          You’ll also note, the one example I used was a non-Christian work, which will tend to need more discernment than SpecFic, not less.

          Good points, but I don’t think there are that many books, Christian or not, out there that have all points of theology perfectly presented without error. Only the Scriptures accomplish that fully.

  6. AshleeW says:

    Great article and some very thought-provoking ideas. I do feel as a Christian I must be “conscious” about everything I do – and that includes the books I decide to read. If I read a book that has beliefs that are not Biblical, it is up to me to keep myself from being influenced by them. In other words, I need to know the Scripture well enough to know the difference between what I should believe and what is … well, fiction! It’s a hard line to walk sometimes. Thanks for the great thoughts!

  7. Steve Taylor says:

    It was Flavor Aid not Koolaid. (See I was paying attention).

    The comment look interesting but I’ll have to take a day off work to read them. I might even have something worthy to add.

What do you think?