Safe Fiction – Part 4

The Tim Downs interview continued on Family Life Today, so I made a point of listening and jotting down a few notes.

One point Downs made was that the Bible is not naive or simplistic and neither should Christian fiction be naive or simplistic. Instead we need to talk about the real world.

I thought about that a bit. Many advocates of “safe fiction” use Phil. 4:8 as the guiding principle of writing. Think on things that are … not of this world, actually. I think, too, about Colossians 3 where we are admonished to set our minds on things above. Does reading fiction that talks about the real world contradict these commands?

Maybe. And maybe not. It depends on the person. For someone who is simplistic and naive, he just might need a dose of reality, along the line of the book of Judges, to better understand the hurting world. For someone coming out of a painful circumstance, he might need to read about someone who is struggling to do it right, a believer, along the line of Esther or Ruth, who is climbing out of hardship and finding victory.

Both kinds of stories are real. But they meet the needs of people who are in different places.

Downs went on to say that stories must conform to story rules. To stop and have a character deliver a sermon breaks the rules, so it is important to find subtle ways to get a message across. He said to reach people, authors must realize we are fallen beings. But our job in fiction is not so much to inform as it is to “woo the wayward lovers.”

One of the hosts asked Downs how readers would find Christ in his new book, First the Dead. He replied, “They won’t, not from my book alone.” He went on to elaborate that he sees his work as part of the whole that God might use in the wooing process. He said his books are the kind a person can give to anyone without apology, then discuss the themes, asking probing questions.

Well, I can’t help but applaud this approach. It is the very thing I’ve said about my own writing, though I think, from what I’ve read elsewhere, I might rely more on typology to make statements about God.

So all along, I guess I’ve believed in “Christian worldview” fiction. One thing I don’t think I’d say, though, is that this kind of story is necessarily safe.

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One Comment

  1. The first two Bug Man books were published by Howard Publishing before Simon & Schuster purchased them. On the inside cover pages of Shoofly Pie is Howard’s mission statement which read as follows:

    *Increase faith in the hearts of growing Christians
    *Inspire holiness in the lives of believers
    *Instill hope in the hearts of struggling people everywhere
    Because He’s coming again! (In bold print)

    I wrote to Mr. Howard himself to inquire how this entertaining but non-Christian novel had adhered to this mission statement. It was clear he’d received a multitude of similar inquiries. (Please note I didn’t criticize the novel or Tim Downs–the story was incredibly well done and the Bug Man is one of the most fascinating characters ever created.) Tim Downs had obviously been approached to write an apologetic piece explaining why he wrote like he did–which was eliminating any tangible trace of God in the story. His reasoning hasn’t seemed to change which included:
    “That’s my goal–to write stories with the Christianity latent, so that people will pick up my books who otherwise would not. I like Mr. Dekker’s comment that ‘fiction puts feet to Scripture’. But those feet should not always wear boots; sometimes they should wear slippers. Jesus did indeed teach in stories and parables, but his stories were often very subtle and indirect. With that approach, people listened to Him who had long ago ceased to listen to the Pharisees.

    Mature Christians may find my books incomplete. My hope is that they will at least enjoy my stories, and that they will appreciate what I am trying to do and who I am trying to reach. The greatest thing you can do with my book is to share it with one of your non-Christian friends. That’s who I wrote it for!”

    I find it fascinating that I, a sold-out born again believer, could not decipher the intent (in another part of this letter) of this novel yet he somewhat expected an unbeliever to discover or think about certain issues of life after death. The protagonist clearly doesn’t.

    So, not criticizing Tim for his choice of how to write or who to write “for”, if he intended to just write general market novels, he has succeeded, but if he intended to include a Christian worldview, honestly, I think he failed.

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