CSFF Blog Tour – The Telling by Mike Duran, Day 1

I find it ironic that the CSFF Blog Tour is featuring back-to-back books dealing in a fictitious way with very real spiritual entities. In August the subject was make-believe angels and here in September our featured book The Telling by Mike Duran deals with make-believe demons.

In some ways The Telling is more controversial, in my opinion. Whereas there was little resembling Biblical angels in Eye of the Sword and hardly any mention of God, The Telling refers often to prayer, faith, prophecy, the Bible, and God. And fallen angels. In fact the physical appearance of these fallen angels fits the Biblical description of certain angels found in several passages (see for example Ezekiel 1:19 and Revelation 4:7).

But there is a departure with what these fallen angels/demons are capable of doing. In Scripture they are described over and over as possessing a human and being “cast out,” implying, of course, that they are in. The pretend demons of The Telling act in an entirely different way. They, in fact, are not your run-of-the-mill demons operating in rebellion to God, but they have broken free from God’s confinement of them–also a pretend event since it would be pretty impossible to break free from omnipotent God.

So the question comes up again: how OK is it to portray real beings in a fictitious way? Some might compare this kind of portrayal of the supernatural to that of humans as good rather than sinful. Or immortal rather than mortal. Or capable of shedding the human body in order to imitate a supernatural spirit rather than joined inextricably, body and soul and spirit.

In other words, does a Christian writer anchoring his story in reality (as opposed to creating a fantasy realm) have a responsibility to convey the supernatural truthfully, reflecting what Scripture says? How much leeway is there for the imagination?

Frank Peretti was one of the first contemporary novelists who explored the spiritual world using his imagination. Reportedly, he had no intention of showing demons as they actually are, if for no other reason than that Scripture is largely silent about the appearance of “unclean spirits.”

We know what they believe (that God is One–and it makes them shudder). We know they are the object of spiritual warfare, that they possess people, that they can produce supernatural feats, that they recognize who Jesus is. We do not know how they look or even if they can be seen. At various times Scripture records people seeing angels. I don’t recall an incident in which they saw evil spirits.

So how should someone read a book like The Telling which portrays demons as real, with the capacity to take from a human and acquire a body? It’s fanciful, though couched in the context of a man wresting with his faith and his calling. Can readers embrace the one and dismiss the other without the two becoming entangled? And if they mistake error for truth, is the author responsible or the reader?

Do novels need disclaimers these days–the events you are about to read are fictitious; any similarity to actual events or people is purely coincidental.

I suppose we should also discuss whether the label “Christian” adds a particular burden of truthfulness to a novel.

I’ve lobbied for the distinction between truth and Truth in fiction–the former portraying the human condition truthfully with no attempt at presenting the greater spiritual Truth, whereas the latter aims to incorporate both. But what about a novel that portrays some spiritual Truth on the way toward addressing the human condition truthfully? Does some Truth negate the inclusion of the imaginative that might be mistaken for more Truth?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject.

I’d also recommend you visit other CSFF members participating in this tour for The Telling (links below, with a check mark linking to a tour article). I suspect this subject might be visited by one or two others.

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20 Comments

  1. That’s a lot to think about. Not sure I can offer a good answer right off the bat.

    Hmmm…

    Because I do see how, if the writer has “come out” as being a Christian, someone might assume every thing that writer says is “True”, but, then again, we can’t hand hold all the time. Discernment is the readers responsibility as well.

    Where was it…maybe online, maybe from my husband, but I heard Frank Peretti stopped writing about demons because he noticed many of his readers were beginning to take his portrayal them as Biblical truth, but that was never his intention. Now, I could be completely making that up since I haven’t verified the source. Readers, please be discerning.

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    • Discernment is the readers responsibility as well.

      Jessica, I believe this too. And yet, I know that secular writers put all kinds of messages into their fiction and the culture, including Christians, changes. We’ve coined the phrase “the power of the word” because it does have the ability to influence.

      So the question is, will readers be influenced to believe something untrue about spiritual things if a writer speculates beyond the scope of Scripture?

      I’ve said before that I think the Christian above all other writers can be creative. Look at C. S. Lewis, both in his Narnia books and his space trilogy.

      But is a story set in this world, with God being God, and the Bible being the Bible, and faith, prayer, Christians, angels, and demons all being present as they really are, still OK if it speculates about any of those real elements, to the point that they contradict Scripture?

      Of course a case can be made that The Telling doesn’t contradict Scripture.

      Becky

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      • And literature is tricky. What may “seem” to contradict may be symbolism or other literary techniques the writer is using, and these can be misunderstood, especially by those who tend to take things more literally.

        I suppose if I wasn’t familiar with Mike from his blog, my guard may have been up a bit more. But I have yet to see Mike butcher scripture, so it’s safe to say I’ve developed a sense of trust.

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    • Oh, and I forgot to say, I’ve heard the same about Frank Peretti–that he stopped writing for adults for a time because people were taking his fictitious ideas and treating them like gospel. I haven’t verified that story, but I can see that it might have happened.

      Becky

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  2. Intriguing review. Thanks, Becky.

    I read Duran’s debut The Resurrection, and was struck by many of the same thoughts. I’m all for unanswered questions at the end of a novel, yet which point to God, not the Grit of Reality.

    Note that I am making a general observation, not necessarily saying this is the case with Duran’s work(s). Instead I am still processing this, trying to practice discernment. Yet perhaps a related issue here is the possibility of very flawed views about spiritual warfare in the real world. Given the ways Christians have often accepted plain mythology and magic about demons, maybe such disclaimers are necessary? At least until confusion clears.

    On a related note, I would even disclaim the word “possessed,” which many wrongfully interpret to mean that demons are able to “take over” a person’s willpower, similar to how Incorporal Alien Beings were always invading and literally “possessing” the bodies of human hosts in Star Trek. This is also not a Biblical concept. Theologian Wayne Grudem, for example (who believes in Satan, demons, spiritual warfare, and all gifts of the Spirit being present-day) argues that the term “possession” is misleading and should be retired, in favor of recognizing that demons can exert some degrees of influence on people (including Christians, though with far more limits because the Holy Spirit dwells in God’s people).

    3. Can a Christian Be Demon Possessed? The term demon possession is an unfortunate term that has found its way into some English translations of the Bible but is not really reflected in the Greek text. The Greek New Testament can speak of people who “have a demon” (Matt. 11:18; Luke 7:33; 8:27; John 7:20; 8:48, 49, 52; 10:20), or it can speak of people who are suffering from demonic influence (Gk. αιμονίζομαι, G1227)19, but it never uses language that suggests that a demon actually “possesses” someone.

    The problem with the terms demon possession and demonized is that they give the nuance of such strong demonic influence that they seem to imply that the person who is under demonic attack has no choice but to succumb to it. They suggest that the person is unable any longer to exercise his or her will and is completely under the domination of the evil spirit. While this may have been true in extreme cases such as that of the Gerasene demoniac (see Mark 5:1–20; note that after Jesus cast the demons out of him, he was then “in his right mind,” v. 15), it is certainly not true with many cases of demonic attack or conflict with demons in many people’s lives.

    […]

    19 This word δαιμονίζομαι, G1227, which may be translated “under demonic influence” or “to be demonized” occurs thirteen times in the New Testament, all in the Gospels: Matt. 4:24; 8:16, 28, 33; 9:32; 12:22; 15:22 (“badly demonized”); Mark 1:32; 5:15, 16, 18; Luke 8:36; and John 10:21. All of these instances indicate quite severe demonic influence. In light of this, it is perhaps better to reserve the English word demonized for more extreme or severe cases such as those represented by the instances that are used in the Gospels. The word demonized in English seems to me to suggest very strong demonic influence or control. (Cf. other similar “-ized” words: pasteurized, homogenized, tyrannized, materialized, nationalized, etc. These words all speak of a total transformation of the object being spoken about, not simply of mild or moderate influence.) But it has become common in some Christian literature today to speak of people under any kind of demonic attack as being “demonized.” It would be wiser to reserve the term for more severe cases of demonic influence.

    Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology : An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Some text and references redacted for ease of reading here)

    Back on the fiction front, I prefer fantasy that must relate to spiritual realities or entities to be more clearly set in alternate worlds (even worlds that are connected to ours). This way we can more fully enjoy the imagination of a story, without getting into the messiness related to suggesting, say, that demons can do things we know they can’t. Peretti, for example, imagined that demons breathe sulfur, have batlike wings, or can cause particular illnesses, which are all extra-Biblical concepts, but they are not anti-Biblical notions. By contrast, I’m not sure about a story in which demons somehow escape God’s control. First, how does this glorify Him? Second, this seems derivative of secular views of demons and exorcisms, and that “quota” is more than filled.

    Regardless, I personally filled my “demons among us” quota thanks to Mr. Peretti (with a brief revival thanks to the similar spiritual-warfare explorations in the fiction of Shaunti Feldhahn). And even in those stories, I love the angelic warriors much more than the demons. Thus, to focus mainly humans-vs.-demons ruins the fun.

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    • I’m certainly not going to argue about the term possession, Stephen. I’d say there were other instances in Scripture such as the demon who threw the person into the fire and the girl who followed Paul and shouting out who they were, that makes me think there were certainly instances that fit what we consider “possession.”

      The Telling actually isn’t about this at all. There isn’t any controlling of another by a spirit in that traditional sense. It really is something quite different–hence, the speculation.

      As you know, I prefer fantasy too. It really does avoid crossing these lines, though even fantasy using angels and wizards comes under fire. 😉

      Becky

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  3. We are told in scripture not to go to certain places or touch certain practices. The Truth is, we simply do not have enough revelation from God to write about things like this, nor should we. It becomes “specluation” from removed from what is scriptiural. It may be popular and trendy, but what does God say? What do the scriptures say? God rules. God reigns. Period. End of story. These THINGS quake at the very THOUGHT of God. “Have you come to destroy us, Jesus of Nazareth? I adjure you to God, do not torment us!” There is a marked tendency in this writing to “speculate” to such an extent the words of scripture end up being ignored or outright contradicted in the name of “speculative christian fiction” which presents a horrible and extremely unbiblical view of the Almghty Sovereign God of All Grace and His Son Jesus Christ, at whose feet every knee shall bow and every tongue confess HE IS LORD. We should always write within the lines of scripture and never go beyond them. This constraint EVERY Christian writer should take to heart — deeply.

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    • The Truth is, we simply do not have enough revelation from God to write about things like this, nor should we. (emphasis mine)

      H. G. It’s that “nor should we” part that I think some question. I speculate about God all the time. I try to imagine what it was like for Him before He created the universe. I try to imagine how He can sovereignly plan out every detail for ever person and every nation and never get any of it wrong. I don’t think it’s wrong to speculate–only wrong to speculate in a way that collides with God’s revelation.

      Did archaeologists discover the body of Jesus, was a question that came up several years ago. Well, no, He was raised bodily from the dead, so those remains they uncovered weren’t His. Such speculation is contrary to Scripture and shouldn’t be entertained. That’s where I think the limit of speculation needs to be drawn.

      Speculating about things we don’t know and arguing about them is also harmful. Or turning them into doctrine as if they are known and not imagined.

      But I think it’s a stretch to say we should never speculate about things which the Bible doesn’t discuss.

      Maybe I am misreading you. Certainly possible as I answer in a whirlwind of lateness.

      Becky

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  4. I certainly have lines that I draw–I’m uncomfortable with flip-flopping evil for good (good witches or demons, for example). The Telling doesn’t do this; the bad is clearly delineated as evil. So aside from that, I wonder if we’re, perhaps, taking this all a little too literally. What Mike describes in The Telling is true of the spiritual condition of mankind. We’re at constant war with our shadow side–our sin nature–and the twisted, animalistic creatures we become have physical manifestations in The Telling. What is false about that? His story rings so true, in fact, that it’s almost painful at times to read. Remember, his book isn’t scripture, nor is it attempting to be. It’s spiritual allegory told so well that we’ve fallen into debating whether he (the author) ought to be allowed to speak “untruths” about the actual, physical reality of the spiritual world.

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  5. I had trouble only with the fake prophecy using scripture and it felt occultish and new agey to me. Loved the story-telling though.

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  6. And for the record, I’m the kind of Christian who love stories like Harry Potter and others. So I’m not being a prude when I say that part in the novel bothered me a little.

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  7. […] Hahn’s recent review of my latest novel, The Telling. Nikole’s review is part of the CSFF Blog Tour currently featuring my novel.  (Shout out to Becky Miller for doing such a great job on this.) […]

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  8. Using scripture to deceive is nothing new and what could be more deceptive than taking on the appearance of others? I really enjoyed Mike’s tale – scared me and kept me on the edge of my seat!!

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  9. Man! I really wish I had read the book now!

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    • Yep, this was a good tour to take part in. I tend to think, though, that some who might have disagreed with the speculation of demons and prophecy chose not to participate, so the discussion wasn’t perhaps as lively as it was for Eye of the Sword.

      Becky

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  10. […] == "undefined"){ addthis_share = [];}For the last few days, I’ve been taking part in the Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy blog tour featuring Mike Duran’s latest novel, The […]

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  11. Lots of deep thought in this. I think unfortunately that books do need disclaimers that they are fiction. I work at a library and there are people who will not believe certain books are fiction because the author did not say that this was a work of fiction. So…

    Thanks for the thoughts!

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    • Mike’s books tend to generate thought, Meaan. 😀

      Thanks for sharing your unique perspective as a librarian. I wonder if what you’re saying isn’t why so many fiction covers include “A Novel” somewhere below the title.

      But what I know as a reader–I’m constantly wondering, “how much of this is true?” Especially when I’m reading about a new place or a new era. For example, Stephen Lawhead’s most recent books about the ley lines have me wondering how much actual physics is in what he’s saying. For historicals, I wonder how many of the characters really lived and which events are verifiable. For contemporary, there are so many things to wonder about–places and people and culture, including religion.

      Clearly, the factual is mixed with the imaginative in all fiction. But when it comes to things of the Bible, the question is, should it be so? And if so, should publishers remind readers that they need to read with discernment, separating what is actual from what is fanciful?

      I wonder if it would help.

      Becky

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  12. Hi Becky.
    I squeezed my two other posts in last night. I had a sewer line back up in my basement, so I was waylaid in trying to get them up – but I worked hard on them so I want credit ;). Looking forward to your tour wrap up. I’m working on visiting the other tour members now.

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    • Hi, Jason, I had your site opened yesterday, but just ran out of time so didn’t update the links on this post. I’ll take care of it ASAP. I saw on Facebook what you guys were having to endure. So sorry! Thanks for making such a great effort to contribute to Mike’s tour. I hope lots of people take the time to read what you have to say about The Telling.

      Becky

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