Some readers of last week’s Why Isn’t There More Christian Fantasy? shared this response:
Well, why do we need “Christian fantasy” anyway?1
Others frequently discuss how fans should stop looking for any “Christian” label.
They say, “I don’t like/write ‘Christian fantasy.’ I’m a Christian who likes/writes fantasy.”
This implies: We should not have “Christian”-labeled, -categorized, and -marketed stories.
Behind that idea is this argument: Christians are meant to be in the world. We should not separate from the real world in our little churchy enclaves. Also, our cultures of Christian stores and media are so saturated by Amish fiction, Adverb Romance, and dumb stuff. So: shouldn’t Christian fans of fantastical stories ignore “evangelical culture” and join the real world, including non-specifically Christian stores and stories?2
I’m sympathetic to this approach. But I also heartily disagree with it.
I believe we need Christian cultures and subcultures of Christian stories and songs.
This includes “Christian fantasy”—fantastical novels by and (mostly) for Christian fans.
I support the label, the subcultures, the marketing, and even those corny little bookstores.
Here are six reasons why.
1. Christians get to have our own cultures too.
Everyone else gets to have and embrace a “culture,” however lame it is. But Christians seem uniquely embarrassed to have one at all. Think of it: Cancer survivors, single moms, pet lovers, and gamers have groups and arguably “insular” gatherings. They have their own literature, articles, and subcultures of references, jokes, jargon, and recognized leaders.
Why should Christians feel it’s wrong to enjoy the same blessing of human subcultures?
Popular culture is human stories and songs. All humans have these. A “subculture” is a smaller piece of culture among a smaller set of humans. All humans have these too.3
Christians, don’t feel guilty just because your subcultures exist.
2. Jesus does call Christians to be ‘separate’ in a way.
Plenty of churches and Christians act like naïve children or worse, mean-girl cliques.
But that’s no call to reject Jesus’s call. He calls his people a chosen priesthood, a group of separate individuals acting as one Church.4 This means Christians are called to be different from other people. This is not for the sake of “being different” alone. (What would that even mean?) It’s for the sake of being like Him, the God Who saves people.
3. Christian cultures can be ‘redeemed’ like any other.
Some Christians carry an assumption like this:
We can “redeem” secular, popular stories such as “Game of Thrones” or The Wolf of Wall Street. But silly devotionals and Thomas Kinkade artworks are beyond redemption.
Frankly, this assumption can betray our own immaturity.
Imagine someone who can’t stand the sight of his own child’s fingerpaint drawings,5 but reacts with praise at other children’s work.
If we believe God’s redemption of humans will (in some way, according to his word) lead to present and future redemption of culture, why leave out “Christian” stories and songs?
Someone may say, “But the Christian Fiction Industry is too far gone into Amish lit and so on.” But this is shortsighted. It seems to presume The Industry was founded by wizened bishops in the year 1635. Rather, The Industry has only existed a few decades. Among Christian institutions, this is likely one of the easiest entities to help change and improve.
4. Scripture expects Christians to have their own cultures.
The Bible’s existence alone quietly declares: Study this book. Read it, memorize it, quote the verses, understand these references, adopt this vocabulary, draw the pictures, write the songs. Create cultures that include this Book. Let it seep into and revolutionize your existing cultures.
Jesus and the apostles clearly established a “Church” means of spreading Kingdom cultures driven by Scripture and its Gospel. The capital-C Church is made up of little churches. Little churches are made up of people from many existing cultures, all put together in one group.
There is no way to pursue this divine mission without also getting subcultures with it.
5. ‘Christian fantasy’ can explore worlds ‘regular’ fantasy cannot.
Derrickson isn’t making “Christian movies.” He’s a light in broader culture. We need this!
But yesterday I also saw an episode of “Arrow.” A magician teaches Oliver Queen to resist dark spells cast by villain Damien Darhk. She tells Oliver: Use the light to resist the darkness. If you don’t have more light in you than darkness, you’ll only fuel the darkness. Helpful, right?
Secular stories have some freedoms. But they also have very tight limits. That’s one reason we need specifically labeled “Christian fantasy”: to explore deeper concepts than shallow and hackneyed “light defeats darkness” themes. Only a Christian making this story can deepen the magic system. Only we can say: The “light” is Jesus and his mission. Only in our “own stories” can we name Names and get specific, and go places other stories simply can’t.
6. Christian authors created many fantasy genres; it’s a family legacy.
Finally (for now), there’s no reason for Christians to shirk from attaching the famous family name, “Christ,” to the family business. We basically invented fantastical stories.
- Fantasy proper was born from medieval myths, leading to Lewis, Tolkien, et. al.
- Science fiction has its roots in unavoidably Christian categories for the world.
- Supernatural/horror is intrinsically linked to the most supernaturally true faith.
Should Christians enjoy (and create stories) that are outside “Christian” cultures? Yes.
Should Christians enjoy and create stories inside our Christian subcultures? Also yes.
We have no reason to avoid either sphere of influence. We have every reason to share a biblical vision of specifically God-glorifying creativity in every square inch of creation.
- I am using “fantasy” as shorthand for any kind of fantastical story, such as science fiction, supernatural, and fantasy proper. ↩
- Some refer to this as moving from the “CBA,” the Christian Booksellers Association, to the “ABA,” the American Booksellers Association. I won’t use these names here because I think they count as mild “jargon.” The names over-limit the broader issue by making it all about aspiring authors. ↩
- A lot of humans also have specific “industries” for their subcultures. This fact is not unique to Christians. What does seem unique to Christians is a silly sense of shame over this fact. ↩
- 1 Peter 3:9. ↩
- Or worse, imagine someone who privately blushes in embarrassment or even self-loathing at the thought of his own artworks as a child. ↩