Salvation And The Christian Writer


Not everyone is a writer, but I suspect these thoughts, first shared in September 2010, apply to people of other professions as well.

Before I precede, however, I want to point out the unique nature of today’s date. It’s 1/8/18. Cool, don’t you think?

And now on to the topic at hand.

As I was talking with a writer friend a number of years ago, it dawned on me that what I believe about salvation shapes my attitude toward fiction.

By way of background, there has been from time to time, a group of writers who plea for Christians to free their art from any “utilitarian” purpose, such as preaching the gospel.

I’ve been on the fence to a great extent because I do want Christians to write fiction that stands the test of time, and that’s usually a work that bears some kind of mark as “art.” However, I believe wholeheartedly in the idea that a “utilitarian” theme is necessary for fiction to be great art—if the writer doesn’t say something meaningful, then why would that story be around tomorrow, let alone fifty years from now?

But here’s the intersection between that point and my realization about salvation. If a Christian has certain views about salvation—a “God’s sovereign so I have no part in salvation” view or a broad understanding of who is saved (from some form of universalism to a belief that the sincere or the “good” or the consistent are saved)—he may feel little or no urgency to carry the message of Christ to the dying world. (Of course, a third option might be a “let them burn” lack of concern for the lost, but then I’d wonder about the genuineness of that person’s profession of faith).

Am I saying that every piece of fiction a Christian writes should have the gospel message embedded? No, I don’t think I can make any determination what other writers should write. Let’s just say I understand the divide better.

Some writers, myself included, look at fiction as our opportunity to reach thousands of readers, some who may have yet to hear the message of forgiveness in Christ through his redemptive work at the cross. These writers feel an urgency to get this message out to as many people as possible. The world, as we see it, has one and only one hope—Christ Jesus—and here we sit, holding this vital information. How can we watch people stream by our doors day after day and do nothing?

A writer with a different persuasion has no such sense of urgency. Fiction, instead, may be an exploration of spirituality, a personal journey of discovery regarding spiritual matters.

The difference in purpose makes perfect sense based on the difference in theology.

Ironic that some people don’t realize the importance of understanding our own belief system. I recently read a blog post about how dreary it is to read about such topics as original sin (hmmm—wonder if the writer had a particular blog in mind. 😉 ) when what we should be doing is getting out from behind our computers and living like Christians.

I certainly agree that we should live like Christians. I simply think that includes my moments behind the computer.

What fiction writers understand is the need to know our characters at the level of their beliefs—that’s what makes their actions properly motivated. Real life is the same way. Our beliefs inform our actions. How critical that we know what we believe about something so eternal-life giving as salvation.

Advertisements
Published in: on January 8, 2018 at 4:46 pm  Comments (2)  
Tags: , , ,

The Warden And The Wolf King – CSFF Tour, Day 2


Warden_Wolf_King-banner

The Warden And The Wolf King by Andrew Peterson is an ambitious young adult fantasy, the conclusion to a wonderful four-book series called The Wingfeather Saga. Several participants in the CSFF Blog Tour, which is featuring this book that officially releases today, have given a summary of the first three books. I think that’s extremely helpful, and I encourage those interested in the series to check out posts by Jason Joyner and Meagan @ Blooming Books for starters.

Part of why I like the Wingfeather Saga so much is because Andrew Peterson does so much with his story. He’s painted a fantasy world with some depth; created characters that are interesting, even endearing; infused his story with humor and poetry and song; given us action and adventure. Above all, he’s given us something to think about.

I want to expand on one of those “somethings.” When I read book three of the Saga, The Monster In The Hollows,” I noted in my Day 1 CSFF Tour post that I saw parallels with the Green Hollows and the Church. I’ll reiterate here, Andrew Peterson is not writing allegory. However, there are similarities between his fantasy world and the real world.

One of those is the existence of a community defending against despoiling evil. However, without their king, they were merely hunkering behind what they believed to be an impenetrable barrier and living life without seeming regard for the rest of the world that struggled against slavery and kidnappings and transformations into evil creatures. They were content with their own safety.

Until, of course, the Igbys arrived and evil came after them. Remarkably, the Churc, I mean, the Green Hollows, came to their defense and fought to the point of sacrifice. In other words, when evil pushed in on them, they pushed back.

But they liked their evil clearly defined. Hence, the King of Anniera who looked like a Grey Fang was someone they didn’t fully trust—until he saved them. And when he decided to leave, there was a pretty clear indication that the Hollow folk were glad to see him go.

Of course, their feelings for Clovenfast, the neighboring community which they never realized existed, and for the clovens who inhabited it, were equally distrustful. After all, these were half changed citizens, trapped between the transformation from human to fang. What were they? Enemy? Monster? Friend? How much easier to pretend they did not exist, to drive any who wondered into the Hollows back into the dark forest.

I’ll admit, the section of The Warden And The Wolf King about the clovens had me both excited and uncomfortable. Excited because I had an inkling of what might take place (I was only partly right), and uncomfortable as the story unfolded because I saw the Church too clearly in the Hollish folk.

The fact is, evil wounds more often than it kills.

In the Wingfeather Saga, some people were transformed into Fangs, making them as good as dead to the life they’d known as humans. Now they lived to server Gnag the Nameless and to do damage to everyone else in the process.

But then there were the cloven, those injured in the transformation. They were broken Fangs, no longer human and no good as servants of Gnag.

In real life there are those who love the King of Kings and follow Him, and there are those who purposefully battle against Him, choosing instead to serve the Enemy of their souls. A great host in between make no choice, not realizing that standing still means they are not following. Hence, their not choosing is a choice.

They are the ones often damaged. They aren’t surrounded by the protective community of the Hollow, uh, of the Church. They live in the in-between, not wielding evil to get what they want, but not protected from those who plot against them.

They live in forgetfulness—an unconscious choosing of ignorance rather than the painful remembrance of what could have been, what they have lost and what they have no hope to recover.

But why don’t they have hope? What if the Green Hollows took them in? What if the Church welcomed the afflicted and needy? What if the Church put an arm around the homeless lady or the ex-con or the foster kids or those with disabilities and brought them inside? What if the Green Hollows was the place of comfort and a place to point them to the life-giving water that would make them whole?

Seeing the Green Hollows and their fight against evil, their reaction to the clovens, before and after the battle, I am challenged. I want to spread the word that the Church can be different—braver in the face of evil, kinder too, less focused on ourselves and more giving. More like Christ.

These thoughts about the Church are only some of the Big Things The Warden And The Wolf King brought to the forefront. I’m of the opinion that any book which challenges me in my real life, in my spiritual life, is a true winner.

I’ll get into a proper review tomorrow (or not), but I don’t want to hold off on my recommendation. This book—actually this series, because The Warden And The Wolf King really can’t be read in isolation—is a must read. No limits—a must read. This story is the next thing to Narnia. It’s one you won’t want to miss.

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.

– – – – –

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.

Sugar-Coating Christianity in Fiction


I listened to part of a writing instruction tape recorded years ago at a now-defunct writing conference. The author holding the seminar said first that writing, particularly for children, should be entertaining.

Then he added this piece of advice: the writing should sugar-coat the message.

Apparently this approach is based on the assertion that readers don’t want stories heavy on sermonizing. But this author’s solution was to “sugar-coat” the gospel or the moral or whatever is the point of the story.

Sadly, I think this approach caught on. Rather than asking, “How can I best show the truth through story,” writers adopting this approach seem more caught up with how they can wrap truth in the fad of the day, be it humor or suspense or vampires or angels.

I want to be clear here. I believe wholeheartedly that believers need to meet our culture where it’s at—which is why I write fiction, and in particular why I write fantasy. But I’m not trying to sugar-coat the truth.

This may be a fine line, but I think there are significant differences. For one, there’s the artistic aspect. Themes are part of stories. To say we must sugar-coat a theme is to approach the idea of including theme as if it is something we are trying to slip past unsuspecting readers. Not only “something,” but something distasteful, though good for them.

Sorry, but I don’t see truth as distasteful. And I don’t think writers should try to smuggle truth into a story. Instead, truth should be the vital gold thread around which the story is woven. If done so with skill, the story will be more beautiful because of it.

I also think there’s a difference in substance. A story with sugar-coated truth is either adding unnecessary sugar, thus bloating a story, or forcing truth into a story that doesn’t require such.

Truth, whether presented subtly or overtly, should be a necessary component for the sake of the story and the characters, not for the sake of the reader.

There’s no sugar coating in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Lewis didn’t make Aslan a tame lion so the story would be more kid-friendly. He didn’t back away from the fact that Edmond would die unless Aslan stepped in. He didn’t back away from requiring Aslan to sacrifice himself for the wayward son of Adam.

Truth should not be sugar-coated or tacked on. What ought to set Christian fiction apart from all other is that authors who know The Author have deeper truth to tell.

This article is reposted from November 2009.

Raising The Next Generation


    Every singer out there with songs on the radio is raising the next generation – Taylor Swift.

A couple weeks ago 60 Minutes, CBS’s news magazine, aired a broadcast from last November which included a segment about popular singer Taylor Swift. During the conversation with Lesley Stahl, she made the above statement.

The most remarkable thing might have been what she said next: “so make your words count.”

How about that! A 21 year old singer understands what writers twice her age don’t seem to get. Sure, she was talking about music, not books. But I don’t think the difference is so great. Screenplay writers, novelists, lyricists, singers, actors–it seems the arts have arrived, and the influence of the arts on culture. Or perhaps, more accurately, entertainment has arrived.

Any idea that books are being kicked to the curb as an influence should have been erased by Harry Potter. Or Twilight. Or Hunger Games.

Kids dressed up like Harry, chose up teams for Twilight. I shudder to think what is out there in conjunction with Hunger Games.

In spite of all this book attention and the widening influence of those developed into movies, some Christian writers still parrot the party line that Christian fiction should not be about “a message.” Perish the thought that fiction should actually have something to say. The main goal–the highest goal–they claim, is for a writer to entertain.

I think Taylor Swift would think that odd. She gets that the words she sings have impact on those kids absorbing them.

Why wouldn’t characters we live with for seven books, or three? Don’t their values become ours for those hours when we inhabit their world? Aren’t we feeling their fear or love or hope? Aren’t we reasoning and planning the next step, as they are?

And yet they have no impact on us?

I dare say, the majority of the writers who hold this view first decided they wanted to pen a story because of something they read.

But horrors if the writer of that book actually intended to communicate the message that storytelling is a desirable thing. Messages can’t be intentional, only accidental, or so the thinking goes of this group of Christian writers. Anything intentional is nothing short of propaganda.

I doubt that’s what Taylor Swift thinks. I suspect she is responding to the fact that a generation of plugged in kids is vulnerable, easily influenced by the entertainment media, wide open to believe whatever their idols say.

Why is it that Christian writers can’t embrace this fact, too? Why is it that if we say, “so make your words count,” we’re advocating turning fiction into propaganda?

Could it be that a story with something to say actually has more depth, not less? Could it be that the difference between an excellent story and propaganda is in the execution not the existence of a message?

I don’t know, maybe most parents are content to have the current singers who are on the radio raising their kids. Maybe they’re fine with the characters in books like Twilight serving as role models.

But wouldn’t it be cool if the writers of those words–the song lyrics and the stories–paid attention to what Taylor said and made their words count in such a way that young girls learned more than to be obsessed with a bad boy? Or that war is as bad as the soldiers say, and to top it off, everyone involved is corrupt.

Personally, Harry is looking better and better. In his story friends matter, so much that they’re worth dying for, and in the end that kind of sacrificial love is invincible. Those words just might count for something worthwhile.

Preachy Fiction


Two of the Mikes whose blogs I follow, Mike Duran and Mike Dellosso (soon to be known as Michael King — you’ll have to ask him about that) posted this week on the subject themes in fiction. As it happened, they took opposite positions on the subject.

What caught my attention most, however, was Tony’s comment to Mike Dellosso’s article. In part he said

If you can entertain me first, I won’t mind a message in there. It’s why shows like Glee are so successful despite their obvious indoctrination-style message.

Ah, yes, Glee, a show with an “obvious indoctrination-style message.” I would mention Harry’s Law as just such a show as well. Perhaps there are others I’ve never watched. These two, I know about. In both cases I watched the first season and indeed found them entertaining, but at some point all the preachiness, much of it about things with which I disagree, drove me away.

I’ll give you a snippet of a recent Harry’s Law — and I didn’t watch this entire show, so don’t have all the details.

First a little background. Harry is a lawyer, a 50-something woman who got fed up with the way law had turned into a game, but ended up opening a store-front office in the heart of the inner city and started representing those who normally couldn’t afford representation that would give them a fair shake. Well, a season later, she’s been so successful, she’s taken on partners and is now in charge of her own firm.

In the show in question, someone came to her because they wanted to sue the local zoo on behalf of a gorilla. The animal was being unfairly treated, the claimant said, its rights trampled. The show then went into the courtroom where all kinds of evidence was brought up — how intelligent the animal was, how social it was, how its present conditions deprived it of what it needed.

Ultimately the judge had to rule on the question of whether or not the gorilla was considered property. There was even comparison with how the gorilla was being treated and the treatment of African Americans during the era of slavery.

Yes, meat-eating came up and what a ruling in favor of the gorilla would mean for pets. In the end, Harry lost the case, but the show closed with a touching scene where Harry went to the cage to tell the gorilla she would keep fighting for it to get moved or to stay, I forget which was at issue.

Simply put, Harry’s Law is an issues show. Glee is too, or at least it had become one at the point when I stopped watching it.

Is blog commenter Tony right that these kinds of shows stay on the air because they are so well done, the preachiness of them doesn’t spoil them?

But more to the point, why do secular TV shows get to be preachy but Christian fiction doesn’t? Obviously I’m not talking about “get to” in the sense of “permission.” Rather, when these things are reviewed, do the writers of Harry’s Law and Glee get taken to task for their preachiness in the same way that authors of Christian fiction do?

Here’s one segment of a review covering the episode I referred to:

While I recognize the prerogative of the writers of this show to turn everything into a social issue, this show cannot and should not be expected to hold its own on this premises alone.

This series is more than capable of building deep and convincing character development while still achieving its social issues agenda in the courtroom.

Apparently this reviewer agrees with Tony.

Then are Christians laboring under a double standard in fiction — people can write about what they believe as long as it isn’t Christianity?

As a reminder, I’m not in favor of in-your-face themes. That’s very different from fiction that says nothing, however. Themes that are well crafted and need some tugging and teasing to bring them out are absolutely the best. Those are embedded into the story and are part of it’s warp and woof. The characters’ lives, choices, and development direct the reader toward the story’s meaning. The Ah-ha moment is not summed up in dialogue or even in internal monologue.

Little Red Riding Hood does not turn to the Hunter and say, Thank you for saving me from the Big Bad Wolf. I understand that I was wrong to talk to a stranger. From now on I will be sure to obey.

Weeping over the death of her grandmother would be far more effective.

But either way, the message is there. Christian writers seem to be on an island thinking that our stories are not supposed to mean something.

Published in: on March 22, 2012 at 6:43 pm  Comments (27)  
Tags: , , , , ,

Thinking About “Theme”



“The art of [including themes] is to infuse them into a dramatic story that compels on both levels: the dramatic and the thematic.”

So says a commenter to the StoryFix article, “The Thing About Theme – What Are You Trying to Say?” by guest blogger Jessica Flory. Interestingly there was no discussion about the problems of writing stories with a message.

How different the Christian writing community is. The discussion over the last few years has run the gamut — from those eschewing any message, claiming that saying something in fiction is propaganda, to those on the other end who think a long speech setting forth the plan of salvation should be in every novel called Christian.

I’ve written extensively on the subject of theme and have been gratified to see others address the topic too. But there still seems to be some misunderstanding. Some people believe that an overt message is automatically preachy. That’s not close to the dictionary definition:

having or revealing a tendency to give moral advice in a tedious or self-righteous way (Oxford English Dictionary).

What makes the theme of a novel seem tedious or self-righteous?

Tedious would be “same ol’, same ol’.” Self-righteous, I believe, would be the author spelling out the message to make sure the reader gets it. It’s an insult to the reader, and it violates the story.

Unfortunately, Christian fiction has become known for both those problems. Just last week I was bemoaning with a friend the tendency for Christian romance to tell the story, and retell the story, of a Christian girl falling in love with the Bad Boy, only to convert him in the end as they fall in love and begin their happy lives together.

That scenario suffers on two fronts. First, it has been done before … with some frequency. Nothing other than the salvation message comes through the story — nothing new for the reader familiar with salvation to think about. Secondly, stories with that basic premise may focus on spelling out how conversion “works” so that the reader gets it.

I’m not opposed to romance in fiction, and I’m not opposed to conversions. Both can work and they can work in the same story. However, to avoid being tedious, something different, interesting, unusual should be added. Or the expected should be turned on it’s keester. 😉

To avoid being self-righteous, the author must muzzle himself. He must also resist turning a character into his mouthpiece.

Here’s what writing instructor John Truby has to say about theme:

The theme is your moral vision, your view of how people should act in the world. But instead of making the characters a mouthpiece for a message, we will express the theme that is inherent in the story idea. And we’ll express the theme through the story structure so that it both surprises and moves the audience (from The Anatomy of Story).

On his web site, Mr. Truby addresses the approach one movie takes to theme:

The Constant Gardener shows us what happens when a film’s moral argument outweighs its story. The film has a serious thesis it wants to express concerning the plight of Africans and the responsibility of pharmaceutical companies that supply them with drugs. There’s nothing wrong with starting with a theme and creating a story from that. But it had better be a good story. [emphasis added]

Some people argue that many who read Christian fiction like overt Christian themes. That’s why they choose to read those novels. Overt is not at issue. Overt themes are not by definition tedious or self-righteous. Overt themes do not, by nature, cause readers to feel as if the author is talking to them about Christianity rather than telling them a story.

The classic example of stories with overt themes is C. S. Lewis’s Narnia series. No one can miss the good triumphing over evil with the king comes into Narnia, or forgiveness purchased with sacrifice, both of which are at the heart of The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe. Though the themes are clear, I have never heard Lewis accused of being preachy.

In short, we Christians would do well to stop quibbling about whether or not stories should have themes. Yes, they should! But whether they are overt or subtle, they must be crafted well so that they don’t “overwhelm the story.”

Published in: on August 17, 2011 at 7:05 pm  Comments (7)  
Tags: , , , , ,

If More Isn’t Better, What Is?


Last time I made a case for writers slowing down their writing rather than flooding the market with less-than-best novels. With the change of status of the e-book and the ease, as well as the lower cost, of publishing that format, authors may be tempted to increase how fast they put out books rather than to slow down. I think that would be a mistake.

Writers should continue to improve. How can they when they barely have time to get a story down and turned in on deadline, even as they put in hours promoting the previous book?

But how, exactly, can a writer improve?

Last time I mentioned that characters can improve with time. As a writer gets to know the characters, they become like real people and therefore behave on paper in realistic ways. Gone will be the lines of dialogue the author forces on them because readers need to know certain things. Instead conversation, thoughts, and actions will fit naturally because this particular character would say, think, and do these particular things.

But it’s a stretch to make characters unique. No two people are alike, and an author needs to work hard to make no two characters alike, in what they do, how they think, how they sound. In addition, no character should fit a mold. Just like an author should avoid cliched expressions, she must avoid cliched characters.

Along those lines, a writer aiming for better, not just more, should avoid cliched answers to the difficulties she puts her characters in. Finding an uncommon way of escape is a challenge on several levels. One is to find something that hasn’t been done to death already. The other is to foreshadow it properly so that the problem isn’t solved by some force or mechanism that appears conveniently at just the right moment when nobody (especially the reader) expected it or looked for it.

Besides believable plot points that are properly foreshadowed, the better plots are not convoluted. Once I had an editor call a synopsis I wrote “convoluted.” He was right. I hadn’t written the book yet and put the synopsis together based on ideas I had for the story. I knew where I wanted to go but not what all I wanted to happen on the way. I put in all the interesting things I considered. It was too much and of course as I began to develop the story, it was obvious to me which ideas didn’t fit.

Unfortunately, it seems like some books retain all the interesting ideas even if they don’t fit. Plots should not be hard to follow. They can have interesting twists, certainly, but the bottom line should be, the protagonist has an objective and a plan of action. So does the antagonist, and the two are on a collision course.

Most importantly, however, books should say something. Unless they are modeled on fables in which a stated moral is part of the story, the something a book says should be woven into the fabric through symbolism, character growth, plot developments, and resolution.

Such weaving takes time and is often a result of extensive revision.

I could go on and discuss character motivation and language and imagery and subplots and a host of other things that better stories have, but I think it’s probably time I put this particular rant back into its cage for a while. Let me end with a simple answer to the title question: If more isn’t better, what is? Creativity — and that takes time.

What Makes Fantasy Work, Wrap


I’ve read a few fantasy books whose authors are trying to Imitate Lewis. But there’s a catch: their Christ-figures, a la Aslan, aren’t much like Aslan, much less so the Biblical Christ. Sure, they have all the loving-humble-helpful parts, but few to none of the sovereign-holy-kill-his-enemies parts. And these Christ-equivalents exist, not with their own missions, but mainly as sidekicks for the real hero of the story, the Self-Doubtful Often-Angsty Gifted protagonist, who is on a Quest.

Stephen Burnett penned (typed) those words as part of his post today over at Speculative Faith. Interestingly, those lines state, in part, what I wanted to address today.

Fantasy that works says something important.

There are lots of ways that fantasy can say something important. Stephen particularly addressed the issue of stories with a Christ figure. Not every story written from a Christian worldview needs an allegorical Christ figure, in my opinion. But those that include one have set themselves a huge task.

After all, C. S. Lewis created such a strong character that remained consistent with Christ’s nature, that any other may seem either derivative (there’s that dreaded word again!) or inadequate.

Does that mean we should shy away from showing Christ in Christian fantasy? No, I don’t think so. However, I believe that’s a high goal. If an author sets that high goal, rightly the reader must judge whether or not his story works by whether or not he successfully met the goal.

I tend to think that the problem Stephen mentioned in the quote above—that the Christ figure is a “side-kick”—occurs primarily because some authors back away from the high goal of putting Him meaningfully into a story as Lewis did with Aslan.

One secret here is that Lewis said he was not writing an allegory. Today, I think many Christian fantasy writers are writing an allegorical character, if not an allegory.

What was Lewis doing instead? He termed it “supposal.” In a world with fauns and talking animals and centaurs and dwarfs, Lewis asked, how would God show Himself?

Perhaps that’s the question we fantasy writers need to ask more often rather than forcing Christ-by-another-name into our stories.

But I said earlier that I don’t think stories have to have an allegorical Christ figure to still be Christian.

That doesn’t mean I think a story about not telling a lie is automatically Christian because it contains a moral value consistent with Christianity.

Rather, I believe—and this is quite subjective—stories that “till the soil” can be powerfully Christian. Such stories create the longing for the wholeness Christ gives, or for the acceptance His sacrifice made possible, or for the purpose His relationship frees us to achieve. I believe stories can show sacrificial love that is extraordinary and that will create a thirst for sacrificial love. I believe stories can show forgiveness that is pure and unmerited and it will create a thirst for similar mercy.

I could go on, but you get the idea. Instead of putting God into a story, I think it’s possible to put one of God’s characteristics in a story and show it so clearly that it becomes something that draws people, maybe even causes them to say, Wouldn’t it be great to know someone like that?

Last point. I think the biggest thing we Christian fantasy writers have to be careful about is saying the same thing over and over in the same way. No examples on that one. I’ll let you mull it over for yourself (as I mull it over too 😀 ).

Shaping Culture


I enjoy listening to apologist Ravi Zacharias on the weekend. In the talk that aired Sunday, he posited three ways in which culture is shaped. In essence, this process is actually the manner in which a person influences others, either their contemporaries or those of a coming generation.

One method a person can use to shape culture is theory. This method would include such things as reading Plato and Aristotle or any other philosopher who is working through a theory of how the world works.

A second method is through the arts. Here Mr. Zacharias gave the example of Albert Camus and his philosophy of the absurd (shown in stories such as The Plague and The Stranger) or existentialist Franz Kafka (The Metamorphosis, The Trial).

The third method of shaping culture is by prescription—that is, by telling someone what to do. By preaching, you might say. Or dictating. Parents use prescription regularly—Monique, make your bed or Lee, do your homework.

As I listened to the descriptions of these three methods, I couldn’t help but think about Christian fiction, particularly that the Christian writing world wants to reduce our ability to shape the culture to just theory and prescription.

While some writers like Athol Dickson have declared the importance of having something to say in fiction, I continue to read others parroting the sound bite, If you want to deliver a message, go preach a sermon.

How clever. And how wrong.

Not that sermons don’t deliver messages. They should. But so should stories. Just not in the same way.

The message of a story—and we’re actually talking about its theme, a literary term for the idea that pervades a work—should not be delivered in the same way as the message of a sermon. Preaching, after all, is prescriptive. Stories should not be prescriptive.

However, it’s a mistake for an author to accept this last statement and then deduce that stories should not have a message, or that the message will somehow ooze out of the author’s pores onto the page. As if delivering a powerful, non-prescriptive message takes no purposeful planning, no conscious thought.

Mike Duran recently had an interesting blog post about the time necessary to write meaningful stories. Primarily he was pointing out the effect of deadlines on a writer. But I can’t help but wonder if haste doesn’t first strip away depth from our stories. Who has the chance to think about what he actually wants to communicate when he needs to create realistic, engaging characters and a plot that isn’t derivative or predictable.

However, I don’t think haste would strip our fiction of its meaning, no matter how hard it is to weave a thoughtful message into the fabric of a story, if we were committed to the idea that we are shaping culture by our art. And that it’s OK to do so. Really.

Published in: on October 4, 2010 at 6:54 pm  Comments (3)  
Tags: , , , ,