Unity And Disagreement


Apparently I entered the Christian fiction wars again last week with my Thursday post, “The Misconception About Weaker Brothers.” The irony is, I actually intended to remove some of the shrapnel the combatants so often use to snipe at each other. But according to Fred Warren at Spec Faith, Sally Apokedak at Facebook, and Mike Duran in the comments to the above post, I apparently initiated an incursion. Not my intention.

The truth is, Christians aren’t supposed to be warring with each other. Paul said to the church in Philippi

make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.

Later in the book he scolded two women who weren’t living in harmony with each other, and earlier he pointed out there were some believers preaching Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives. About the latter, he said, So what? Just as long as Christ is being preached, that’s all that matters.

Which brings me to the fiction wars. The issue in question is whether or not Christian writers should use profanity and cussing in fiction. (Sometimes references to sex get thrown into the mix as well, but of late the topic has centered on “certain” words).

Both sides have their reasons and their verses–one of the more popular being Romans 14, which I addressed in my “Misconception” post and even more so in “Weaker Brothers, Legalists, And Christian Fiction”, believing as I do that so many of us are ignoring clear passages of Scripture in order to make this a treatise on how to handle “gray areas.”

In all honesty, I don’t see why Christians can’t look at each other’s writing and conclude, So what? Just as long as Christ is being preached. OK, I could hear it from the abstainers before I’d finished typing the sentence: But they’re not preaching Christ. They admit it. They don’t even think they have to have good theology in their books. They’re sacrificing truth at the altar of art.

I submit that this position isn’t tenable. No one knows what God can or will use in someone else’s life or for what purpose. For example a story with some of “those words” may well bring a reader to the author’s Facebook page or blog where he will hear the gospel or at least interact with Christians.

At the same time, I can hear the accommodaters saying, YIKES! Preaching in fiction? That’s been the whole problem with Christian fiction and the very thing we’re crusading against!!!! (OK, maybe only two exclamation points. 😉 )

So what, I say. There are Christian brothers and sisters who have a different vision of fiction than you do. But aren’t we to be serving the same Lord? Aren’t we to have one purpose?

Not the same methods, mind you. It’s the whole feet-hands-ears-and-eyes argument showing that even the small and apparently offensive parts of the body are important and necessary. So why can’t abstainer writers simply look at the accommodater writers and say, there go those smelly old feet. I’m sure glad they’re trudging the mean streets for me. Or why can’t the accommodater writers say, there are those Bible-thumping hands. I’m sure glad they’re out there contending for the faith, even in stories.

The fact is, there are no winners in the Christian fiction writer wars. No winners. None. When we judge each other or treat each other with contempt, the Church loses. We are to love each other as a demonstration of our relationship with God through Jesus Christ. When we fail to demonstrate love for one another, we give the world the opportunity to discredit God’s name.

This does not mean we need to wave the white flag of surrender or that we need to find a position with which we can all agree. I suspect we won’t. This does not mean we should stop stating what we believe. Most of us have that right and freedom–thank God.

It does mean, however, that we refuse to fight with each other, that we respect those who disagree with us, that we stop treating them, even in subtle ways, as incompetent or inferior, either spiritually or artistically. It means that we make a decision to value our witness over our ideas about writing.

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CSFF Blog Tour – Residential Aliens, Day 2


Illustration from Fred Warren's story "Beatitude"

Science fiction seems to be in short supply if we’re talking about stories written from a Christian worldview. Fantasy isn’t plentiful either, though supernatural suspense and supernatural thriller seems to have a bit stronger representation, thanks in large part to what Realms Fiction, a division of Strang Communications, has produced.

Because of the scarcity of speculative fiction, any number of enterprising authors set out to bring to the Christian market the stories so many desired. Bill Snodgrass founded Double Edge Publishing with its accompanying ezines: Sword Review; Dragons, Knights, and Angels; Ray Gun Revival; Haruah; and eventually MindFlights. Frank Creed started the Lost Genre Guild and the Writers Cafe Press. A handful of authors launched this CSFF Blog Tour and the team blog, Speculative Faith. T.W. Ambrose initiated the zine Digital Dragon; Grace Bridges founded Splashdown Books; and Jeff Gerke established Marcher Lord Press.

Undoubtedly there are a number of other endeavors which I’m not familiar with, and sadly some are no longer in existence. However, Lyn Perry’s zine Residential Aliens which CSFF is featuring this month, is going strong. Launched on July 1, 2007, ResAliens has published speculative stories written by over thirty authors, eight of which happen to be members of CSFF.

It is my privilege to point you to those stories in the hope that you’ll take some time this week (perhaps starting now? 🙂 ) to read at least one of each of our members’ stories put out by ResAliens: Brandon Barr, Fred Warren, Grace Bridges, Jeff Chapman, Jessica Thomas, John Ottinger, Mike Lynch, R. L. Copple.

I trust you’ll also visit the other bloggers who are buzzing about ResAliens. Bruce Hennigan has an excellent introductory post. D. G. Davidson (welcome back!) gave a thumbnail review of four of the stories from the archives. Brandon Barr, Jeff Chapman, and Fred Warren all unashamedly pointed readers to their stories (that’s a good thing — if they didn’t like their stories well enough to tell people about them, what would that say? 🙄 )

Tomorrow I’ll give you my review of … well, you’ll just have to come back and see. 😉

Writing Lone Wolves Or Inkling-like Writing Communities


At one of my first Mount Hermon Christian Writer’s Conference, I asked a particular writer I respected if that person was in a critique group. “No,” came the answer, “I really don’t have the time.”

On another occasion, because I had learned and grown so much through the on-line critique group I belonged to, I challenged an editing client to get involved with a group so that person could receive feedback other than mine. Again, the answer was, “I’d like to, but it just isn’t practical with my schedule.”

As I peruse recent fiction releases, I find it interesting to read the acknowledgments page. Some writers thank everyone from the teacher who taught them to read to their current editing team and every writing group they’ve belonged to in between.

Others include no acknowledgments page.

I think of these latter writers, like those who admit they aren’t part of a critique group, as writing lone wolves. They have minimal web presence, don’t show up in writing communities or at writing conferences, either as teachers or conferees. They may still sell books, though, and may be skilled writers.

The other group seems eager to engage fellow writers and industry professionals. They want to swap “how to” information, exchange prayer requests, answer questions, cheer even small victories, and offer that analytic eye that tells an author if he’s on the right track or not.

Is there a right way or a wrong way to go about this writing business?

I’m thinking about this for several reasons. First, years ago when I heard of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien’s Oxford group of writers that came to be known as the Inklings, I wanted the same thing. How great to sit around a pub, reading your work and getting feedback from some of the great minds of your era. It sounded so magical. How could they miss becoming great writers in that environment?

More recently, however, two very different sources have me thinking about the subject again. One came via Fred Warren’s Spec Faith article “Scouting The Competition.” In that post Fred discusses what Mormon writers are doing that has vaulted many of them into the ranks of published science fiction or fantasy writers.

As required reading for anyone who wanted to comment, Fred linked to “The Class That Would Not Die,” an article that gives the history of a movement started at BYU that brought a number of Mormon sci fi and fantasy writers into community.

A couple days later, in response to articles by Jeffrey Overstreet and Jonathan Rogers, Sally Apokedak wrote an excellent post about self-promotion versus loving your neighbor.

Obviously self-promoters are still in community (they have to have someone to whom they are promoting), so they wouldn’t exactly fall into the lone wolf category. Or would they?

Some lone wolves, it would seem, are predatory. They are more interested in their work, their progress, their successes, with little interest in “giving back.” They begin most comments, “In my article (book, blog post, interview, podcast, trailer, tour, book blurb, Tweet, etc.) …”

Other lone wolves really are alone. They resemble writers of old, tucked away in a patron’s loft, where they worked day and night to eke out subsistence wages. And they like it that way — except for the subsistence wages part.

Some of these writers take the stand that they are artists, not promoters. Others believe God has called them to write books not Facebook updates.

On the other side of the planet there is the gregarious bunch — those who have to force themselves away from social media to get back to the task at hand, because if truth comes out, they are perfectly happy talking about writing whether or not they ever publish a thing. These writers have no problem joining critique groups or writing associations. They love to attend conferences and join in writing discussions with frequency.

As I look at this, I see admirable qualities in the lone wolf who sticks by conviction and works with diligence despite minimal feedback. I also see wonderful qualities in those who freely give to other writers with no return expectations. They are generous with their time because they love helping. They are the ones who love their neighbor without thinking they have come upon a good promotional strategy.

But then there are those predatory wolves — not so admirable. Sometimes they don’t operate alone, either; they work in packs. Which makes me realize gregarious writers are just as susceptible to becoming one of them as the lone wolf is.

Honestly, the writing life seems filled with traps. I see only one way through:

Be anxious for nothing but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God (Phil. 4:6).

CSFF Blog Tour – Starlighter by Bryan Davis, Day 2


Time, time, there’s not enough time to read all the interesting things CSFF bloggers are saying about Starlighter, Bryan Davis‘s recent release, the first in the Dragons of Starlight series (Zondervan). There are a couple posts, however, you won’t want to miss.

For a wonderful, detailed account of the story, see Jeff Chapman‘s day two post. Also in day two, Fred Warren took a look at how the Starlight dragons compare to others in the dragon tradition. For discussion about the mixture of science fiction and fantasy that seemed to snag some readers, see John Otte‘s day two post.

Me, I’ve been thinking about betrayal.


* * * SPOILER ALERT – Of necessity, some discussion of plot points ahead * * *

On both worlds featured in Starlighter, Starlight and Darksphere, the leaders seem to be corrupt. While giving the appearance of doing what is good for their people, they are actually trying to achieve some particular personal goals.

At this point in the series, the goals are not clear, but my supposition is that rulers on one planet wish for power and those on the other, for wealth. Whatever the reason, they are willing to do unspeakable things to achieve their ends—enslave a group of people by breaking the wills of children, selling children into slavery and lying about it, working against those who would rescue the lost.

How did such greedy or power-hungry people (or dragons) come to positions of prominence? So far the story doesn’t really go there (nor do I think it necessarily needs to), but on one planet intrigue and deception, suppression and assassination seem to rule. On the other, the pretense of following the law is in place, but this is for appearances only. Lies and manipulation and treachery and rebellion are strong undercurrents running through the power structure.

A few observations.

  • Betrayal makes for intriguing plot elements. Thinking of Starlighter in particular, I soon found myself questioning who was on the side of right and who the protagonists could actually trust.
  • Betrayal is something endemic to human nature, so we can all understand it, we can all abhor it. Consequently, characters in dark circumstances because of betrayal, or a misuse of power, are immediately sympathetic.
  • Abuse of power might be a defining element for a villain. Writing instructors often point out that an antagonist isn’t necessarily a villain. He may simply be someone who wants the same thing that the protagonist does. He isn’t evil, but in his efforts to fulfill his desires, he comes into direct conflict with the protagonist. The villain, however, has something else besides a strong desire. He has selfish motives. And he has power which he uses to achieve his personal agenda—which also comes into conflict with the hero’s goals.

I could go on. Lots to consider in thinking about corrupt leadership. But for other insights, discussions, reviews, and interviews, see what the other tour participants are posting (links to specific posts listed at the end of yesterday’s post).

In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

Fiction That Means Something


I almost copied the comment SilentFred (also known as Fred Warren, one of the June CSFF Top Blogger Award finalists) left to “More Thoughts about Worldview.” His views are right on and beautifully expressed—from the extended fishing metaphor to the Biblical instruction and personal example. Great!

I really appreciate all the thoughtful reactions in this discussion. Obviously this is a topic near and dear to my heart, which is why I keep coming back to it—why, in fact, I included it in the name of this blog.

So is there a conclusion? Are we left with Whatever? I hope not. Here are some things I’ve gleaned:

Christian fiction and Christian worldview fiction are not the same thing, nor do they necessarily have the same goal. (But a Christian worldview OF fiction looks at all fiction from a Christian worldview, though mostly on this blog I’ve been writing about a Christian worldview and Christian fiction.)

The fiction Christians write varies from that which writers intend for evangelism to that which they hope entertains, with any number of intermediary types in between.

Because the scale has long been tipped toward evangelism, a backlash has brought an increase in titles designed to do little more than entertain.

Both the titles aiming to evangelize and those aiming to entertain contribute to the reputation Christian fiction (used broadly as bookstores use the term) has for being shallow.

Christians don’t have to be afraid of writing with a purpose. Letting our Christianity show doesn’t automatically make bad fiction.

God can use our best efforts, and He can use our feeble efforts, if He so chooses. (“Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, … [they] proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives … What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice” Phil. 1:15-18)

The goal is to glorify God, and I’m not privy to how God brings glory to Himself out of what sinful Man does. I want to write a book that shows God, but I also want to sell that book and make enough money to work as a novelist (and maybe become rich and famous! 😉 . When are my God-glorifying motives ever free from my selfish, self-sufficient, self-indulgent motives?

A call for Christians to write fiction with more substance isn’t a slap in the face but a proper exhortation—we should all want to grow in grace and the knowledge of our Savior. And that growth should be reflected in what we write.

I’m sure there’s more, but I’m trying to do a better job staying within my (self-imposed) word count.

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