By that term I mean not false Christians, or ignorant Christians. I mean Christians who do practice discernment and seek excellence in other ways, mostly about spiritual things, Bible study, and church practice. But then they forget all that when it’s time to discern a Story.
Exactly opposite to Lewis’s “watchful dragons,” they permit only overtly “practical” religious Things, and suspect others of being at best useless. They will give some fiction authors safe passage, but only if they trust them for their beliefs and perceived practical benefits. And they forget that a story’s true benefit comes not from it helping us make converts or modify behavior, but from it motivating us to enjoy God Himself.
It’s easy to give criticism — not so much to correct it. And even while correcting it, it’s also easy to slip into too much of an anti mindset. “Those darned legalists who can’t enjoy stories for their own value. …” In other words, the same attitude legalists practice: reactionary.
Here’s hoping this series conclusion doesn’t come across that way.
Instead, what happens should we come across a Churchian Dragon?
He stands in front of the gates to his church or home, eyes flaming, nostrils snorting steam.
You stand outside, with your stories, the focus of those glowing crimson eyes.
He’s let in C.S. Lewis, mainly because he heard somewhere that The Chronicles of Narnia is Good for the Children and it’s Allegory. Frank Peretti got in, mainly because he Showed How Important Spiritual Warfare Is. And others have bartered passage.
But you — you’re under suspicion. The Dragon doesn’t know you.
You could be one of those sorts who secretly despises Christians who sincerely wish to avoid the world. A heretic. At best a compromiser.
More likely, you’re one of those high-minded types who claim Story gives us more than “practical” benefits. But all the Dragon wants is a Thing to be exchanged for something “better”: converts, behavior, safety, helping the children.
The Dragon wants treasure. From many story advocates, he’s only gotten wood chips. “Trust me,” the wood-chip-tosser insists, “these are valuable. Just eat them and you’ll see!”
What we need, perhaps, is to give Dragons the “treasure” they seek. Just enough.
Enough to persuade them along the way that Story gives us even better treasures.
1. Be strongly Biblical.
O great Churchian Dragon, noble beast guarding thine sequestered lair, hold thy fire!
This author does not ignore the fact that many people abuse Story for causes that God hates.
And I do not suggest man’s explorations of truth and beauty are equal to God’s Word.
Rather, I remind you that in Scripture, God Himself encourages us to use imagination to enjoy and delight in Him. Explicitly, He commanded His people to build a tabernacle in His honor, with artistic excellence. He also included Psalms, Proverbs, and other books that did not simply repeat the Law. These fleshed it out, explored it, and expressed love and delight in God, and included honest portrayals of our struggles to understand and love Him.
God did give us His revelation in a form that certainly does include information, legal codes, doctrine exposition, and moral exhortation. But implicitly, all that serves the greatest Epic Story, with Himself as the main character and the Gospel as the plot, told and shown.
This isn’t useless accoutrement, O Dragon. It is useful. Sharing stories is, in fact, Biblical.
If you doubt me, look at how I’ve lived and what I’ve said, for I also wish to honor our King.
2. Praise true pragmatism.
O Dragon, this visionary author does not offer “try this and see if it works for you,” for vague reasons. Rather, he gently asks you: have you defined “what works” apart from the Bible?
(Brief break in character.) Previously I rejected many Christians’ reasons for reading fiction (if they do) because they’re based on moralistic pragmatism. Let that not be confused for an objection to any kind of pragmatism, or arguing for frivolity. Rather, I am a pragmatist.
I merely suggest that we need to define pragmatism how Scripture, not tradition, defines it.
Many Christians have wrongly defined pragmatism as “whatever works to give us more and better Christians.” They want the result. So they simply ignore, or at best assume, the source and the “chief end of man.” But our mission not just a pyramid scheme to get more converts.
Yes, evangelism and morality are vital. But we don’t need to keep telling ourselves “go witness” or “be good,” or only read books repeating that, if we have lost ourselves to be enamored with God Himself, enjoying Him. The good results naturally follow.
You see your sin as more disgusting than you ever would have thought. And it’s in between you and God. So the sin has to go. Who would choose filth when confronted with diamonds?
Of course, we would, were it not for this splendorous, infinite God Himself saving us.
3. Encourage existing Enjoyments.
O great Dragon, why turn your fire upon your humble visionary-novelist servant when other things that you enjoy, which have even less “practical” value, escape your blasts unscathed?
Everyone is already enjoying certain things anyway. These are things that Christians should reject, if they filtered them through the same wrongly defined pragmatism that keeps most visionary stories locked outside the Dragon-guarded gates.
After all, if you see no moralistic purpose in “fantastic” stories about things that aren’t real, why do you season your food?
Why have music in church, when only teaching would suffice? Or for that matter, you could forsake all other teaching and only read from Scripture?
And for those who do read fiction, but only about “realistic” subjects (such as books with Amish women on the covers who look forlorn, probably because someone forced them to wear eyeliner and blush to get their pictures taken for the covers), I ask: why do you need those? Why not blast thine fire upon them also?
I simply point out, most audacious Dragon, that your standards are not consistent.
Either declare all these Things worthless, and not fit for converting sinners or encouraging better behavior, and deny them all entrance. Or consider applying a more Biblical standard.
4. Earn Dragons’ trust by Telling.
Dragon, can we not be friends? You weary of taunts from those even claiming to be in your own caves, who decry thee as old-fashioned, fearful, provincial. Yet many of us are also weary of making the taunts, for reaction only is not helpful to any of us, nor is it sustainable.
And I offer my friendship, my help with the things you want.
Would you appreciate reassurance of my goal to honor God, not in “useless” or self-defined ways, but in the ways His Word claims we should honor him? That is what I offer you.
I will also endeavor to speak your language. If we storytellers can discuss knowing secular culture in order to reach it, surely we can also seek to know even the most “fundamentalist” cultures. We can learn how you think, do our best to help you with your goals, and show you Christ’s truth and love through our stories — even as we also try winsomely to persuade you to enjoy God personally through visionary tales.
Your children need good books? I will do my best to give them. They will include the values you love, yet for the motives you may neglect — that this gives us more of God to enjoy.
With you I will stand, in Biblical, local churches with all their flaws and oddities. I’ll agree with you on the sorry state of our world and even churches, bad entertainment these days, and our need to discern — so long as your criticisms are truthful and gracious.
Lord willing, you won’t hear legalism from me. You’ll hear love for you, the nonfiction truths you love, and yet also the gracious challenges that any Christian should give another.
5. Reach Dragons’ hearts with soul-winning stories.
Yet Dragon, I do not simply give you something that will help someone else. I desire to win souls with God-honoring stories. By that I mean not only “converting a non-Christian,” but winning over your soul, really your whole person, whom the Spirit has already saved.
I’ll also encourage you to see fiction-writing and all other “unspiritual” jobs as ministry.
Dragon, this may be familiar ground to you, but it is not for me. When I’m writing stories, I tend to think like a Gnostic. This is mere material. I use my head and my heart, running in the background, yet God isn’t personally interested in this. If He is not, then I must quit and do something else to honor Him. However, if He is, then it is false piety for me to act as if He checks out and rolls His eyes every time I go back to that novel work.
Stories can encourage us. In the best stories, we can see God. We see ourselves as we are, and how we should be. We see God’s beauties even in a fallen world.
With great stories, we glorify God and enjoy Him.
Noble dragon, may I enter?
What wrong “practical” notions do some Christians have, which they expect stories to fulfill?
Am I on-track to suggest these come from revivalistic, must-make-conversions assumptions?
Have you found that graciously addressing this wrong kind of pragmatism helps? Or do you use other ways of communicating how God, His truth and love, are honored in storytelling?