Enduring Bad Theology

Last week author friend Mike Duran posed this question in a blog post: Can good fiction contain bad theology?

In order to answer, the critical correlative questions would seem to be, what is theology and what is good fiction?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, theology is “the study of the nature of God and religious belief.” According to a reviewer Mike quoted in his post, a good story would fit into this statement about art: “Art exists to reveal beauty and truth.” The quote continued by saying that no piece of art could bear the whole weight of the task, meaning that neither all beauty nor all truth will be revealed in one sculpture, one painting, one story.

Does that, then, mean anti-truth is permissible since all truth can’t possibly fit into one story? As I see this issue, not telling the whole truth is not synonymous with “bad theology.”

For example, the truth about God is that He is the Creator of the heavens and the earth. Oh, but that’s not the whole truth about God. He is much, much, much, much, ad infinitum more. So, is the line I wrote, bad theology?

No. Actually it is good theology. It is truthful.

What defines bad theology, then, is that which is not true about God, His Word, or His work (untruthful “religious belief,” according to the OED).

Must every story contain theology? Every story isn’t about God. Many are about Mankind with no mention of God. And yet, there is theology in those as well.

Since reading Mike’s post, I’ve thought about a number of stories that weren’t Christian–Brave New World, 1984, Animal Farm, Grapes of Wrath, The Pearl, Lord of the Flies, Fathers and Sons, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, even Gone with the Wind.

Where was God in these stories? In most, He simply wasn’t a factor. Rather, the books revealed something about Mankind, something truthful–aligned with Scripture.

That’s the crux of the issue, I believe. The test for truth needs to be the Bible, the authoritative Word of God.

Oddly enough, Mike asked in his post if the life of David, Jonah, Rahab, Judas, Samson, Peter fully represent sound theology. It seems to me his idea was, No they don’t. On the contrary, I think they absolutely do represent sound theology because in God is kindness and severity, justice and mercy–in other words, not only His response to obedience but also His response to disobedience.

In addition, Man contains God’s image and the sin nature inherited from Adam, a spirit that is willing and flesh that is weak. In short, good theology shows what the Bible shows. It’s truth on the deepest level.

Bad theology, unfortunately, colors our society. Western culture says with increased frequency that Mankind is good, that truth is relative, that God is non-existent, that supernatural power is within each person–all things that contradict the Bible.

Would a story contain bad theology if it showed a character with such beliefs? On the contrary, the bad theology of characters shows what the Bible says is true about people.

In addition, the book needs to be considered as a whole, not broken down into it’s gnat-like elements. For example, someone might say, Good theology is to identify gossip as sin. If a character in a book gossips and doesn’t suffer consequences for that sin, then this book contains bad theology.

Really?

The Apostle Paul got so mad about John Mark leaving in the middle of the first missionary journey that he refused to take him along on the second. He and Barnabas got into an argument over the matter and in fact went their separate ways because of their disagreement. Yet the Bible is completely silent about consequences of Paul and Barnabas’s tiff.

Was God condoning their fight because He didn’t show us the consequences? Looking at Scripture as a whole it’s clear that God wasn’t giving silent permission for Christians to bicker.

Sometimes in fiction what a book is doing is unrelated to particular sins, yet those sins are true to the character and consistent with good theology–the part about the fall of Man. Just like Scripture’s silence about the consequences of Paul and Barnabas’s disagreement, leaving a matter unaddressed in fiction isn’t the same condoning the sin. Nor is it the same as inserting error.

Must readers endure bad theology?

I think the mindset of contemporary western Man is far from a Christian worldview, so bad theology fills most of the stories we see, hear, and read.

Should Christians, then, engage in writing stories with bad theology? Why would we do that? What is to set us apart from the rest of culture if we tell stories that lie about God?

The best thing for readers, of course, is to always test the theology of what’s thrown at us. Is this consistent with what Scripture tells us about the world, about Mankind, about God? Those are the critical questions.

Bad theology is not Jonah disobeying God. Bad theology would be Jonah disobeying God and achieving peace and happiness as a result.

Do we stay away from such books? Wave DO NOT READ warning signs over them? If we do so over books written by Christians, then we must do so over every other book or movie or TV show that clashes with Truth.

The problem isn’t reading or viewing something with bad theology. It’s doing so and not recognizing it. When we read a book that espouses something contrary to Scripture and don’t recognize it as a lie, then we are susceptible to that lie.

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Published in: on July 2, 2012 at 6:59 pm  Comments (1)  
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  1. […] LuElla Miller's Enduring Bad Theology post further illuminated the Why Sonlight Uses Certain Books that Some Homeschoolers Won't Touch […]

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