The “Alien Work” Of God Part VI

Like I said two week ago, I’m not one to back down from a bad idea. And I have a feeling that this might be a bad idea. We’ll see. Of course, that’s only if this post makes it past […]
on Jan 18, 2012 · No comments

Like I said two week ago, I’m not one to back down from a bad idea. And I have a feeling that this might be a bad idea. We’ll see. Of course, that’s only if this post makes it past the scheduled SOPA blackout of WordPress, but there we go.

We’ve been talking about aliens and how they fit into a Christian worldview. There aren’t many fictional books that explore this idea (at least, not many that I’ve found). C. S. Lewis certainly tackled the idea of aliens and God. But there is one series that came out of the ABA that dealt with it, one that I was clued into by fellow speculative fiction author Sharon Hinck a number of years ago. It’s a two book series by Mary Doria Russell, namely The Sparrow and Children of God.

Let me tell you a little about it: in The Sparrow, humanity makes a remarkable discovery. They hear beautiful music coming from a distant star. While the rest of the world dithers about what to do, the Jesuits realize that they are obligated to bring the Gospel to the people who produced it. This mission is brought about almost single-handedly by Father Emilio Sandoz. By the end of the first book, he’s the only survivor of the journey and he comes back to Earth as a broken man.

Don’t worry about spoilers. That’s in the first chapter of the book.

The first book unravels what happened to Sandoz and his people. The second book deals with Sandoz’s healing from his traumatic experience. I covered some of this at my blog when I first read both books.

Here’s the thing: these aren’t CBA books. Not by a long shot. And it’s not just due to the content (both have some shocking stuff in it). It’s also because these “Jesuits” sound more like rabbis than Christians. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised; Russell isn’t a Christian.

At any rate, these books are still instructive to us when it comes to Christianity and how possible aliens would fit into our cosmology and Christology. And now I’m going to have to introduce you all to a friend of mine, someone who had to follow me here from my blog:

The mission in Russell’s books go off the rails primarily because they make a classic mistake. When the Jesuits arrive on Rakhat, the alien world, they dive in with both feet without ever really understanding the people or culture they’re seeing. And they all pay a heavy price for their oversight (one might even call it arrogance).

It’s a worrisome lesson for us. Far too often, when we approach those who are alien to God, we assume we know where they are and how God can work with them. It behooves us to make sure we know where they are before we share the Gospel with them, whether it’s human “aliens” or the real kind. That way we won’t stumble into any situation where they or we can get hurt.

At least, that’s the way I see it.

So what’s next? Maybe I’ll share some advice that I’ve gleaned from writing about aliens “back in the day.” Maybe not. We’ll see.

John W. Otte leads a double life. By day, he’s a Lutheran minister, husband, and father of two. He graduated from Concordia University in St. Paul, Minnesota, with a theatre major, and then from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. By night, he writes unusual stories of geeky grace. He lives in Blue Springs, Missouri, with his wife and two boys. Keep up with him at
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  1. Of course, that’s only if this post makes it past the scheduled SOPA blackout of WordPress, but there we go.

    I hadn’t thought of that. But as you can see, no worries, John. Speculative Faith indeed runs on WordPress, but we aren’t hosted by WordPress’s servers. 😀

  2. Galadriel says:

    (proceeds to add the books to her libary list.) I think that failure to understand cultures is one of the biggest flaws in Christian witnessing, and unfortunitely, what most people think of when they hear the word  ‘missionary.’ I haven’t read many secular novels about missionaries, but the one I did read, The Poisonwood Bible, had a protagonist who was extremely stubborn and thick about the people he was trying to witness too. While I can see that reaction, it came off as a bit too ‘typical’ of missionaries for me.

  3. Bob Menees says:

    In a ‘How to evangelize in our culture’ Sunday School series (from local Crusades for Christ), the speaker recommended that you first ask questions, a lot of them (don’t be the one to field them). Find out where they are on the scale from A to Z (knowing Christ … all other worldviews…and atheist (alien). This will let the witnessee talk himself into a problem with their own worldview. Afterwards I went home and tried to flowchart a series of questions (the best I could think of) that would flow a person toward Christ. I made certain assumptions that parties had to agree upon at the start. In the end, it was getting too complicated, with too many dead ends.  Nevertheless, it was a good mind exercise. You should try it, then publish it.

  4. Kessie says:

    While reading good fantasy about other worlds, I always notice how other countries and cultures might as well be other planets. It’s interesting that missionary work to an alien planet would probably result the same way as attempts here. Makes me wonder if situations like with Jim Elliot would happen on an alien planet too.

    One of the latest Halo books, an alien character remarks to a human, “You say that your God died, yet he lives. We revere the forerunners for the same reason.” Quoted verbatim.

    • Paul Lee says:

      That’s an intriguing quote.  I’ve got to read that book some time just to evaluate the context. I’ve read the first four Halo novels.  Is that quote from one of the Forerunner Saga books by Greg Bear? 

  5. Maria Tatham says:

    Do most of you have such little esteem for missionaries and evangelists as the tone of this discussion suggests?

    Also, we shouldn’t take the world’s view of us, and our labors, but the Lord’s. He’ll tell us the truth, unpleasant or pleasant, through His Word by His Spirit. The world will always have a hostile view of us. That’s the nature of reality and truth. And martyrdom doesn’t result from, or equate with, failure. 

    How many missionaries do you know? I’ve known many, and they are the best of people (almost all, except for a very few). Most love and study the Word, love the peoples they’re sent to, study their cultures, and immerse themselves in a difficult course of language study. They have failings like other people, I realize this; and some have failed big time, I know, but you’re cruelly generalizing.

    You may not intend to belittle Christian workers, but you have. Why are you so down on your own family? 


    • Galadriel says:

      I apologize if my comment came off that way.  I was referrring to the public perception of missionaries, not my own views.

      • Maria Tatham says:

        Galadriel, it’s okay. Just remember that public perception isn’t the barometer we should use. We have to endure it, and have to check ourselves to be sure we aren’t really doing something the Lord disapproves, but usually public perception of true Christians is wrong.
        God bless you!! 

    • John Otte says:

      I actually know quite a few missionaries and you’re right, most of them nowadays are very conscientious and careful in how they engage the cultures within which they work. However, that has not always been the case. Far too many missionaries in years past confused Western civilization with Christianity and tried to spread the former when they should have concentrated on the latter. It’s a reality that we can’t avoid or ignore, especially since, when the outside world thinks of Christian missionaries, they think of the history, not the present reality. It’s a lesson we can and should remember and learn from.
      But I do appreciate your comments.

      • Maria Tatham says:


        I agree that the work of taking the Gospel to the nations should always be done prayerfully, carefully. But I also know that it was done this way from the earliest days. Remember, missionaries had a tremendous work to do in non-Western cultures where every aspect of life was saturated with false beliefs and practices. To those hostile the Gospel, the work of missionaries may have appeared to be ‘Westernization’ of other cultures, when we were bringing them the Gospel, which literally changes everything.

        I realize missionaries are flawed people, and that the missionary enterprise should always be prayerfully examined, but why critize another Man’s servants? Why take the world’s view?


  6. Kaci Hill says:

    Do most of you have such little esteem for missionaries and evangelists as the tone of this discussion suggests?

    That was sort of my question, but I didn’t have the time to explore it. Thanks for the clarification. While there *were* and likely still are some well-meaning ignorants out there, most missionaries are given a crash course on language and culture before going.
    Anyway, asked and answered, so yeah. 😛

  7. I’m a latecomer to this conversation, but I’m surprised nobody (commenting on any of the posts in this series) has yet mentioned James Blish’s classic (1958) science fiction novel A Case of Conscience. Like (I gather) The Sparrow, it’s told from the perspective of a Jesuit priest, and it deals seriously with the question of an alien race that appears to not only have souls but to be sinless (a utopian society), yet doesn’t have religion.

What do you think?