Earlier this week I wrote the following:
Giving the good news [of Jesus Christ], however, doesn’t look the same for every single person. Some are preachers, some serve. Some prepare the soil, some plant, some water. All parts of the process are necessary for a harvest. But one thing is true—wheat doesn’t come up by accident. (“A Look At What’s Most Important.”)
I think that paragraph summarizes my views about Christian fiction about as well as anything I could write on the subject. But sometimes particulars are lost in metaphors, so I want to elaborate a little on this topic.
First, I’m aware that some readers and some publishers equate “safe fiction” with Christian fiction. That view is in error. Christianity is not the same as morality. For example, Mormon fiction can have a “true love waits” theme as much as can Christian fiction; fiction written from a secular humanist worldview can have a tolerance theme that looks similar to a “love your neighbor” theme you might find in Christian fiction.
The externals that so many look to as the definition of “safe”—no bad language, no sex scenes, a minimum of violence—can be true in movies like Wall-e or in DVDs like Veggie Tales.
Consequently, no matter what marketing or promotional blurbs say, safe does not equal Christian. Anyone saying otherwise is closing their eyes to an attempt to usurp the term Christian and make it over to mean something it is not.
Secondly, Christian is not the same as theistic. Consequently, a story that includes or even centers on a belief in God is not the same as Christian fiction. That fact should be clear from Scripture:
You believe that God is One; you do well. The demons also believe and shudder. (James 2:16)
A story like Gilead, then, with a pastor who does not pass on the gospel to his son in the last moments of his life, may speak of God, but can’t be understood as a Christian story based solely on those pronouncements.
So what makes a story Christian or what does fiction written from a Christian worldview look like? I think we have to take a step back and ask, what defines a Christian or Christianity?
I think there are several key components:
- * Humans have a bent toward sin to which we’re chained.
- * This human failing creates a rift between us and God, who made humans in His likeness.
- * God Himself solved the rift problem when Jesus switched us out and Himself in as the One to bear our sins in His body on the cross.
- * The net result is that God rescued us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His Son.
- * As members of God’s kingdom, we are His heirs, in His family, part of His body.
Christian fiction or stories written from a Christian worldview do not have to have all those components, either explicitly or implicitly. In addition they might have moral components shared by any number of other worldviews.
Nevertheless, something unique to the Christian faith must be part of the story, if it is to be Christian in any capacity. Again, this “something unique to the Christian faith” does not have to be overt. It can be, certainly. But it doesn’t have to be.
There are wonderful stories by authors like Kathryn Cushman that show people of faith struggling to follow God and live as members of His family. Key components of that which is unique to Christianity are clear in and through each story.
Other stories, like Karen Hancock‘s Guardian-King fantasy series also show these same unique components, but from a somewhat allegorical approach.
Still others like Anne Elisabeth Stengl‘s Tales of Goldstone Wood rely on symbology. Nothing is overt, but the unique components of Christianity are in operation throughout each story, shown through symbols.
Another type of story such as general market author R. J. Anderson‘s Faery Rebel, communicates components of the Christian faith through metaphor, much the way the Old Testament does. Isasc portrayed the promised Messiah and Abraham, the Father willing to sacrifice him; the Passover lamb pictures the sacrifice Jesus would make to remove sins; Moses portrayed Jesus as the Mediator between God and man; David depicted the Messiah as King, and so on.
These stories are best referred to as Christian worldview stories. The unique Christian components are easily missed, but they serve an important purpose one way or the other: they show readers of all stripe what redemption or sacrifice or rescue or sinning against a loving authority looks like, without actually naming God or drawing any overt parallels.
Recently at Ruby Slippers Media for Fiction Friday I posted a short story entitled “Haj” that I think falls into this latter category. Last week, however, I posted another story, “At His Table,” that is best described as overt, including faith components unique to Christianity. The first I’d call Christian worldview fiction and the second Christian fiction.
One last point: while I think writing is a wonderful opportunity for the Christian to pass along his faith, I also believe there are other legitimate reasons a Christian might write fiction that is not Christian and does not communicate his Christian worldview. However, those who choose to use their writing as an avenue to reflect what is unique to the Christian faith have a variety of ways to accomplish this, one not superior in any way to the others.
The fact is, God can use gold and silver drinking vessels, and he can use ordinary clay pots that might contain water turned to wine. It’s not up to us to determine what kind of story God will use.