Kids Don’t Have To Rebel


brother-and-sisterSo much talk these days is about millennials leaving the church. I know of one individual raised in a Christian home who went off to high-profile university and came back after four years disavowing Christianity. I know of a number of others who went to Christian schools through high school only to choose a lifestyle in contradiction of what they’d been taught. One such person living with her boyfriend says she still loves Jesus. She just doesn’t have time for church. Or apparently the things of the Bible.

But is this kind of attrition inevitable? Are Christian parents raising kids with little more than a flip-of-the-coin certainty that what they’re teaching will stick?

I watched literally hundreds of kids march through the Christian schools where I taught, and I have to say, parents have much better odds that their kids will follow the faith they’ve been taught if two things can be avoided and two things established.

First, parents should NOT try to shelter their kids from the world. First, it’s nearly a futile effort. I grew up in a Christian home but attended public schools. I shied away from talking with my parents about a number of things because I didn’t want to shock THEM. Because of their standards, and the fact that they didn’t raise hard issues, I was naive enough to think they were naive.

I just saw a posting on Facebook about one of these movie rating sites, a spoof actually. But the reality is, there are sites that count the number of “questionable words,” detail every taste of alcohol, every puff of cigarette smoke, or whatever “unsafe” thing might be in the movie.

What a mistake! Kids know people drink, do drugs, have illicit sex, and much more. Or if they don’t, they will as soon as they go away to college. Then what? They’ll be on their own trying to make sense of the unsafe world they’ve been shielded from.

discussionFar better if parents would sit down with their kids and say, I know this movie shows a hero taking vengeance by killing the person he was supposed to arrest. What do you think about that? What do you think God’s word says about that? How would God want us to handle evil people?

Parents simply miss teaching moments because they’re too busy focusing on the peripherals and not addressing the why’s and wherefore’s.

In contrast, other parents take a hands-off approach, a “I’ll let them make up their own mind” attitude. It’s the spiritual equivalent of teaching kids to swim by throwing them into the pool.

There are some parents who don’t go quite that far. Rather, they turn their child’s spiritual education over to a church or Christian school. The truth is, however, kids learn a lot more from example than they do from didactic instruction.

They learn best where there is example with didactic instruction supporting it, from church and home and school.

So one of the things that parents can establish is a lifestyle they want their children to emulate. If they want them to read the Bible regularly, go to church on Sunday, be involved in a ministry, love their neighbors, forgive people who offend them, and more, then the first thing parents need to do is to model every single one of those.

Impossible, I know. But there’s an important part of this modeling: when parents blow it, they can teach as much to their children by admitting their sin and asking forgiveness. That speaks volumes about how seriously they take living what they profess.

The second thing parents can establish is regular pray with and for their children. Nothing is more powerful. Nothing. When we pray, we are not dropping our quarters into the God machine to get whatever we want. We’re not buying into the God-lotto either—sometimes with our numbers coming up and sometimes not.

No. Prayer is our admission that we are dependent people who need God. Not just as an add-on. We need Him like we need oxygen or functioning brainwaves or a heart that pumps blood. We actually need Him more, because when this life is over, He will still be there. And who else are we going to depend on then?

How critical that we learn to depend on Him completely now! How critical that we teach our children that we are not self-sufficient except for the few big things that seem out of our control, like a hurricane or cancer.

We’ve gotten away from asking God—really asking Him and meaning it—for our daily bread. We don’t need God for our daily bread, we think. We can always buy it from the grocery store.

Except there’s the matter of money, which we get from a job, which we get from the skills and abilities we have and perhaps the people we know and the openings we hear about and the interviews we successfully navigate, and . . . well, I hope you see the point. We think it’s all up to us, but there are so many more factors that God, in His great mercy engineers for us. And, walla! We have food on the table.

How important that kids see parents dependent upon God.

So, did I ever do the rebellion thing? I did not. I think my parents tried to shield me, so you might think I should have rebelled. But they did the other three pretty well.

Let’s face it. Kids still have to accept Christ and decide to follow Him with their whole hearts, no matter what parents do. But I am pretty confident that shielding kids and trying to create “safe” without the other three will probably push them into the rebellion the parents want to spare them.

If you think about the people that Jesus reached with the gospel, there weren’t a lot of people who’d been raised in a safe environment protected from the evils of the world. There were prostitutes, at least one thief, corrupt tax collectors, sick people considered unclean by society and the religious establishment, a militant terrorist, people who’d been demon-possessed. Christ Himself said He came to save the lost, so any safe, “found people” weren’t really in need of Him.

But that’s what we ought to be helping our kids realize: no matter what our outward circumstances, we are in need of a Savior. If, instead, we teach them they can control their own environment and make the world a better place, at least for themselves and their own, we will be pushing them out of the church.

The church is not a safe place. It’s a place where broken people congregate to swap stories of how they got rescued and patched up. It’s a place they can gush about the One who got them out of the kingdom of darkness and into the Light.

Time, I think, for parents to put to bed the notion that they can keep their kids safe. They can’t for one thing. But God can. So asking Him to do so seems like the first step, not the last recourse.

Blessings on those movie reviewers, but I also think it’s time to put them to bed and let parents engage their kids rather than outsourcing their application of Scripture to pop culture. Parents need to think through why they believe what they believe and articulate that to their children. Saying, “It got a 2 on moral values at XXX review site,” doesn’t train a child in the way he should go. Rather, it delays his engagement with the culture. And that state, like being freed from demon possession only to have seven other demons take up residence, is worse than before.

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Christian Fiction And The Christian Worldview


Earlier this week I wrote the following:

Sower_oilGiving the good news [of Jesus Christ], however, doesn’t look the same for every single person. Some are preachers, some serve. Some prepare the soil, some plant, some water. All parts of the process are necessary for a harvest. But one thing is true—wheat doesn’t come up by accident. (“A Look At What’s Most Important.”)

I think that paragraph summarizes my views about Christian fiction about as well as anything I could write on the subject. But sometimes particulars are lost in metaphors, so I want to elaborate a little on this topic.

First, I’m aware that some readers and some publishers equate “safe fiction” with Christian fiction. That view is in error. Christianity is not the same as morality. For example, Mormon fiction can have a “true love waits” theme as much as can Christian fiction; fiction written from a secular humanist worldview can have a tolerance theme that looks similar to a “love your neighbor” theme you might find in Christian fiction.

The externals that so many look to as the definition of “safe”—no bad language, no sex scenes, a minimum of violence—can be true in movies like Wall-e or in DVDs like Veggie Tales.

Consequently, no matter what marketing or promotional blurbs say, safe does not equal Christian. Anyone saying otherwise is closing their eyes to an attempt to usurp the term Christian and make it over to mean something it is not.

Secondly, Christian is not the same as theistic. Consequently, a story that includes or even centers on a belief in God is not the same as Christian fiction. That fact should be clear from Scripture:

You believe that God is One; you do well. The demons also believe and shudder. (James 2:16)

A story like Gilead, then, with a pastor who does not pass on the gospel to his son in the last moments of his life, may speak of God, but can’t be understood as a Christian story based solely on those pronouncements.

So what makes a story Christian or what does fiction written from a Christian worldview look like? I think we have to take a step back and ask, what defines a Christian or Christianity?

I think there are several key components:

    * Humans have a bent toward sin to which we’re chained.
    * This human failing creates a rift between us and God, who made humans in His likeness.
    * God Himself solved the rift problem when Jesus switched us out and Himself in as the One to bear our sins in His body on the cross.
    * The net result is that God rescued us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His Son.
    * As members of God’s kingdom, we are His heirs, in His family, part of His body.

Christian fiction or stories written from a Christian worldview do not have to have all those components, either explicitly or implicitly. In addition they might have moral components shared by any number of other worldviews.

Nevertheless, something unique to the Christian faith must be part of the story, if it is to be Christian in any capacity. Again, this “something unique to the Christian faith” does not have to be overt. It can be, certainly. But it doesn’t have to be.

There are wonderful stories by authors like Kathryn Cushman that show people of faith struggling to follow God and live as members of His family. Key components of that which is unique to Christianity are clear in and through each story.

Other stories, like Karen Hancock‘s Guardian-King fantasy series also show these same unique components, but from a somewhat allegorical approach.

Still others like Anne Elisabeth Stengl‘s Tales of Goldstone Wood rely on symbology. Nothing is overt, but the unique components of Christianity are in operation throughout each story, shown through symbols.

Another type of story such as general market author R. J. Anderson‘s Faery Rebel, communicates components of the Christian faith through metaphor, much the way the Old Testament does. Isasc portrayed the promised Messiah and Abraham, the Father willing to sacrifice him; the Passover lamb pictures the sacrifice Jesus would make to remove sins; Moses portrayed Jesus as the Mediator between God and man; David depicted the Messiah as King, and so on.

These stories are best referred to as Christian worldview stories. The unique Christian components are easily missed, but they serve an important purpose one way or the other: they show readers of all stripe what redemption or sacrifice or rescue or sinning against a loving authority looks like, without actually naming God or drawing any overt parallels.

Recently at Ruby Slippers Media for Fiction Friday I posted a short story entitled “Haj” that I think falls into this latter category. Last week, however, I posted another story, “At His Table,” that is best described as overt, including faith components unique to Christianity. The first I’d call Christian worldview fiction and the second Christian fiction.

One last point: while I think writing is a wonderful opportunity for the Christian to pass along his faith, I also believe there are other legitimate reasons a Christian might write fiction that is not Christian and does not communicate his Christian worldview. However, those who choose to use their writing as an avenue to reflect what is unique to the Christian faith have a variety of ways to accomplish this, one not superior in any way to the others.

The fact is, God can use gold and silver drinking vessels, and he can use ordinary clay pots that might contain water turned to wine. It’s not up to us to determine what kind of story God will use.

Open Letter To Christian Publishers


ReadingDear Christian Publishers,

I’m not a happy customer, and I think it’s time I stop complaining to my friends and come right out and say what’s bothering me.

The problem leaked out as I wrote my review for Wayne Thomas Batson’s recent (excellent) middle grade / YA novel Dream Treaders. At one point I said that middle grade boys were an under-served reading market, but that’s only partly true. In reality, all children are under served by Christian publishers!

I find this to be a horrible state of affairs. The few books I see in book stores and in publisher catalogs more closely resemble Sunday school material than entertainment. Don’t misunderstand—I’m a big fan of Sunday school. I just don’t think kids like going to school—no matter what kind of school it is—when they want to play and imagine and get lost in a story.

I understand from discussions on agent and editor panels at writers’ conferences that the topic of the paucity of children’s books comes up from time to time. In explanation, industry professionals identify two problems. First, there are so many clean books available in the general market that there is no real need for Christian children’s books. And second, Christian children’s books simply don’t sell.

I find the first reason to be reprehensible. Yes, reprehensible. Since when is Christianity limited to moral living? Do believers have nothing else to say about life except, don’t use bad words, obey your parents, and be nice to the little disadvantaged boy who lives next door?

I mean, really. Are we content to let the world tell our children how they should think? That’s precisely what we do when ALL their entertainment—TV, video games, movies, and books—espouse the same humanistic agenda. The two hours children spend at church on Sunday (and it’s a pretty shaky assumption that they do spend two hours there), is not enough to counter the multiply hours they spend every day hearing that they are good (not sinful), need only look inside (not to Jesus) for strength, can do whatever they put their mind to (not what God has gifted them for), and many other principles that fly in the face of Scripture.

Who, I ask you, Mr. and Ms. Publishing Professionals, will counter the humanist, postmodern worldviews that children are being taught?

Ah, someone is bound to suggest that parents are tasked with that job. I couldn’t agree more. Moses certainly gave parents the responsibility of teaching the Law to their children:

These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deut. 6:6-9)

The idea is that parents are to use every occasion to teach their children the things God wants them to know. Every occasion. Including their reading time.

Yes, parents can use reading time, like they must for movies and video games and TV and public education, to teach how the worldview behind the stories and games and curriculum is false. But is it too much to ask that Christian publishers give parents a better tool than negative examples?

Seriously, why aren’t all Christians up in arms at the poor pickings we are offering up to our children?

Which leads to the next issue. Publishing professionals say that parents don’t buy Christian books. Well, here’s the thing: some don’t know any Christian books exist. What’s more, the few books that are on the shelves in book stores may not be geared toward the needs of the parents who are looking. If there’s one book about pumpkins at Halloween time, for example, what does the parent do who is looking for a book for her little boy who loves horses?

The other “not buying” issue is price. Publishers say, all that color and thick paper for children’s books make printing children’s books prohibitive. Their print runs aren’t big enough to bring the cost down, so given the choice of buying a cheaper general market book and an expensive Christian market book, parents go for the less expensive.

Both these issues can be taken care of if you, Mr. and Ms. Publishing Professionals, would think creatively and take seriously the need for adults to pass on the Truth of God and His love for the world to the next generation.

First, the not knowing. There are plenty of women buying Christian fiction by everyone’s calculation. Why not package a popular author with a children’s book? You could work with an author who is best-selling and might be willing to contribute to this cause. The idea would be to give Popular Best-selling Author’s latest book away for free to everyone who buys brand new children’s book–for a limited time, if you choose.

That’s just one idea, but I can guarantee you, women who love Popular Best-selling Author will buy that children’s book and therefore discover Christian children’s books.

As for price, there are ways to cut costs. Like making the pages of children’s books smaller (that’s already being done by at least one publisher, and if I recalled which one, I’d stand up and applaud).

And of course, cost isn’t really an issue for middle grade or young adult books. Those don’t have the expensive art work or the glossy paper or any of the other high cost elements.

For teen and pre-teens, it’s really a matter of letting readers and their parents know the books are available. So why not do a little bit of old-fashioned promotion? Why not set up an author to speak at schools, selling books along the way? A few fantasy writers have done this, and teen Christian fantasy came into being.

It’s doable, Mr. and Mrs. Publishing Professional. It’s really a matter of whether or not you think it’s important enough to work at it and make it happen.

And here’s a secret. If you invest in this next generation, chances are, they’ll become your customers of the future. And when they do, please work to keep them happy.

Theology Versus Morality, Part 2


old-carriage-954803-mThere’s a saying my mom used to use which I think is fitting in this discussion about theology and morality. I’ve specifically applied the contrast to fiction, but I think it fits all of life. That saying is, “Don’t get the cart before the horse.”

I tend to think too many Christians put the cart of morality before the horse of theology. In fact we advocate certain behavior without the foundational belief system that can rightly shape a person’s actions.

I don’t want to disparage morality. God clearly chastised Israel for their moral failings–they didn’t keep the Sabbath, didn’t care for orphans and widows, engaged in child sacrifice, trusted in foreign powers. But behind their moral failings was their great theological error:

For my people have committed two evils:
They have forsaken Me,
The fountain of living waters,
To hew for themselves cisterns,
Broken cisterns that can hold no water. (Jer. 2:13)

In a nutshell, Israel abandoned God and chose to create their own system of righteousness. I suggest that a great number of people identifying as Christian today are doing the same thing, whether Progressive Christians or Word of Faith folks or universalists or Jehovah’s Witnesses or Sinless Perfectionists or Trinitarian Theology adherents or Westbow Baptists or any number of other people believing that the good things they do make them acceptable in God’s eyes.

When it comes to fiction, I think there’s a segment of Christian readers who want their brand of morality mirrored in the stories they read. In fact, for some, the morality might be more important than the theology.

We end up, then, with criticism of books like Harry Potter that sounds like this: Never mind that Harry is trying to save the world, he left his dorm room without permission.

Of course he also conspired to take what wasn’t his, lied about leaving school, and broke a host of school rules–all for the greater good. Do such stories teach situational ethics, then?

Perhaps because the Harry Potter books do not pretend to be Christian, they aren’t good examples of viewing morality over theology. But the point is, readers often judge a book by its morality, not its theology.

In fact, there was considerable theology in the Harry Potter books–especially in the last book where Harry sacrifices himself to destroy the enemy. Certainly he was not a Christ figure in the same way that Aslan was in the Narnia books, but he was a type–“a person or thing symbolizing or exemplifying the ideal or defining characteristics of something” (Oxford English Dictionary). Harry exemplified Christ’s defining sacrificial characteristic much the way Biblical figures such as King David exemplified His Kingship and Moses, His role as mediator. They, of course, were real people, though flawed. Harry is fictitious, and equally flawed.

The fact that the Bible uses morally flawed people to point to Christ gives me hope, and it guides my thinking about fiction. The Bible never covered over the sins of the heroes of the faith. Take a look at the list in Hebrews 11, for example. Noah got drunk, Abraham lied, Sarah gave her servant to her husband as his mistress, Issac favored Esau, Jacob deceived his father in order to steal his brother’s blessing, Joseph bragged about his dreams, Moses committed murder, Rahab was a prostitute. None of these people is listed in Hebrews because of their morality. Rather, they had right theology.

I can only conclude that theology trumps morality. But I’m confident right theology leads to right behavior. However, the sanctifying process takes time–a life time, actually.

Why, then, do some readers demand a false conversion in fiction–one that shows characters no longer sinning? There are two possibilities. One is that some readers are choosing good morals over right theology. And that’s a problem.

The other is a more involved possibility, and I’ll reserve that for discussion another day.

(If you’d like to read or re-read the previous article, “Theology Versus Morality,” you’ll find it here.)

Reflecting Or Influencing Culture


Entertainment does not merely gratify taste, after all, but creates it.

So said Meghan Cox Gurdon in her Wall Street Journal article, “Darkness Too Visible.”

Is she right?

Many authors when they discuss fiction appeal to the need for freedom to tell the truth about the world. But whose truth?

Not every teenage girl has anorexia or has been sexually assaulted. Not every guy cuts himself or runs away from home.

But some do.

Are their stories, then, the truthful ones to which all others must be compared? Or are the stories of greedy rich kids or fish-out-of-water newbies just as valid? How about the story of a happy little orphan girl or a Bible-quoting gang member?

I think most people would say that whatever is true to the human experience, across the gamut, should be considered as valid story material.

But when, I wonder, does reflecting culture — telling the stories of those we see in the world — turn into influencing culture?

I’ve said loudly, long, and often that stories, like all other forms of writing, communicate. Certainly entertainment is a big piece of the novel cake, but stories are about something and in the end say something about that event or lifestyle or world.

Could it be that in writing about the fringe behaviors of society, authors normalize those behaviors? Could it be that enough stories about cutting or sexual assault anesthetize our sensibilities so we no longer look with horror on these horrific behaviors? even though the stories do not hold these behaviors up as something to be emulated?

From Ms. Gurdon’s article:

The argument in favor of such novels is that they validate the teen experience, giving voice to tortured adolescents who would otherwise be voiceless. If a teen has been abused, the logic follows, reading about another teen in the same straits will be comforting. If a girl cuts her flesh with a razor to relieve surging feelings of self-loathing, she will find succor in reading about another girl who cuts, mops up the blood with towels and eventually learns to manage her emotional turbulence without a knife.

Yet it is also possible—indeed, likely—that books focusing on pathologies help normalize them and, in the case of self-harm, may even spread their plausibility and likelihood to young people who might otherwise never have imagined such extreme measures.

We live in a copy-cat society. Two boys walk into their high school and start killing other students, and a spate of school shootings follows. And so with any number of other bad behaviors.

One could argue that kids will see all these things on the news or YouTube or hear about them in the songs they listen to, so books aren’t actually doing anything more than personalizing the pain, putting a face on the victims and those suffering.

In fact, author Veronica Roth (Divergent) makes this comment in her blog article “This WSJ Thing“:

You want to say, I want to protect my children from this kind of content? Then I say, I am happy for your kids, that they have a parent who is that worried about them. But when you say, these books are garbage and they’re damaging the minds of children? I say, the world is damaging the minds of children. Be more shocked by the world than by the books. [emphasis in the original]

Honestly, I suspect that how we view the role of entertainment in culture — as that which reflects or as that which influences — has a great deal to do with what we think should or should not go into that entertainment.

You thoughts?

Safe Fiction Is Dangerous (Or, A Review of How to Train Your Dragon)


I caught the animated movie How to Train Your Dragon at our dollar theater today (never mind that it cost $4.00—a different story, but the movie was still a bargain). It’s a wonderful, fun, well-executed, “safe” production.

The main themes involved parent-child relationships and being true to oneself. Good things, for the most part. There was even a touching moment when the dad tells his son he’s proud of him.

I can see parents happily taking their children to see this movie and feeling oh, so good about it. I know I felt uplifted when I walked out of the theater.

But here’s the thing. There are some side issues that parents need to think about and discuss with their children, yet many may draw a false conclusion about the movie because of its happy ending and the reconciliation achieved, father with son and humans with dragons.

Here are some of the tangential (and the elaboration of one central) issues.

  • The decision not to kill a dragon (animal rights?)
  • The existence of a “greater evil” than the one the humans saw (big government? big business? God? Satan? Who is the greater evil extorting the “dragons” today?)
  • The attitude toward war (Father: They’re killing hundreds of us. Son: But we’ve killed thousands of them. They’re just defending themselves.)
  • Be true to yourself. (No matter how “different” you are? No matter that your true self is sinful?)

Am I saying How to Train Your Dragon is a bad movie and people should smash the DVD they bought? Hardly! I loved the movie and would recommend it to anyone. It’s family friendly but it’s artistic, too. At times I thought I was seeing an animated version of Avatar (an animation of an animation—now if that doesn’t say something about the digital revolution).

What I am saying is that “safe” fiction is the most dangerous kind because people are disarmed, no longer alert to possible ideas that may foster a false worldview.

Ideas, of themselves, are not dangerous. I can listen to atheist Christopher Hitchens in a debate about the existence of God and be unaffected by his worldview because I am alert.

Ideas that float in under the radar, however, are another thing. They enter unchallenged, co-exist with the truth, and someday after they’ve been fortified, may even challenge the truth to a shootout.

Media has taken this approach to introducing a shift in worldview through “safe” stories for the last thirty years at least. But the reality is, “safe” Christian fiction is no more safe than the media brand of safe.

I read one book put out by a Christian imprint that was all about lust. The heroine refused to marry the hero (because he wasn’t a Christian) but didn’t refuse his kisses and didn’t stop dwelling on them or longing for them. The story came to one titillating climax after another. But it was safe. No bad words (so it wasn’t actually “edgy” 😛 ). No bedroom scenes.

But set aside books that are stretching the normal boundaries. Look at Amish romance. Does anyone know or care how Christian the Amish actually are? Are these books addressing legalism? (I’m asking, because I haven’t read any.) Church divisions? (Amish churches have divided over whether a woman’s dress must be double-breasted or not, whether or not a hook-and-eye is acceptable, and many other such particulars. You learn these things when you accompany your grandmother to a family reunion and everyone else there is Amish.)

More importantly, are readers asking questions about the pastoral culture they lose themselves in? Or are we letting our guard down? Because it’s about a group of Christians. And Christian companies are publishing it. And Christian bookstores are selling it.

As I see it, if “safe” fiction makes us drop our guard, then it is the most dangerous fiction of all.

Seeing Worldviews behind the Art – Should Fiction Be Safe? Conclusion


So today I learn that in a recent sermon Pastor Mark Driscoll of Seattle’s Mars Hills Church called Avatar “satanic”. Well, actually, he called it “the most demonic, satanic film I’ve seen.”

I don’t know what Pastor Driscoll’s point was in his sermon, and I’m not bringing this up to discuss whether or not he was wise to voice his opinion in such a strident way. Rather, I want to return to the discussion about safe fiction.

First, one more news item related to the “safe fiction” topic. It seems Barnes & Noble has added reviews from Common Sense Media Web site, and this has upset some writers: “The way the book reviews seemed to suddenly appear on BN.com and the fact that they seemed to emphasize negative subjects like sex, violence, drinking, and drugs over subject matter, raised a red flag for some readers” (excerpt from “Common Sense Raises Issues at B&N” by Judith Rosen — Publishers Weekly, 2/23/2010).

I think these two articles illustrate in real-life settings the problem with seeking after “safe fiction.” For one thing stories are layered. On the surface are the behaviors we can readily see such as sex and violence and bad language—things the Common Sense reviews would flag.

Below that, however, lie attitudes characters might espouse. As one commenter noted over at Novel Journey in a discussion about Avatar, a movie like Twilight shows all kinds of unhealthy attitudes toward love. Yet it’s gotten a pass from many Christian parents because the characters don’t have sex.

But there’s another layer—that of the worldview espoused through the story. As Brian Godawa says in his book Hollywood Worldviews: Watching Films with Wisdom & Discernment (IVP Books), we need to look behind the art to the worldview.

Given all the ways in which a movie or book can go astray, can we ever really confidently say a story is “safe”? Here’s a part of Godawa’s conclusion:

The fact is, there is nothing perfect in this life. We live in a fallen world. Everything and everyone is tainted by sin, even those with whom we agree. Even Christian media are not exempt from imperfection. No Christian sermon, book or movie is completely unstained by our fallen-ness.

In other words, there really is no such thing as “safe fiction.” And by declaring a work of art “safe,” we are basically telling the audience they can turn off their discernment radar. No need to think about this book or movie or TV show because Someone Important has pre-approved it as safe.

From where I sit, picking up any book or viewing any movie with my brain in neutral because what I’m about to consume is “safe” puts me at the greatest risk of undo influence.

An author maybe withheld all the cuss words in a story, and there’s no sex or violence, but is there greed? Snobbery? Bullying? If so, then those books aren’t safe. Teens who long to fit in can get all the wrong messages about what it takes to be a part of the In Crowd from such a “safe” piece of fiction.

We Christians need to be thinking about the stories we consume. We need to compare the values and worldviews with those of the Bible. And we need to teach the next generation to go and do likewise.

Seeing Worldviews behind the Art – Should Fiction Be Safe?


After his introduction in Hollywood Worldviews (IVP), Brian Godawa moves at once to “Sex, Violence & Profanity” in chapter one, explaining that this topic is the first raised whenever he speaks on this subject.

In addressing these issues, his views dovetail with mine. First he acknowledges that many movies seem preoccupied with integrating evil into the stories. He also verifies that many studies show a connection between the vile acts of violence, sexual perversion, and profanity and an increase in degenerative social behavior.

However, Godawa also points out that those studies do not differentiate between movies that put such behavior in contrasting contexts. For example, Schindler’s List, a movie about the horrors of the Jewish Holocaust, is filled with man’s inhumanity to man. And so is Friday the 13th. The point and purpose of depicting violence in the two, however, couldn’t be more different.

But the question remains. Should Christians be a party to either kind of film? Godawa makes it clear that a decision about this issue should not be one we arrive at based on our own wisdom:

The ultimate sourcebook for most media watchdogs is the Bible. And it ought to be—without its definition of a universal objective morality, we have no absolute reference point for right or wrong … The Bible alone provides a justifiable objective standard for making moral judgments that transcend the whims of personal opinion.

He then explodes the myth that some people might entertain that the Bible does not contain any sex, violence, or profanity. While I think the “profanity” section is a little weak, he adds a section of blasphemy that I think is helpful.

But the strength of his argument, in my view, isn’t that the Bible contains activities such as incest, rape, murder, adultery, and so on. I suspect most Christians know this is true, at least on a limited basis, if not as extensively as Godawa demonstrates.

Instead, the key for me is his handling of a verse often used to support “sanitized stories,” Philippians 4:8 – “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.”

From Hollywood Worldviews:

Readers of Bible passages like this one often misunderstand the language to be expressing a “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil” approach to spirituality. But ignoring the dark side is not at all what the verses are indicating.

It is not only true, honorable and right to proclaim that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, but it is also true, honorable and right to proclaim that Satan is the father of lies (Jn 8:44) and that false prophets are his minions (2 Cor 11:14-15). It is not only pure, lovely and of good repute that Noah was depicted in the Bible as a righteous man, but it is also pure, lovely and of good repute that all the rest of the earth around him were depicted as entirely wicked (Gen 6:5). It is not only excellent and worthy of praise that Lot was revealed as a righteous man, but it is also excellent and worthy of praise that the inhabitants of Sodom were revealed as unprincipled men “who indulge[d] the flesh in its corrupt desires and despise[d] authority (2 Pet 2:10).

Godawa next addresses the scriptural admonition (Ephesians 5) to expose the deeds of darkness and to bring them to the light.

I think this exhortation applies not only for wicked deeds but also for false belief systems—the very reason why I feel so strongly that Christians need to look behind our culture’s art to the worldviews each piece espouses.

But I see I haven’t answered the question, Should fiction be safe? I’ll try to wrap up my summation of this chapter of Hollywood Worldviews and give an answer tomorrow.

Published in: on February 25, 2010 at 11:07 am  Comments (4)  
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Seeing Worldviews behind the Art – Is There a Cost?


A couple excellent questions came up as a result of yesterday’s article discussing Brian Godawa‘s book Hollywood Worldviews. The first concerns whether or not there is a cost for the Christian in looking at worldviews behind the art.

Let me say up front, I don’t think a believer should violate his own standard of morality. And hopefully each understands the need to have such a standard in place.

There are black and whites in Scripture, but there are a lot of grays, too. We often think of the Ten Commandments as black and white, but what do we do about the command not to bear false witness, when Rahab lied to save the spies and Abraham lied to protect himself and Jacob lied to get Isaac’s blessing? In each instance were these people sinning? Is it ever “right to do wrong”? Or how about Jesus holding up David as an example for breaking Jewish law, to illustrate that His disciples were allowed on the Sabbath to pluck grain when they were hungry?

These questions, I think, are important for each believer to address in his own life. I’m not convinced there is a one-size-fits-all answer.

Then there are issues that are not directly addressed in Scripture, overtly or implicitly … such as what our standards should be for entertainment.

Does this silence mean we should have no standards or that we should shoe-horn clear principles into these areas in question and come up with a law for today’s Christian? No and No.

Paul addresses a matter that troubled the church in Corinth that seems similar to the issues we often refer to as gray areas. In so doing, he identifies some believers as weaker brothers and some as stronger.

I think the tendency today is to assume that I am in the stronger camp, and whoever sees things differently is in the weaker camp! 🙄 The truth is, in some areas, I know I am in the weaker camp and probably always will be.

Hence, there are some things I know personally I can not participate in without putting myself in the path of temptation. That’s my personal moral standard. I don’t expect others to abide by it because I don’t know if they have the same weaknesses I do.

All that to say, if I have my moral standard in place, I should not violate it for the sake of seeing what the rest of the world is thinking. However, there are plenty of stories I read or view because they don’t violate my personal morality. It is with these stories that I need to look beyond the art and entertainment value.

However, I think a lot of us Christians stop at this standard-of-morality level. We don’t look beyond. Perhaps we never have been taught to compare the ideas in a piece of fiction with what the Bible has to say about life and Godliness. Perhaps we don’t know what the Bible says about the nature of God or life or whatever the movie addresses.

Whatever the reason, I believe we Christians open ourselves to the influence of potentially false worldviews if we don’t examine the ones espoused in the fiction we engage.

No, we may not deny Christ or start to worship a tree because we saw Avatar. But without realizing it, we may take a step away from the uniqueness of Humanity—the image of God, breathed into us when He created Adam—because we don’t examine what it means to say, We are one with our Mother the Earth, as Avatar espouses.

In answer, then, to the question, Is there a cost in looking behind the art to see the worldview, I’d say there is a cost in NOT looking behind the art. I’d also add there may be a cost if we alter our standard of morality and justify doing so with the idea that we’re just trying to get to know what our culture thinks.

That’s like saying I’ll buy a big bag of candy so I can be aware of what people not on a diet are eating, put it in a candy jar, and stare at it without taking any because I’m limiting my sugar intake. Why would I put myself through such an ordeal?

On the other hand, if I already buy bread for sandwiches, why wouldn’t I take a close look at the labels and compare grams of sugar in one loaf with that in another?

My call for discernment isn’t one that requires a change in selecting entertainment. It’s a call to think about the stories we are already choosing to read or view, and to do so with our Bibles in hand.

Christianity, Fiction, and Christian Fiction


Announcement: for those of you looking for the August CSFF Poll, please note that I inadvertently left Chawna Schroeder off, though I did post the links to her three articles. In contrast, I put Julie on the poll but left the links to her articles off that list. These mistakes are now corrected.

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The comments to yesterday’s post spurred me to think a little more about Christianity and literature. Happily I had bookmarked another article on the subject, this one by Jeffrey Overstreet entitled “Why my faith is not ‘FoxFaith,’ and great art is not necessarily ‘Christian art.'”

Being a film critic, Jeffrey relates much of his opinion to movies, but certainly his remarks apply to the gamut of fiction. He identifies a list of things he then believed (he wrote the article in 2006) identified Christian art:

whatever is clean;
whatever is free of anything that could possibly offend;
whatever is cute;
whatever portrays America as blameless;
whatever assures us that the good guys always win;
whatever is safe for six-year-olds and simplistic enough for them to understand;
and whatever openly proclaims the name of Jesus.

But here’s crucial point:

For me, these qualifications confined me to a sort of wish-fulfillment art. It limited me to a particular corner of Christian culture in which we dreamed about what we wanted the world to look like… a sort of Thomas Kincaid vision of the world… not art that challenged me to grapple with the dark, complicated world I live in, where answers don’t come easy. It was art designed to make me comfortable, not art designed to challenge my mind and test me.

Reading this prompted two contradictory questions: 1) is wish-fulfillment art always wrong? 2) are stories that do not challenge my mind and test me really art?

First, is “wish-fulfillment art” always wrong? If I worked in a garbage dump, would I come home and turn on a program for entertainment about land-fills? I suspect not. I’d want something that took my mind off my work-related problems.

But that leads to question two. I think there are two ways of “taking my mind off work-related problems.” I can put my mind in neutral and do something that requires no thought, or I can put my mind on something challenging but unrelated to work.

Stories that put a reader’s mind in neutral aren’t “art,” in my opinion. They aren’t even trying to be art. They’re trying to be momentarily entertaining.

As I see it, Christian fiction has often become equated with this kind of unchallenging story telling. That’s a problem. If I’m right and those stories are not art, then Christianity has been separated from art in fiction.

But why? Clearly there are writers who want to make Christian art—who want to challenge readers to think, to grapple with the hard questions of life, who want to hold out hope “while never flinching from the cold, hard truth of life in a sin-afflicted world.”

I can think of a number of writers who fit this category, some published, some yet to be published. So the question is really this, I guess. Will readers and writers and agents and editors be content with this “safe fiction” version of Christian fiction, or is there hope that Christianity will again ignite great literary art?

Note: in my opinion, including cuss words in a story or an inference to sex does not qualify a story as art since it is no longer “sanitized.”

Published in: on August 28, 2009 at 11:15 am  Comments (15)  
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