CSFF Blog Tour – The Spirit Well by Stephen Lawhead, Day 2

Is it Christian enough?

Inevitably when a group of bloggers begin to discuss a book by a Christian author, labeled Christian fiction–such as those participating in the current blog tour for The Spirit Well by Stephen Lawhead–some form of this question surfaces.

As a matter of fact, the spiritual themes have indeed begun to surface, but I can’t help wondering if we aren’t asking the wrong question, especially of a book that is the middle of a five-book series.

First, the story is ongoing. It’s pretty hard to determine what exactly the entire weaving will reveal about the world when we’re at the half way point.

Second, to a large extent the idea of “Christian enough” is suspect. Does every Christian novel need to lay out the plan of salvation if it is to be Christian enough? Or take a character from new birth to a mature life in Christ? Must it be overt rather than symbolic or subtle?

Most Christians don’t apply the “lay out the plan of salvation” standard to their pastor’s sermons, so why should we find a need to include this pivotal event in every Christian novel? Yes, pivotal. A person coming to belief in the redemptive work of Jesus Christ is pivotal. But must we continue to show the pivot over and over rather than showing the result of the pivot or the need for the pivot?

I’d rather ask a different question about a novel: is this true? I don’t mean is the story factual. It’s a story and hence, largely the facts are made up. Nevertheless, stories should be true.

For example, according to God’s Word, mankind is to love his neighbor as himself. So a story that portrays friendship as dangerous, self-reliance as preferable to community, and sacrificing for others as weak, would be a story that is not true.

It can be interesting, even entertaining, but as Christians, our standard should not be determined by whether or not a story made us laugh or cry. It should also be based on more than whether or not the way of salvation is clear.

Honestly, in real life, I love to hear how people came to Christ. I think the power of God is evident when we share how God works in each life.

But coming to Christ is birth. Stories about birth are fine, but I have to think there are also good stories about life after birth. What does a community of believers living in a culture of unbelievers look like?

As I see it, Stephen Lawhead has given us a glimpse of just such a situation in The Spirit Well. Is a “glimpse” enough to make this book Christian?

I go back to the question I prefer to ask–is it true?

As I see it, the further we journey along Mr. Lawhead’s ley lines, the truer the story becomes. Perhaps the greatest truth that shines out of The Spirit Well is that there are no coincidences. Or accidents, hence no big bang as some evolutionists would have us believe.

In Mr. Lawhead’s multiverse, clearly, no coincidences suggests design and order, created by a Designer who must be omniscient and powerful. The author doesn’t have to spell it out for that truth to be evident. Even in a “what-if” make-believe.

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For a lighthearted, creative “interview” with the Bright Empires antagonist, see Robert Treskillard’s Day Two post. For a thorough and thoughtful review, check out Julie Bihn’s Day Two article.

6 Comments

  1. I’m not concerned with the book being Christian enough or not. I will admit, though, that I bristled a bit at Flinders-Petrie revering the Egyptian pharaoh so much and the fact that his wife was “cured” by him. (I think that was in The Bone House.) I know Lawhead wasn’t endorsing ancient Egyptian religion, but it still bothered me a little.

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    • Sorry, I wanted to be notified of replies to this but forgot to do that the first time.

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  2. I haven’t read the book, but your question — is it Christian enough? — reminded me of a discussion (a debate, actually) I recently had with a writer whose romantic suspense novel I edited for publication.

    She had written herself into a couple of corners: In the situations she presented, the main characters would not have behaved as she wrote them. However, she had to impose a “Christian” outcome that didn’t jibe with the characters or the circumstances. If I were a non-believer reading the book, I’d think Christians cause fights for no reason and make bonehead decisions.

    So, more than the plan of salvation laid out within a novel written by a Christian author, I look for believability of characters and outcomes. If the author can gain the readers’ trust with a solid, well-written story, then perhaps those readers will be more apt to read about and accept the truth of God or salvation presented by that author.

    I like what you wrote:
    “In Mr. Lawhead’s multiverse, clearly, no coincidences suggests design and order, created by a Designer who must be omniscient and powerful. The author doesn’t have to spell it out for that truth to be evident. Even in a “what-if” make-believe.”

    Excellent point.

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  3. Loved this post. Story first: it must be believable, the message must be real, or it won’t get read, won’t be accepted, no matter how valuable the intended message. For Christian science fiction and fantasy, I’m not looking for a biblical story, I’m looking for a science fiction and/or fantasy story that creates a Christian lesson. That lesson might be well hidden, but then all the more impactful when all the elements come together into a conclusion that demonstrates rather than tells the story and so offers the lesson. If a few subtle references along the way remind the reader that it is a Christian piece and offers other brief lessons, that’s okay, but they should be there to enhance and support the story and it’s ultimate message.

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  4. Excellent post (and thank you for the unexpected shout-out!). I admit I do expect books under a Christian imprint to have notably Christian themes (not just general themes like self-sacrifice which, while extremely Christian, are something most humans, Christian or not, seem to be drawn to). But it doesn’t mean the Christianity has to be overt. I admit that my co-authored fantasy novel lays out the plan of salvation rather plainly, so that some readers might be annoyed by it being too explicit. But we felt it was right for the characters. I also kind of view the book as my love letter to the world, saying things that I have trouble enunciating on the spot–truths I firmly believe, but which are somehow easier to express in a fantasy setting.

    I do think Lawhead threw in a lot of interesting stuff regarding Christianity in The Spirit Well. That said, this series in particular appears to be basically a 2,000-page long book, published over the course of several years. I wouldn’t expect a book to lay out all its cards 3/5 of the way through, so it’ll be really interesting to see where the Christian elements end up. I like what I’ve seen in this volume.

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  5. I usually like to find a little more Christianity if I’m reading a book from a Christian publisher too, but Stephen Lawhead gets more exposure in non-Bible bookshops this side of the pond than, well, any other Christian writer I can think of, so the softly, softly approach may have advantages 🙂

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