Salvation And The Christian Writer


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

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

And now on to the topic at hand.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Published in: on January 8, 2018 at 4:46 pm  Comments (2)  
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Morality In Fiction


Reading_Jane_EyreIn response to “Fiction Isn’t Lying”, a number of people, here and at Facebook, said they had experience with people who thought of fiction as a form of lying. Once again I was shocked. The thrust of the article, however, dealt with the Christian’s responsibility to speak truthfully about God in our fiction.

I’ll say again, Christians do not have to speak about God, directly or indirectly, but should we choose to do so, we have an imperative to be truthful. But “truthful” doesn’t mean we must tell all about God. First, it’s not possible to do so, and second, so much theology would overwhelm the story so that it would cease being a story.

I’m convinced that many readers and writers alike stumble over theology in stories because they confuse it with moral teaching. Two years ago I wrote a short series about that issue, and I’m re-posting the concluding article which sums up more completely than the final paragraph in yesterday’s article, what I believe about morality versus theology in fiction. Here is that article:

– – – – –

In my recent brief series, Theology Versus Morality, (Parts 1, 2, and 3), I essentially took a stand for theology in Christian fiction while calling into question the validity of judging a novel by its morality. For example, in part 2 I said,

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

Later I added

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

I think that position is bad for fiction and bad for Christianity.

Does that mean that morality has no place in fiction? Should we write the story of adultery with nothing but a suggestion that a way of escape exists? That would be truthful to the way the world is and truthful to theology.

But is it sufficient for the needs of society?

I look at western society, and I see a growing cesspool of immorality. We have TV programs with titles like Scandal and Revenge and Betrayal. Others focus on the criminal mind and blood splatters and entries wound, with the intent to show the process of catching those who perpetrate psychotic and cruel behavior.

We have TV news magazines discussing yet another school shooting, one many people forget because “only” three children died.

Last night’s news carried stories of an old man struck down with intent by a hit-and-run driver in a gas station as he walked toward the office to pay for his gas and of a twelve-year-old and his mother living next door to a state senator (i.e., not your usual violent-crime neighbor) who were bound and gagged while a crew of four robbed their home on a Sunday afternoon.

Further, an NBA athlete was celebrated this week as the first openly gay player in any of the four major sports in the US.

Then on Facebook today, one topic of discussion revolves around an article about the growing advocacy for “polyamory” especially by the media. Clearly, if marriage is no longer allowed to be defined as a relationship between a man and a woman, why should it be limited to a single person with another single person, instead of multiples?

There’s more, from the LGBT community successfully advocating here in SoCal for children to pick the bathroom, locker room, gender sports team, based on how they feel, not on their biology, to the new idea for losing weight based on Yoga meditation and fasting during certain phases of the moon.

The muck and mire of the world is thick and growing thicker.

So do Christian novelists simply tag along, showing society as it is, without addressing morality in our stories? Do we write to the edge, and when the edge shifts further from us, scurry along behind in an effort to catch up? Quite honestly, I think that description fits too much Christian fiction.

Many of the strictures that writers complained about are gone. Christian fiction has characters that are divorced, have affairs, drink, see ghosts, see demons—all things that once were considered taboo. But as general market fiction played at the edges, Christian writers begged to be allowed the same latitude.

The problem, as I see it, is that this move toward a reversal of moral constriction is built on the same error as that which established the legalistic mores in the first place—theology does not undergird the view of morality.

Prager-ZachariasInterestingly, apologist Ravi Zacharias, in a discussion Saturday with radio personality Dennis Prager, identified three levels in which philosophy is passed on: (1) argumentation—reason; (2) art—the imagination; (3) “kitchen table conversation”—the daily statements of belief. To influence society, then, Zacharias says we must argue from reason, illustrate in our art, and live out our beliefs. The problem he says, is that we try to do number three without number one and number two.

Exacerbating the problem, I believe is something G. K. Chesterton identified:

Nothing sublimely artistic has ever arisen out of mere art … There must always be a rich moral soil for any artistic growth.

So if society has lost its “rich moral soil,” how is art to illustrate the theology (philosophy) that underpins our beliefs?

In other words, we are in a downward spiral—a morally vacuous society that cannot produce art which will show us how to live morally.

There but for the grace of God are we all.

But God does give a greater grace. He is “opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble,” Scripture says.

So, what if Christian novelists determined to know nothing but Jesus Christ, and Him crucified? What if we painted theology into every corner of our art—and won awards doing so? What if we stopped fighting to get cuss words into our stories or stopped counting the number of times the characters say golly or disobey their parents, and started writing to show what God is like, to show His Son, to the best of our ability? What if we gave stories that illustrated the power of forgiveness or love for an enemy, neighbor, or stranger, or for God? What if our stories show what we say we believe?

Wouldn’t that be a step in the process of influencing our society to get out of the morass we are making?

Fiction Isn’t Lying . . . Until It Is


booksSome Christians, apparently, don’t think it’s OK to read fiction because fiction is all about made up characters, places, and events. In other words, it’s all lies.

I had never heard that point of view until I got on the Internet, and then mostly other writers said they’d been confronted by others who chastised them for their lies. I did read a post once by someone who took that extreme position, but it was new to me.

For one thing, appealing to the definition of lie explodes that view, the key being the intention of deception. No one who writes fiction pretends their story is factual. No one who reads fiction is unaware that the story is pretend. So no one is deceiving or being deceived. So fiction isn’t lying.

In addition, authors of fiction use the pretend to make statements about reality. In all my literature classes throughout college, we analyzed stories to determine, among other things, what the author was saying, what he wanted readers to take away or to believe about humankind or the world or God. Thomas Hardy, for example, wrote stories to show that humankind is pushed and pulled by fate. On the other hand, Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol which showed that a person can change his ways and isn’t locked into beliefs by chance circumstances.

Those two views which are in opposition to one another can hardly both be true. One might be truthful or they both might be false, but they both can’t be true.

It’s still probably incorrect to say that one which is not truthful is therefore a lie. I’m certain Thomas Hardy believed he was truthfully showing readers the way the world worked, but he was wrong. In his made up stories Hardy revealed his own belief system, one that replaced God with the ‘unconscious will of the Universe’ (see Wikipedia).

My question is this: ought not a Christian writer who knows the truth, reflect truth in any story he or she writes? I want to be clear: I do not think any story can tell ALL truth. For one thing, we don’t have all truth. The Bible, though complete, doesn’t show us all there is to know about God. It is our view of the world through that dark mirror I Corinthians 13 mentions. Second, ALL truth would not fit into one story, even one the size of The Grapes of Wrath or Gone With The Wind.

So what “truth” is a novelist supposed to show in his or her story?

That’s the beauty of writing. An author can open the door for readers regarding all kinds of important truths.

I’m thinking of one novel, for instance, a fantasy, in which the God of that world was worshiped by both factions in an owner/slave society. Both believe this God figure provides for them. Which brings up all kinds of interesting questions: does God provide for the wicked as well as for the victimized? Are those enslaved believing in this God in vain? Is the ruling class worshiping in hypocrisy? Is there anything similar going on in our world?

I could go on to discuss ways in which a novelist can show truth by developing their theme, but the point I want to make is this: a Christian writer, while not burdened to show all truth (an impossibility, but an attempt at such would clearly necessitate the entire plan of salvation), should show truth.

Of course it’s possible to leave out any direct reference to God and still show truth. J. R. R. Tolkien did that. He had Christ figures, but not a direct reference to God or to Jesus.

What Tolkien did not do was mislead people about those Christ figures. He did not have Gandalf decide to take the One Ring for himself. He did not have Aragon desert the forces of Gondor. The one who would sacrifice himself for the fellowship did not turn evil. The returning king did not forsake those who trusted him.

Thus, what an author chooses to show about truth is really up to him, but he must do so faithfully. He would be lying to portray God or a God figure in his world to be selfish or greedy or blood-thirsty or immoral or weak. Any of those would be a lie. A Christian who knows God must portray some truth about Him if He or a representative figure shows up in the story.

Non-Christians who turn God into an it with an unconscious will or who make Him out to be evil, as I understand Phillip Pullman did in his fantasy series, aren’t lying about God in the same way a Christian who knows the truth would be. Rather, they have rejected God and are trying to make sense of the world without Him. They are more to be pitied, though readers must beware so they see the ways their views deviate from the truth.

In short, the Christian is really the only one who can lie in fiction. We know the truth. If we purposely misrepresent God, how can that be thought of as anything but a lie?

Does Theology Have A Place In Fiction?


ArtistThe discussion about theology in fiction is not new, but agent Chip MacGregor brought it up again in a recent blog post, and it’s received some traction in social media. I’ll admit, parts of what Chip said drive me crazy. Things like

[many authors have tried to] take their stories to the broader general market… and it hasn’t been working. Why? First, understand that much of CBA fiction is dominated by the conservative evangelical brand of Christianity, and the general market isn’t interested in those types of stories.

“Those types of stories”? Stories that hold to what the Bible says? I have much to say on that subject but will save it for another time.

Then a few sentences later:

A writer who grows up in the evangelical culture, who is surrounded by the American evangelical milieux, often isn’t going to know how to speak to a broader audience.

I think the error of that generality is self-evident. But the line that has me most concerned is this:

There is a movement among many Christian novelists to make fiction more realistic and less theological

So, God isn’t realistic enough, we need to stop including Him in our fiction?

All this as a way of introduction. I’ve written quite a bit about the intersection of fiction as art and Christianity, and I’d like to share (with revisions) some of those thoughts, first posted at Speculative Faith back in December 2012.

A rather accepted definition of art, including fiction, is an endeavor which utilizes creativity and imagination resulting in beauty and truth. Not beauty alone. Not truth alone. Art shows both. In a post at Spec Faith, author and friend Mike Duran postulated that fiction and theology don’t belong together: “Why Fiction Is The Wrong Vehicle For Theology.” He quoted a pastor who affirmed this definition of art but who also stated, “The purpose of art, and even religious art, isn’t to proselytize, or to affirm a body of doctrine.”

As I understand it, doctrine is nothing more than a body of truth about spiritual things. So we want truth in our fiction, but not spiritual truth. How can this dichotomy exist?

Perhaps we are defining terms differently, starting with “theology.” The Oxford English Dictionary’s first definition of theology is “the study of the nature of God and religious belief.” The second definition, however, includes the idea of ordering beliefs systematically. Perhaps, then, those who say “theology” and fiction don’t mix are actually saying fiction isn’t a good place for expounding an ordered system of beliefs.

Then, too, the issue might center on the “body of doctrine”—stories that attempt to reveal all truth about God rather than revealing a truth about God.

First, stories have long espoused or refuted a systematic, ordered way of thinking. Thomas Hardy espoused his views of fatalism in story after story. George Orwell showed his opposition to autocracy, particularly to Communism, in his novels, most notably Animal Farm. Frank Norris and other “muckrakers” made their views about the abuses of corporations known through their stories. Harriet Beecher Stowe penned a novel against slavery—clearly taking a systematic view of the way the world ought to be.

More recently the movie Avatar echoed a theme about greed in corporate America found decades ago in ET.

Is the problem, then, an ordered, systematic set of beliefs? I hardly think so. A system of beliefs has never been considered out of bounds in fiction.

More to the point might be the idea that fiction should not attempt to show an entire body of doctrine because the scope of such is too big for a single story. As I see it, this statement is similar to saying, no book should try to tackle all there is to know about the human psyche. Of course not. However, that does not mean an author should refrain from dealing with any part of the human psyche.

Rather than shying away from the depiction of “theology”—by which I mean knowledge about God—in fiction, I think Christian writers should embrace the challenge. In saying this, however, I do not believe all stories must show all the truth contained in the Bible, nor do I believe that our stories must affirm all Biblical moral values (as if Christians even agree on what those are).

I do believe, however, that it is possible to speculate about this world and about the spiritual world and yet remain faithful to truth about God. In fact, I believe this is fundamental to a work of art. Non-Christians can reveal truth up to a point, but because they do not know Christ, they cannot accurately reveal spiritual truth. Christians can.

Will the spiritual truth in a story ever be “complete”? Of course not. Mike Duran asked in his post

is it possible for any single work of fiction to accurately depict God’s nature, attributes, and laws? He is merciful, holy, infinite, just, compassionate, omniscient, omnipresent, loving, gracious, etc., etc. So where do we start in our portrayal of God? And if we resign our story to just highlighting one attribute of God or one theological side, we potentially present an imbalanced view (like those who always emphasize God’s love and not His judgment, or vice versa). Furthermore, Christians have the luxury of the Bible and centuries of councils and theologians to help us think through this issue. But when Christians impose this body of info upon their novels, they must remember that other readers don’t possess such detailed revelation. . .not to mention the story’s characters.

In essence he says, the body of truth about God is beyond the scope of one novel. Absolutely true. However, the idea that we might be misunderstood if we portray only one aspect of truth or that others without our understanding of Scripture and church history might not grasp what we are “imposing” on them, doesn’t seem like a sound argument for steering away from using stories as a vehicle for theology.

It does seem like an argument for doing so poorly.

If an author incorporates all the tenets of evolution in a story, undoubtedly the message will overwhelm the plot and characters. In other words, over reaching is the problem. A theme that is poorly executed—whether by an atheist or a Christian—suffers, not because of the author’s beliefs or his decision to incorporate them in his story. It suffers because it hasn’t been done well. (Of course, the atheist has the added burden of weaving into his story a theme that may be incomplete or even untrue, but that’s another subject).

Think for a moment about people who wish to “witness” at football games by holding up a John 3:16 sign and contrast that to a sermon expounding on the meaning of that verse. A story is not a sermon, but a story that tacks on a verse in an off-handed way as if doing so fulfills a touched-that-base religious requirement, is a weak story, not because it has introduced theology but because it has done so with no depth and with no purpose that serves the story.

In short, fiction is the perfect vehicle for showing theology rather than telling it. After all, spiritual truth is the ultimate truth. If art is to really be all about beauty and truth, then it OUGHT to include spiritual truth at some level.

The legitimate problems with some Christian fiction have little to do with the existence of theology in fiction and everything to do with how to incorporate it into stories. Instead of warning people away from theology in fiction, I think we’d be better served to spread the word about the novels that handle spiritual truth by weaving it seamlessly into an entertaining story.

Published in: on July 20, 2015 at 5:56 pm  Comments (17)  
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2015 ACFW Carol Award Finalists


Carol_Award_Gold_Here are the finalists for the 2015 Carol Awards (more books to put on your to be read pile). The winners will be announced September 19 during the awards dinner in Dallas at ACFW’s annual conference.

Contemporary:
Last Family Standing by Jennifer AlLee, Abingdon Press, editor Ramona Richards
Lizzy & Jane by Katherine Reay, HarperCollins Christian Publishing, editors Becky Monds, L.B. Norton
The Story Keeper by Lisa Wingate, Tyndale House, editors Sarah Mason, Jan Stob

Historical:
Chateau of Secrets by Melanie Dobson, Howard (Simon & Schuster), editor Beth Adams
Saving Amelie by Cathy Gohlke, Tyndale House, editors Sarah Mason, Stephanie Broene
What Follows After by Dan Walsh, Revell – A Division of Baker Publishing Group, editor Andrea Doering

Historical Romance:
For Such a Time by Kate Breslin, Bethany House (Baker) Publishing, editors Raela Schoenherr, Luke Hinrichs
With Every Breath by Elizabeth Camden, Bethany House (Baker) Publishing, editor Raela Schoenherr
While Love Stirs by Lorna Seilstad, Revell – A Division of Baker Publishing Group, editors Andrea Doering, Jessica English

Mystery/Suspense/Thriller:
Poison Town by Creston Mapes, David C. Cook, editor L.B. Norton
A Way of Escape by Serena B. Miller, independently published, editor Connie Troyer
A Cry from the Dust by Carrie Stuart Parks, HarperCollins Christian Publishing, editors Amanda Bostic, Natalie Hanemann

Novella:
An October Bride by Katie Ganshert, HarperCollins Christian Publishing, editor Becky Philpott
I’ll be Home for Christmas from Where Treetops Glisten by Sarah Sundin, Waterbrook/Multnomah (Random House), editor Shannon Marchese
A Cowboy Unmatched by Karen Witemeyer, Bethany House (Baker) Publishing, editor Karen Schurrer

Romance:
The Wishing Season by Denise Hunter, HarperCollins Christian Publishing, editors Ami McConnell, L.B. Norton
Love Redeemed by Kelly Irvin, Harvest House Publishers, editor Kathleen Kerr
Somebody Like You by Beth K. Vogt, Howard (Simon & Schuster), editor Jessica Wong

Romantic Suspense:
Under a Turquoise Sky by Lisa Carter, Abingdon Press, editor Ramona Richards
No One to Trust by Lynette Eason, Revell – A Division of Baker Publishing Group, editor Andrea Doering
Deceived by Irene Hannon, Revell – A Division of Baker Publishing Group, editor Jennifer Leep

Short Novel:
Second Chance Summer by Irene Hannon, Love Inspired (Harlequin), editor Melissa Endlich
Rescuing the Texan’s Heart by Mindy Obenhaus, Love Inspired (Harlequin), editor Melissa Endlich
The Wyoming Heir by Naomi Rawlings, Love Inspired (Harlequin), editor Elizabeth Mazer

Speculative:
Orphan’s Song by Gillian Bronte Adams, Enclave Publishing, editor Steve Laube
A Time to Die by Nadine Brandes, Enclave Publishing, editors Jeff Gerke, Karen Ball
Jupiter Winds by C.J. Darlington, independently published, editor Carol Kurtz Darlington

Young Adult:
This Quiet Sky by Joanne Bischof, independently published, editors Amanda Dykes, Denise Harmer
Samantha Sanderson at the Movies by Robin Caroll, HarperCollins Christian Publishing, editors Kim Childress, Mary Hassinger
Storm Siren by Mary Weber, HarperCollins Christian Publishing, editor Becky Monds

Debut Novel:
Playing Saint by Zachary Bartels, HarperCollins Christian Publishing, editor Amanda Bostic
For Such a Time by Kate Breslin, Bethany House (Baker) Publishing, editors Raela Schoenherr, Luke Hinrichs
The Hesitant Heiress by Dawn Crandall, Whitaker House, editor Courtney Hartzel

Published in: on June 29, 2015 at 12:04 pm  Comments Off on 2015 ACFW Carol Award Finalists  
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Power Elements Of Character Development


PowerElementsCharacterDevelopment[1000][1]I’m excited to announce that the second volume in my Power Elements Of Fiction series, Power Elements Of Character Development is available as a Kindle ebook. It took me longer than I anticipated to get this book put together and published, so it’s with some sense of relief and joy that I can announce its release.

Here’s the little blurb describing the book:

Power Elements Of Character Development, second in the series Power Elements Of Fiction, offers practical instruction for fiction writers about how to create engaging characters. This manual covers such topics as the character arc, a character’s inner as well as outer goals, qualities that make a character compelling, how character development fits with plot, how setting affects character development, character flaws, character voice, well-developed minor characters, realistic antagonists, and more.

This guide provides helpful reminders to the seasoned author, tips to help the intermediate writer raise the level of his storytelling, and instruction for the beginner. The occasional writing exercises offer writers an opportunity to apply what they are learning to their own works in progress.

Finally, Power Elements Of Character Development includes a list of resources for authors who wish to dig deeper in any given topic.

In total, this manual is a succinct blueprint for fiction writers to create characters that intrigue, entice, and compel readers to follow their story.

If you’d be so inclined to share this post with anyone you know who writes fiction, I’d be ever so grateful.

Christy Award Finalists


ReadingThe Christy Award finalists were announced today. I know that awards like this can easily leave out some of the best books—they might be independently published or the publisher chose not to invest in submitting a particular novel. All kinds of reasons.

Still, there’s no doubt these books deserve to go on a list of novels readers should consider buying. I mean, first an agent chose to represent the author, then an acquisitions editor took the manuscript to the publishing board, they decided to publish it, a substantive and a copy editor each worked with the author on it, then Christy judges chose it to be included with the other finalists. That’s a lot of people in the writing profession who believed in these books.

So why not consider adding them to your to be read list? I mean, this is the end of April, which means May is just around the corner. And we all know what follows May: SUMMER!!

You need good books during the summer to take with you on that vacation or to read when all your friends are away on vacation.

With all that in mind, here is the list of finalists:

CONTEMPORARY

Farewell, Four Waters by Kate McCord (RiverNorth, an imprint of Moody Publishing)
Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good by Jan Karon (G.P. Putnam’s Sons)
The Story Keeper by Lisa Wingate (Tyndale House Publishers)

CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE

A Broken Kind of Beautiful by Katie Ganshert (WaterBrook Multnomah)
Firewall by DiAnn Mills (Tyndale House Publishers)
Undetected by Dee Henderson (Bethany House Publishers, a division of Baker Publishing Group)

CONTEMPORARY SERIES

The Amish Blacksmith by Mindy Starns Clark and Susan Meissner (Harvest House Publishers)
Home to Chicory Lane by Deborah Raney (Abingdon Press)
When I Fall in Love by Susan May Warren (Tyndale House Publishers)

FIRST NOVEL

Feast for Thieves by Marcus Brotherton (RiverNorth, an imprint of Moody Publishing)
For Such a Time by Kate Breslin (Bethany House Publishers, a division of Baker Publishing Group)
House of Living Stones by Kate Schuermann (Concordia Publishing House)

HISTORICAL

The Advocate by Randy Singer (Tyndale House Publishers)
The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd (Viking)
The Sentinels of Andersonville by Tracy Groot (Tyndale House Publishers)

HISTORICAL ROMANCE

A Beauty So Rare by Tamera Alexander (Bethany House Publishers, a division of Baker Publishing Group)
Thief of Glory by Sigmund Brouwer (WaterBook Multnomah)
With Every Breath by Elizabeth Camden (Bethany House Publishers, a division of Baker Publishing Group)

SUSPENSE

The Color of Justice by Ace Collins (Abingdon Press)
A Cry from the Dust by Carrie Stuart Parks (Thomas Nelson, a division of Harper Collins Christian Publishing)
Sky Zone by Creston Mapes (David C Cook)

VISIONARY [Also known as speculative fiction: fantasy, science fiction, fairy tale, futuristic, etc.]

Once Beyond a Time by Ann Tatlock (Heritage Beacon Fiction)
Shadow Hand by Anne Elisabeth Stengl (Bethany House Publishers, a division of Baker Publishing Group)
A Time to Die by Nadine Brandes (Enclave Publishing)

YOUNG ADULT

Failstate: Nemesis by John W. Otte (Enclave Publishing)
This Quiet Sky by Joanne Bischof (Independently Published)
Storm Siren by Mary Weber (Thomas Nelson, a division of Harper Collins Christian Publishing)

Published in: on April 21, 2015 at 6:14 pm  Comments (2)  
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The Difference The Christian Worldview Makes


The-Amazing-Spider-Man-2-PosterThree particular works of fiction, two on TV and one on the big screen, have me thinking about the difference the Christian worldview makes. SPOILER ALERT FROM THIS POINT ON

The movie I saw was The Amazing Spider-man 2, the surprisingly well-done remake of the recent Spiderman series with Toby McGuire. This new, and very different, version stars Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone.

As you might expect from a superhero movie, Spiderman must confront Evil intent on wiping out all of New York City and/or dominating the world. The thing is, Spiderman himself is under scrutiny and criticism, but in the guise of Peter Parker, reveals the movie’s theme: Spiderman gives people a reason to hope.

In the end, though, I’m left wondering—are most people leaving the theater and thinking, Yes, Spiderman gives me hope? I doubt it for one simple reason: Spiderman is imaginary.

In reality, if very many people think about it, their plight is similar to the little boy facing the mechanized and weaponized criminal in the movie’s denouement. He’s alone and small and void of any means of defeating the adversary.

Nevertheless, standing in his little Spiderman costume, he faces the criminal down, his only hope being that the real Spiderman will return. And since we know Spiderman is imaginary, where does that leave us in the real world?

As a Christian, though, I have a different view. I can look at that movie and think, Spiderman may be imaginary, but Jesus is real. He gives real hope, eternal hope. Consequently, I’m uplifted, reminded that I’m not alone, that one greater than the evil I see in the world has taken it on and triumphed.

Yes, the defeated enemy is trying to do as much damage as possible in his final throes, but victory over him is sure. Therefore, I can stand against him confident that I am not alone, that at the right time, the soon and coming King will return.

The second bit of fiction that has me thinking about the difference a Christian worldview makes, is the new version of the Fox hit TV show, 24. Monday the season finale aired and as promised it held some shocking twists. As I’m watching these characters mourn unspeakable loss, all I can think is, this hurts them so much because they have no hope. Their whole life and purpose for existence were wrapped up in this relationship that has been taken from them, and now they have nothing to live for. On top of that, they have no hope of ever seeing that person again. For them, the person they love is forever gone.

In contrast, the Christian grieves death, but for two reasons our grief is different. First, even when a loved one is gone, the Christian still has, through Jesus Christ, the sure relationship with God, who will not fail us or forsake us, and we have the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit who gives us comfort.

Second, we have the hope of being united with believers who have gone on before us:

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words (1 Thess. 4:13-18).

Those with a different worldview have no such comfort.

Which brings me to the third piece of fiction, the old TV show called Numbers. I’m convinced that’s one of the best shows ever made, and one reason has to do with the fact that the writers were consciously exploring spiritual themes. No, they certainly weren’t doing so from a Christian point of view, but neither did they take a position that ruled out God, such as the writers understood Him to be.

Their main characters were of Jewish heritage. One took a hard line against the existence of God, another accepted some of the Jewish tradition void of belief, the third came to a point where he thought there had to be something more in life, so he began attending temple.

A station that specializes on “previously viewed” shows, is airing Numbers a few times a week. In the episode I recently saw, the character who’d started going to temple, an FBI agent who had survived a near-death attack, was contemplating his life. He said the attack made him realize how fragile humans are—that we are little more than a bag of bones and blood.

He also wondered about God in light of his attack. If He existed, why had He allowed this attack? The character thought perhaps the message of it all was that perhaps God didn’t exist after all.

While I appreciate the show bringing up the question, I was a little surprised with the juxtaposition of these two thoughts, coming from the same character. Stripped to their bare essentials, he was saying, Humans are weak and therefore, there is no God.

It’s a pretty honest assessment, apart from a Christian worldview. Man is weak. Humans are just like that little boy in Spider-man, in futility facing down insurmountable evil.

The stunning part is the conclusion that there is no God. As a Christian, I would praise God for staying the hand of the attacker so that the blow he dealt didn’t kill me. But to the character who thought there had to be more to life, God allowing the blow at all was proof, or at least a strong bit of evidence, that God didn’t exist after all.

I don’t know if there’s a more depressing conclusion: humans are weak and we are alone.

Those of us with a Christian worldview, of course, agree that we are weak, but we revel in the fact that we are NOT alone. Consequently, we have hope. And that makes all the difference.

Published in: on July 16, 2014 at 5:43 pm  Comments Off on The Difference The Christian Worldview Makes  
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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.

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.