1. Galadriel says:

    One of my first thoughts near the end of the article is the figure of Emeth in the Last Battle…but that is tangled with accusations of universalism and perhaps not the best example.
    I also thought of the many times the Doctor gives his enemies a chance–especially the Master,  but that’s not quite right.

  2. Thanks for checking out my review at White Horse Inn!  It’s great to see someone interacting with my points in specific and thoughtful ways.

    You write; “Though I agreed with many of his thoughts, others at least need some qualification. That’s especially true for this seeming contradiction: how can we say that any story doesn’t have enough clear Gospel in it and could come off as moralistic, then also suggest that Christian art shouldn’t be reduced to sermon vehicles?”

    I think that’s a great question and brings out some of the challenges I really wrestled with in putting my article together.  To describe my thought process at least … I decided that since the Kendricks put together a film that was largely about a message and existed primarily for this purpose (I’ve heard John Piper and others rightly refer to it as a “sermon-movie”) that to interact with the film essentially comes down to discussing it’s message. I figured if that’s what they sought to do I would meet them at that level and spent most of my review on this.

    However, what I tried to touch on toward the end (I didn’t have much space to elaborate further, though I added a little more in the comments) is that this isn’t a great starting point anyway. Art is for so much more than spreading messages, and when that’s your main goal you usually shortchange the craft and it becomes cheap and didactic. A famous quote goes “If you want to send a message, call Western Union.” Art can accomplish many things. It can foster beauty, imagination, understanding, empathy … or even just raise questions. Too many Christians today only see value in a film if it has a message they agree with and I think that’s a huge problem that colors conversation in this area. Even if Courageous had a more comprehensive ‘Christian message’ or was more gospel-centered, that would in no way have guaranteed its quality. I’ve seen plenty of movies and music with fine messages that were terrible. My main problem with Courageous was that I thought it was a lousy movie. I think it’s emphasis and theology plays into that, but there’s a lot more factors to consider for sure.

    Anyway, just thought I’d provide some clarity as you think about this. Thanks so much for reading my post and writing in this area. The Christian Imagination is a great compilation of writings with a lot of excellent work in it! Glad to see that being quoted. 

  3. Anthony, thanks much for your followup to my followup. (In fact, somehow I had missed your name before, and now I’ve edited the above column to include the attribution.)

    Among much of what we discuss on Speculative Faith is that problem, if it is a problem, of art preachiness. You’d likely agree that it’s not just Christian stories that suffer from this. That is why I do believe some criticisms of Courageous, and similar films, expect more than its makers intended to give. Most critics are critiquing the genre, then, but not necessarily the film itself, for being overly limited and a violation of what (as they say, and with which I’d mostly agree) the medium, such as film, is for.

    I do believe, however, that Christians may find a place for stories that consciously imitate the Epic Story, the main message of the Gospel. These may not mention things like Jesus and the Cross, but they certainly can do this — optimally in a way that is patterned after real life, despite whatever fantastic genre upon which the story is based.

    However, issues arise when Christians feel they must enjoy only stories patterned on the big Story, or only stories based on small stories, or only overtly Christian stories, or only non-Christian, art-as-art-and-for-no-higher-goal-to-honor-God stories. But, as you’re familiar with The Christian Imagination, this rhetoric is not new to you! In my view, we do need to dispense with art-for-its-own-sake slogans, though. Nothing is “for its own sake.” But I do recognize that some Christians may say that and mean “it glorifies God, just as even His fallen creation can do, and helps us enjoy Him.” If so, let’s say that. Let’s base our arguments for excellent and truth-based stories on “Christian Hedonism,” about which much of the “marketing” has already been done, thank God.

    For further reading, taking the “pulse” of this sector of reactions to the film — and to similar films in the genre — I recommend last week’s An open letter to truly ‘Courageous’ storytellers. However, like you, I’m still trying to articulate my way to approach these issues, without calling into question the makers’ motives or falling into too much snarkiness at their expense. Toward that goal, I thank you for your example.

  4. Kessie says:

    But the true Savior saved His enemies from themselves and their human nature, to make them His friends. Not all Christian stories reflect that. More should.

    I’ve seen Ted Dekker and Karen Kingsbury write this sort of thing, and it always comes off derivative. As soon as you write the good Christ-figure sacrificing himself for his enemies, we’ve left human sensibility. As Paul put it, “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die.”
    I mean, gosh, Ted has killed the son of every character in his books at one point or another (although I haven’t read the last two years’ crop, so I don’t know if he’s gotten tired of that). It’s gotten to where I’m all, “Uh oh, this guy has a son, he’s going to die for someone else sometime in this book …. OH LOOK I CALLED IT.” (Apologies to Ted.)
    My point is, no human being loves their enemies and dies for them. That’s a supernatural thing, and even if we’re writing a supernatural character, it’s still hard to grasp a love like that.
    I was trying to think of literary examples, and only books like A Tale of Two Cities or The  Green Mile come to mind. But that’s still “for a good person someone might possibly dare to die”.

  5. Marion says:

    I have the “Christian Imagination” book and I agree that every Christian novelist should it.
    Also, I would like to recommend Steve Turner’s Imagine as well.  I just posted a review on my blog about it. I’ve read it twice and believe it is one of the most liberating books I’ve read (along with Word Pictures by Brian Godawa) on the role of Art in Christianity.
    I haven’t seen Courageous yet…so I won’t comment it on yet.  I have seen Fireproof and thought it was a decent movie.

  6. Marion says:

    I finished reading the “Christian Imagination” and here’s my review:

    • Thanks, Marion!

      I’m thinking I would pay a small sum to reprint, with permission, some of the wisdom in The Christian Imagination on Speculative Faith. Offhand right now, I consider Susan Wise Bauer’s essay on good and evil in speculative stories. She uses the example of horror novelist Stephen King and his frequent “externalization” of evil to demons and other monsters, versus the inherent goodness of humanity, and it’s great stuff.

  7. Marion says:

    Your are welcome.
    Do you have a link to Susan Wise Bauer’s essay?

What do you think?