Unlike the secular market, however, speculative fiction, while growing in recent years, is still a small percent of published Christian fiction. Why the disparity?
I suspect the reason is foundational.
There is an inherent discontinuity between the Christian Faith and fiction. No, I’m not referring to the idea that “fiction is a lie” often touted by opponents of Christian fiction.
Before you stone me, allow me to explain.
In fiction, it is a well-established convention that a story’s protagonist, or a main character, must actively do something that resolves the primary conflict(s). Readers feel let down when a lucky break, unknown power/technology, or third party comes in to save the day.
Meanwhile the Gospel says we can’t save ourselves. God, ultimately, is in charge and will save us. I touched upon that topic last November concerning the difficulty that Christian fiction has avoiding God being used in a deux ex machina fashion.
One might counter, “But God redeems us from the Fall. It doesn’t mean God is our superhero who will rescue us from every problem.”
Very true. I’m not suggesting that a story’s conflict is the same as that of the Gospel message, despite what the “name it, claim it” theology might suggest. However, I think it is an equal error to assume they are not linked. God is not only interested in redeeming us from Hell, but in having a relationship with us as a person. That is the heart of the Gospel, to enable us to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. (Mark 12:30)
As a result, God being invested in the Christian’s life is inherent to the Christian faith. That God wants what is best for us, and out of love will help us when we need it, is supported biblically. (Luke 11:10-13)
The problem arises in that the more an author shows God involved in the life of a protagonist, the less the protagonist is involved in solving his own conflict. The more God stays out of it so the protagonist can fend for himself, the more uncaring and deistic God is depicted.
There is, however, one type of fiction conflict that doesn’t run into this problem: conflict found in romance fiction.
In romance, external conflicts don’t exist or are only to enable the inner and relational conflicts, which take center stage. Those kinds of conflicts don’t violate God’s involvement in our lives since God doesn’t force someone to love God and their neighbor. It is usually up to the characters to resolve those issues.
Which may explain why romance dominates Christian fiction. Speculative fiction, which tends to be as dependent upon external conflict as it is upon internal/relational conflict, if not more so, runs aground on the conflicting expectations between the Gospel and an engaging story.
It could also explain why when a message dictates a story, it tends to emasculate the plot. When the purpose is to show that God is the answer to whatever the protagonist faces, the plot revolves around the characters learning to rely upon God in order to solve the conflict. This tends to make external conflict, a primary ingredient in most speculative fiction, inconsequential to the plot; only there to enable the internal conflict like in romances.
Is there any way for a story to incorporate both elements? What is the line a plot can walk and satisfy both the depiction of God as caring and keep the resolution dependent upon the decisions and actions of the main characters?
One answer lies in how God has historically interacted with His creation. He almost always works through someone in creation rather than as an independent force from heaven.
God used Abraham, Moses, the kings of Israel, the nations of the world as His means of delivering redemption, judgment, mercy, and miracles.
Even to realize the Gospel, it took God becoming man in Jesus Christ to not only deliver the message, but to affect our salvation. Lest anyone think that only Jesus could do the miracles He did, He reminded us that we would do greater works. (John 14:12)
God using human instruments to work in our world means operating through a story’s characters, not doing an end run around them. This involves characters growth in God, learning to use the gifts God has given them, and struggling with the responsibility as so many in Scriptures did.
God’s presence and power becomes more a part of the world building than as a character acting individually. Not as in a deistic set of rules we can use to manipulate Him like we might electricity, but a relational consistency built into the fabric of the story’s world.
In that way, God rarely butts in and acts independently, but through a character who has to make the decisions and actions to make God’s will a reality. The protagonist remains the superhero, but God becomes the super resource that makes him a hero.
In using discernment, it is important to evaluate even such foundational elements that can send contrary messages about who God is. This isn’t to suggest we avoid such stories, but to be aware of the dynamic for our own discernment.
How big a problem do you believe this is, if at all? What other possible solutions do you know that projects an accurate picture of God while still making an active protagonist?