Reading Is Worship 6: Curing Weirdness-Idolatry

How can we fight inclinations to idolize “being weird” for its own sake? We must see fantasy “weirdness” as normal in the Bible (and even in our culture), ask God to help us reach out to critics, and remember why we love fantastic stories.
on Oct 4, 2012 · No comments
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In a moment I’ll suggest solutions to the potential weirdness-idolatry I identified last week.

This comes after the conflict over some costume-wearers being kept from entering last month’s American Christian Fiction Writers awards banquet.

As before, I’m choosing to ignore who said what to whom, and whether some costumers were allowed at the banquet and others forbidden. What matters more is how we respond now, and how we may correct wrong assumptions.

But first I have questions for Christian-speculative readers, because even though I am one of you, I am perplexed about you.

  1. How come many readers insist on being “weird” and “counter-cultural” as their prime directive? Dare I say it, but forget for a moment the truth that man’s chief end is not to rebel against perceived majority culture, but to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Even apart from that, what lasting joy is found in emphasizing a clichéd teenage attitude against The Establishment? Don’t we first love these stories for the joy they give?
  2. With “weird” stories firmly established in the mainstream, with everyone computer-literate and brandishing smartphones, with the “geeks inheriting the Earth” — why this old, traditional, backwards notion that fantastic stories are indeed narrow and niche, and that we want this? Why buy the (perceived) assumptions of our critics?
  3. As many of us enjoy saying, many “secular” novels and films do fine in reflecting Biblical truths and beauties. If that’s true (and it is), why do we even need Christians offering even more speculative stories? Non-Christian authors already have this covered, thank you very much — and they may freely and non-hypocritically behave like non-Christians. But especially if professing Christians react to conflict or slights in ways identical to non-Christians’ reactions, what exactly is the point of us?
  4. In many responses I’ve seen to the cosplay controversy, why do many (not all) critics operate on a purely secular level of discussion? Have we really mastered the truth of being like our Savior, not just writing about or for Him, so that now we can move on? And based on that secular level of reaction, why would anyone expect the books we want to market to be any more “Christian” or unique than our own behavior?

Now for cures. They will come in four parts, corresponding with each of those challenges:

1. See “weirdness” as the true Normal, a given element of God’s epic Story.

In April I argued this, in the swatting-off-a-nuisance column Please Quit Calling It ‘Weird.’

The Bible is the most incredible Book ever, full of incredible stories and themes: battles, miracles, the nastiness of sin, rising nations, fantastic creatures, and the central Story of God’s creation of man, man’s fall, and God’s plan to save His creation. Over all of that is the Story’s infinite Author and Hero. He’s infinite, incredible, creative, loving, and holy.

So I would ask why many Christian stories don’t better reflect these themes. At present, most Christian novels are from non-speculative genres that include God as a supporting character. That’s not evil, of course. But they do tend to be detached from the greatest Story of the Bible — the Gospel. They may be fun to read, but how do they help us in our fantastic reality, in which this incredible God is always working, even in small ways, to save sinners and redeem His creation? How do they remind us of the true Story?

This is a more-Biblical perspective than the usual — and, as Mike Duran notes, immature-sounding — approaches of complaining and glorying in any “weirdness” for its own sake. If we do that, why even call ourselves Christians? Not Christian readers, but Christians at all.

2. Recognize that fantasy and sci-fi are the dominant, default story genre.

Since the last time I made this point on SF, superhero-fantasy films The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises have arrived on the top-20 list.

Top-20 film lists constantly show fantasy/sci-fi at the top. The most-read books on Earth include the Bible (the first “fantasy” epic), and fiction such as The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. It is not fantasy stories, but non-fantasy ones, that are new and strange.

So if you pretend fantasy is still a niche, you have stuck your head in the sand. Might as well say a muffled hello to the supposed narrow-minded Christian publishers in there with you.

3. Ask God to help our friendships with spiritual family, not only our stories.

“Lord, open the Christian fiction publishers’ eyes”?

Let’s assume at this banquet, other people were dressing up in Amish or prairie-romance garb, and that the conference does have a double standard. Even if that were all true, do we respond with appeals to Rights, a persecution/victim complex, or secular reasoning that makes no gracious, winsome effort to present our favorite stories as Biblically based?

If not, then frankly we’re no better than unbelievers. We have no reason to read, ask for, or try to write and publish “Christian speculative” stories. Secular stories are all we need.

If we claim God as our Author and Christ as our Hero, then despite any actual dislike by others of Christian speculative stories, we should want to love our brothers and sisters in Christ, find common ground, and reach out to them. Demanding our rights (even if they are legitimate) to dress up in super-suits when we like is a far lesser need, if it’s a “need” at all.

4. Keep clarifying and remembering why we truly love fantastic stories.

I must admit this: much of Christian-speculative rhetoric is not persuasive. Many blogs and other materials advocating more fantasy/sci-fi/etc. in Christian fiction simply assume that need is self-evident. It’s not. There are very understandable, even good reasons against it:

  1. There aren’t enough active readers to make publishers choose a switch in emphasis.
  2. Readers (many of them evangelical women) evidently still want escapism that relates to their desires, including sheltered religious communities, shallow spiritual explorations, and idealized histories — not vast fantastic worlds, heroes, and epic mythologies.
  3. Many advocates seemingly favor promoting their own novels (or at best, preserving the niche market) above growing the genre.

Arguing against all these on secular worldly terms merely compounds the problem. We must prayerfully reject our own impulses to indulge in anti-Biblical “escapism.” Claims that banning books is “legalism” don’t cut it. “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23). If we want speculative stories apart from faith, we are sinning.

That’s the negative. Here’s the positive.

Unlike other genres, fantastic stories may more directly present God’s nature.

They better reflect the whole Gospel and Biblical worldview, that our “felt needs” are not all there is, and that even good gifts like human relationships and romance are secondary to the true myth of Christ rescuing His creation.

They remind us that this age is not our home. Rather, we await a true eternal fantasy world, the New Heavens and New Earth (Rev. 21)!

If in conflicts we merely assume these truths, we are either poor communicators or haven’t seriously considered these truths ourselves. Let us saturate ourselves in them. Read and delight more in Scripture, God’s Story. And imitate its Author.

How can we better handle real (or perceived) slights against fantasy fans?

In what ways are you discerning your story-enjoyments in light of God’s Story?

What other “weirdness”-idolatry cures would you suggest?

E. Stephen Burnett explores fantastical stories for God’s glory as publisher of Lorehaven.com and its weekly Fantastical Truth podcast. He coauthored The Pop Culture Parent and creates other resources for fans and families, serving with his wife, Lacy, in their central Texas church. Stephen's first novel, a science-fiction adventure, launches in 2025 from Enclave Publishing.
  1. Fred Warren says:

    If we claim God as our Author and Christ as our Hero, then despite any actual dislike by others of Christian speculative stories, we should want to love our brothers and sisters in Christ, find common ground, and reach out to them. Demanding our rights (even if they are legitimate) to dress up in super-suits when we like is a far lesser need, if it’s a “need” at all.

    To be fair, I’d say this incident began as a reaching out to find common ground (“Hey, you’ve got costumes! Here are ours!”) that was rebuffed. The response reinforced a long-standing and not-unfounded perception that spec-fic is marginalized, and perhaps not entirely welcome in the ACFW community. Ultimately, it’s a club composed of people with similar interests, and that sort of culture doesn’t readily accept change. This is also true of the folks on the other side of the divide who have their own norms for convention dress and behavior. It might be interesting to see if the situation played out differently if the proportions of the membership were reversed.
     

    I must admit this: much of Christian-speculative rhetoric is not persuasive.

    Quite true, but I don’t think it lacks persuasive force so much because it’s the wrong rhetoric, but rather because rhetoric doesn’t apply here. The best-reasoned, most rigorously-biblical rationales in the world will not prevail against this particular status quo, precisely for the reasons you list:
     

    There aren’t enough active readers to make publishers choose a switch in emphasis.
    Readers (many of them evangelical women) evidently still want escapism that relates to their desires, including sheltered religious communities, shallow spiritual explorations, and idealized histories — not vast fantastic worlds, heroes, and epic mythologies.
    Many advocates seemingly favor promoting their own novels (or at best, preserving the niche market) above growing the genre.

     
    It’s not about the relative merit of different flavors of Christian fiction, it’s about what sells. It’s a business. No matter how saintly the CEO, if he can’t turn a profit on the commodities he’s selling, he can’t keep the company afloat. He will offer products with that reality foremost in mind.

    Your assessment of the value of those stories that are selling may be a bit harsh, and I’m sure devotees of those genres could spend hours talking about their spiritual benefit. Yes, ours may be better. I like them better. Who knows?

    If we want speculative stories apart from faith, we are sinning.

    Perhaps, but you could substitute anything for “speculative stories” in that sentence and make the same (valid) point in the proper context. It also sets an almost unreachable bar for the reader/viewer. Am I really jazzed to watch the next episode of Doctor Who because it’s going to benefit me spiritually or provide me an opportunity to worship God in my enjoyment of its transcendent themes?  Maybe I should, but the idea that I’m sinning because I mostly want to see how the Doctor’s going to cope now that Amy and Rory are gone would make me reluctant to watch at all.

    • Galadriel says:

      Me too. That’s why I was dreading the mid-season finale so much…because I didn’t want to see what it would do to him. Because no matter their fate, he’d blame himself and….
      okay, enough off-topic for now. 

      • Fred Warren says:

        Oh, not so much off-topic, I think. When a story creates characters we’re drawn to and care about in a similar way to real people, it’s doing something right.

    • Some thoughts, Fred, which will likely overlap or repeat other replies below …

      To be fair, I’d say this incident began as a reaching out to find common ground (“Hey, you’ve got costumes! Here are ours!”) that was rebuffed. The response reinforced a long-standing and not-unfounded perception that spec-fic is marginalized, and perhaps not entirely welcome in the ACFW community.

      It could be. I’m not entirely convinced this belief is entirely gone. Seeing as how I don’t know, my solution is to behave as Christians would even if this were the case.

      My guess, simply based on human nature, is that any marginalizing is somewhat artificially generated. During my last time at ACFW, I didn’t meet a single person who objected to Christian fantasy and sci-fi. If anything, they had a “perception filter” that others objected to this genre, at least as a dominant, mainstream genre.

      It might be interesting to see if the situation played out differently if the proportions of the membership were reversed.

      Interesting thought. It would be more interesting to explore in wacky fiction …

      Quite true, but I don’t think [much of Christian-speculative rhetoric] lacks persuasive force so much because it’s the wrong rhetoric, but rather because rhetoric doesn’t apply here.

      I suggest it applies, and we must rely on it, even if people don’t accept it.

      The best-reasoned, most rigorously-biblical rationales in the world will not prevail against this particular status quo, precisely for the reasons you list […]

      What if I say, “Epic stories are at least equally edifying, God-honoring and redemptive as romance and Amish fiction, if not more, and here are the Biblical reasons why,” and someone in response waves a hand and says, “I have no time for such Biblical reasons?” If so, then we face a worse problem than genre-opposition. We face others’ lower regard for Scripture.

      Yet the worst thing we could do, for ourselves and our Christian brothers and sisters, is to cede that ground. Oh well, you won’t listen to Biblical reasons, so we should try something else. This becomes a spiritual, not “industry,” problem.

      It’s not about the relative merit of different flavors of Christian fiction, it’s about what sells. It’s a business. No matter how saintly the CEO, if he can’t turn a profit on the commodities he’s selling, he can’t keep the company afloat. He will offer products with that reality foremost in mind.

      (Nods.) That’s absolutely what’s going on. Thus, there’s no point in complaining about publishers and conferences if this is what their target audience wants. The solution is to prayerfully, winsomely, Biblically argue that epic stories are better.

      Your assessment of the value of those stories that are selling may be a bit harsh, and I’m sure devotees of those genres could spend hours talking about their spiritual benefit. Yes, ours may be better. I like them better. Who knows?

      Fair enough. I have not read an Amish novel. Yet many evangelical top-selling works are just plain shallow and absurd, even anti-Biblical. The Shack is just one example.

      Perhaps, but you could substitute anything for “speculative stories” in that sentence and make the same (valid) point in the proper context.

      Agreed. Paul makes the point in the context of a specific controversy over eating and drinking, yet the point is universal. That bar is impossibly high for us.

      It also sets an almost unreachable bar for the reader/viewer.

      … Yet not too high for Christ, to Whom we look as our faith’s founder and perfecter (Hebrews 12:1-2).

      An example. Let’s say a Christian-fantasy author hopes to make his book great. Does he look to Lewis and Tolkien as a high standard for his story and writing quality? One would hope so. Does he expect to attain their classic level and skill? One would hope not! Yet he does not err in making the attempt, does he?

      Similarly, we do not err in trying to imitate Christ and worship Him in all we do, especially because, unlike Lewis and Tolkien, His Spirit is within us.

      It’s a close balance between knowing we’re flawed, yet also avoiding “worm theology” and acting like cliched “hyper-Calvinists” who claim all people, even redeemed Spirit-empowers saints, are still “totally depraved.”

      Am I really jazzed to watch the next episode of Doctor Who because it’s going to benefit me spiritually or provide me an opportunity to worship God in my enjoyment of its transcendent themes?  Maybe I should, but the idea that I’m sinning because I mostly want to see how the Doctor’s going to cope now that Amy and Rory are gone would make me reluctant to watch at all.

      (Once again, in the voice of Tony Stark) “Is it too much to ask for both?”

      Here I return to the thought in Reading Is Worship 1 that “worship isn’t always conscious.” To make this very specific, let’s say I’m viewing Doctor Who in a way that, as far as I can tell, isn’t idolatrous, isn’t taking time away from child-raising or husband-loving or my job or any other direct calling, and isn’t bringing on a sinful temptation (River Song’s cleavage notwithstanding). If may be that indeed this is an act of worship, even if I don’t have a prayer before and after, or am lifting hands with closed eyes as if I’m in a “WOW Greatest Hits” Christian-TV commercial.

      Of course I am joshing. And I don’t mean to disparage genuine worship that takes that form. However, we likely all know that deep own we suspect that is the pinnacle of “worship,” with other worship “modes” being less.

      • Fred Warren says:

        My guess, simply based on human nature, is that any marginalizing is somewhat artificially generated.

        That doesn’t make its impact less real. I don’t think we can write it all off to an infatuation with being outsiders or some kind of persecution complex. There’s a reason these people feel unwelcome that isn’t entirely internal, something they’re perceiving in the environment but can’t fully articulate.
        The incident in question seems silly on its surface, but it’s symptomatic of a deeper problem that isn’t fixed by telling people to “act like Christians and get over it.” We’re just kicking the can down the road to the next event. Trivializing an inequity isn’t any more Christian than making trouble for the sake of making trouble. Both sides need to recognize there’s a problem and that they each bear some of the responsibility for it. At that point, they can begin to work things out.

        What if I say, “Epic stories are at least equally edifying, God-honoring and redemptive as romance and Amish fiction, if not more, and here are the Biblical reasons why,” and someone in response waves a hand and says, “I have no time for such Biblical reasons?” If so, then we face a worse problem than genre-opposition. We face others’ lower regard for Scripture.

        Actually, I think here you’re facing a lower regard for your interpretation of Scripture. You can certainly make a case for epic stories, relative to other forms, that can be supported from Scripture, but being able to make a case doesn’t necessarily imply it’s conclusive.

        Yet the worst thing we could do, for ourselves and our Christian brothers and sisters, is to cede that ground. Oh well, you won’t listen to Biblical reasons, so we should try something else.

        By all means, keep reasoning. I’m just saying that I don’t think people typically choose their fiction via a rational thought process, and when they do, they may have equally Biblical reasons for choosing differently, though we may disagree on the merits of their argument.

        …there’s no point in complaining about publishers and conferences if this is what their target audience wants. The solution is to prayerfully, winsomely, Biblically argue that epic stories are better.

        Nothing wrong with this, but it enters the realm of telling kids to eat their broccoli because it’s good for them. They may accept your explanation about vitamins and fiber, and they may even bow to your parental authority, while you’re watching them, but after the lecture’s over, they’re going to eat what they like. People are going to read what resonates with them, for lack of a better word, and I don’t think anybody entirely understands what drives that connection. If we did, writing a bestseller would be a snap.

        Similarly, we do not err in trying to imitate Christ and worship Him in all we do, especially because, unlike Lewis and Tolkien, His Spirit is within us.

        Agreed.

        (Once again, in the voice of Tony Stark) “Is it too much to ask for both?”
        Here I return to the thought in Reading Is Worship 1 that “worship isn’t always conscious.”

        But this approach feels very self-conscious. In the process of trying to walk (read) and chew gum (worship) at the same time, we’re succeeding at neither one. Maybe it’s just the way I’m wired. I can’t simultaneously read and evaluate. I may be somewhat aware during the course of reading that I’m enjoying the story or that something strikes a false chord, but I can’t process it intellectually until I reflect on it afterward. (Hulk read…then think!)

      • Me: (Once again, in the voice of Tony Stark)

        Fred: (Hulk read…then think!)

        First, it seems we both have The Avengers on the mind …

        That doesn’t make its impact less real. I don’t think we can write it all off to an infatuation with being outsiders or some kind of persecution complex. There’s a reason these people feel unwelcome that isn’t entirely internal, something they’re perceiving in the environment but can’t fully articulate.

        Agreed. And yet even in a world that thinks us unwelcome, we must react like Christ. Let me add something I should have said first: I hate it, I don’t like it, and I also want to load up the weapons and shoot rapid-fire snark. But I also know these are our professing brothers and sisters in Christ, and even if they’re not, we need to show Christ to them — as Christians first, readers/writers second.

        The incident in question seems silly on its surface, but it’s symptomatic of a deeper problem that isn’t fixed by telling people to “act like Christians and get over it.”

        That’s why I’m not saying that (I hope it doesn’t seem I am). There are real issues we need to address. My hope is to hone how we address and make it more Biblical, Christlike, and effective, not to suggest we drop the whole thing. That would be unjust, and real offenses and forgiveness do not work like that.

        Trivializing an inequity isn’t any more Christian than making trouble for the sake of making trouble. Both sides need to recognize there’s a problem and that they each bear some of the responsibility for it. At that point, they can begin to work things out.

        Amen.

        Actually, I think here you’re facing a lower regard for your interpretation of Scripture. You can certainly make a case for epic stories, relative to other forms, that can be supported from Scripture, but being able to make a case doesn’t necessarily imply it’s conclusive.

        I suggest this isn’t simply a matter of interpretations. In some cases (not all) it’s an issue of folks who have been at least trying to evaluate, with minds and hearts, what stories glorify God most, what stories align with Scripture, and what stories will influence culture most effectively.

        In its essence, the case can be made this way:

        1. God’s Epic Story, the Bible, is the fantastic yet true myth of reality.
        2. All other stories are in some sense echoes of that real-life Story.
        3. Given these truths, why insist on only non-supernatural stories?

        If someone says, “That’s only your interpretation,” with respect I would say: that’s a cop-out. Not that I would say this aloud, I mean; instead I would ask, “Well, what is your different interpretation, then?” Make ’em think. Do we really want to admit that we believe the Bible is not fantastic and supernatural?

        I’m just saying that I don’t think people typically choose their fiction via a rational thought process, and when they do, they may have equally Biblical reasons for choosing differently, though we may disagree on the merits of their argument.

        I think I agree. Yet I wonder if perhaps either my substance, or simply by virtue of this discussion’s venue, has given the impression that I’m speaking here only of Thoughts and Themes and Overt Biblical Truths. Not so. I also refer to stories that are just plain written better, in which truth believed and loved on a visceral level has resulted in truer and more beautiful craft. These two elements of good stories — truth and beauty — are no so dichotomous, I’ve come to believe. Truth is beautiful, and real beauty is truthful. God is both. They are inseparable.

        Nothing wrong with this, but it enters the realm of telling kids to eat their broccoli because it’s good for them. They may accept your explanation about vitamins and fiber, and they may even bow to your parental authority, while you’re watching them, but after the lecture’s over, they’re going to eat what they like.

        Perhaps so (and again, perhaps given the limitations of this discussion and/or my specificity with the topic). The solution is not to say “do this because it’s your duty”! This is not Christian. It is to appeal to the beauty that comes from God and which makes Him, and stories, wonderful and desirable.

        It’s very similar to another difference between two modes of witnessing:

        1. One could preach, accurately, that sin is real and God will punish you in Hell forever, so you’d better repent and be saved. All that is true, yet what is the motivation to convert? Duty. Fear of punishment.

          The conversion may be real, but it needs deepening.

        2. Far better is to present the whole Biblical story: that sin is real, God will punish you in Hell for it, but — at the moment when all seems lost — in comes His mercy, shown by Him in Christ, the beautiful, perfect, victorious Hero! He did that for me? the convicted person cries.

          Thus, his or her repentance and faith are not a response based on fear, but truth and beauty. The convert is not fear-filled, but tear-filled.

        But this approach feels very self-conscious. In the process of trying to walk (read) and chew gum (worship) at the same time, we’re succeeding at neither one.

        I think that would be true if we only ever spoke of it in the way I’m speaking of it now: in a very nonfiction way, with analysis and discussion as we’re doing now. It would be like demanding someone breathe, rather than simply letting him do what comes naturally to stay alive. (Have you ever noticed how hard that can be if you become too aware of the need to breathe?)

        However, we don’t only ever speak of it in this way. We grow to know and love God more through the reading and preaching of His Word, through singing, fellowship with His people, through his gifts, through our vocations. And through reading stories that reflect His beauties. I agree, it’s often visceral.

        Maybe it’s just the way I’m wired. I can’t simultaneously read and evaluate.

        For me, it depends. In some stories I see connections immediately (whether or not the story-maker knows it). One example: Rory’s act of self-sacrifice.

        I may be somewhat aware during the course of reading that I’m enjoying the story or that something strikes a false chord, but I can’t process it intellectually until I reflect on it afterward.

        I heartily agree! Often the “evaluation” comes later. To borrow a recent example, during the most recent Doctor Who I certainly wasn’t thinking, “Oh, what a wonderful and truth-based reflection of God-created marriage.” That came later. During the episode I was quite emotionally affected! (It may sounds stupid and dry to say so here.) And I was affected without an overt spiritual “evaluation” occurring at all. Was the heart/feeling non-worship and the thinking/evaluation worship? Oh, heck no. Lord willing, they were all worship, and worship of Him.

  2. Kessie says:

    This weirdness-idolatry concept is still completely foreign to me. I’ve read all sorts of genres from Christian and non-Christian writers alike, got them at the library or bought them at the bookstore.
     
    The only place I see people screaming about being marginalized are people who are trying to publish through the wrong publisher (the big Christian houses). So they go indie-pub, with all of its limitations, and scream about being marginalized there. It makes me scratch my head in bewilderment. Do they WANT to be marginalized? Because they’re sure going about it right.
     
    Over on the Kill Zone (a thriller/mystery writers blog), they talk about how to market your books, how to write better books, all that jazz. Nobody wails about being marginalized over there. Their answer is to write more books, and write them better.

    • That brings to mind a thought for which I’d had time: the fact that “my favorite stories are  being marginalized” is an old complaint. It’s based on assuming the “bricks and mortar” book industry will remain dominant. At this point I think it still is, but ebooks and readers are growing. Now anyone can publish a “newspaper,” “magazine,” or book.

    • Fred Warren says:

      Sure, “marginalization” is meaningless when you’re talking about the entire literary world, where you can now publish anything you want in infinite quantities and market it globally at minimal cost. You don’t have to network with anybody if you don’t want to.
      This is a different problem. ACFW is an insular community of
      Christian authors with a disproportionate preference for a very narrow set of genres. They are heavily invested in the traditional brick-and-mortar model for publishing their books, not in small measure for its perceived status. To “arrive,” you have to sell an agented manuscript to one of several established Christian publishing houses. Anything less is, well…less.
      Enter a group of writers who don’t conform to expectations. They employ innovative publishing models that bypass conventional gatekeepers, and they write in unfamiliar, often disconcerting, genres. This threatens to upset the entire tidy apple cart. What sort of welcome can they expect? At least initially, there’s going to be some wariness, some suspicion, maybe even some disdain and veiled ridicule. These aren’t real writers, like us.
      We’re talking about Christians, so we’d hope there wouldn’t be much of that, and at least as many hugs as cold shoulders. If you’re the person who doesn’t get the hug, you might feel a little…marginalized. You came for fellowship and information-sharing with other like-minded writers and got something much different than you expected.

  3. D.M. Dutcher says:

    Good questions. Let me reply.

    1. How come…? I don’t think people are using weirdness as a club to beat the muggles with. Usually it seems an identity is formed as a reaction to being a square peg in a board of round holes. Contemporary Christian and church culture has grown insular and reactionary, and even when anti-establishment feelings do come, it’s more of a defensive mechanism against a mindset that wants all people to have the same tastes.

     I’m not sure of your cure. The real cure is for Christians to stop being over-afraid of the corruptive power of books, music, and other forms of art. This has bred an artistic culture where being safe and approved is more important than being good, and it creates the reactions you decry.

    2. With speculative…? You’re moving the goalposts some here. Spec fic is niche in Christian published fiction, and that is the basis of the argument. However, don’t oversell how dominant fantasy and science fiction is in modern culture. Keep in mind that fifty to seventy years ago the western was dominant in pop culture to a staggering degree, and it’s all but vanished as a serious genre. What’s fashionable now may change.

    There’s also a looming problem. How much of what is mainstream is really speculative, as opposed to nostalgic or identity-upholding?  The Avengers uses fantasy and science fiction themes, but you could change it easily to a western and nothing is lost, and had it started out as one the reasons why people would watch it would be the same. It’s not speculative, just geeky, and there are geeks in every genre.

    3. Why do…? Because those secular authors can’t or won’t deal with Christianity in their works, and don’t write from that view. This can lead to a pretty sterile and bland future which ignores how religion in general interacts with things, and makes it hard for people to enjoy. I’m not sure why Christians reacting to slights in a public arena makes the need for specifically Christian views on fantasy or SF tropes. 

    You’re arguing that if Christians can’t behave we don’t need them to write specifically Christian works.  And the behavior in question is that we look down on the muggles and keep ourselves apart. I’m not really getting how the two flow together, and per #1, I’m not even sure how much anti-muggleism even exists.

    4. Why would…? By this criteria, no one will ever write a Christian book again. No one on this side of the veil will ever master being like our Savior, or even a part of it.  There’s a reason why the old heaven and old earth must pass away, after all. 

    You also are overselling spec fiction a bit much. Not all spec fiction will always be high concept, and many are strong because they use fantastic means to shine a light on humanity as well as God. I agree with you on spiritual things having priority, but we’re also human, and there’s an old saying that you can be so heavenly minded that you are no earthly good. It’s tough, but there’s a measure of balance to both that needs to be held.

    Good post. A lot of meat to chew on, and even with these responses I still need to think on your points.
     

    • Bainespal says:

      However, don’t oversell how dominant fantasy and science fiction is in modern culture. Keep in mind that fifty to seventy years ago the western was dominant in pop culture to a staggering degree, and it’s all but vanished as a serious genre.

      My understanding of the point Mr. Burnett made in “Please Quit Calling it ‘Weird'” and elsewhere is not so much that speculative fiction actually is the cornerstone of literature or of contemporary culture, but that speculative fiction tends to be more human and ultimately more true, because all of religion and mythology — the human need for something greater than ourselves — is based on ideas that would be called “speculative” in fiction today.
      I actually don’t like the term “speculative fiction” very much. I prefer the broader designation of “epic stories.” I freely admit that some non-speculative fiction can be and is epic in the same way that good speculative fiction is epic, perhaps the occasional historical epic or a rare romance that touches on the deeper implications of love. However, I think epic stories naturally have no barrier between what we perceive as literal every-day reality and what we know to be — or need to be — Ultimate Reality. I think this is why things like magic or other worlds or time travel are perfectly natural material for epic stories.
      As a genre, “speculative fiction” is relative young, dating only from the late 19th century. The Big Point that I’m trying to make is that the source material of speculative fiction is as ancient as humanity. As Christians, our Epic Story is infinitely older than humanity, rooted in the Eternal Word. The Victorians really had a cultural deficiency in their dislike for the fantastic. They were really wrong to think that fairy tales were only for children. Despite all the bad things that have happened to mainstream culture since then, a greater acceptance of the fantastic and of epic stories was a good thing.

    • Thanks much, D. M. I’ve been mulling your comments as well. We are likely approaching the same truths from different directions, with different reminders and qualifiers. I agree with many of yours, and suggest some other sharpening.

      Some of this, as I mentioned above, echoes my response to Fred‘s engaging reply.

      First, a little of my story, as a reminder. I grew up “evangelical,” with some leanings toward “story fear” or at least wrongful story pragmatism that emphasized getting Morals out of a story. (Here I’m not blaming parents or church leaders, merely the fact that if you haven’t heard or paid attention to active teaching otherwise, this is a Christian’s inevitable conclusion.) I don’t think I ever rejected the idea that stories should first and foremost honor God. Yet I came to see that God is glorified when we want Him and His nature more than His gifts, such as Moral Values or Good Entertainment. Those are great things, yet they are means to His end. And when they are done better, with skillfully shown beauty and truth, they honor Him more.

      Contemporary Christian and church culture has grown insular and reactionary, and even when anti-establishment feelings do come, it’s more of a defensive mechanism against a mindset that wants all people to have the same tastes.

      I’m sure that is the case in many areas! At the same time, it’s being eroded away, and my “secular” thought is that we might as well start acting the victory. At my church I’m leading a The Hobbit reading group (after this summer’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe group) and it’s not at all subversive or challenging. It was simply a matter of being in the right place at the right time, and likely having shown that my wife and I want to serve the needs of the body even in all those “churchy” ways.

      Appeals for being more missional to and less fearing of secular culture are too often not applied to Christian church culture. We must show love to all.

       

      I’m not sure of your cure. The real cure is for Christians to stop being over-afraid of the corruptive power of books, music, and other forms of art.

      That’s part of the cure. A first stage. Stop fearing media as if it can destroy you from without, when you should instead fear the sin within. That’s a paraphrase of Christ Himself, from Mark 7. (Further arguments: the prophet Daniel and the Apostle Paul were empowered by God for their callings, which included mastering Babylonian pagan beliefs and Greek poetry, respectively.) So that’s the stop phase. But then comes a start. Start what? For what are these stories good? As worship, I say.

      This has bred an artistic culture where being safe and approved is more important than being good, and it creates the reactions you decry.

      Agreed. Such attitudes elevate “self” and false “safety” above worshiping God. That’s why I suggest that more reaction-based attitudes compound it. Yes, we need to react and winsomely debunk myths, but that is a means to a greater end.

       

      Spec fic is niche in Christian published fiction, and that is the basis of the argument.

      It is (first because of readers’ preferences). I don’t mean to deny that clear fact! 🙂

      However, don’t oversell how dominant fantasy and science fiction is in modern culture. Keep in mind that fifty to seventy years ago the western was dominant in pop culture to a staggering degree, and it’s all but vanished as a serious genre. What’s fashionable now may change.

      You might be speaking of modern fantasy, beginning with the Patron Saints, Lewis and Tolkien, or modern science fiction, beginning first with (arguably) Jules Verne and later popularized by H. G. Wells, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and so on.

      I place the origin of Christian speculative stories much further back:

      1. George MacDonald and G. K. Chesterton? Older than the Patrons. Still newer.
      2. Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol? Fairly new, still, but very speculative.
      3. Christianity-influenced fairy tales from centuries ago? Still too new.
      4. Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress (1678) and Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667)? Now we’re getting somewhere. But these are still relatively recent.
      5. Dante’s Divine Comedy (14th century). Old, but still newer than …
      6. The Bible, the first Story, with present-day effects, and the most speculative and original and true-life Story that exists.

      Based on that Book, Christian speculative stories have A Long and Glorious Tradition. We err in forgetting, minimizing, or not persuading based on that truth.

      Christianity as a faith is based on an Epic Fantasy (yet True) Story.

       

      How much of what is mainstream is really speculative, as opposed to nostalgic or identity-upholding?  The Avengers uses fantasy and science fiction themes, but you could change it easily to a western and nothing is lost, and had it started out as one the reasons why people would watch it would be the same. It’s not speculative, just geeky, and there are geeks in every genre.

      We’re using the word “speculative” differently. (And it is, admittedly, a slightly clunky word. With Bainespal above, I prefer the broader yet more specific “epic story.”) When I say “speculative,” I mean a story that is not only not-real, but could not (yet?) be real. A hero industrialist tech whiz in a robotic superpowered metal suit. A gentle scientist who turns into a raging monster. A real-life “god” from human mythology. And a super-solider from (made-up) American mythology.

       

      3. Why do…? Because those secular authors can’t or won’t deal with Christianity in their works, and don’t write from that view.

      To some extent I agree; there is much about Christianity (such as the fact that God makes heroes out of villains) that they cannot understand. Yet God’s “common grace” also allows secular authors to stumble upon and even show His truths and beauties, often more wonderfully than Christians do. One example: Howard Shore’s score for The Lord of the Rings series (and soon The Hobbit as well). This echoes the beauty of music, myth, and legend better than much Christian music.

      I’m not sure why Christians reacting to slights in a public arena makes the need for specifically Christian views on fantasy or SF tropes.

      My point is that if Christian readers and authors don’t behave like Christ when faced with cold shoulders or conflicts, there is no point in us professing to show truths in our books that secular authors really do not show. They can behave like jerks or egomaniacs and yet tell great stories. If we’re jerks, even if we also tell great stories, what would set us apart? Why do we say we’re unique?

      4. Why would…? By this criteria, no one will ever write a Christian book again. No one on this side of the veil will ever master being like our Savior, or even a part of it.

      Fred said something similar in his comment, and here’s how I earlier responded:

      Agreed. Paul makes the point in the context of a specific controversy over eating and drinking, yet the point is universal. That bar is impossibly high for us.

      It also sets an almost unreachable bar for the reader/viewer.

      … Yet not too high for Christ, to Whom we look as our faith’s founder and perfecter (Hebrews 12:1-2).

      An example. Let’s say a Christian-fantasy author hopes to make his book great. Does he look to Lewis and Tolkien as a high standard for his story and writing quality? One would hope so. Does he expect to attain their classic level and skill? One would hope not! Yet he does not err in making the attempt, does he?

      Similarly, we do not err in trying to imitate Christ and worship Him in all we do, especially because, unlike Lewis and Tolkien, His Spirit is within us.

      It’s a close balance between knowing we’re flawed, yet also avoiding “worm theology” and acting like cliched “hyper-Calvinists” who claim all people, even redeemed Spirit-empowers saints, are still “totally depraved.”

       Back to quotes from D. M.:

      There’s a reason why the old heaven and old earth must pass away, after all. 

      Quick point: Yet they don’t stay “passed away.” Isaiah, Romans, and Revelation are clear that God makes a New Heavens and New Earth, not from scratch but from the healed, restored, resurrected old creation. Other prophets (references available upon request) speak of Earth’s valuables, such as silver and gold, being carried over into the Kingdom. Kings, clearly denoting separate nations and cultures, will come into the New Jerusalem, capital of the eternal world formed from Heaven having descended to Earth (Rev. 21). That’s why I suggest that even great stories may last forever, even with the reminders of sin. Even if they have some revisions made, good stories will be even more in perspective and worshipful, reminding us of the great victory Christ won even as His evidently permanent scars will remind us.

      I agree with you on spiritual things having priority, but we’re also human, and there’s an old saying that you can be so heavenly minded that you are no earthly good.

      An old saying I heartily disagree with, as it contradicts Colossians 3:1-2 (hover for verses) and other passages. But I do agree with you that some versions of “being heavenly minded” are just plain false piety and religious nonsense, dressed up to appear spiritual. Rather, as Christ has redeemed us, we in turn join in helping to redeem His creation — including its cultures and storytelling. Only a kind of heavenly-mindedness, rightly defined and at least aimed for, can help us do this.

      Some great books that helped point me to Scripture about these things are:

      • Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist by John Piper. It gently debunks the pervasive notion that if you enjoy something, that can’t be worship, and that worship is primarily a duty and/or for goals besides “getting more of” God Himself and His glory.
      • Heaven by Randy Alcorn. Despite the title, it’s more specifically about the New Heavens and New Earth that Christians often overlook in their views.

      I read these books in the same year. They might as well be companion volumes.

      Good post. A lot of meat to chew on, and even with these responses I still need to think on your points.

      Thanks much again, and I’ll continue the conversation as long as you wish!

      • D.M. Dutcher says:

        First, a little of my story, as a reminder. I grew up “evangelical,” with some leanings toward “story fear” or at least wrongful story pragmatism that emphasized getting Morals out of a story.

        I grew up Word of Faith, where just having a fantasy book in the house could be a gateway to evil spirits coming in. I also grew up during the big anti D&D backlash where just playing a role-playing game with magic in it could turn you into a Satan-worshipping bad boy. I think we can agree on where we come from and how we approach it.

        I don’t think I ever rejected the idea that stories should first and foremost honor God. Yet I came to see that God is glorified when we want Him and His nature more than His gifts, such as Moral Values or Good Entertainment. Those are great things, yet they are means to His end. And when they are done better, with skillfully shown beauty and truth, they honor Him more.

         I don’t think I can accept that stories are solely a means to an end. I think the creation and subcreation has worth in its own, as opposed as solely a means of glorification. I agree with how you say God is glorified, but I guess I can’t see any form of creation or subcreation primarily in those utilitarian terms. This is too deep though for anything but a cursory response, and I’ll probably be thinking on this all night tonight.

        I do also agree with your thoughts on “missioning” to Christian culture, but I don’t want to quote them at length as this is going to be a long reply as it is.

        Based on that Book, Christian speculative stories have A Long and Glorious Tradition. We err in forgetting, minimizing, or not persuading based on that truth.

         There’s a lot of definition creep here. The Bible is not particularly speculative at all. I think you are using speculative to mean several different things:

        Fantastic-a taste for fantastic or improbable stories has been a part of human nature it seems.
        Numinous-a taste for unearthly or the unknown
        Mythological-stories that explain things that are lost in time
        Theological-speculative-stories that conjecture based on real things to their ultimate end. “What if?” stories.

        While I think these tastes do run through humanity, Christian spec-fic tends to be predominantly Fantastic, with a side order of theological-speculation. And Fantastic is the main thing driving the geek boom today. Theological-speculative is generally a minority, even among Christian spec fic. 

        The problem too is that fantastic engages people at a very low sense. Think Maslow and the pyramid of needs. It sates a need for our physical senses and ideas. But those same physical senses can get tired and jaded of a certain type of stimulation, and it’s dangerous to assume that it will continue. An example I can think of is in film-aren’t you bored to tears with special effects, especially CGI, by now? It’s to the point where the reaction sometimes is “Yawn, yet ANOTHER scene of cars being blown up down a New York city street.”

        I think to endure as spec fic specifically, it has to engage the theological-speculative sense, but those ironically are the least popular stories in the genre. Well maybe rarest as opposed to least popular: some become quite big indeed, but a lot more people read Military Spec Fic as opposed to say Greg Benford or other hard SF authors. For film again, the first Matrix was that, and it shone in a genre where science fiction meant visual, fantastic wonders but stories borrowed from old westerns. I’m still thinking about whether or not those four things are an actual hierarchy or not, and if the theological-speculative includes them or stands apart.

        There’s more I want to reply to, but it’s taking a lot more time to think on and digest each point, so I have to reply to it and Baines ‘s point a little later. This is one of those posts and replies where you find you need to set down and clarify your views before you can even respond to the actual point, and those are some of the best. I’ll post later asap.

      • What an awesome discussion. Thanks again, D. M. I’ll try to keep this one shorter, mostly with continued questions and perhaps some recommendations for resources (some of which I made in the above comments).

        I grew up Word of Faith, where just having a fantasy book in the house could be a gateway to evil spirits coming in.

        (Sigh) Some Christians, regardless of their intentions, have this very bizarre way of practicing magic and mysticism, out of fear of magic and mysticism! (For now I’ll bypass saying more about word-faith teaching itself, save for this remark.)

        Hope you don’t mind a little “advertising” here. Yet given the prevalence of these ideas, and the need to refute them Biblically (not only with “it was legalistic”), we’ve had many refutations on Speculative Faith. Jared Moore, a Southern Baptist pastor and author of The Harry Potter Bible Study: Enjoying God Through the Final Four Harry Potter Movies, wrote Participating in Media Is An Act of Worship (an excerpt from the book). His work has helped sharpen my own views, including in this feature: Ten Wrong Ways to Discern a Story.

        I also grew up during the big anti D&D backlash where just playing a role-playing game with magic in it could turn you into a Satan-worshipping bad boy.

        As if the world is more sinful than (unredeemed) human hearts. Yet who sinned first, Adam and Eve, or the World? As man goes, so does the rest of creation. Yet this applies to creation’s redemption as well (proof is in Romans 8).

        I think we can agree on where we come from and how we approach it.

        I don’t think I can accept that stories are solely a means to an end. I think the creation and subcreation has worth in its own, as opposed as solely a means of glorification.

        That entirely depends on one’s definition of “God’s glory/glorification.” It could sound like an uber-“spiritual” notion. (I once thought “glorifying God” meant only specific “religious” activities, like Bible-reading, prayer, church attendance or Helping the Poor.) What do you think it means? How does Scripture define it?

        I’ll probably be thinking on this all night tonight.

        You and me both, brother! It’s a complex topic, and I yearn to find better ways to communicate it. Several nonfiction books do a great job, including the two I read in 2006 that helped change my thinking on this: Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist by John Piper, and Heaven by Randy Alcorn. At present I’m also reading a new book called Eyes Wide Open: Enjoying God In Everything by Steve DeWitt. These are theologians, of course, who tend to be bent that way, yet Alcorn bases everything in Scripture and accents it with Star Trek and Lord of the Rings references, and DeWitt eagerly admits weeping for joy when Gandalf arrived at Helm’s Deep in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. These books fit perfectly at the natural intersection of Biblical truth and “geekdom.”

        There’s a lot of definition creep here. The Bible is not particularly speculative at all. I think you are using speculative to mean several different things […]

        Definitely. You seem to define it more narrowly. The term “speculative” could be clunky, yet I think it’s a functional catch-all term for any story that includes any element classified as “not what we normally see.” Thus, paranormal, science fiction, urban/medieval/high/low/whatever fantasy, supernatural, and many other sorts of stories fall into that definition (and within Spec-Faith’s purview).

        When I say, “the Bible is speculative,” I mean to connote that it is epic, fantastic, miraculous, supernatural (clearly!), and “medieval” and futuristic. It is a “high fantasy” world that just happens to be the real one.

        And here I am speaking of the whole Story from beginning to end: God’s quest to save His friends/enemies and His creation from evil. That greater Epic Story does include several “non-speculative” sub-stories and books, such as genealogies and works of systematic theology. Yet it is all epic and fantastic, and true. Any other good-vs.-evil story with a beginning, a middle, and an end, in which a hero loses and/or wants something and works to find it, with enemies’ opposition and friends’ support, in some sense echoes that first, true Story.

        That’s a good way to end this. Yet a few more thoughts:

        The problem too is that fantastic engages people at a very low sense. Think Maslow and the pyramid of needs. It sates a need for our physical senses and ideas. But those same physical senses can get tired and jaded of a certain type of stimulation, and it’s dangerous to assume that it will continue. An example I can think of is in film-aren’t you bored to tears with special effects, especially CGI, by now? It’s to the point where the reaction sometimes is “Yawn, yet ANOTHER scene of cars being blown up down a New York city street.”

        Agreed. That’s why I see very few mere-action films unless they have some of the fantastic about them — heroism, well-crafted themes of good versus evil, and so on. I was not at all jaded, after all, by The Avengers. Yet, there were explosions galore, but the heart of the story was people, flawed yet real heroes, many with fantastic/magical/speculative abilities. Yet I don’t care about action-for-its-own-sake, any more than I care about romance- or magic-for-its-own-sake.

        This is one of those posts and replies where you find you need to set down and clarify your views before you can even respond to the actual point, and those are some of the best. I’ll post later asap.

        In that case, I thank God, and thank you for your encouragement, and I’ll definitely follow the discussion as long as necessary.

  4. Galadriel says:

    The “square peg in a round hole” is a likely element in a lot of “that’s weird” cases.  Another element I just thought of is the ratio of introverts to extroverts in a genre. I’d love to see some stats on that, especially with the popular perspective of speculative fans as loners. 

  5. I must state at the outset of this comment that I have next-to-no knowledge of the events which incited this blog post.  I’m here neither to condemn nor to defend anyone’s specific actions; I’m weighing in because I, as a “Christian-speculative reader,” have been asked to contribute my perspective.  And that perspective is:

    1)  A false dichotomy is being set up between the ideas of “glorifying God and enjoying Him forever” and “rebelling against perceived majority culture.”  What if the majority culture does, indeed, need to be rebelled against?  What if it’s impossible to glorify God without hazarding the consequence that you’ll be derided as a rebel?  This isn’t to imply that rebellion against majority culture equals the glorification of God, and I’m not now condoning an approach that revels in rebellion for its own sake and only later looks to justify itself through an appeal to Christianese catch-phrases.  But the opposite of that extreme is also an extreme.  The idea that Christians ought to focus solely on their own personal joy in the things of God else they be in danger of courting idols seems to me passive at best, paranoid at worst.  When Christians hold themselves aloof from the cultural fray – when they obsess over their personal fulfillment in Christ at the expense of confrontation or witnessing or “hand-dirtying” – then the whole world picks up speed down the slippery slope.  While it’s true that rebellion against majority culture may distract from the glorification and enjoyment of God, it’s not true that this is necessarily the case.  Indeed, the former may prove material to the latter.  It all depends on context, and on the direction given by the Spirit of the Living God.

    2)  An assumption is being made that Christians ought to write speculative fiction solely out of a desire to accomplish something (even if it’s nothing more than “to give spec-fiction readers something new and different”).  But this idea that Christian writers shouldn’t be interested in inhabiting a genre that’s already “covered” by non-Christians unless they plan to somehow shake everything up seems like a baseless premise to me.  Tolkien didn’t create Middle-earth because he was a Catholic bent on glorifying God; he built his world primarily because he was a speculative writer.  Since he also happened to be a Catholic who took his faith seriously, it permeated his worldview and therefore his writing.  He wasn’t concerned with agonizing over why he, as a Christian, “needed” to offer the world his fiction.  And yet just look at what he’s given us.  As Christians, we are to do everything for the glory of God.  Writing is, in that sense, no more special or mystical or lofty than accounting or farming or soldiering.  We don’t need to approach it with some Grand Master Plan to Set Ourselves Apart and Do Awesome Things for God.  If we’re truly grateful to the Creator Incarnate for buying us with His Own blood, then our glorification of Him will come.  No need to force it.

    • Thanks much, Austin. Some of my comments above may clarify some things; I may also do some near-instantaneous e-cycling from them in this response. (Go green.

      1)  A false dichotomy is being set up between the ideas of “glorifying God and enjoying Him forever” and “rebelling against perceived majority culture.”

      Not my intention, I assure you. If there was no need to push against predominant views, Speculative Faith would likely not exist. Absolutely I believe that is a need, and that it is a part of glorifying God. My point is that we seek glorifying God first and do not assume we have this goal established, and then do other things such as react to slights (real or perceived), or read, write, and/or market fantastic fiction.

      “Aim for Heaven and you will get Earth thrown in; aim for Earth and you will get neither,” C. S. Lewis wisely said. Such priorities enhance our joys and mission here.

      Thus, when I bring up the spiritual stuff, I don’t see it as separate from the rest.

      As you yourself pointed out, we’re meant to glorify God in all we do. Reading is not so different. Yet still we must work to “take it captive” for His glory and worship of Him, just as we prioritize all our other callings in light of the one to worship Him.

      What if the majority culture does, indeed, need to be rebelled against?  What if it’s impossible to glorify God without hazarding the consequence that you’ll be derided as a rebel?

      Then let’s do it, with gusto and fervor. But not to the extent of confusing the means with the end — which I do see happening in some (not all) Christian-fantasy advocacy. And not to the extent of not knowing what to do with victory when we see it approaching. Counter-cultural movements often don’t know when to stop and realize they are the culture. Or else, they just get mean and annoy people for good reasons. (See also: the 1960s, some Christian-conservative activism, etc.)

      This isn’t to imply that rebellion against majority culture equals the glorification of God, and I’m not now condoning an approach that revels in rebellion for its own sake and only later looks to justify itself through an appeal to Christianese catch-phrases.

      Ah, now I see this as I read through more carefully. We completely agree, then.

      I only suggest that when I see, in this instance, mainly rankled defense and not even many attempts to be Christlike in response to an unfair situation, this shows we may have more work in the Spirit (Philippians 2: 12-13) to do on our Christlike maturity — as we always do! — and need to stop presenting a merely “secular” or even juvenile reaction. If we all assume someone else is covering that foundational base, very likely it won’t be covered at all.

      But the opposite of that extreme is also an extreme.  The idea that Christians ought to focus solely on their own personal joy in the things of God else they be in danger of courting idols seems to me passive at best, paranoid at worst.

      Here we might have different definitions of joy. I’m speaking of joy in God, which may manifest in periods of overt happiness or hand-dirtying (as you say below) sorrow. Joy in Him can be conscious or “unconscious,” whether the sun is shining and we’re reading a great story, or when we’re facing real persecution.

      Believe me, I’ve by no means mastered it, and won’t master it in this life. Yet that is still no reason not to try (again by the Spirit) and thus see all things, all activities including counter-cultural activism, in light of that ultimate mission.

      When Christians hold themselves aloof from the cultural fray – when they obsess over their personal fulfillment in Christ at the expense of confrontation or witnessing or “hand-dirtying” – then the whole world picks up speed down the slippery slope.

      Absolutely. And that would be the sickening result (and alas, has been) when we equate “joy” with personal, over-individual, me-first “feeling good.” That’s a prosperity “gospel” that seems “joyful” at first — hey, Joel Osteen is always smiling! (just like The Joker) — but ultimately leads to legalistic misery and joylessness.

      While it’s true that rebellion against majority culture may distract from the glorification and enjoyment of God, it’s not true that this is necessarily the case.

      Agreed. Don’t blame the Thing for our abusive sins, but our own sinful hearts that hijack good Things for bad motives (Mark 7). Still we must be cautious about the risks of the Thing, given those sinful hearts. After all, we are seeing right now in Christian books the results of a “culture war” that arguably became its own end.

      An assumption is being made that Christians ought to write speculative fiction solely out of a desire to accomplish something (even if it’s nothing more than “to give spec-fiction readers something new and different”). But this idea that Christian writers shouldn’t be interested in inhabiting a genre that’s already “covered” by non-Christians unless they plan to somehow shake everything up seems like a baseless premise to me.  

      I hope I didn’t give that impression. My comparison there was mainly about the behavior of Christian readers and authors. I asked: If we don’t have something Christlike to show in our behavior, even  if not specifically in our stories but at least ourselves, then what is the point of us? Implicit answer: not much.

      Tolkien didn’t create Middle-earth because he was a Catholic bent on glorifying God; he built his world primarily because he was a speculative writer.

      Yet he would not have been interested in such things had mythology — which was inspired by the Epic Story — not inspired him. Directly or indirectly, faith came first.

      Since he also happened to be a Catholic who took his faith seriously, it permeated his worldview and therefore his writing.  He wasn’t concerned with agonizing over why he, as a Christian, “needed” to offer the world his fiction.

      I agree. The process is much more organic. Yet there is nothing wrong and more right with exploring the depths of the First Story to make new stories better. That is why so much current Christian fiction is so frustrating. No matter the genre, I have had about all I can take of the “let go and let God” “Jesus loves you” themes. They may be genuinely meant, but they are surface-level spiritual “milk.” I push for deeper themes and thinking not out of some notion of spiritual duty, but because they make stories better and thus glorify the ultimate Author even more.

      As Christians, we are to do everything for the glory of God.  Writing is, in that sense, no more special or mystical or lofty than accounting or farming or soldiering.  We don’t need to approach it with some Grand Master Plan to Set Ourselves Apart and Do Awesome Things for God.

      Agreed: that all things, not just reading or writing, are inevitably a worship of something, and should be worship of God. I add: thanks to Christ, they can be.

      Agreed: that reading/writing requires no extra-special plan to Set Ourselves Apart and Be Great. First, we are already “set apart” anyway, in the world but not of it, and we can hardly help or add to that. Second: God may simply want faithfulness in the “little things,” not some great Cultural Mover or Power-Shaker.

      Yet I have begun to wonder if storytelling is really no more unique than another activity. God did not communicate His Story to us through dance, or dishwashing, or accounting. Storytelling, even more than systematic theology (which we also need), has a more-direct connection to God’s Word and the preaching of His Word. This more-direct echo is seen in any good-vs.-evil story, whether intended or not.

      If we’re truly grateful to the Creator Incarnate for buying us with His Own blood, then our glorification of Him will come.  No need to force it.

      Hmm. I may agree or disagree here. I’m not sure active, intentional, meaningful-choice efforts at being holy, that is, worshiping and glorifying God, count as fake “forcing it.” It simply recognizes that although we are redeemed, we still struggle with the old religion of Me-ism and need to purge those beliefs and choices. It also recognizes that we do not “let go and let God,” which I earlier referred to as a kind of fatalism; rather, we actively participate in our sanctification (Phil. 2: 12-13) even as we’re empowered by the Spirit. We fight this battle the rest of our lives — yearning for the time when our bodies are redeemed and we can worship God naturally and optimally in all that we do, no exceptions, throughout eternity.

      Thanks again for the challenging discussion! I hope these remarks help, especially when joined with those other longer essays up there. My hope is also that in this discussion, whether “overt” or not, we’re all bringing glory to God. As a flawed-yet-trying Christian radio host says, It’s not about perfection, but direction.

  6. Stephen,

    Thanks for your thoughtful reply.  I’ve been agog watching this comment thread balloon over the past 24 hours, so hopefully I’m able to accurately interpret your viewpoints and respond to them in relevant ways.  It appears that the bulk of our disagreement is founded on miscommunication and semantic discrepancies, but I think there’s still some stuff we can argue about.  😉

     You seem to be making what I view as an unwarranted connection between Christians’ personal social interaction and their occupational calling.  You assert in your response to D.M. Dutcher that “if Christian readers and authors don’t behave like Christ when faced with cold shoulders or conflicts, there is no point in us professing to show truths in our books that secular authors really do not show. They can behave like jerks or egomaniacs and yet tell great stories. If we’re jerks, even if we also tell great stories, what would set us apart? Why do we say we’re unique?”  In your reply to me you again ask, “if we don’t have something Christlike to show in our behavior, even if not specifically in our stories but at least ourselves, then what is the point of us? Implicit answer: not much.”

    But that answer is not, in fact, implicit, for the rhetorical question it purports to complete is itself founded on the false premise that the fiction written by Christians must have a “point,” and that’s a premise which, in practice, assumes writing to be a means instead of an end.  But if writing’s a means, then it cannot be worship.  If I try to “accomplish” something with my writing – if I attempt to “make a difference” or “change the world” or “give God a good name,” then my writing ceases to be a personal expression of praise and instead becomes a mere tool.  Pure worship wants nothing; it’s the recognition of reality, not the advocacy thereof (here’s hoping that definition makes sense).

    My point here is this: immature Christians have just as much reason to write speculative fiction as the most Christlike amongst us.  If writing really can be worship, then it’s unthinkable to crack open its gate only to the “deserving” – to those who’ve achieved a level of sanctification sufficient to dispel fellow Christians’ fears of that they’ll indulge in some kind of embarrassing display.  That’d be akin to the asphyxiating idea that a certain level of sanctification is necessary before a believer goes out into the world to witness or minister or serve others’ needs.  The Body of Christ will atrophy into emaciation if we all feel we’ve gotta get buff before we can show up at the gym.

    To clarify: I’m not now arguing that writing should be always an end and never a means.  That’d be a rather ridiculous assertion, especially for professional authors (among whose ranks I’ll likely never fall).  In my own writing, I’m driven to accomplish very specific things in the minds and hearts of my readers.  My writing is (I hope) deeply thematic, and I never put words on a page without my ultimate message in mind.  That’s just the way I think.  And I agree wholeheartedly with your disparagement of shallow, shortsighted Christian fiction.  But that doesn’t mean I can transmogrify my personal predilection into a general rule.

    What I am saying is that Christian writing – especially if viewed as worship – doesn’t necessarily need to have a “point.”  “Points” can be great – even life-changing – but they’re not requisite for the creative decisions of Christian writers to have value or worth.  To run yet again the perpetual risk of dependance upon the example of a “Patron Saint”: Tolkien never once characterized his works’ existence as being justified by having a “point” that anyone here would accept as “Christian.”  His stated purpose was not to glorify God or “show truths,” but rather to create a “mythology for England.”  Neither do we read Tolkien because he lived an exemplary life (though an argument could be made that he did); we read Tolkien because his works speak to us in deep and profound ways.  To demand more from each other than we demand from Tolkien seems to me profoundly unfair.  (The operative word there is “demand.”  We should by all means exhort, encourage, and edify one another further into personal sanctification and professional craft.  But the idea that we should go home and rethink our lives if we don’t meet some arbitrary standard of personal maturity constitutes an unreasonable ultimatum.)

    Regarding my assertion that Christians who overthink the purpose of their fiction are “forcing it”: I absolutely agree with you that, as Christians, we should make “active, intentional, meaningful-choice efforts at being holy.”  But my intention was to target that comment at the third question your original blog post lobbed to Christian spec-fic readers: “if … many ‘secular’ novels and films do fine in reflecting Biblical truths and beauties, … why do we even need Christians offering even more speculative stories?”  My argument that Christian writers shouldn’t “force it” (“it” being the glorification of God) kinda assumed you were thinking of glorification in terms of “making a difference in the world.”  After all, your attempt to provoke thought on the matter consisted of comparing Christian writers to secular writers.  How else can one interpret that approach other than as an appeal to external results based on the assumption that God is only glorified when some cultural “need” is being addressed in a uniquely Christian way?  In contrast to that definition, I quote John Piper: “God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in Him.”  When my writing streams from my satisfaction in and worship of my Maker, I no longer need concern myself with why the world “needs” my book: its impact is in God’s hands.  In my limited experience, “need-based” writing leads to stilted, inorganic, and, yes, “forced” prose.  That’s what I was trying to say.  Hope I managed to make it a little more intelligible this time around.

    P.S.   You gained +100 acerbity for comparing Joel Osteen to the Joker.  That put a smile on my face.  😉

  7. Austin,

    Your comments and others will likely inspire this Thursday’s column, which may be titled Reading Is Worship 7: More Than A Story.

    Until that piece, here are a few more questions and clarifications.

    It appears that the bulk of our disagreement is founded on miscommunication and semantic discrepancies, but I think there’s still some stuff we can argue about.  😉

    Perhaps so. Regardless, this discussion is much more enjoyable than many others in which I’ve been involved this week (particularly relating to politics, the wisdom of third parties, and so on).

    You’ve well targeted a premise of my argument I did make when you quoted this:

     You seem to be making what I view as an unwarranted connection between Christians’ personal social interaction and their occupational calling.  You assert in your response to D.M. Dutcher that “if Christian readers and authors don’t behave like Christ when faced with cold shoulders or conflicts, there is no point in us professing to show truths in our books that secular authors really do not show. They can behave like jerks or egomaniacs and yet tell great stories. If we’re jerks, even if we also tell great stories, what would set us apart? Why do we say we’re unique?”  In your reply to me you again ask, “if we don’t have something Christlike to show in our behavior, even if not specifically in our stories but at least ourselves, then what is the point of us? Implicit answer: not much.”

    The most relevant portion: when I said “there is no point in us professing to show truths in our books that secular authors really do not show.” You questioned that assumption. You asked: What if we aren’t “professing to show [such] truths” at all?

    But that answer is not, in fact, implicit, for the rhetorical question it purports to complete is itself founded on the false premise that the fiction written by Christians must have a “point,” and that’s a premise which, in practice, assumes writing to be a means instead of an end.

    Here’s where we definitely agree: stories are not merely a means to an end. They have intrinsic God-glorifying value. I hope Speculative Faith has always pushed this truth. Stories are not mere means to things like Moral Improvement (as if the chief end of a story is to repeat a Moral Truth memorably). They are also not mere means to Good Feelings, or Niche Marketing, or Entertainment, as this Reading Is Worship series has so far suggested. Rather, they are means to glorifying God.

    I argue that this is the point of all stories.

    But it’s vulnerable to misunderstanding, likely because it sounds Spiritual.

    So my open question, for “research,” is this: when you heard a claim that “the purpose of Story is to glorify God,” what meaning do you hear?

    I think I may know a little of what you hear, so I’ll try to answer that below.

    But if writing’s a means, then it cannot be worship.

    This may depend on the what we mean by “writing.” When I think of “writing,” I think of creativity, not merely a utilitarian effort to communicate. I’m thinking of art, metaphor, skill, honest explorations, faithful renderings of humanity, endearing reflections of beauty, goodness, and truth. In this, worship is visceral. Not only overt. Yet this also doesn’t rule out, say, having a character sing a praise song.

    If I try to “accomplish” something with my writing – if I attempt to “make a difference” or “change the world” or “give God a good name,” then my writing ceases to be a personal expression of praise and instead becomes a mere tool.

    It may. Or it may not.

    Take a popular secular example: The Hunger Games. Did Suzanne Collins want to “change the world”? We don’t know, but the themes she explored certainly have something to say about our culture’s views or potential views of civil authority and pop entertainment. (If anyone thinks her presentation subtle, it is not, especially when she over-overtly gives the Capitol citizens a “vomitorium” in Catching Fire.)

    Surely Collins wanted to “make a difference.” Even while sharing a great story.

    As for “changing the world” or “giving God a good name,” again we seem to have definition differences. I’ve argued that glorifying or worshiping God can indeed be a “subconscious” activity. (After all, Scriptures assure us that rocks and whales do it.)

    So let us suppose one Christian sits down and says, You know what? I want to write a great story. If his motives are (relatively) sin-free, that story will bring glory to God, with or without overt religious themes. Why? Because he is no longer a depraved sinner; Christ has redeemed him. And if Christ (ultimately) can echo truth and glorify Himself through non-Christians thanks to common grace, He will surely do this through the works of a Christian.

    But let’s suppose another Christian says, I want to write a story about specific Christian themes: redemption, human nature, heroism, sacrifice, maybe even church politics or relatively “minor” theological questions. He wants to glorify God in a different way, more “explicitly,” by crafting a story about Christians, maybe even for Christians. Is this inferior? It might be. Or it might be a fantastic, well-made tale.

    Really, it depends on the author and his personal depth in the faith.

    • If he has drawn deep from that original, Epic Story of God’s Word and reality, then that will affect his writing, regardless of the kind of story he wants to tell.
    • If he is a Christian “on the side,” seeing that as entirely separate from his writing life and stories as a means “to themselves” only, I do suggest his writing will offer nothing new.

    Notice I do not say “nothing spiritual, nothing of worth, nothing With a Point.” I mean nothing new. A Christian’s motive to write for God’s glory should be precisely to make better stories. If he wants to write primarily for Moral Betterment, or Entertainment, or Proselytization, or as a Cultural Pushback, his story will likely be inferior. Not as joyful. Not as heartfelt and original.

    But there seems to be a greater different in our definitions:

    Pure worship wants nothing; it’s the recognition of reality, not the advocacy thereof (here’s hoping that definition makes sense).

    Hmm. If I’ve understood you right, I wholeheartedly disagree. (Yet I am confused, because you also name-check Piper, who discourages “disinterested worship”!)

    In worship, we want more of God. And we want to share Him.

    If needed, I can prove this Biblically, with references and mini-essays galore. Or I can simply supply the names of excellent books on this issue — especially Desiring God by John Piper and Heaven by Randy Alcorn — which both Biblically put to rest the perennial notion of “disinterested” worship. They build on the Biblical case of C. S. Lewis, who wrote frequently about (and according to) a Biblical concept of joy.

    One of the best examples of this is in The Great Divorce, chapter 9. In this admitted allegorical tale, Lewis himself is taken via “airbus” to a vision of Heaven, or rather Heaven’s outskirts, in which Heaven’s citizens confront the residents of the dull, boring, gray slums of Hell (symbolizing the real world choices we have while living).

    In this chapter, a heavenly Spirit confronts the “ghost” of a citizen of Hell. The ghost is awed by the landscape of Heaven, but wants to paint it — neglecting the Source.

    [The Spirit is speaking] “When you painted on earth — at least in your earlier days — it was because you caught glimpses of Heaven in the earthly landscape. The success of your painting was that it enabled others to see the glimpses too. But here you are having the thing itself. It is from here that the messages came. There is no good telling us about this country, for we see it already. In fact we see it better than you do.”

    “Then there’s never going to be any point in painting here?”

    “I don’t say that. When you’ve grown into a Person (it’s all right, we all had to do it) there’ll be some things which you’ll see better than anyone else. One of the things you’ll want to do will be to tell us about them. But not yet. At present your business is to see. Come and see. He is endless. Come and feed.”

    There was a little pause. “That will be delightful,” said the Ghost presently in a rather dull voice.

    “Come, then,” said the Spirit, offering it his arm.

    “How soon do you think I could begin painting?” it asked.

    The Spirit broke into laughter. “Don’t you see you’ll never paint at all if that’s what you’re thinking about?” he said.

    “What do you mean?” asked the Ghost.

    “Why, if you are interested in the country only for the sake of painting it, you’ll never learn to see the country.”

    “But that’s just how a real artist is interested in the country.”

    “No. You’re forgetting,” said the Spirit. “That was not how you began. Light itself was your first love: you loved paint only as a means of telling about light.”

    “Oh, that’s ages ago,” said the Ghost. “One grows out of that. Of course, you haven’t seen my later works. One becomes more and more interested in paint for its own sake.”

    “One does, indeed. I also have had to recover from that. It was all a snare. Ink and catgut and paint were necessary down there, but they are also dangerous stimulants. Every poet and musician and artist, but for Grace, is drawn away from love of the thing he tells, to love of the telling till, down in Deep Hell, they cannot be interested in God at all but only in what they say about Him. For it doesn’t stop at being interested in paint, you know. They sink lower — become interested in their own personalities and then in nothing but their own reputations.”

    Ah, it’s a beautiful thing, yet I cannot end there; there’s a few more things. …

    My point here is this: immature Christians have just as much reason to write speculative fiction as the most Christlike amongst us.  If writing really can be worship, then it’s unthinkable to crack open its gate only to the “deserving”

    Oh, I definitely agree. I’ve no desire to institute, much less be, some kind of “gatekeeper.” Yet we should also encourage maturity, don’t you think? And in this case, we can lovingly recognize differences while also pointing to Scripture — especially the Scriptures that relate to personal peacemaking and learning how to love even legitimate legalists (while recognizing our own legalisms!).

    – to those who’ve achieved a level of sanctification sufficient to dispel fellow Christians’ fears of that they’ll indulge in some kind of embarrassing display.  That’d be akin to the asphyxiating idea that a certain level of sanctification is necessary before a believer goes out into the world to witness or minister or serve others’ needs.  The Body of Christ will atrophy into emaciation if we all feel we’ve gotta get buff before we can show up at the gym.

    Agreed and amen. This is a worse danger if we point “non-buff” brothers and sisters to themselves and their own efforts, rather than those of Christ!

    I’m also in total agreement with your remarks about “points.” When we understand the definition of worship to be sin-free, sometimes-conscious-and-sometimes-not desire for more of God and our enjoyment in Him (and thus more of His glory), anything we do fulfills that “point.” Worship and enjoyment of God are “the point.”

     

    To run yet again the perpetual risk of dependance upon the example of a “Patron Saint”: Tolkien never once characterized his works’ existence as being justified by having a “point” that anyone here would accept as “Christian.”  His stated purpose was not to glorify God or “show truths,” but rather to create a “mythology for England.”

    And yet that in itself is a way of glorifying God. Whether or not Tolkien knew it, he was participating in the redemptive work of Christ. He had been redeemed, and so he set out to in a sense help in redeeming creation — to “subcreate,” to tell stories that end in “eucatastrophe.” That term was his, and he had obviously thought it through. It seems reductionistic to say his only goal was to create a new mythology. Like the story itself, it was “a tale that grew in the telling,” with many goals.

    It seems some authors (perhaps myself included) are wont to take one aspect of either Tolkien’s or Lewis’s motives, separate that motive from the whole, and make a guiding philosophy out of it, whether “secular” or “spiritual.” The whole is more complex and we must wrestle with that. With them, there was no such thing as “secular,” and that belief made their work more endearing and transcendent.

    Neither do we read Tolkien because he lived an exemplary life (though an argument could be made that he did); we read Tolkien because his works speak to us in deep and profound ways.

    Agreed. (You seem to be arguing against that annoying Christian belief that we must be faithful to Good Christian Authors with exemplary lives, even if their stories are badly written!) I simply offer the reminder that Tolkien could not have written such a work if he had not kept growing, kept challenging himself, and thought seriously, and very Biblically, about the reasons for subcreating and themes.

    Here is where we may have the most profound disagreement:

    We should by all means exhort, encourage, and edify one another further into personal sanctification and professional craft.  But the idea that we should go home and rethink our lives if we don’t meet some arbitrary standard of personal maturity constitutes an unreasonable ultimatum.

    My goal has certainly been the former, not the latter! At the same time, I do believe this constitutes an issue of Christlikeness. If we have been slighted, we should react as He would have us react. It becomes less about genre wars or market forces, really, and more about plain peacemaking. And if then we find that others (such as the prevailing Christian publishing culture) do indeed cling to un-Biblical ideas or reactions to brothers and sisters, then that is another issue. But at least we’re not (as) guilty of the same behavior, as far as we can tell!

    My argument that Christian writers shouldn’t “force it” (“it” being the glorification of God) kinda assumed you were thinking of glorification in terms of “making a difference in the world.”

    Ah, not my intention, though. Unless “making a difference” is defined as “sharing great stories with the world that will reflect truth, beauty, and goodness.”

    After all, your attempt to provoke thought on the matter consisted of comparing Christian writers to secular writers.  How else can one interpret that approach other than as an appeal to external results based on the assumption that God is only glorified when some cultural “need” is being addressed in a uniquely Christian way?

    Good challenge. Here I do concede I was thinking of authors who do want to Make a Difference, either in the ways you’ve described or by showing the world that Christians can tell great stories also, maybe even better. Yet even if we have all the writing talent in the world, “but have not love,” we are nothing (1 Cor. 11). Here we see again that it matters tremendously why we read or write — not for Moral Improvement, not to be a Counter-Culture (or a cultural-affirmer!), not merely to proselytize, but to follow the dictum just as you quoted:

    In contrast to that definition, I quote John Piper: “God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in Him.”

    And the rest I agree with completely (with only the reminder that this applies equally to reading stories as well as trying to write our own). 

    Ultimately the only Need is for God Himself. All else is a means to that end.

    And I have also begun to think that story-telling, unlike other vocations (which are still vital and God-honoring) is nevertheless a unique way to do that. Storytellers are, after all, trying to imitate God in their “sub-creating” of worlds, and in their reflections of good-vs-evil battles are “riffing” on the Gospel. This makes the connection more direct. If we know that, it could help us craft even better stories — because we may explore more variations on the theme. We’re “in” with the Author.

    Hope I managed to make it a little more intelligible this time around.

    Same here.

    P.S.   You gained +100 acerbity for comparing Joel Osteen to the Joker.  That put a smile on my face.  😉

    (Double takes.) Ohhh! I see what you did there.

    I’ll admit it’s an unfair comparison, though. The Joker would never tell weekly lies to a stadium full of people. He would very honestly try to blow them all sky-high.

    • Hoo boy.  That’s a right voluminous essay ya got yourself there.

      First off, I wish to defend myself against your C.S. Lewis assault.  Because having an entire page of Lewis (each of his pages weighing in at roughly eighty pounds) heaved at one’s head can be a painful chastisement.  ;-p

      Yes, I absolutely agree with you and Lewis and Piper that we cannot worship without desiring God.  Looking back at my worship definition now, I realize it was inadequately phrased.  What I should’ve said was “Pure worship wants nothing but God.”  I guess I just assumed those last two words were implied.  What I was trying to get at with that definition was the fact that worship doesn’t need to accomplish some external thing in order to be complete.  It is content to immerse itself in God, knowing that from Him, through Him, and to Him are all things, and that no human work can either increase or decrease the unspeakable, soul-piercing love He’s freely lavished upon His chosen.  That’s the “recognition of reality” I referenced.

      Regarding “writing”: yes.  I was speaking of art, metaphor, skill, honest explorations, faithful renderings of humanity, endearing reflections of beauty, goodness, and truth.”  Had I been speaking solely of “utilitarian communication,” I wouldn’t have argued that it could’ve counted as worship.  Communication is, by definition, a means to an end.  It wants to accomplish something, to convey something, and to leave a specific impression.  It’s never exercised for its own sake (though we all know people who seem to think it is).  Beautiful writing, on the other hand, has intrinsic value and, in that sense, is much more akin to pure worship.

      I hope I haven’t implied anywhere in my argument that writing-for-beauty’s-sake and writing-for-communication’s-sake are somehow mutually exclusive, for nothing could be farther from the truth.  Personally, I don’t think there’s ever been a time I’ve labored over a piece of writing without striving toward both objectives simultaneously.  My goal in these comments has been to point out that it’s entirely possible for Christians to write for beauty’s sake as an act of personal worship, which leads me to the conclusion that it’s deeply unfair to imply that they should cease and desist from writing unless their personal lives adequately reflect Christ.  Part of my negative reaction to that idea comes from its similarity in my mind to another idea which I know you’ll recognize (since we both comment from time to time on another particular website): “A man’s morality dictates his ability to worship through writing.”  … er, I meant “A man’s morality dictates his theology.”  There, got it that time.  Let me know if that comparison is without justification.

      Now onward to a tenacious disagreement.  You seem to be asserting that the ability of Christian authors to glorify God through their writing is contingent on their “depth in the faith.”  I heartily disagree.  As per D.M. Dutcher’s reply, “A well-crafted anything glorifies God, come it from sinner or Christian, provided it doesn’t cause sin.”  I would agree that a Christian author’s ability to intentionally glorify God is greatly enhanced by his or her having “drawn deep from that original, Epic Story of God’s Word and reality,” but it seems like a double standard for Speculative Faith to one day praise various non-Christian authors for their insightful explorations of various universal truths, and the next day demand that Christian authors exhibit exemplary Christlikeness in their personal lives, lest their fiction suffer as a direct result.

      I get that the mouth and keyboard both speak out of the fullness of the human heart.  I get that we write best what we’ve personally experienced.  I get that the reputation of Christian spec-fiction (let alone the reputation of Christ!) may often rest upon the behavior of its participants.  And I get that beauty is inexorably tied to both goodness and truth.  But none of that means the quality of my writing – or even the truths elucidated thereby – depends upon my personal sanctification.  Some of the best and most insightful authors I’ve read aren’t even Christian.  And some of the poorest writing I’ve encountered has come from very Christlike individuals.  The principles of good writing are, if you will, general revelation.  They aren’t dependent upon one’s relationship with God.

      Now to help you with science! … er, “research.”  When I hear that “the purpose of Story is to glorify God,” I interpret it to mean that stories fulfill their divine purpose by giving glory (prestige, honor, perceived-worth) to God.  As a certified Calvinist, I have small trouble viewing the whole of history in this manner, whether particular episodes thereof exemplify God’s justice, or His grace, or mankind’s depravity and hopelessness without His redeeming action.  But I’ll be honest: I’ve no idea why you’ve turned the word into a proper noun.  It’s a trend I’ve been noticing among those who write about storytelling, and it unnerves me slightly.  Smacks of idolatry.  (But I know that can’t possibly be the case with you … right …?)

      The Joker’s worldview is more accurate than Joel Osteen’s?  Oh my … *bursts out laughing*

  8. D.M. Dutcher says:

    Too much to reply to, man, so I’m going to have to probably skip a lot of your well-made points. Let me try and reply to pressing ones.

    So my open question, for “research,” is this: when you heard a claim that “the purpose of Story is to glorify God,” what meaning do you hear? 

     To be honest, I’m not sure there is a meaning we can hear. In the Bible it’s honor, praise, celebrate, to make illustrious. To glow. But these are active traits, and the sense I am getting both from my ideas and your reply further down is that this glory is instead part of a thing where it’s sort of like a right relation. Like we talk about the night being glorious because it reminds us maybe of the harmony of the world and God before the fall.

    I’m not really mystic enough to set this down in words. Glorification of this type I’m not sure I can even define well. I get from the sense of your later clarification that it is a glory based on harmony and the right purpose of mankind.

    As for “changing the world” or “giving God a good name,” again we seem to have definition differences. I’ve argued that glorifying or worshiping God can indeed be a “subconscious” activity.

     
    Quoting this more as a marker to that passage. That passage is important, but I think there’s something to it that might help clear a difference.

    You list three types of glorification in that. One of them would be right relation, or the glory that comes from the thing itself. A well-crafted anything glorifies God, come it from sinner or Christian, provided it doesn’t cause sin. Kind of like the night again.

    Then you go on to say that next is another form. When a Christian creates specifically, there is glory due to the expression of his redeemed nature. If I get this right. I don’t think it’s a matter of always expressing God-honoring traits. Maybe it’s more glory in submission to God’s will, while not contemplating him directly in the work. Otherwise there’s no difference at all.

    Finally, there’s glorification in works that actively glorify or contemplate God, or act in specifically Christian ways. You are defining different spheres, but your argument about Christians and behavior presupposes the first sphere or second as default. I think the problem is that many Christians choose to actively write in the third sphere, and then we’d have to go into the question is one sphere higher or more valuable than the other. Which would make all of our heads hurt.

     Last point would be that the “speculative” definitions are kind of creeping still with your expanded definition. Maybe “mythic” might be a better word, as myths embody those traits better without confusion. That’s pretty much all I have: it took me a few days to  ponderthe whole glorification thing, and I agree with much of the rest of your points. I’ll get to some of those books you’ve listed eventually, and thanks for listing them.

What do you think?