Christian Fiction Must Be . . . You Know, Christian; Or, The Shack Is Back


This past week, I saw the TV add for the upcoming The Shack movie. I’d seen the trailer some time ago, but was dismayed that the promotion was reaching a TV audience. And in LA. We don’t often hear about “Christian” projects here.

There’s no doubt that The Shack positions itself as Christian. After all, Jesus shows up, albeit in imaginary form. But is it Christian?

What constitutes “Christian fiction”? That’s a question we at Spec Faith have answered and revisited since our inception some ten years ago (see for example this early post by one of the founding members of Spec Faith).

Not only have writers and readers debated what constitutes Christian fiction, and particularly Christian speculative fiction, we’ve debated the rightness of and the need for good doctrine in our fiction (see for example “Reading Choices: Realism, Truth, And The Bible“). “Doctrine” encompasses both theology and beliefs concerning morality, and we’ve discussed those too (see for example “Marcher Lord Press and the Hinterlands Imprint“).

On top of these generalized discussions, we’ve also posted articles and comments specifically about The Shack. But that was eight years ago, when the book was still on the top of best-selling lists and Christians and non-Christians alike were passing it around from one person to another and discussing it over coffee.

Now the movie version of Paul Young’s book is about to come to a theater near you, and the question no one could answer back then is bound to resurface: Is The Shack truly Christian?

There are some specific issues that came under scrutiny concerning the book.

Some people stumbled over the most glaring issue right from the gate. I mean, isn’t it blasphemous to depict God the Father as anything but a Father?

I understand how portraying God as other than how He portrays Himself, can be troublesome. At the same time, I can see how others accept “God’s” explanation: that He needed to reveal Himself to the main character in a way he could receive Him.

That being said, I suggest one of the central problems of the story surfaces within the discussion of this rather peripheral issue. The Shack has little use for the Bible. Hence, God the Father is easily replaced by the needs of the character.

There are other major issues—the attitude toward the Church and universal salvation and an understanding of the Trinity.

Yet more than one Christian has reported how life changing The Shack was for them, how they wept as they read it, how they understood God’s forgiveness in a way they never had before.

So . . . is it Christian?

Can it be Christian if it shows God in ways He does not show Himself? If it does not point people to His word or His body, the Church? If it falsely claims universal salvation?

On the other hand, how can it not be Christian if it gave many believers renewed faith and deeper love for God and a deeper understanding of forgiveness?

On one hand, The Shack may not tick all the intellectual, theological boxes, but on the other, it more than makes up for that lack by the emotional, spiritual juice it provides.

In thinking about the “what makes something Christian” question, I have to look at the object itself, not the results that may come from it.

The Apostle Paul did just the opposite when he was imprisoned in Philippi and a bunch of so-called Christian brethren started preaching. Paul identified their motives as envy and strife and selfish ambition (Phil. 1:15, 17), but he basically said, so what? As long as they preached Christ, who cared that they had bad motives?

the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice. (vv 17-18a)

Paul was only concerned with the bottom line: the result. These “brethren,” false or true, were telling people about Jesus.

So, isn’t that the best test? Shouldn’t we be applauding The Shack, if the movie is successful, because it is bringing people to Christ?

I said above that I have to look at the object itself, because my question is, Is The Shack truly Christian? Lots of things can bring people to Christ. War has been known to do so. A friend of mine came to Christ by reading a novel. Others look at the heavens and know they need to find the One who made them. After 9/11, here in the US any number of people turned to God in the midst of their fear and uncertainty.

Would we say war is “Christian” because some soldiers reported coming to Christ when faced with their own mortality? No, certainly not. God can and does use whatever means He wishes, but His use of the thing does not baptize it as emblematic of His Good News.

So I reject the idea that The Shack must be Christian because people report a deeper relationship with God after having read it.

When Paul talked about those so-called brethren in Philippi, he gave no indication that they were preaching anything but what was true about Christ. Elsewhere, however, he addressed those who were not preaching the truth.

For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds. (2 Cor. 11:13-15)

In writing to the Galatians he also brought up the matter:

But it was because of the false brethren secretly brought in, who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage. (Gal 2:4)

Clearly, Paul was not hesitant to call out those who were not preaching the gospel but who were masquerading as if they were fellow believers. The same is true throughout the Bible about false teachers and false prophets. Jesus Himself made some of the strongest statements about “wolves in sheep’s clothing,” about false prophets misleading many, even about false Christs.

So determining who is and who isn’t a Christian, what is and what isn’t true Christian teaching, seems like an important aptitude.

Yet I know people will hold back for fear of judging. We aren’t supposed to judge each other, are we?

We’re not.

But that doesn’t mean we’re to put our brains on hold, either. We can still think. We can still look at the story on the screen and compare it with what the Bible says. Which is, after all, the unchanging, authoritative Truth by which we know what “Christian” means.

This article is a re-post of the one I published today at Speculative Faith.

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Published in: on February 20, 2017 at 5:45 pm  Comments (11)  
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Fantasy Friday – Cover Reveal


Well, I didn’t officially get added to the list of bloggers who are part of this cover reveal, but I’ve participated in the past and wanted to join in this time, too, even if in an unofficial capacity. So here it is!

Draven'sLightCover

Anne Elisabeth Stengl is a talented writer. She won Christy Awards with three of her first five novels and was the Clive Staples Award winner in 2013 with Starflower. I’ll tell you a bit more about Anne Elisabeth in a bit, but here’s the intro to the newest story in the Tales of Goldstone Wood series.

In the Darkness of the Pit
The Light Shines Brightest

Drums summon the chieftain’s powerful son to slay a man in cold blood and thereby earn his place among the warriors. But instead of glory, he earns the name Draven, “Coward.” When the men of his tribe march off to war, Draven remains behind with the women and his shame. Only fearless but crippled Ita values her brother’s honor.

The warriors return from battle victorious yet trailing a curse in their wake. One by one the strong and the weak of the tribe fall prey to an illness of supernatural power. The secret source of this evil can be found and destroyed by only the bravest heart.

But when the curse attacks the one Draven loves most, can this coward find the courage he needs to face the darkness?

Intriguing, I can hear many say, but I haven’t read any of the previous Tales of Goldstone Wood. I’d be confused. Who comes into a series around book 8?

It’s an understandable argument. But I have it on good authority that it’s not too late for anyone to jump into the series. First, I read Anne Elisabeth’s previous novella, Goddess Tithe, which was a stand alone, not dependent upon any of the previous books, though one or two characters would be familiar to those who have read the ones that came before.

In addition, you still have time before Draven’s Light comes out to read Golden Daughter which is reportedly a perfect “entry book” into the world of Goldstone Wood.

And now the goodies: you can read an excerpt of the novella/short novel AND enter a give-away to win one of three Advance Readers Copies. Third, you can now pre-order this book, scheduled to release in May.

But I promised you a bit more information about the author:

Anne Elisabeth Stengl makes her home in Raleigh, North Carolina, where she lives with her husband, Rohan, a passel of cats, and one long-suffering dog. When she’s not writing, she enjoys Shakespeare, opera, and tea, and studies piano, painting, and pastry baking. She studied illustration at Grace College and English literature at Campbell University. She is the author of the award-winning Tales of Goldstone Woods series, an ever-growing world of knights and dragons, mystical forests and hidden demesnes, unspeakable evil and boundless grace.

Here’s what I personally know. Anne Elisabeth is a smart, talented writer. She has envisioned a wonderfully creative world and populated it with interesting, diverse characters. Her stories are infused with grace, but they are not your “typical” Christian fiction.

God doesn’t appear in the stories so much as He is represented. None of them is preachy or, as Jerry Jenkins said in a recent post, “on the nose.” Anne Elisabeth uses allusion and symbolism to communicate what she wants readers to know. My personal favorite of her books is Dragonwitch, a finalist in the 2014 Clive Staples Award.

I highly recommend Anne Elisabeth’s books to anyone who thinks he or she might like stories about a “world of knights and dragons, mystical forests and hidden demesnes, unspeakable evil and boundless grace.”

Published in: on January 16, 2015 at 5:50 pm  Comments Off on Fantasy Friday – Cover Reveal  
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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.

Integration, Not Segregation


Salisbury_Cathedral,_cloister,_from_top_of_towerMuch has been said by writers about the artificial divide in publishing that has created the Christian arm of the industry. Some accuse Christians of cloistering against the world. It’s an unhealthy divide, they say.

Interestingly my pastor, Mike Erre, has been preaching about a similar topic as he works through the book of Luke. Christians, as opposed to the Pharisees of Jesus’s day, are not about separating ourselves from what is unclean, as the Jewish Law required. Jesus modeled this new paradigm in which relationship matters more than separation.

These concepts sound good, but the conclusions seem to be off.

In the writing world, any number of writers have advocated for grittier or edgier fiction, still with redemptive themes, but no explicit Christianity. After all, stories aren’t propaganda.

In life, the theologians seem to be saying, Jesus hung out with tax collectors and sinners, so we should go and do likewise.

In other words, in both instances, in order for Christians not to be cloistered, the answer being offered seems to say, mingle with the world. What’s off with that conclusion?

What’s off is that the gospel is offensive—prophets were put to death because they proclaimed God’s word; Jesus was put to death because He was God’s Word; the apostles were put to death because they announced the fulfillment of God’s word.

Therefore, I can only think of two ways a Christian can mingle with the world: (a) if “the world” is interested in the gospel or (b) if the gospel is missing.

In reality, there’s no indication that Jesus “hung out” with anyone. Rather, He invited people to follow Him. One of those He invited was Matthew the tax collector. Scripture says Matthew left everything and followed Jesus. But the very next sentence says Matthew gave a “big reception” for Jesus in his house, to which he invited tax collectors as well as others who the Pharisees labeled sinners.

So yes, at that one meal we know Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners—invited there by one of His followers. But clearly, the gospel was not absent during this reception. In answering the Pharisees about what he was doing, eating with tax collectors and sinners,

Jesus answered and said to them, “It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:31-32, emphasis mine)

Jesus was not burying the lead. He wasn’t holding back. He wasn’t worried about being too explicit. He actually knew the gospel was divisive, and He expected some to take offense

Unlike those writers advocating an approach to fiction that would make a Christian story look no different from a Mormon story or a moralist’s story. Unlike those theologians who advocate Christian gospel-less good works.

But here’s the thing. The gospel should not be an add-on. Writers should not deliver a story with the gospel added in. In all walks of life, Christians should not do life with the gospel added on as a spiritual exercise.

Rather, God should be so important, so pivotal, so foundational, so integrated into our lives that He is who we think about and who we talk about and who we want to introduce others to. When people ask us what we’re reading, part of our answer ought naturally to be something having to do with God. When they ask us where we’re going, part of that answer ought to be something about God’s house. When they meet our friends, some of those people ought to be part of God’s family.

In other words, the gospel should be as hard to separate from us as oxygen is from water molecules. The essence of water requires oxygen. The essence of a Christian requires the permeation of the gospel in every area of life.

And as such, some people will be offended. After all, we believe all have sinned. We aren’t born good and we aren’t even born blank slates. And that offends some people.

It offends people when Christians say Jesus is the Way, the Truth, the Life, no one comes to the Father but through Him. People are offended when we say sex should be reserved for a monogamous relationship between a husband and wife. They are offended when we say God gave different roles to a wife than to a husband. They are offended when we say the Bible is an absolute authority.

There’s really no way around it. If Christians integrate the gospel into our lives, we will cause offense at some point.

Not that everyone will be offended. Really, only those who have turned away from the gospel find it offensive.

And of course Christians should not be offensive for things apart from the gospel. Peter says it like this:

If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name. (1 Peter 4:14-16, emphasis mine.)

I don’t know how comfortable most of us are with the idea of suffering because we are Christians. I suspect the day will come sooner than later if today we decide the gospel is too offensive to put in our stories and too offensive to integrate into our lives.

Review: Until That Distant Day


Until That Distant Day coverUntil That Distant Day is a historical novel, with a strong thread of romance, written by Jill Stengl, an accomplished author who has previously published a number of romance novels. This particular book is an example of excellent Christian fiction.

The Story. Set in France during the Revolution, the story, told in the first person, opens with the main character, Colette deMar, recounting how she, a rather rebellious sort from childhood, happened to come to Paris.

As befitted her nature and her companions—the brother she was closest to, Pascoe, involved himself as an administrator of one faction of the revolutionaries—she led the women of their section. This involvement meant attending meetings and even demonstrations intended to force the king to accept the authority of the republican assembly.

As the revolution became increasingly violent, however, Colette pulled away from her involvement, and consequently from Pascoe. At the same time, she became increasingly involved in the life and family of her employer, Dr. Sebastian Hillard, a deputy to the National Assembly.

Pascoe, though he had once aspired to be like Dr. Hillard, had a falling out with him and pressured Colette to leave his employ. And so began the great conflict Colette had to resolve or live with on a regular basis.

There is much more to the story: Colette’s other two brothers who are living in Paris–seventeen year old Claude and twenty year old Étienne–Colette’s work as a midwife, her role as companion to Dr. Hilliard’s dauther, her charitable work with the poor in her section, and her love for the home she found where she worked.

Each part weaves together into a whole, undergirded by the events in Paris during the critical summer on 1792 when fear and extremists took over the revolution.

Strengths. Without a doubt, Until That Distant Day is a character driven novel. The plot is certainly interesting, and there’s lots of action, but what makes this story shine is the beautiful depiction of Colette. This protagonist is an interesting young woman, rebellious, hungry for respect and kindness. She has secrets—has reason to warn Dr. Hilliard not to trust her discernment or discretion. She herself has learned to be wary of her passions.

Throughout the story Colette’s strong and compelling voice drives the narrative. The story is interesting because she is interesting, and as a reader, I wanted to know what would happen to her.

The characters weren’t simply central to the story. They were the story. The real conflict centered on how or if they would change, and each of them was so firmly in relationship with the others that the change in one affected change in the others.

Another strength of this novel is the detail incorporated in the story, undoubtedly a result of expert research. Whether the spices used to prepare various foods, the smells of the goat’s pen, the sounds from the blacksmith forge, the feel of the heated kitchen, or the sights of the doctor’s crooked wig, this novel firmly planted the story in 1792 France. Nothing was pretentious or window dressing. All the details were a necessary part of moving the story forward, but they also anchored it firmly in the historical setting.

The thematic development of Until That Distant Day was another strength. The antagonism toward God, the apparent hypocrisy of one avowed atheist, the questions about suffering and evil and God’s place in all of the unfolding developments were handled in a natural, believable way. Taken as a whole they painted a theme grounded in truth but delivered within the confines of the historical setting.

Weaknesses. I don’t know if these are genuine weaknesses, but I had these reactions. At one point I was losing respect for Colette because she seemed too easily charmed. As an independent, rebellious woman, I thought she’d stand up for herself more, that she wouldn’t let herself be manipulated so easily. However, she also self-identified as someone lacking discernment, so in truth she acted in a way that was consistent with her character. I just didn’t like it. But it was short lived and actually served the conflict well.

The other was the use of various French words and phrases. At one point, I wondered if so many were necessary, considering that the characters undoubtedly spoke completely in French, yet the story is written in English. Why not have all of it told in English, I thought. And yet, the French served as a reminder of who these characters were. Most of the meanings I could guess at. Some I would have looked up if I’d realized there was a translation guide in the back. (It’s one of the negatives of reading on an electronic device—not being able to page through the book. And of course I had paged right past the Table of Contents that clearly listed the guide).

Recommendation. From start to finish, I enjoyed Until That Distant Day. More than once since I finished the book, I’ve thought I’d like to know what happened to this character or that. At one place I also thought how perfectly this book showed the flip side of events in one of my favorite novels, The Scarlet Pimpernel. To be honest, the feel of the two books is similar.

I found Colette to be a fascinating character, and I found myself thinking about the French Revolution from a perspective I’d never considered before.

In other words, I am so glad I read this book. I think readers (people who enjoy reading because it’s just fun to learn about people and places and times that are different) will enjoy Until That Distant Day. I think the book is a Must Read for those who love historical fiction, particularly stories set in Europe during the eighteenth century.

Published in: on May 15, 2014 at 10:56 am  Comments Off on Review: Until That Distant Day  
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Not Ashamed Of The Gospel


Love of Divena coverIt’s getting harder in western society, I think, to say we’re not ashamed of the gospel. Well, we can say we’re not ashamed of the gospel–free speech, and all. But taking a stand because of the gospel, especially on the hot bed issues of our day, is becoming risky. Hence, Christians are re-thinking whether or not they should let their Christianity be known.

For example, I or my beliefs have been belittled or vilified on my own Facebook page by family and friends because of certain positions I’ve taken.

Dovetail this with what some Christian writers have been saying: Christian fiction is poor art in part because it aggressively preaches.

The accusations about Christian fiction are anything but new. Often people have decried the loss of Christian influence in the arts. Once Christians dominated painting and literature. So what happened, they ask.

Well, what did not happen was a switch from not preachy to preachy. Milton, John Donne, George Herbert, John Bunyan, and a great list of other writers led the way in literature by writing about their faith or incorporating it in their works in very clear and obvious ways. They were not ashamed of the gospel.

The real difference between then and now, however, is in execution. Too many writers add on “faith elements” as an after thought or to fulfill a necessity for their publisher. Some, on the other hand, slather in gospel references in the hopes of . . . well, preaching to the lost.

Other writers would just as soon see the divide between secular and sacred erased–but the implication is that a story well told, without any “faith elements” is sacred by virtue of the fact that it is artistic.

I wonder if this isn’t the writer’s way of being ashamed of the gospel. If a story is well told and the gospel is front and center, why does that story automatically get treated as if it is second rate?

Well, some may say, those stories are too unambiguous. They don’t make people think, they give too many answers? Really?

Recently I’ve been discussing salvation in regards to “the unreached peoples” of the world, and those living in India have been mentioned. At once I think of Kay Marshall Strom’s series Blessings in India: The Faith of Ashish, The Hope of Shridula, The Love of Divena.

India 1990. In the final book of the Blessings of India series, Shridula, old and stooped at fifty-nine, makes her painful way to pay homage to the elephant god Ganesh, lord of success and destroyer of evils and obstacles. “Why are we Hindus instead of Christians?” her seventeen-year-old granddaughter Divena asked.

“Because we are Indian,” said Shridula.

So begins a spiritual journey for Divena as she struggles against an entire culture to proclaim a faith close to her heart while rocking the world of two families. (backcover copy quoted from Amazon)

Yes, those are stories about God at work in one of those unreached parts of the world. No easy answers, but no hiding God, either. No shame of the gospel.

Honestly, I don’t know why, in light of the vast number of people who don’t know Jesus Christ as Savior, all Christian writers don’t make it a mission to bring faith to bear in a discernible way in our writing, in our stories.

No, I don’t think every story needs to be a salvation message. Some can show a believer coping with anorexia as Running Lean by Diana Sharple does. Others like Firstborn by Lorie Ann Grover can address gender issues. Or how about the Safe Lands series by Jill Williamson that shows a character’s struggle with lust and addiction?

God can show up in dramatic ways or daily, gradually, through His people. He can show up through types and symbols and allegory, or He can be present, identified from start to finish as the Creator, Sustainer, and Savior of the world. The how isn’t the issue, I don’t think.

But a dying world needs to hear Truth, and I don’t think it’s time for Christian writers to shrink back, ashamed of the gospel.

The Christian View Of Culture: The Secular/Sacred Divide


    Nothing for the Christian is essentially secular. It can only be secularized by leaving God out of it or by engaging in that from which God, by his nature, must be excluded.
    The Real Face of Atheism by Ravi Zacharias (p. 145)

mud_poolI’ve read any number of times that one of the problems in the church and in Christian fiction is a propensity to divide life into camps—secular over there, Christian over here. Often times this line of reasoning comes from someone decrying the term “Christian fiction.”

However, the thought usually goes more along these lines: God created the world and everything in it; therefore, everything has a touch of the divine if we will see it—mountains and mud puddles, priests and prostitutes.

Interestingly, the quote above from evangelist/apologist Ravi Zacharias agrees with the idea that we have constructed an artificial divide. There’s an interesting wording difference between Zacharias’s phrasing and what I’ve read before. Rather than saying all is sacred, he says none is secular. I think that might be significant.

On one hand, those suggesting we do away with the “Christian fiction” distinction say all is sacred. There seems to be a period there. The implication is that all can be enjoyed or utilized by a Christian whether or not God shows up.

In contrast, Mr. Zacharias stipulates that nothing is secular but anything can be secularized by leaving God out

But what does it mean to include God in the picture? Are we supposed to see Jesus in Avatar, for instance? Are we supposed to read Watership Down (Richard Adams) and see some end times message?

Not at all. I think including God means I first see the object or person or piece of writing before me for what or who they are. Jesus, for example, understood exactly who the woman at the well was—a Samaritan, a “seeker,” a divorcee, a sinner in need of a Savior. He didn’t dismiss her as too far gone for God and He didn’t dismiss her as already one of the family of God.

I guess what I’m thinking is this: we don’t need to force God into places.

I remember when I saw the first two Star Wars movies. I started to see Christian parallels and began to wonder if possibly Lucas was using intentional symbolism to convey a Christian message. Maybe he was saying the Force was God. Maybe our hero was a type of Christ.

In reality, I was forcing my worldview onto the movie.

Then where is God in Star Wars? Are they simply “secular,” something I can enjoy apart from my Christianity?

While I can enjoy them, I don’t think it’s necessary for me to do so apart from my Christianity but because of it. As I think on God and His Son, I am filtering my culture through the lens of my Christianity.

For example, I can look at the Force and compare that to God as He has revealed Himself in the Bible—a personal, loving Heavenly Father. While the Jedi knights could say, “May the Force be with you,” they could never say, “May the Force comfort you in your time of grief” or “May the Force hear your prayer” or “May the Force extend its grace and love to you.” God transcends the Force by His nature, by His personhood.

So I can come away from Star Wars entertained but also thankful that I know a personal loving God and do not have to trust to an impersonal, distant Force.

That’s only one example. Other possibilities include a conviction to commit to God … Or a willingness to mentor someone new in the faith … Or a determination to stand against evil regardless of the strength of the opposition.

You get the idea.

Nothing is secular unless I leave God out.

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This article is a reprint of one entitled “The Christian View Of Culture” published February, 2010.

The Place Of Truth In Fiction


Truth in FictionFiction as truth? Almost any novelist will tell you that truth is an important component in storytelling. The setting needs to be believably true, the characters need to be true to their personality and experience, and the story needs to be true to its setup and foreshadowing. And all of it needs to ring true with the reader.

Behind the curtain, though, is a story’s theme, and the truth of the theme seems to be at the heart of understanding the place of truth in fiction. According to R. L. Copple in a recent article at Speculative Faith, there are two primary views of truth in fiction:

One view is that fiction is a teaching tool.

In that understanding, Christian fiction’s primary goal and purpose is to relate Biblical truths (as interpreted by a specific community of faith) in a systematic and accurate fashion. Ultimately, it should convey the Gospel message. The fear is that if it doesn’t do so, it will teach people untruths and lead them away from God, not to Him. Thus, any deviation from their perception of Biblical truth is cause for alarm and condemnation.

The other view is that fiction conveys an emotional experience of Christian themes.

Unlike God, who is infallible, authors are not writing the Bible, nor a systematic theology, but a story about fallible characters who may believe the wrong things, misunderstand God, in short, sin. It is a story depicting theology lived out, and thus like real life, messy. Not every question gets answered. Not all resolutions are in tidy, neatly wrapped packages.

The purpose of this type of Christian fiction is to wrestle with Christian themes in an emotionally engaging manner. To help people encounter and incarnate the truth within themselves. The details are only important in conveying the story arc and theme in an engaging manner.(Emphases in the original.)

“The details are only important in conveying the story arc and theme in an engaging manner.” There’s some truth to this statement. In The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe, for instance, the important details about Aslan dying on a stone table as a substitute for Edmund didn’t need to be true in the sense that a real lion talked and walked or sacrificed himself. Nor did the details have to match up with precision to that which the allegorical sacrifice depicted–Jesus Christ dying on a cross as the substitute for sinful humans.

However, there were details that did need to remain truthful if the story was to be true. The White Witch, for instance, couldn’t win the battle and become the new Aslan. Such an ending could well have been engaging, and there might even have been an engaging theme, perhaps even a truthful one, such as “Looks are deceiving” or “It’s better to obey those in authority than to rebel.”

Nevertheless, such themes do not mitigate the falsehood of evil winning out against good.

Does that mean, then, that fiction is supposed to teach? Well, sure! Fiction is supposed to teach the same way all of life teaches. For the Christian, this is mandated in Scripture:

You shall therefore impress these words of mine on your heart and on your soul; and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall teach them to your sons, talking of them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road and when you lie down and when you rise up. (Deut. 11:18-19)

And when you tell stories.

OK, the text doesn’t add he line about stories, but Jesus modeled the use of stories as a teaching device.

I honestly wonder what people mean when they question the idea that stories aren’t supposed to teach truth. It’s as if “teaching” has somehow become a suspect activity. We don’t want to indoctrinate our children or our readers or our colleagues or our friends.

Teaching is not indoctrination! In fact, the best teaching spurs the learner to think critically, to ask the hard questions, to dig for answers, to mull, cogitate, meditate, debate. The best stories, the truthful stories, ought to do that.

The problem isn’t that some stories teach truth and others let readers experience. Rather, it’s that some stories which teach truth do it badly. Of course, some stories that let readers experience, do that badly, too, because they aren’t truthful stories. The Shack had lots of people praising it because of what they experienced, but in the end, the story was filled with falsehood.

The place of truth in fiction? Right dab in the middle, as far as I’m concerned. Stories by Christians should be all about truth. But they ought to be artful in their expression of it, and yes, they should show truth instead of telling readers what is true.

Review – Chasing Hope by Kathryn Cushman


I’m a sports nut. I also love good stories. Imagine how much I love a novel about an athlete. Chasing Hope by Kathryn Cushman is a wonderful story which just happens to feature a female athlete. What’s not to love? 😀

Chasing Hope coverThe thing is, Cushman is a talented writer who delves into the lives of her characters, often setting two opposites in juxtaposition so that their contrariness clashes. (See my reviews for her previous novels: A Promise to Remember, Waiting for Daybreak, Leaving Yesterday, Another Dawn, and Almost Amish.) By doing so, she allows them to grow, or to fail, however they choose. Chasing Hope is vintage Cushman.

The Story. When Sabrina Rice was twelve she knew what she wanted to do with her life. Just as Eric Liddell had, she wanted to win a gold medal and use her fame to tell others about Jesus Christ as a missionary. Ten years later, she’s on a different tack, heading into the corporate world. Apparently at twelve, she’d misunderstood God’s call because her hope for Olympic gold is a mere memory–one she tries hard to forget.

She’d done well to move past her dreams until Brandy Philip runs into her world, both at school and at home. There’s no avoiding the girl when Sabrina’s Nana begs her to intervene for the girl to help her stay out of juvenile hall.

Brandy has one talent–she can run. Fast. Sabrina knows the running world and is in a position to put in a good word for her, perhaps more. If she’s willing. The question is whether or not she can deal with the memories and doubts that come along with fulfilling her Nana’s requests.

Strengths. Cushman’s greatest strength is delving into her characters and pushing their emotional buttons by putting them into relationship with others who expose them for what they are.

In Chasing Hope the protagonist must confront herself because of a relationship with the guy she’s noticed and who’s begun to notice her; with her Nana who she loves dearly; with the granddaughter of her Nana’s friend who she pretty much detests; and with her parents who have differing ideas about what she should do with her life.

The result is a layered story with varied facets which make the main character seem like a real person, grappling with real doubts and questions, creating an invite for the reader to ask them as well. As a result, the story seems almost interactive.

The details of the running world are convincing. If there are errors, I didn’t pick up on them. The training regiments, the competition, the need for a runner to push herself beyond the point she thinks she can endure–the entire running milieu seemed realistic.

The story hung together beautifully, with one question after another driving the reader to keep turning pages. Why had Sabrina’s hope for Olympic gold died? What would she decide to do about Brandy? Why did she keep secrets from her love interest? Why was she trying to bury her past? What would become of Brandy? On and on, the questions are all delightfully enticing because Cushman makes the reader care about these characters.

The theme of the story is equally strong, never preached, perfectly wrapped inside the character development, and thoroughly Christian. No mistaking–this is Christian fiction.

Weakness. Reviews are always better when they are balanced, and more credible when the reviewer points out flaws instead of glossing them over. I know this, and I’m trying, but I honestly can’t come up with anything. Nothing pulled me from the story as I read. Nothing jumped out at me as I thought back over the story in the days after I finished reading it. And nothing comes to me know as I evaluate the elements. I’ll be interested to see if other reviewers managed to come up with something I’m not seeing.

Recommendation. This book is for Christians, and it confronts a question many committed believers ask. The protagonist is a woman, but she’s an athlete, so I have no doubt men can “get” this story, but I suspect women will make up the majority of the readers. Too bad. I think guys struggle with God’s calling on their lives just as much as women do. I think this is a must read for Christians. Non-Christians can definitely enjoy the story, but the main conflict will probably seem inconsequential to them.

In conjunction with the release of Chasing Hope, Cushman has a great sweepstakes going. I’ll give you details tomorrow.

I received a review copy of this book from the publisher without charge with no requirement that my views would be favorable.

The 2013 Carol Award Winners


Daystar-CoverOne of the best things about book contests is that readers get an idea which books they should add to their to-read lists. The American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) instituted a “best book” award some years back which morphed into the Carol Award a few years ago, named after a long time editor with Bethany House, I believe.

ACFW had its start as American Christian Romance Writers, and there’s still a residual emphasis on the romance end of things, though they tout themselves as the primer conference for the broad spectrum of Christian fiction.

Apparently between 500 and 600 writers, agents, and editors congregated for the conference in Indianapolis this year. At the banquet held Sunday, the award winners were announced. Here are the finalists in each category, with the winners noted.

Category [I have no idea what this encompasses, but it would seem to be romance, based on the publishers, and somewhat shorter than most novels but longer than a novella, based on the note about length at the ACFW site]
Seaside Reunion by Irene Hannon (Love Inspired * Editor: Melissa Endlich)
A Horseman’s Hope by Myra Johnson (Heartsong Presents * Editor: Rebecca Germany)
Winner Lost Legacy by Dana Mentink (Love Inspired * Editor: Emily Rodmell)

Contemporary
You Don’t Know Me by Susan May Warren (Tyndale House * Editors: Karen Watson/Sarah Mason)
Beyond the Storm by Carolyn Zane (Abingdon Press * Editor: Ramona Richards)
Winner Heart Echoes by Sally John (Tyndale House * Editors: Karen Watson/Stephanie Broene,/Kathy Olson)

Debut Novel
Proof by Jordyn Redwood (Kregel * Editor: Dawn Anderson)
A Sweethaven Summer by Courtney Walsh (Guideposts Books * Editors: Beth Adams/Rachel Meisel/Lindsay Guzzardo)
Winner Wildflowers from Winter by Katie Ganshert (Waterbrook/Multnomah * Editor: Shannon Marchese)

Historical
At Every Turn by Anne Mateer (Bethany House * Editor: Charlene Patterson)
The Discovery by Dan Walsh (Revell * Editor: Andrea Doering)
Winner Where Lilacs Still Bloom by Jane Kirkpatrick (Waterbrook/Multnomah * Editor: Shannon Marchese)

Historical Romance
To Whisper Her Name by Tamera Alexander (Zondervan * Editor: Sue Brower)
Short-Straw Bride by Karen Witemeyer (Bethany House * Editor: Karen Schurrer)
Winner A Promise to Love by Serena B. Miller (Revell * Editor: Vicki Crumpton)

Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Downfall by Terri Blackstock (Zondervan * Editors: David Lambert/Sue Brower/Ellen Tarver)
Gone to Ground by Brandilyn Collins (B&H Publishing * Editor: Karen Ball)
Winner The Soul Saver by Dineen Miller (Barbour Publishing * Editors: Rebecca Germany/Jamie Chavez)

Novella
You’re a Charmer, Mr. Grinch by Paula Moldenhauer (Barbour Publishing * Editors: Rebecca Germany/JoAnne Simmons)
Impressed by Love by Lisa Karon Richardson (Barbour Publishing * Editor: Rebecca Germany)
Winner A Recipe for Hope by Beth Wiseman (Thomas Nelson * Editor: Natalie Hanemann)

Romance
The Accidental Bride by Denise Hunter (Thomas Nelson * Editors: Natalie Hanemann/L. B. Norton)
An Uncommon Grace by Serena B. Miller (Howard * Editor: Holly Halverson)
Winner Saving Gideon by Amy Lillard (B&H Publishing * Editors: Julie Gwinn/Julie Carobini)

Romantic Suspense
Tidewater Inn by Colleen Coble (Thomas Nelson * Editor: Ami McConnell)
Saving Hope by Margaret Daley (Abingdon Press * Editor: Ramona Richards)
Winner When a Heart Stops by Lynette Eason (Revell * Editor: Andrea Doering)

Speculative
Daughter of Light by Morgan L. Busse (Marcher Lord Press * Editor: Jeff Gerke)
Judge by R. J. Larson (Bethany House * Editors: David Long/Sarah Long)
Winner Daystar by Kathy Tyers (Marcher Lord Press * Editor: Jeff Gerke)

Young Adult
Prophet by R.J. Larson (Bethany House * Editors: David Long/Sarah Long)
The New Recruit by Jill Williamson (Marcher Lord Press * Editor: Jeff Gerke)
Winner Like Moonlight at Low Tide by Nicole Quigley (Zondervan * Editor: Jacque Alberta)

Of course the greatest drawback to the Carol Awards is that only members of the organization may enter their works. That means a lot of good books were not under consideration.

Be that as it may, of the books from ACFW members, these would seem to be the top of the line. Congratulations to all the finalists and winners. Hope you find something in this list to enjoy.

Published in: on September 16, 2013 at 6:07 pm  Comments Off on The 2013 Carol Award Winners  
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