Theology Versus Morality, Part 3


Shepherdandsheep_1298569I ended Part 2, Theology Versus Morality by suggesting that there was perhaps more than one reason some readers want stories that show a “complete conversion”–one in which the protagonist apparently stops sinning.

The problem, of course, is that the story generally ends when the character conquers whatever problem he’s been plagued by, often by making a commitment to Christ. The implication is that ALL is solved and the character will never face the problem again. I suggested some read or write these stories because they put morality ahead of theology. Essentially they’re saying a moral life is the measure of a person’s relationship with God. It’s the same argument Job’s friends made.

But in the stories I’m talking about, the reward God gives is victory over sin.

And the truth is, God does give victory over sin. However, a new believer isn’t always free from addiction at the moment of conversion. Some people struggle. In fact, my guess is that more people identify with Paul’s statements in Romans 7 about the war between what he wants and what he does, than identify with what he said in Romans 6:

our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. (vv 6-7)

Freed from sin, Paul says, but still struggling. Our fiction, however, seems to tell only the first part–freed from sin. Almost automatically. Almost magically. And those stories don’t ring true to readers who struggle with sin in their own lives.

Writers might be penning these stories because they have elevated morality above theology, but they also might write them because they have a philosophy of storytelling that values creating a model for readers to emulate.

A couple years ago I did some study for an article at Spec Faith and discovered that the novel in its earliest forms had two distinct purposes. One was “to invite the readers to mirror the virtues of the story heroes” (“The Point And Purpose Of Reading Fiction”).

I suspect this goal is still the desire of many writers. After all, we as a society copy those we look up to. That’s how fads and fashions catch on. That’s why ad companies use slogans like “Be like Mike,” a popular phrase back in the day when Michael Jordan was at the top of his game.

The key for Christian writers, I believe, is to show a character struggling, wrestling, working to turn away from evil and do good. After all, the Bible says a lot about morality. It would be one sided to pretend that God only cares about what we believe concerning Him, not what we do as a result of our belief.

But we must see morality as an outgrowth of our belief, not a means to gain right standing with God. And the depiction of morality in fiction must not confuse the two.

Some writers, however, believe that, rather than giving a model for readers to emulate, fiction should be a means to understand the world–natural and supernatural. To accomplish this, the writer must accurately and truthful reflect the world, warts and all.

This last approach creates stories that are in line with ones you can find in the book of Judges, involving such things as gang rape and murder, idolatry, betrayal, thievery, abuse, war. The idea is to discover and understand, “to expose life and society for what it is” (“The Point And Purpose Of Reading Fiction”).

These stories, then, subjugate theology to morality, but not for the sake of establishing right morality per se. Rather, a reflection of society, especially an unrestricted look at the underbelly, which exposes or critiques, is the goal.

Here are the two views, both holding theology at bay:

If we understand reading to be a mechanism by which we learn how to be or as a means for personal growth, then we probably want books that call us to godliness or at least to ethical behavior.

If on the other hand, we see reading as a reflection and critique of society, then we want stories that push our awareness of the world, including the seamy side of society. (“The Point And Purpose Of Reading Fiction”)

What I wonder is why those who want to “push our awareness of the world” don’t see as paramount the need to push our awareness of the spiritual side of the world. And by this, I’m not suggesting we need more stories about demons or angels in the vein of Frank Peretti. Rather, there seems to be a great desire to show cursing construction workers and women who sleep around, and not so much a desire to show a loving God who will tend His people like a shepherd, who will carry us with His arm, or hold us close to His chest, or gently lead us.

This is the picture God gives of Himself in Isaiah 40:11. Do we fiction writers think it’s unimportant for the world to understand God as He has shown Himself? Or do we give verbal assent to it but doubt in our hearts that He really shows Himself as He described?

That, I think, might be the key question Christian writers should ask of ourselves. Maybe that all of us should ask.

(Here are the links to Parts 1 and 2.)

Published in: on February 14, 2014 at 6:42 pm  Comments (4)  
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Fantasy Friday: The Reality Of Hope


Novel cover collage2Christian fiction isn’t realistic, or so some charge. After all, there’s no cussing, no sex, and everything turns out happily ever after. The last point actually isn’t true, depending, of course, on what kind of “happy” a person is talking about. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Today at Speculative Faith our guest blogger, Shannon McDermott (yes, the same Shannon McDermott who is up for this month’s CSFF Award), wrote an inspiring post entitled “The Echoes of Christmas” in which she discusses what a story would look like if it were written as an expression of Christmas-all-year-long. She pulled out three responses that Christmas generates: joy, wonder, and hope.

For some reason, that triplet rang true to me, but especially hope. In some ways the world this year seemed more prone to despair. The US supposedly is hurtling toward a fiscal cliff, children were gunned down in their school, and no one seems to have an answer for our ailments, or at least one we can agree on.

Stories seem to reflect this kind of harsh reality, whether novels like The Hunger Games or TV programs like Revolution. And in many ways, Christian writers are being told to get with the program. If feels very much like a Job’s-wife kind of admonition–curse God and die. Except for the dying part. But curse, cuss, swear–let the world know that Christians see the way things really are.

Oddly, I don’t hear those same voices saying Christian writers should show the reality of abortion in their stories, or homelessness, or drug trafficking or gang violence or illegal immigration or homosexuality or corporate fraud or government corruption or divorce or an almost endless list of “real.” Instead we’re told, in the same manner as a dripping faucet, that Christian fiction needs to use cussing or cursing or swearing in order to be real.

And sex. Once in a while we’re told that sex ought to get into the stories, though no one seems to think graphic sex scenes are OK.

I have to say, I’m stuck on the definition of “real.”

Over and over I read from Christians in the writing community that the Bible is one of the darkest books around, that it didn’t sugarcoat such things as rape or adultery or murder. That look at the Bible, however, isn’t comprehensive. The Bible doesn’t have a “The End” after the story of David having Bathsheba’s husband killed after he’d slept with her. There isn’t even a “The End” after Judah gets led away into exile or one after Jesus’s crucifixion. There isn’t one after Stephen was martyred or Paul was arrested.

In truth, the Bible is all about hope–in the Old Testament, God’s chosen people hoped for the coming Messiah. And guess what the New Testament is about? The first coming and now the expectant waiting of the Church for the return of that same Messiah.

We long and we hope. We suffer and we hope. We sin and we hope.

As far as I’m concerned, stories that show or engender hope are real stories.

Cussing/cursing/swearing is not what a story is about. There are lots of ways to make a story seem real as far as how characters are painted. And people don’t generally pick a novel to read because they like the cussing/cursing/swearing. The choose a book because they believe they’ll like the story.

I suggest stories with hope will ring the most true and seem the most real.

Published in: on December 28, 2012 at 6:39 pm  Comments (8)  
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