How Small Do We Want To Be?

Not only can God use speculative stories to make Himself known, which we’ve discussed frequently here at Spec Faith, but He can do so on a Grand Scale. He is not a tiny God struggling for recognition.
on Sep 16, 2013 · No comments

USS_Enterprise_NCC-1701-AI have a theory, which by definition means it’s an idea that quite possibly could be wrong. But like all theories, it’s build on some solid facts.

For one, God is great. Whether people believe in Him or not, He rules over all. See, for example, 1 Chronicles 29:11-12:

Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, indeed everything that is in the heavens and the earth; Yours is the dominion, O LORD, and You exalt Yourself as head over all. Both riches and honor come from You, and You rule over all, and in Your hand is power and might; and it lies in Your hand to make great and to strengthen everyone.

Another fact is that speculative stories have captured the imagination of western culture. See, for example, TV programs like Under The Dome, Once Upon A Time, and the new spin-off, Once Upon A Time In Wonderland. Or look at the plethora of speculative movies (e. g. Star Trek, Man In The Iron Mask, Elysium, Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, Gravity, Divergent) or blockbuster book series (e. g. Harry Potter, Twilight, Hunger Games).

So, what’s my theory based on these facts? Not only can God use speculative stories to make Himself known, which we’ve discussed frequently here at Spec Faith, but He can do so on a Grand Scale.

He is not a tiny God struggling for recognition. He isn’t about to settle for a small contingent of humanity recognizing His sovereignty and calling Him Lord. In Philippians Paul says that

at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (2:10-11)

I understand universal acknowledgment of His greatness will come about when Jesus returns, but I infer from Paul’s declaration that God desires this response from His creation, not only at the end of time, but even now, while we’re in the struggle against sin and Satan.

So why don’t we see every knee bowing to Jesus, every tongue confessing Him as Lord, instead of a growing hostility to His name? Why is there an increase in interest in pantheism, Buddhism, paganism, Hinduism, and even Islam? In other parts of the world, the reverse seems to be true, but in western society, people who follow Jesus Christ are being marginalized at an increasing rate.

Could it be that we, his followers, have been content to stand our ground?

After all, evangelism is offensive to so many, so let’s not make our neighbors and coworkers uncomfortable by actually telling them they are sinners in need of a Savior. And the culture is straying from the truth, so ought we not build a hedge around us and our children, to keep error at bay?

I think most of us can see that standing pat is actually a scheme for losing ground. Not to mention the fact that God gave His people the task of reproducing spiritually, just as surely as He commanded Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply.

Trying to hold ground rather than advance, then, seems like disobedience to me.

Which brings me back to my theory. When we Christians who love speculative fiction in the same way the rest of society does, fail to advance the cause of Christ through these stories, aren’t we missing a God-given opportunity for spiritual reproduction?

How are we failing “to advance the cause of Christ through these stories”? I can think of a few ways:

  • writing stories without developing themes that are consistent with God’s call on our lives
  • failing to support and encourage and promote writers and books that advance the cause of Christ
  • standing pat in our “weird niche”

It’s this latter point that I think we need to address, that we can change. Not only do many who love speculative fiction think of themselves as “weird,” they believe they have a special brand of weirdness, whether it is cyperpunk weirdness or space opera weirdness or epic fantasy weirdness or superhero weirdness or fairytale weirdness–we have our specialty, our closed set.

Sadly, this sense of niche-ness has extended to how we produce our stories. There are those who pursue traditional publishing in the Christian market and those who do so in the general market. There are those who self-publish using print-on-demand companies and those who self-publish ebooks. There are those who publish through any of the growing number of small, independent presses.

Lone_ranger_silver_1965I don’t understand, to be honest, why there have to be lines between the groups, why we haven’t figured out how to cross promote, why we seem to have so many Lone Rangers.

Let’s face it, as much as I love the whole secret identity thing, the mystery and mystic behind his persona (the original version), and no matter how much I agree with his love of honesty and justice, his willingness to fight for the least and the less fortunate, the Lone Ranger was too limited. He couldn’t be everywhere, all the time.

In reality, there’s strength in numbers. We accomplish more together than we do apart. Solomon talks about this very fact:

Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up. Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone? And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart. (Ecc. 4:9-12)

rope-1409333-mI’m thinking we need to pull our strands together into a strong cord. Or, we can stay in our individual niches, doing our individual things with the few who have circled the wagons with us. I guess it all depends on how small we decide we want to be.

So what do you think? How can Christians who love speculative fiction draw together?

Best known for her aspirations as an epic fantasy author, Becky is the sole remaining founding member of Speculative Faith. Besides contributing weekly articles here, she blogs Monday through Friday at A Christian Worldview of Fiction. She works as a freelance writer and editor and posts writing tips as well as information about her editing services at Rewrite, Reword, Rework.
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  1. Sounds to me like you’re describing a problem born of the same tendencies which prompt many people to join third parties in the American political system. Example: if I’m an ideological idealist and the two major parties seem too diluted or corrupt for my tastes, chances are that, rather than face the daunting prospect of rolling up my sleeves and taking a toilet-brush to the accretion of compromise and sleaze within the political establishment, I’ll throw up my hands and flee to a fringe group that promises “purity.” The problem, of course, is that with purity comes powerlessness. Third parties don’t win elections; they’re too small. In fact, by abandoning the “compromised” major party, I’ve deprived it of my influence and weakened its chances of denying rule to the other major party — the “evil” one. The net result of my “principled” stand is nothing more than total self-marginalization.

    Is it any different in the world of publishing? Christians are too holier-than-thou to associate with “secular” publishing houses, so off they go to start their very own (and then gripe about how secular society ignores them). Christians who want to write speculative fiction notice increasing pushback from the Christian publishers addicted to self-help books and thoroughly besotted by romance novels, so off they go to target their own little sub-niche audience in a dank back-alley of the Christian ghetto.

    And then wonder why they lack industry clout.

    • Austin, I didn’t mean to sound as if I was scolding believers who have chosen a niche. I don’t think there’s one fit for everyone when it comes to writing. I think we need all kinds of stories with a variety of themes, published in any number of ways so we can broaden our reach.

      What I think we need to improve on, however, is how we relate to believers who are doing it differently. We need to move away from a them-against-us mentality–which I realize probably only applies to a few vocal people. But I want to be vocal for the opposite position: let’s support Christian speculative writers, even those who are taking a different path than the one I prefer.

      So how can we?

      That’s my question. How can we start pulling together, even though some of us are pulling with Clydsdales and some with Billy goats and some with sled dogs. There’s no “right” way, I don’t think. But if we ignore each other, go off on our own, we dilute the greatest asset we have–the body of Christ.

      Someone pointed out to me that one reason Twilight became such a big thing was because the Mormons got behind it. Christians, it seems, aren’t getting behind each other in the same way. I’m not saying all Christians should get behind anything waving the name, but Christian speculative writers and readers, it seems to me, ought to be able to find a way of helping each other find the stories they most want to read or to find the audience that most wants to read the stories.

      What are ways we could make that happen?


      • *inclines head slightly in deference to metaphoric excellence, then ponders whether self is a Clydesdale or a sled dog*

        Two suggestions spring to mind. The first is what I was trying to get at in my previous comment: that we subcreating Christians have got to stop employing a “strategy of retreat” whereby we keep abandoning our fortresses the moment they’re attacked, only to reform on successively smaller hills which provide successively diminishing tactical advantage. At some point we’ve got to say “This far and no farther,” quit dividing our forces, and learn to play well with others. I think that, ideally, Christian publishing houses shouldn’t have been created to begin with. But since we’ve gotta work within reality as it currently exists, I think Christian spec-fic authors oughta be doing everything within their power to reform mainline Christian publishing from the inside. Whether that means lobbying the powers that be or revising their own work so it can fit in the swiftly-closing content-door and wedge it open for others behind them, I don’t claim to know. But I know that, whatever it is, it’ll be more effective in the long run than backing farther into a super-special-interest corner of our own making. One cannot bring more readers into the fold whilst only marketing one’s wares inside the sheep-pen.

        My second suggestion isn’t really something I can do anything about: Christians have got to start putting more emphasis on the doctrine of vocation. Pastors need to start reminding their congregations that the call of God on their lives doesn’t begin and end with the Great Commission. Rather, we’re called to do everything, whether in word or deed, for the glory of God. If we Christians approached life with a holistic perspective of glorification — if we picked fruit for the glory of God and invoiced clients for the glory of God and cooked food for the glory of God and watched TV for the glory of God — then we’d start seeing a renaissance in Christian art and Christian art-consumption the likes of which the world hasn’t beheld for 500 years. And Christian spec-fiction would be marginalized no longer because (A) it’d be crafted with loving, exacting excellence, and (B) its readership would actually yearn for excellence to enjoy.

        That’s all I can think of. Either we hold our noses and, for the sake of unity and strength in numbers, work within the compromised confines of the established publishing industry, or we somehow spark a reformation of Christian thought and resurgence of Christian artistic innovation. Anything else seems marginal to me. I mean, if the much-theorized Disconnected Christian Spec-Fic Writers And Readers haven’t already found each other and assuaged their mutually unrequited longing in this age of the Internet, how’s it ever gonna happen?

  2. I can only speak about myself. I’ve seen Christians challenge each other because of a sex scene here or a dance scene there or a bad drunk scene there or too much Arminism there. It’s as if we think we know how to judge another man’s servant. It really is QUITE possible and ultimately very probable that a book with a sex scene might annoy our fellow christians but might lead someone else to God (someone else who doesn’t care about the sex scene or someone who thinks the sex scene shows that christian writers are human or someone who thinks the sex scene was artistically needed.) But as long as Christians presume to think they know what God is doing or what God wants done in gthe world, then we won’t understand each other’s unique task. Each of us will get a name that only God knows…and it seems to me that on earth we should be humble enough to say “It might be that this work is a work God wanted done, but which none other but this person was open to doing.”

  3. Ha! I guess I’d rather have us think we’re all pulling together, not who is pulling to what extent. 😉 I understand your point, though, Austin, but I’m thinking we don’t have to sacrifice our cherished endeavors for the sake of unity. For example, I’m only too aware that the CSFF Blog Tour is limited, so I’ve encouraged others to start blog tours, and they have.

    We can’t all do everything. But I have a problem when I see writers doing nothing for anyone else. I know God may not have put it on their plate to promote others. But seriously, when a writer is doing regular Facebook updates and can’t share another author’s contest or promotion or blog post?

    Phyllis Wheeler, our guest last Friday is an example of someone doing it right, I think. Castle Gate Press is filling a need she and her teammate have identified (small niche), but Phyllis has been a long time member of CSFF (working together with others) and posts regularly. Not to mention that she also reviews any number of other Christian speculative titles.

    Grace Bridges of Splashdown Books is the same–an active member of the Lost Genre Guild and a participant in CSFF as often as she could get books.
    She’s working with others to promote what they’re doing. Lots of others, too. May their tribe increase! 😉

What do you think?