God and Fiction, Part 3

If you’re a frequent visitor here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction, you know that I often mention the reader’s need to apply discernment and to use Scripture as the measuring stick to determine if a story is good or not.

I think discernment is as needed when reading Christian fiction as when reading anything else. Maybe more. After all, if a book does incorporate some theme about God, how vital is it for the reader to see if what the author is saying through story is actually True.

Of course, the first example to spring to mind was The Shack. Certainly William P. Young made an attempt to say something about God in his work of fiction. And there is a good amount of discussion because of it.

Some are enthusiastic about the book: “The thing is dripping in grace theology, a concept lost on most humans much of the time” declares DogBlogger and one of his commenters agrees: “The grace and the relationships came through as the most important part of being faithful. That is terrific theology!” (The Vicar of Hogsmeade).

Of course, there are also those who excoriate The Shack. Doroteos2 called it a spiritual Twinkie because it has little or no nutritional value. Here’s the conclusion of his review:

this is not merely a poor book, but a potentially dangerous book – able to further obfuscate the Christian faith and teach people that a personalized, privatized, comfortably customized, and arbitrary relationship with God is what religion is really all about. Sadly, The Shack doesn’t even meet the lowest faith standard of our modern culture (”I’m spiritual, but not religious”) – it is neither deeply spiritual, nor religious in any meaningful way.

While discussion about God is certainly good, one troubling reaction has also surfaced. Some readers apparently do not see The Shack as providing a pictorial view of God but a literal one. From one blog comment: “Just because you have neved [sic] experienced God doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. I have come to believe that a woman who visited me in real trouble in my life was actually Sariyhu” [the Holy Spirit].

Among other things, Young has been both criticized and praised for his depiction of the trinity. So here’s the question. If a Christian dares to show God in fiction, how theologically correct must he be? This is not the first time I’ve asked this question and probably not the last. I think it might be critical to what we write. But in the end, I think the answer is the same for the writer as for the reader: we need discernment, and we need to use Scripture as our measuring stick.

Published in: on May 15, 2009 at 12:46 pm  Comments (4)  
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4 Comments

  1. If a Christian dares to show God in fiction, how theological must be get?

    One of the things I like about C. S. Lewis is how widely he wrote. One of the most disturbing books of his that I’ve read is titled, ‘Til We Have Faces. The characters and setting are classically Mediterranean in nature, pagan gods affect the progression and outcome of the story, and nowhere was God (the Trinity) mentioned or alluded to. And yet–after I read the book through and discussed my perturbation with the friend (who’d practically forced the book on me), I discovered that God and His precepts were there all through the story! Oh, wasn’t that a mind-boggling experience!

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  2. What an interesting question. I like Krysti’s comment, too. I think it’s important to split hairs here. If I want to show God in fiction, its imperative that I be exact. After all, I’m trying to show God. God himself says not to make any graven images. There’s lots of reasons for that.

    When C.S. Lewis uses a lion, or uses pagan gods, he isn’t so much depicting God, as showing qualities of God or of Jesus that are important for us to know. There can be allegory, but there isn’t equivalence. Lewis’ approach points toward God and teaches about him, but doesn’t say Aslan or the others are Him. But to say I’m depicting God, or to put words in God’s mouth, if I’m not right on in that depiction, I’m misleading.

    How many of us have seen some Hollywood depiction of Jesus and Christians and become angered at the portrayal? They’re usually terrible, give the wrong impression, put words into their mouths that, we know from scripture, they would never have said. They are misleading. Do I want to do that? No, I don’t, so I must be very careful. Lewis takes a safer route, I think.

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  3. Very good point, Dan. I have a hard time with a lot of what Hollywood puts out. Their portrayals of God, Christ and Christians often show a very anti-religious bias, but sometimes it’s even more subtle than that, like when they disguise it as ignorance or take liberties with the truth of what’s really in the Bible. Remember “The Flood?” That was an awful doozy.

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  4. […] Observations. More than a week ago, in God and Fiction, Part 3 I quoted Doroteos2 who said The Shack was a spiritual Twinkie—spiritual fluff lacking in any […]

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