The Post I Wish I’d Written

It turns out author Mike Dellosso wrote the response I wish I’d written to Eric Wilson‘s article, “Is It Time for Christian Fiction to Die?”

Well, I couldn’t have written the article in just the way Mike did because he’s a published author and I’m not. But he said many of the things that I believe. Here’s the key paragraph:

I don’t think it’s the author’s job to reach lost people and share Christ with them. How can we? Our only contact with them is words on a page? Yes, stories are powerful and can be thought-provoking and challenging and uplifting. That’s what I go for in my own stories. They can even protray Christians in a positive light and point the spotlight at God. But how will they hear unless someone tells them? If our books plainly preach Christ and him crucified, risen, and coming again they won’t make it into the general market where the lost people are, heck, they probably won’t even make it into the CBA. Rather, I feel it is the author’s job to give Christians a tool so they can then take that tool and reach the lost around them with it. To me, that’s evangelistic writing. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe you disagree, that’s fine, but that’s where I am. (Emphasis mine.)

While I believe that stories are important, especially in this day and age, that stories can “till the soil,” and that the Holy Spirit can use them to point to Christ, primarily people come to God as a result of another person telling them the good news about the Savior who died for them.

But books can be the means by which a conversation about God might start. They can open up avenues of discussion that might not come about in another way. Books can give Christians the opportunity of saying to their non-Christian friends, So what do you think?

Think about he eunuch the Holy Spirit sent Philip to. He had Scripture, but he still needed someone to explain what he was reading. How much more so if a person is reading a novel, does he need a believer to extrapolate to real life and point to God.

Should Christians write for other Christians? Absolutely—we are to stimulate each other to love and good works, and I believe novels can do this.

Should Christians write for non-Christians? Absolutely—we are to let our light shine, and I believe novels can do this.

God calls some to write for believers and some to write for unbelievers.

The critical point to understand is this: in either case, God brings our labor to fruition. We may never see until eternity dawns what influence and effect our writing has had, but we are to remain faithful. That’s our responsibility and all we can control.

I think Mike said that too in the post I wish I’d written. 😉

Published in: on July 28, 2010 at 12:18 pm  Comments (6)  
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So Tired of the SAME Arguments

Rant warning! 😉

Here we go again. Someone inside the Christian publishing industry, in this case novelist Eric Wilson, is upset with Christian fiction. The issues seem to be the following:

  • content that doesn’t deal with such things as doubts, depression, sexual and financial issues, addiction, and disease
  • placement of Christian fiction in a Christian section
  • influence and parameters have narrowed
  • moneychangers are stepping in and the Spirit is moving out
  • viewed as a “safe” alternative instead of a vibrant, world-changing entity
  • not as “raw” as the Bible

Besides the fact that most of these criticisms are OLD, they also aren’t true. Perhaps they once described Christian fiction. Not any more.

Although Eric says he has reviewed and endorsed hundreds of novels in the last decade, I wonder if he’s read them. I haven’t read hundreds, but I’ve read books with sex outside of marriage, adultery, attempted rape, babies out of wedlock, slavery, drug use, a Wiccan character, a failed seminary student, a depressed and worried Church volunteer, dealing with Alzheimer disease, death of a child, an autistic character, creation scientist working in secular lab, cloning, and more. Raw. Real life.

Rather than “narrowing the parameters,” in the last decade, publishers have clearly expanded them. Granted, because of the economy—and the digital revolution—publishers are understandably cautious and unwilling to take abnormal risks right now. But I don’t see this hiccup as representative of a long term pattern that will reverse the previous nine years of change.

Which brings up the “moneychangers” issue. Last week, Mike Duran addressed the charge of greed among publishers in his article “Should ‘Profit’ Be the Bottom Line for Christian Publishers?” For whatever reason, we seem to have the idea that the book business should operate like a ministry rather than a business. Why? Perhaps because of the Christian content in our books. But the last I checked, many of the Christian imprints are owned by secular companies, so the idea of “ministry” is a foreign concept to the parent responsible for oversight.

I know many Christian editors and others in the firing lines who do look at their work as a calling, as do many novelists. However, we are still involved in a business where enough money needs to be made to keep paying employees and pass along a profit to the investors. Just like every other business.

As to placement of Christian fiction in Christian sections of book stores, or in Christian stores, we’re talking about something out of the control of the book sellers AND something that some of those working in the industry have tried (are trying?) to change. This complaint is going to the wrong people. Write a letter to the Barnes & Noble book buyers instead.

As to the “safe” alternative, instead of vibrant, world-changing entities, why can’t we have both? Why do “raw” books have to drag readers into the gutter to get a point across? Is a book more artistic because it deals with the seamy in a seamy way?

I’ve read some beautifully written fiction, some thought-provoking stories that have PG writing. Why must we conclude that R-rated work is better?

And this final idea, that the Bible is more raw and real than our fiction. No. The Bible gives narrative summary. It never takes the reader into Rahab’s bedroom and shows her selling her body. It tells us she was a prostitute. We know what that means, so the Bible doesn’t need to paint the scene.

One final point that came out in comments to Mike Duran’s post on this issue over at Novel Journey—something new, at last. Eric apparently is looking for support as he leaves Christian publishing and looks to find a general market house.

I’m not quite sure what kind of support he has in mind, but I do think we can come along side writers no matter where they are being published—small press, general market, Christian houses, self-published. We should be praying for each other, mentoring, encouraging, consoling, admonishing, promoting, endorsing, reviewing—whatever is needed, as we are able.

The Christian life is not a solo flight. We are in this together. Maybe it’s worth regurgitating the well-digested topics of yesteryear just to reach that final point.

Published in: on July 26, 2010 at 6:02 pm  Comments (82)  
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Avatar and Religious Discussion

No doubt Avatar has stirred up some “interesting” discussions, including some dealing with the religious aspects of the movie.

Phyllis Wheeler over at The Christian Fantasy Review gave a good review which in turn brought a comment from author Eric Wilson. In part he said:

All this to say, instead of focusing on differences, I believe we can take this opportunity to redeem faulty ideas from the film and turn them into beautiful examples of God’s love. That seems like the way Jesus did things, and I think we’d get a lot further in promoting the Gospel by taking that approach.

Or at least that’s the way He calls me to approach it.

I’m glad Eric qualified his statement with the last line. God does call His body to function in different capacities from one another, so any time we make a blanket “all Christians should” statement, unless we are quoting from Scripture, we’re probably about to step off the high dive.

However, I have to take issue with Eric’s characterization of idolatry as “faulty ideas.” I also take issue with the idea that Jesus preached a “can’t we all get along” message.

Speaking to the latter first — I just read Matthew 10 as part of my church’s 89 Chapters in 89 Days program, which includes Jesus’s instruction to His disciples for their upcoming missionary trip. He told them, in part, to take back their blessing of peace from any house that proved unworthy and to shake the dust off their feet when they left a house or city that didn’t welcome them or “heed their words” (Matt. 10:13-14).

That’s just one passage that shows Jesus did not teach a gospel of peace among men. His true gospel of peace deals with man’s reconciliation to God.

As to the “faulty ideas” in Avatar, I do not see anywhere in Scripture that idolatry is treated as “faulty” (“working badly or unreliably because of imperfections” [Oxford American Dictionary]).

And lest anyone thinks that perhaps the Na’vi were actually worshiping the true God but were ignorant about Jesus, take time to read Jay Michaelson’s post on the religious position espoused by Avatar. (I mentioned this article a week ago in “More Avatar.”)

Michaelson has no problem identifying the core beliefs writer/director James Cameron was espousing. The key philosophical/theological belief undergirding it all is “nonduality.” The idea is that dichotomies such as self/other, good/evil, male/female, mind/body are illusions. From Wikipedia:

A nondual philosophical or religious perspective or theory maintains that there is no fundamental distinction between mind and matter, or that the entire phenomenological world is an illusion.

Hence, Michaelson says

“God” becomes seen as one of many ways of understanding Being. Sometimes God is Christ on the cross, sometimes the Womb of the Earth. Sometimes God is Justice, other times Mercy. This is how sophisticated religionists have understood theology for at least a thousand years: “God” is a series of insufficient explanations of the Absolutely Unknowable, a collection of projections and dreams and who-knows-what-else which, neo-atheists notwithstanding, speak to the core of who we are as human beings.

To me, this is more comforting than old school theology, not less. It allows for multiple paths to the holy, radical ecumenicism and pluralism, and a bit less constriction around our favorite theological myths. God as Friend, Father, “motion and spirit that impels all things” – all of these become dances, tools of the inner life which are available when needed, and enriched, not lessened, by being increased in number.

Speaking as a dualist, I believe this line of thinking is opposed to Scripture, not merely “faulty.” It calls into question everything God has revealed about Himself and about His creation, about our nature and relationship with Him, about our sin-sickness and need of a Savior.

In saying this, I am not slamming the door on James Cameron or Jay Michaelson. In fact, I think it would be fascinating to dialogue with them. I’d like to see a debate between one of them and a Christian apologist such as Ravi Zacharias.

What I’d expect would be much disagreement, not unkindly so. But the two positions cannot both be true.

Take just one issue: good and evil. James 1:13 says

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt any one.

God clearly separates Himself from evil. He didn’t cause it, create it, or participate in it.

Duality exists. Time and eternity; mortality and immortality—these are issues central to the Bible.

So my question is this, What are the connection points between Christianity and this panentheistic worldview? I can think of a couple, and maybe Eric Wilson is right to say that we should find those common points.

However, I don’t see us doing so if we don’t actually understand what others believe and what movies like Avatar are truly saying.

For further discussion, see “Connection Points Between Avatar And Christianity.”

Christian … or Fiction?

Haunt of Jackals by Eric Wilson, second in the Jerusalem Undead Trilogy, stirred up considerable discussion. To be honest, I think that’s great. I like, above all else, people thinking about what they read, and discussing their thoughts with others.

In the end, though, the question about Haunt seems to focus on Wilson’s decision to weave together real-world settings, vampire myth, and Biblical history.

One tour participant, Cris Jesse, had this to say:

With the story being set in our world, it just comes too close to reality for the unaware reader to differentiate between Bible truths and fictional elements.

Also, as Sally Apokedak asked in her comment,

Is it obvious to the reader that the undead are make-believe but the blood of Christ is real?

So here we are again—how is fiction to handle God and/or Biblical history? Should it? Or should fiction be fiction and the Bible be the Bible? And if the latter, then can God be part of fiction? I mean, He is real and fiction is … well, not.

You may already know I think God can show up in fiction, but when He does, the author should be consistent with Scripture. I discussed this at some length over at Speculative Faith during the August tour for Offworld.

But what about other Biblical elements? May we speculate about things and people introduced in Scripture, such as the soldiers who gambled for Christ’s robe as He hung on the cross? (The basis of the novel The Robe) Or the fate of the Ark of the Covenant (central to the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark). How about Jesus’s life as a pre-adolescent (Anne Rice’s Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt)?

What about the tower of Babel or Noah’s experiences on the ark (Bryan Davis’s Eye of the Oracle)? Or the existence of the Nephilim (The Enclave by Karen Hancock)? Or Judas’s blood, Barabbas, the demons Christ sent into the swine and … Christ’s blood—all (and more) in the current work under discussion?

Are all of these free game for the novelist to incorporate in fiction by way of speculation? Or are some things untouchable, if a work is based on the Christian worldview?

My answer may be different from yours and I’ll be interested in your thoughts. Here’s my thinking: I believe some things must be untouchable because to speculate about them would 1) twist the truth of Scripture; or 2) bring them down to the level of the fictitious.

By saying they are “untouchable,” I don’t mean they can’t be included in fiction. For example, The Bronze Bow is a story set in Biblical times and the main character has an encounter with Jesus completely consistent with the Biblical account of the days when Jesus was surrounded by sick people begging to be healed.

The speculation centers on the story of a person in the crowd, not the historical event or Jesus Himself.

There’s a fine line between appropriate speculation and inappropriate, one I choose not to walk. No wonder other bloggers called Eric Wilson courageous.

Your turn. Are there some untouchables if a work of fiction is Christian or written from a Christian worldview?

Published in: on October 22, 2009 at 5:03 pm  Comments (13)  
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Haunt of Jackals – A Review, CSFF Blog Tour, Day 3

Haunt of Jackals (Thomas Nelson), the October CSFF Blog Tour feature by Eric Wilson, is the perfect book to discuss as we approach Halloween, especially since it is a part of the Jerusalem Undead Trilogy.

Undead. That concept alone speaks volumes, and to be honest, it should have been enough to ward me off. But no. I decided it was time I see what this vampire story stuff was all about, especially since Eric Wilson, as a Christian, approached the subject from a spiritual-warfare angle, clearly in opposition to the current fad of “good vampires.”

Of course, vampires are imaginary creatures, but the idea that one person gains life by taking from another is hard to justify as something other than evil. As near as I can tell, the “good vampires” are those who deny their desires, which seems consistent with our current cultural bent toward finding strength within.

No, Eric’s vampires (called Collectors) are actually demons inhabiting the bodies of their previously dead hosts. I suspect the set-up is made clear in book one, Field of Blood. Not having read that, I admit the murkiness I found regarding these creatures and those fighting against them was probably my problem. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The Story. At the heart of the Undead trilogy is Gina Lazarescu, a half mortal. She can die, but also can be resuscitated within three days if He Who Knows How can reach her in time.

The story opens with Gina struggling against a Collector who had kidnapped her. She escapes, and the rest of the book revolves around her efforts to defeat or evade or hide from the Collectors as they plot and plan against her and a group of good Undead assigned to protect Mankind.

Strengths. Eric is good writer. In essence, I came into the middle of the story, and yet I could follow the flow. I thought the “What Came Before” section was helpful.

Certainly his villains were appropriately villainous. His protagonists, Gina and her dad Cal, were both appropriately flawed but also likable because of their self-sacrificial desire to protect others.

The theme seemed clear—the blood of Christ saves. This message was delivered in the context of the story and didn’t seem at all forced or delivered by the author to the reader.

Weaknesses. ***May contain some spoilers***

My main problem with this book was point of view. Besides shifting constantly, which is something I don’t like, a large portion of the story was from the perspective of several of the Collectors … to the point that I found myself as much hoping for Erota to unite with Natira and defeat Megiste as I was that Gina and Cal would overcome the Collectors.

At the same time, I had a hard time worrying about Gina, a half-mortal, and Cal, an immortal. They could get hurt, but the stakes didn’t seem sufficiently high because they didn’t seem seriously at risk. The highest tension came when Dov, the mortal teen, or Kenny, the mortal pre-teen were threatened. In the latter instance, however, Gina’s initial sympathy for the attacker weakened my concern.

I also had some issues with the writing, though I tend to think I would have overlooked these if I had a more positive reaction to the story. For example, Gina escaped from Romania and apparently Cal planted the story that she had died. This seemed like a workable device, but lo and behold, the same ploy showed up at the climax, though shown in depth, giving this critical portion of the story a “been there” feel.

And then there was the darkness, the gore. Frankly, I didn’t like being in the heads of the Collectors. I didn’t like seeing them attack their victims or seeing the blood spurt and splash.

I had to think about this a lot because I have some really dark sections in my second book. I wondered what made me think those were okay, even necessary, but these scenes in Haunt were distasteful. I finally decided the point of view issue was central.

One other thing troubled me—the use of Biblical history. Judas’s blood has some power for evil evidently, Jesus’s blood is an actual physical entity, a dagger used for good is made of the bronze serpent-turned-idol, the demons are the same ones Jesus sent into the swine, and so on. As I see it, these twists in the Biblical account weaken Scripture rather than strengthening the fictional narrative. It drags history into the realm of speculation in a way I don’t care for when it comes to the God-breathed record of events.

Recommendation. I don’t know enough about the vampire genre to know if readers who enjoy Ann Rice’s vampire stories would like Haunt of Jackals or not. I’m confident Twilight fans would not care for this book. For me not being a vampire-story fan, this book did not change my opinion. Undoubtedly there is a niche audience who will like the spills and thrills. For them, I recommend Haunt.

Don’t forget to check out the other blog articles discussing the book (a list of these is posted at the end of my Day 2 article).

Published in: on October 21, 2009 at 12:13 pm  Comments (9)  
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Eric Wilson, Author – CSFF Blog Tour, Day 2

Eric WilsonYou may be more familiar with Eric Wilson as the author of the novelization Fireproof. Or perhaps you know him for his book version of Facing Giants. As it turns out, this prolific author, when writing “from scratch,” creating his own characters and his own plot line, writes speculative fiction.

Okay, he also has a couple suspense novels out there too, but his most recent work is speculative—the vampire novels known as the Jerusalem Undead Trilogy. This month the CSFF Blog Tour is featuring book two, Haunt of Jackals, but I wanted to find out a little more about the writer.

Happily, one of our tour participants, By Darkness Hid author Jill Williamson, who has met Eric and who wrote an endorsement for the book, interviewed him. In addition, Brandon Barr pointed to a fairly lengthy interview in his tour post.

The thing that caught my eye most, however, was a callout box on Eric’s bio page at his Web site:

I was first inspired to write by the imagination in C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. My childhood influences ranged from J.R.R. Tolkien, to S.E. Hinton, to Arthur Catherall. As a teen, I turned to Alistair MacLean, Robert Ludlum, and John LeCarre.

What an eclectic group of writers. But it started with fantasy. Is it any surprise, then, that Eric, in writing about vampires, wanted to return the tradition to it’s original overtones:

“It is really a modern version of ‘The Screwtape Letters’ by C.S. Lewis mixed with a traditional vampire story,” Wilson said. “I’ve seen a lot of vampire books come out recently with a post-modern approach to vampires where they are not even a question of good or evil or spirituality but just a fictional form of the monster. I wanted to go back to a traditional vampire story …” (“‘Fireproof’ novelist wrestles with the supernatural” by Ken Beck, The Wilson Post)

The “traditional vampire story,” it would seem, calls evil by its name and establishes a clear connection between Christ’s death and its defeat.

So why, I ask myself, do I not like vampire stories? Lots of people do. Eric clearly desires to throw light on God’s redemptive work, at one point equating his work with that of a missionary:

“I see my writing being missionary work but kind of in a tent-making mode (the apostle Paul made tents while spreading the Gospel), telling stories that prod and challenge people to think.”

Fantasy roots, a good versus evil motif, a desire to present the truth of the gospel through story. I should be in love with Eric’s vampire stories. I wish I were.

See who else on the tour thinks as I do and who has become a fan of the Jerusalem Undead Trilogy:

Vampires and Christian Fiction – Haunt of Jackals Tour, Day 1

The Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy (CSFF) Blog Tour is featuring Haunt of Jackals, book two of the Jerusalem Undead Trilogy, Eric Wilson‘s supernatural suspense. Read, “vampire story.”

Apparently this kind of dark speculative fiction is the new trend in Christian publishing, perhaps spurred by Mormon author Stephenie Meyer’s huge success with the Twilight books. But I’ll be honest—I’m puzzled by this trend.

When the Lord of the Rings movies came out, it seemed to have no impact on the kinds of books publishing houses acquired. Acquisition editor and agent alike turned a “read this before” eye to stories that seemed remotely similar to Tolkien’s version of the hero’s journey.

Was this because no new epic fantasy had made it big, breaking out of the fantasy niche in the general market, since Rings? Perhaps.

But I am puzzled as to why Christian publishing houses are now willing to pursue the dark side of fantasy, even with the Twilight success. After all, the “typical” buyer of Christian fiction hardly seems to fit the target audience of dark fantasy.

Did they think the numbers of teenage girls and women who flocked to Twilight would translate into big numbers buying demon-vampire stories? If so, then I think there was a misunderstanding. As near as I can tell, the Twilight books are popular because of their forbidden love theme—love (or more accurately, lust) for the bad boy and in turn, the bad boy restraining his badness for the sake of his love.

John Olson’s vampireless vampire story Shade and Eric Wilson’s Jerusalem Undead Trilogy are far from the Stephenie Meyer type vampire story.

But will the fans of the Dracula type vampire story be inclined to pick up the Christian versions—stories that ascribe supernatural demonic activity to the existence of vampires?

How many readers looking for a good vampire story will go to the Christian fiction aisle of their local book store, or to a Christian store? In short, Christian vampire stories seem like they could languish for lack of an audience.

Ironically, this is the same argument I’ve heard against fantasy for years. So what’s different about vampire stories? I mean, they are popular in the secular culture, though their popularity may now be declining.

The difference in my mind is one of degree or emphasis. In epic fantasy the central motif is the struggle between good and evil. Certainly there are dark sections of such a story. The Harry Potter series had several books that fell under the tag of “dark.” The Lord of the Rings had large sections, especially in the final book, that were dark, as evil appeared to be winning.

The good, however much an underdog, continued to struggle, and there was hope in that struggle. This struggle and the equally important underdog role of the forces of good seem to resonate with people across cultural and generational and gender lines.

Is the same true with vampire stories? You tell me. I’ll be interested in your thoughts.

Also, be sure to check out what others on the tour for Haunt of Jackals are saying about the book and related topics.

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