1. Paul Lee says:

    This, again, is very good. Thanks for these, Austin, addressing many of my concerns and pretty much expressing my own opinion in a more optimistic way than I’m able to manage.

    I would only add one thing. I would suggest that Christian creatives extend the analogy of Frodo at Mount Doom to the gospel itself, to the lives of Christians who experience the gospel. Make it clear that the gospel can’t be used as an infallible cure-all, because it’s beyond every perception. It’s a hope beyond hope itself.

    Like, you have this one great vision, this one great burden, The Most Important Thing that you mean to live for, but inside you know you’re going to fail, and you do. And we hope it turns out to be all right anyways. (I’m not comparing the gospel to the Ring, although to me the burden of seeking to know for sure feels like the Ring.)

    • Thanks, Paul! Have you perchance read Tolkien’s Leaf by Niggle? It explores that very idea you expressed: the beautiful burden that can’t ever be consummated, the great hope that’s unworthy of all our striving, and the meaning of our highest passions beyond the circles of this world.

  2. notleia says:

    What this makes me think of is the relationship between sympathetic characters and that their flaws need to be relatable. And if the author can’t relate to a flaw, the audience won’t, either. Like, if in this context atheism is a flaw, and the author can’t relate to atheism. Thus is born plenty of terrible, two-dimensional characters in Christian fiction.

    • Very true. I think that the necessary work of relating to sin — of sympathizing with flawed characters and delving deep into their heads to discover why they do what they do in order to ensure they act consistently — is something that Christian writers often fear. It can feel transgressive, as though by admitting that sin is tempting, we’re somehow relinquishing moral ground. But we’re not — we’re just removing rose-tinted glasses. Sin is tempting. People don’t sin for teh evilz; they sin ’cause they think it’s best. Because they’re self-deceived.

      One of my favorite examples of a religious author getting into an atheist’s head comes from Sanderson’s The Way of Kings. There’s one scene in which Sanderson, a practicing Mormon, allows an atheist character to civilly and systematically obliterate the half-baked apologetics of a theistic character … and then just moves straight into the next scene, allowing the atheist’s clear victory to stand uncontested. It’s something that happens all the time in the real world, but it’s not something we expect in a work of fiction written by a religious person. It requires a lot of personal security to write with such realism.

  3. Wonderful again! Can’t even add anything to it!

  4. Alex Mellen says:

    One of my professors used the example of the movie “Signs” to show that faith can be involved in a film’s plot without being cheesy.We can see how unhappy Mel Gibson’s character is without God, and so we want him to be restored. The “exterior” plot with the aliens pushes him toward this, so both parts are compelling.

    Also, I love Timothy Keller. I’m going to have to pick up that book.

    • Signs is a good example of the “show, don’t tell” maxim. M Night Shyamalan doesn’t waste time with talky theological debate; he simply allows his protagonist to slowly realize that he inhabits a predestined world, and then make the choice that logically flows from such a realization. As a child I hated the movie, because I felt it was too vague and ambiguous. I now recognize that as a childish reaction to a complex work.

      Every Good Endeavor is pure gold. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

  5. Lisa says:

    Yes and yes. Too often I think we as Christian writers are too afraid of having fallible characters, because somehow that “proves” that Christianity doesn’t “work”. Even in our fiction, we get caught up in showing a false view of what life is really like.

    • Which is, of course, ironic, seeing as the gospel’s power lies in the fact that it “works” for fallen people.

      In my view, Christian authors shouldn’t strive to make their characters either perfect or totally depraved. Typically, neither end of the spectrum is recognizable as human, and a story painted in garish extremes is easy to dismiss as having no relevance to real life.

What do you think?