Theology Versus Morality

Lion-origional, smallFor over a week I’ve been thinking about theology in fiction. Well, truthfully, I’ve been thinking about it ever since a well-known, respected man in Christian schools circles he couldn’t endorse my fantasy because it had talking animals.

What? Had he not read Narnia?

I was stunned, flabbergasted, frustrated, appalled. And I changed the specifics of my story so animals don’t talk. Not because I agreed with the idea that something was wrong with animals talking. I mean, it’s fantasy! But I wanted to sell my book and have key people endorse it so that more people would read it. Never happened, but that’s not the issue for this post. Rather, it’s the question about where theology belongs in fiction.

This discussion which crops up from time to time, started with a guest blog post by James Somers at Spec Faith. Author Mike Duran picked up on something James said and wrote “No Zombies Allowed (In Christian Fiction).” To which I responded with “Reading Choices: Realism, Truth, And The Bible,” an article which I believed took a middle-ground approach. Mike, in turn, answered my points with a Part 1 and Part 2 rebuttal.

So, yes, this subject has been on my mind and continues to be on my mind. I apologize if this issue isn’t of universal interest. I acknowledge I might be one of the few people still wrestling with the subject, but I think it’s important.

Above all, fiction should convey truth. Novels are not a sermons; they’re illustrations. They show whereas non-fiction tells.

Bad stories are about nothing. False stories are ones that show a lie as if it were truth.

Christian stories should neither be bad or false.

What should they be? In my view, they must be theologically true. That is, they must represent God truthfully, in some way.

God cannot be contained within the pages of one story. He took the entire sixty-six books of the Bible to reveal Himself. Why would anyone think a four-hundred page book could show all of who He is?

But if a book shows God, it must be truthful in what it shows.

Not all books must show God. Some can be morally true and silent on theology.

They can, for example, show that lying is wrong. All kinds of stories have made a statement about lying, and some are written by non-Christians who have no belief in the authoritative Word of God to undergird their position. Nevertheless, they believe lying is wrong and that it is a worthy truth upon which to center a story.

Moral truth is not the same as theological truth. This fact seemed lost on many Christians during the last Presidential election here in the US. A moral man, whose morality agreed in many respects with Bible believing Christians (and disagreed in many ways that never came to light–but that’s a separate issue) ran for office with the expectation that Christians would vote for him. He implied that since his morality was similar, his theology aligned with Christianity.

That’s not true. I’ll tell you whose morality aligns in many respects to Christians–Muslims. But I’m getting sidetracked. The point is, a person can be pro-life or anti-lying and still have wrong views about God. Morality and theology are not the same.

Some people want to impose morality upon fiction. Or some morality.

I suppose I’m one. I’ve said vehemently that I think Christian fiction has no business following a couple into the bedroom and showing their sex act, whether they’re married or not. That’s a moral judgment on my part. I have reached that position via my theology, but that stance is not a theological one.

Like other moral ideas, that one can be shared by people of an number of faiths or no faith at all. It is moral, not theological.

It is theology that Christians need to get right, though I’ll reiterate–not all stories must speak about God. I’d hope that Christians would want to speak about God, whether overtly or symbolically or allegorically or surreptitiously.

I’d hope Christians would want to proclaim Him–to point to His work, His plans and person and purposes. And if they do, they must show Him as He has shown Himself. For example, God isn’t arbitrary.

But wait a minute. A lot of people think He is. Must that aspect of God’s character be true to who He is or to what people think Him to be? I believe, true to who He is.

No one else can speak the truth about God. Only Christians have seen Jesus and therefore seen the Father. Only Christians have the Holy Spirit. Everyone else who speaks about God is going to get it wrong at some point.

So why would Christians want to muddle around, nitpicking about moral matters when theological ones need to be truthfully shown?

Mike Duran used a great illustration which he borrowed from C. S. Lewis. The idea is that a story is the scaffolding for theological truth (in the context of what Lewis said, he was referring to the Resurrection). Mike said, “When we become preoccupied with a story’s ‘scaffolding’ and niggle over literary ‘artifices,’ we will inevitably miss the bigger story.”

The bigger story, as I see it, is what Lewis referred to as the True Myth–the story of God loving His creation, dying and rising for His creation lost in darkness that He might redeem all who believe.

What part of that story can Christian speculative fiction show? Does the idea of all stories being “about” the Great Story seem limiting, boring, predictable? No story has to be any of those.

But it doesn’t happen by hoping. Lewis didn’t hope Aslan would rule Narnia the way God rules our world. He purposefully crafted him to do so.

But now I’m straying toward a discussion on craft. I’ll stop. The point for this discussion is that stories can be moral or they can be theological. They can even be both. But stories held to a rigid morality ought not be confused with ones held to a truthful theology.

Published in: on February 12, 2014 at 8:12 pm  Comments (9)  
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Do Christian Writers Read Enough?

You hear it all the time as part of author interviews or writing instructor advice–read, read, read, and then read. But why? Shouldn’t writers be more concerned about writing, not reading?

The truth is, reading is as important to learning to write well as listening was to learning to speak. As children, we didn’t learn to speak by going off to a corner by ourselves and babbling in baby talk. If that’s all we did, day in and day out, we would never have learned what we were supposed to say when we wanted up or Dada or more.

Not only did we learn our vocabulary from listening, we learned sentence structure and grammar. If you had parents like mine, they corrected you if you said, I seed a dog or I swinged high. But chances are, you didn’t make those mistakes more than once or twice because you never heard your parents make them. In other words, learning to speak comes from imitation.

Learning to write is similar. By reading good stories, writers imitate, unconsciously, how to structure a plot, create conflict, develop a character, enhance the mood, establish a pace, and much more.

The thing is, writing fiction is not a static endeavor. Like language itself, it’s dynamic and therefore, what worked for Mark Twain back in the nineteenth century isn’t necessarily going to work in the twenty-first century.

Hence, part of a writer’s work is to read current fiction–good books that are coming out this year or last.

We’re having a discussion over at Spec Faith about Christian speculative fiction writers, and Fred Warren left a comment that said in part,

We buy each other’s books and trade “critiques” that are mostly affirmations and then wonder why the rest of the world (or the rest of the Christian fiction community) doesn’t understand how great we are.


But is Fred wrong?

I’ll say this. I’ve asked questions in posts at Spec Faith before about what current Christian speculative stories people are reading, and the results have been discouraging. Sure, if we opened the question up to the classics, everyone had read Tolkien or Lewis or Chesterton or MacDonald. Beyond that, few authors came to the forefront.

Is that because there are no good Christian speculative writers today? No. I could name a half dozen with ease. But shouldn’t every Christian speculative writer be able to do the same thing? Shouldn’t we know who is writing in our genre and who is at the top?

I’m not saying we shouldn’t also read general market fiction as well. There are good, quality stories that we can learn from though we must be certain we don’t decide simply to write a clean version of those books. Christians should want more than a baptized retread, and Christian writers should want to offer the “new song” God can put in our mouths, not an old song with bleeped lyrics.

Published in: on October 9, 2012 at 5:15 pm  Comments (4)  
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Writers I Read

Some writers have a knack for making me read their work. There’s one science fiction writer, for example, who’s blog I follow. Understand, I’m not a fan of science fiction, but I read this author’s blog, word for word. I don’t skim.

Others I want to read. I’ll follow someone’s blog because I read a post once that I thought was interesting, or because I like their novel, or we had a meaningful exchange of ideas on Facebook or in the comments section of another blog. I respect them. I just don’t always find myself reading what they write.

Others, I skim. I know the experts tell us to do it, and they do–adding bold font or bullet points. But that allows me to skim, encourages me to skim, so I skim. And nothing in what I’m skimming compels me to go back and read more carefully.

So what is it that those writers have whose posts grab me and hold me even when they’re writing about a movie I don’t want to see, will never see, or about microbes in the human gut, or about growing up in Kansas, or whatever it might be?

Of course there are those post with content in which I’m interested. It might be writing or fantasy or a significant spiritual truth. It might be a topic I like discussing, like creation or politics or sports. Content driven articles, I understand.

What I don’t understand is that intangible. I’ve stopped reading articles about speculative fiction or the publishing industry or God–topics I love to read about and discuss–all because … well, I lost interest. I’ve subscribed to blogs by famous writers because I thought it would help me stay current with my genre–only to find that I have no idea with that person is saying on a day-to-day basis.

On the other hand, I’ve received newsletters by novelists whose books I’ve never read, and yet I devour the articles down to the last word. Why?

I’d love to know because I’d love to replicate those writers’ ability … although, as I write that, I wonder, can ability be replicated? Probably not, but technique might be learned.

One thing some of those writers have is humor. Notice, I didn’t say, a sense of humor. I have a sense of humor. In fact I love to laugh. Love, love, love to laugh. I just don’t use humor much in my writing. I admire authors who do. Andrew Peterson, Matt Mikalatos, Jonathan Robers–I love their books and appreciate their use of humor. I just haven’t got a clue how to use it in my own writing.

A time or two I tried to use humor here on my blog–a little exaggeration, perhaps, a bit of irony or sarcasm. As I recall, those posts have inevitably garnered criticism because someone didn’t recognize the humor. I don’t blame them. Unless you can see the twinkle in my eye or the upturned eyebrow or the suppressed smile, how do you know I meant those lines to be funny?

Writers that write humor can do it. I, on the other hand, am at a loss.

Humor isn’t the only thing that makes writing interesting. When Brandilyn Collins used to blog, I often said she could write the phone book, and I’d find it interesting. I never did quite figure how why, though. She often told stories, and told them well, so perhaps that was her secret ingredient.

Maybe there isn’t one way, either. Some writers are engaging because their content is controversial (Mike Duran), some because they bring a quality of professionalism and expertise, some because they are entertaining.

And the borin ones in which I lose interest? I’m still trying to figure that out. 😉

You can help. Tell me what makes you read a blog post from start to finish or what makes you start to skim or to stop altogether. After all, with all your input, these posts here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction are bound to get a whole lot better!!

Published in: on August 30, 2012 at 6:06 pm  Comments (10)  
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Fantasy Friday – New Novel Preparation

As I’ve mentioned in a couple previous posts, I’m in the process of starting a new novel. I’ve done considerably more pre-writing than I have in my previous work. To date, I’ve written four novels and started three others. The four complete books are those in The Lore of Efrathah, which is really just one story. The partials were for either a contest or a critique group and I never fully developed the characters or story.

Two of the partials are fantasy and one is contemporary. In none of those have I done as much preparation to write as I am with the one I’m working on now. In many ways I’m curious to see how this turns out — will the story be easier to get down or not?

So here’s what I’ve done so far. After going through (for the second time) two and a half writing books (the third one was getting into some redundancy) that each had writing exercises I could do with my new story in mind, I’ve created a character profile for the protagonist, developed a time line to connect this prequel to The Lore of Efrathah, drawn a map of the city which is the main location of the story, mapped out a subplot, and finally listed out some of the scenes I envision including — the most basic list of “what happens.”

I feel pretty ready to start, so today I tackled that first paragraph. I know by this time that what I put down today will be unrecognizable by the time I’ve written the entire story and revised the necessary times, but still I wanted to head in the right direction. It’s much easier to tell the story the way it should be told, I think, if I can start it in the right place.

Of course, I no sooner finished than I remembered I had considered setting this one in wintertime. Oh, so already I have some revision to make!

But here’s the cool thing. I don’t think I would have considered having this story take place during winter unless I’d done the pre-write work.

One of the key lessons I’ve learned about writing is to push beyond the obvious. So if it’s obvious for the main character to stop at a fast food joint and buy a burger and fries for dinner, then that’s what he should not do. Of course all the actions need to be properly motivated and logical. They just shouldn’t be obvious.

It’s a basic lesson, but I remember when I first started writing, I had some line about water. I don’t remember what it was exactly — maybe how someone leaped across a stream or how it gurgled between the rocks. At any rate, I asked a writer friend how he would say it, and to my dismay he used a completely different set of words. See, I thought then that I should be like everyone else. I should say what others were thinking. You can see, I had a lot to learn! In fact I had to change the way I approached writing.

The next hurdle for me was to be satisfying with suggesting scenes, painting with a light hand so readers had room to imagine rather than producing a detailed replica of what I was envisioning.

Honestly, I can’t begin to tell you how many different lessons I had to learn and how many old habits I had to break. In reality, I’m still learning and probably always will as long as I write. But what’s changed is that now I know a lot of what I need before I start writing.

Last point. Since I’m writing this post as part of the Fantasy Friday series, I should say a word about the fantasy elements in this book. There aren’t a lot yet! I decided to set this story in a period of time when a lot of the “magic” has become dormant. So one of the issues I have to deal with is how much do these people know about the special powers so central to The Lore of Efrathah. Writing a prequel, I’ve decided, isn’t as easy as it sounds! 😉

Published in: on February 10, 2012 at 5:49 pm  Comments (7)  
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Starting Over

Not so long ago I mentioned that I’m starting a new book. I’m having a lot of fun thinking things through, getting to know my character, and fitting the events of this story in with what comes after in The Lore of Efrathah. I did mention the new one is a prequel to my four-book story, didn’t I?

The thing is, it takes place some 250 years earlier, so I need to figure out the history and what kinds of changes would be likely in the world.

Interestingly, as I’m putting this story together, I realize Lore is actually a kind of dystopian series, though I’m sure it doesn’t read like one.

Besides the fun, I’m finding myself hesitant to commit. Maybe I really am not ready to start the story yet, but I can’t help but wonder if I’m not simply experiencing “starting over” jitters.

Quite frankly, it’s uncomfortable to start over. I’m not on familiar ground any more. There are unknowns lurking at the bottom of every page, questions I don’t even know to ask yet. And playing in the back of my mind like a song I can’t shake is the real issue: Who are these people and how do all these ideas fit together into one cohesive story?

Like any number of others, I’ve used the metaphor of weaving a story together — particularly in talking about the theme. If you misplace that thread by putting it in too prominent a place, readers will think you’re being preachy, but if you push it too far in the background, it will lose all potency. It’s a good picture — threads everywhere, and trying to get them all through the loom in the right order.

Then there are all the technique things I know now that I didn’t know when I started my last book. Can I layer my plot and incorporate appropriate subplots that will enhance the theme? Will my character’s inner conflict play well with the external conflict?

So with the doubts swirling in my head and the satisfaction of preparation, I wonder if I’m missing the important point of starting over — actually getting words down. That first sentence, first paragraph, first page.

Will I know when I have all I need to actually start? Will there be nothing left to do but flesh out the scenes that have started to form in my head?

Sometimes I wish writers could apprentice, like craftsmen of old used to do. Then I could ask a wise, experienced author how it will be, when I will know. But the thing about writing, it’s not the same experience for everyone.

I know some writers who would rather sit down and start writing so they can get to know their character, the world, the bit players, the backstory. I understand that. I learn a lot when I write. It forces me to think things through before I can set them down in a coherent way.

But when it comes to fiction, I don’t know enough to start writing until I get some of those questions answered. Otherwise, I’m writing the same character, the same problems, just clothed with different made up skin.

So here I am, at the cusp of a new beginning, and I’m wondering, how will I know when it’s time to jump.

As I said, I learn as I write, so as I finished that last sentence, it dawned on me that as a Christian, I don’t have to worry about even such a thing because I’m not in this venture alone, any more than I’m in any other part of daily living alone. He who began a good work in me — that refining process to make me like His Son, Jesus Christ — isn’t going to walk away with the job half done. So whatever He wants to do with my writing will be part of that ultimate purpose.

Then these verses came to mind:

Deut. 31:6 – Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the LORD your God is the one who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you.

Deut. 31:8 – The LORD is the one who goes ahead of you; He will be with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.

Yes, I know. Those verses weren’t written to writers. Moses said this to Israel and to Joshua before they crossed over the Jordan into the land God was giving them. But like every other verse of Scripture, these have been given to teach, reprove, correct, and train in righteousness.

How much more should I who have the Holy Spirit living in my life be able to count on the truth that God will not fail or forsake me? Consequently, in the face of starting over, I don’t need to fear or be dismayed.

Published in: on February 3, 2012 at 7:13 pm  Comments (8)  
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I Started A New Book

One possible image of Jim Thompson, protagonist of The Lore Of Efrathah

I’m not reading a new book. I’m writing a new book. This may not be a big deal to lots of writers, but it is to me. I’ve been working on The Lore Of Efrathah, the four book epic fantasy story of Jim Thompson and his journey … well, hopefully some day you’ll get to read it. But suffice it to say, I’ve been working on that story for a very long time.

The book I’m starting now is my “Hobbit” book — the prequel of the four-book epic. I’m pretty excited about it, to be honest. At first I didn’t have a story, just an end point. I also knew I didn’t want it to be a journey quest, since that’s primarily what Lore is. I wanted this one to be different, but similar enough so that readers who like it wouldn’t be disappointed with the four-book epic.

So now I have the rudiments of a story, and I’m in the process of developing characters. It’s been a long, long time since I’ve had to flesh out main characters. Sure, I added minor characters from time to time, especially in Against Blood and Fire, the conclusion of Lore. But this is different. This is the main character and the necessary opponents. Who are these people, I keep asking. What do they want?

It’s slower than I’d like, but more fun, too. Slower because I’m taking a different approach this time. I’m really trying to get the scaffolding up before I start writing. I mean, I want the story structure to be in place. I want to know it’s right, that it works, that I have all the pieces.

Not that I think I’ll map out the story, then sit down and write. I don’t work that way. In John Truby’s book The Anatomy of Story which I’ve been going through, he has twenty-two steps in developing the story framework, one being to list all the scenes you’ll have in your book.

I balked. No way am I ready to list scenes. Even when I knew my characters inside and out and had the end of the series all lined up and in my sights would I have dared to write out a list of scenes. How can I know, when things change so easily?

I tried that in my first book. I carefully outlined the entire thing but as I wrote, the next logical step after I completed one scene was something different from my outline. So I inserted and changed and doubled back and skipped. And decided I’d never do the entire outline ahead of time again.

But I have to know what’s going to happen in the present scene and maybe in the one after that. I can’t write when I’m facing blankness. I don’t know how to start.

I stumbled on a system that works well for me, and later learned that Jim Bell had a name for it in his Plot & Structure book. I use the headlights method. I need to shine the light far enough ahead so I can see where to go, and I need to know what my destination is, but I don’t need to have the entire map laid out in front of me as I head down the road.

I’ve got lots to do still. I don’t have names for my characters yet. They are still Hero, Opponent 1, Opponent 2 and so on. I don’t know the subplots for sure and I don’t know who the allies will be, though I have some rough idea.

The main thing I’m trying to do now is get to know this new protagonist, and not make him a Jim Thompson clone!

Anyway, if any of you think of it, you can pray for me as I venture out into this new story. It’s exciting, as I said, and at times a little daunting. I fluctuate from thinking the plot is too convoluted to thinking it’s too simple and boring. I think I’ll never know the characters well enough, that I won’t be able to make someone with the set of needs and desires Hero has, likable enough for readers to take to him.

So yes, I would appreciate many prayers. Only by God’s grace will I be able to make this story what I would like it to be.

The Author

I love the fact that the writer of Hebrews refers to Jesus as the author. Not “an author,” mind you, but the author, specifically the author of our salvation and the author and perfecter of our faith:

For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings. (2:10)

fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (12:2)

Interestingly the word has the connotation of one who takes the lead, who serves as a pioneer. That idea seems appropriate to me for writers. Rather than serving as reporters of the human condition, an author is one who leads the way to truth.

I realize there are varying philosophies about writing, but this use of “author” in the Bible gladdens my heart.

Darkness is in the world and certainly darkness is an appropriate, even necessary, part of stories. But it doesn’t have to be the central element. I know I don’t want it to be the central element in my stories.

As I think about the best of Christian fantasy, I ask, where was darkness? Where was darkness in Lord of the Rings, in Narnia?

In the first, I’d say it was ever lurking on the fringe, even stalking the good and noble and true. As the story progressed and the main character traveled further, darkness grew, but so did the resolve of those opposing it.

In the latter, darkness took a more insidious form — that of deception and betrayal. As such it still wasn’t quite front and center for most of the story. It was always present in the mind of the reader, and ultimately solving the problem of evil drove the story to its final conclusion. But the stories weren’t about darkness, though perhaps The Last Battle came close.

My point is, in these great fantasies, J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis led the way to truth without darkness being the predominant element. In each story they painted the picture of a world in need and yet the greatest part was the process of overcoming the dark.

In this day of dark stories, of vampires and werewolves and zombies, I find the idea of leading the way through the dark to truth a refreshing alternative.

Published in: on November 10, 2011 at 5:22 pm  Comments (5)  
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CSFF Blog Tour – Residential Aliens, Day 3

Part 1 of Jeff Chapman's story in Residential Aliens

In my last post, I mentioned my plans, in conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour of the zine Residential Aliens, to do a review, but left the subject of such, up in the air. For a moment I was tempted to turn the table and review the blog participants! 😀 Now that could have resulted in some interesting discussion, don’t you think?

I also considered doing a review of one of the stories, but Bruce Hennigan, Jeff Chapman, and our newest member, Dean Hardy, among others, gave excellent reviews in their posts.

I considered giving a review of editor extraordinaire Lyn Perry himself, but Fred Warren beat me to that one and did a much better job than I could have, by far.

Well, there’s the obvious — a review Residential Aliens as a whole. Yep, you guessed it: on Monday Sarah Sawyer posted an article taking a critical look at the site.

So here’s what I decided after reading Shannon McDermott‘s post giving a thorough overview of Residential Aliens: I’m going to review the short story. Not a short story — the genre, short story.

Early in my writing career, I read that learning to write the short story was so unique and different from writing a novel that it required its own set of skills. That was enough to scare me off. I had my hands full trying to learn what I needed for my novel.

Then along came a little short story contest held by World Magazine. They wanted stories written from a Christian worldview, and they posted the submissions on line, allowing others to comment or critique.

Well, that was interesting. The upshot was, I decided writing short stories looked like a lot more fun than I’d imagined. And doable.

Not long after, Bethany House editor Dave Long began to hold short story contests which I entered. And I had the bug.

I’m not sure if it was the short story bug or the contest bug (probably the latter), but one thing I discovered — short stories afforded me the opportunity to experiment with voice, point of view, story structure, and whatever else I wanted to play with. In short, I discovered that short stories are a great boon to a writer.

Not only did they help me learn my craft, I actually sold a couple stories and had some modest success in a couple contests. That feedback was encouraging.

Now I’d recommend to any writer starting out to begin with short stories.

But what about for readers? I rarely read short stories these days. And yet, I find myself eighty pages into an anthology of G. K. Chesterton’s Father Brown stories, and I love them.

The more I thought about this, the more I realized that I don’t shy away from short stories as much as they shy away from me. Magazines don’t carry them any more (even Writer’s Digest which used to publish the winner of their Short, Short Story Competition, now puts it online, not in their magazine). I don’t get a Sunday school paper as I used to — those were always good for a story or two. And I’m no longer subscribed to the one or two magazines that may still carry short stories.

I have to say, I’m not fond of reading stories on the computer. I tend to think of reading as a chance to settle back and enjoy, not sit at a desk. Consequently free ezines hold less appeal to me than novels.

But then I see that Residential Aliens has multiple formats available, and I think, here’s an editor/publisher who understands the transitional world in which we live. One day, I suspect, everyone except the rare book collector will be reading from eReaders of some sort. But today we are in flux, and the more formats offered, the better the chance that readers of one stripe or another will find the stories.

May that be true of those Residential Aliens has published.

Writers Writing Nothing New

Writing instructors constantly remind novelists that there is no such thing as a new story. All of them have already been told before. And why should we be surprised by that since there is no new thing under the sun.

A wife lured her husband into grabbing for power. Is that Macbeth or Eve with Adam? An innocent man is kidnapped and thrown in jail. Joseph, or The Count of Monte Cristo?

First, stories happened, then they became a tale someone told.

But why do writers keep on writing if none of the stories are new? I think there are several reasons. For one thing, the particulars of every story change.

The man-versus-man conflict has been told millions of times, for example, but in each one, a man is not murdering his brother. Perhaps he’s selling him to traders instead or setting his field on fire. Maybe he’s stealing the heart of his girlfriend or sleeping with his wife.

There are any number of details that can change — particulars about the characters, the location, the time, the events leading up to the culminating act, the motivation behind it, the resolution, and what it all means.

Writers continue telling stories, in addition, because each one of us adds our own touch. The story, in essence, becomes an expression of us — our personality, our outlook on life.

Painters have not stopped painting mountains because some other artist completed a landscape featuring mountains. Photographers haven’t stopped snapping pictures of sunsets because others before them have taken photos of the sun slipping below the horizon. These visual artists know that no one has captured their subject at that moment, in that way, and from that same perspective as the one presently holding a brush or peering through a lens.

So, too, writers bring their unique selves to each twice-told tale.

J. R. R. Tolkien said that writing is an act of sub-creation. Scripture says Man is made in God’s image. It’s not a stretch, then, to believe that the act of sub-creation is something humans do because of who God made us to be.

A fourth reason writers continue putting out stories even though we understand we are not writing a new thing — society needs them. For one thing, language changes, and some people prefer stories told in the vernacular.

In addition, society forgets. We need stories to remind us that there’s still a Big Bad Wolf in the woods, that a scorpion still stings because that’s what scorpions do.

Our stories anchor us to the truth, but they also serve as beacons looking forward. They fuel our imagination and make us look beyond ourselves. They attach us to one another, though we live across the globe or the galaxy or in a different era or world. They show us our commonalities even as they inform us of our uniquenesses.

Sure, no story is new, but none of them has ever been told in exactly the same way before. So writers keep writing, and readers keep reading.

Published in: on August 18, 2011 at 5:42 pm  Comments (2)  
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Fiction And Glorifying God

The last few blog posts I’ve made the case for a different understanding of what it means to glorify God based on a Bible study of the word. I’ve come away from that believing we Christians generally have a fuzzy understanding of the term, and consequently a fuzzy understanding of what we should do if we want to honor and magnify God.

In addition, I’ve become mindful of a variety of other interactions with God which Scripture mentions — ones that seem to have found their way into the general catch-all into which we’ve turned glorify. Undoubtedly some will look at this exercise as needless parsing, a type of word game with little meaning.

However, I’ve come to believe that fuzzy thinking keeps us from intentional action. Consequently, a vague sense that I’m to glorify God in everything I do actually leads me to do nothing purposefully to that end.

Now I understand more clearly what Jesus was talking about when He said we are to let our light shine. The point is that others will see our good works and glorify our Father. This seems quite purposeful.

In addition, I see a host of other related, but not identical, activities we as believers can and should do. We are to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects” (Col. 1:10a).

We are to draw near to Him (James 4:8a), grow in our knowledge of Him (2 Peter 3:18), give him praise (Heb. 13:15, Rev. 19:5) and thanks (2 Cor. 9:11,12). We are to exalt Him (Ps. 99:5), obey Him (Acts 5:29), and trust Him (John 1:12). Above all, we are to love Him (Matt. 22:37).

These things are not fuzzy. They are specific and require me to be intentional. What, for example, must I do if I am to draw near to God? What pleases God? For what am I to thank Him?

Do I do these things, or is my life sort of a general whatever — the spaghetti against the wall approach, hoping something will stick and consequently glorify God? I’d say that latter approach is the way I’ve lived most of my Christian life.

But I’ll admit, I want my writing to be different. How? My overriding goal has been to give God glory, and by that I meant I wanted others to see Him more clearly as a result of what I write. I see that now as exalting God. The idea is to lift Him up so others can see Him more clearly.

How does a novelist accomplish this? I believe it comes back to being truthful about God.

As I see it, God has done this new thing in my life: He rescued me from the dominion of darkness and transferred me to the Kingdom of His beloved Son. How can I not want to tell my friends and neighbors, my family and co-workers, about this great inheritance I now have? Especially knowing that my God is generous and is willing to give that same inheritance to any who believe.

Would I skulk about and hoard an inheritance of untold jewels and gold coins? I hope not.

So I see my role as a writer to be that of Truth teller — the greater Truth that resides outside the box of the limited perspective of finitude. In the process, I trust that God will work through my stories to accomplish His purposes.

From time to time I find verses in Scripture that seem to apply to my writing. Not so long ago, I added Psalm 40:3 to the mix:

He put a new song in my mouth,
A song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear
And will trust in the LORD.

I’ll be honest. I could easily get bogged down with what it is I’m doing — praise? thanks? exaltation? glorification? honor? I don’t think the name is the important thing. I do think I need to be intentional, purposeful. It’s why I shared this verse with the group of people who are praying for me.

Last thought (I heard that sigh of relief! 😉 ). I think it’s possible for all of us, writers and others, to intentionally do good works or sing a New Song and never know, this side of heaven, whether others are seeing and as a result, glorifying God or trusting Him. That’s OK. It is enough that I can leave in His hands the results of that which He has entrusted to me.

Published in: on August 9, 2011 at 1:49 pm  Comments (5)  
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