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.

CSFF Blog Tour – The Ale Boy’s Feast by Jeffrey Overstreet, Part 1 The Dark World


Jeffrey Overstreet - photo by Matt Sumi

“A darkly complex world populated by a rich and diverse cast of characters, in which glimpses of haunting beauty shine through.” So said R. J. Anderson, author of Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter and Wayfarer in her endorsement of Jeffrey Overstreet‘s The Ale Boy’s Feast.

As I read this final edition of the Auralia Thread series, I am struck by how apropos that simple description is. Today I want to think a little bit about what created the darkness of this world.

Going back to the beginning of the series, I see darkness in the political structure. Rulers are autocratic, and punishments are merciless. Consequently there is a great divide between the privileged and the “criminal element,” poor people who are left to fend for themselves without the protection of government services.

In conjunction with this divide is rampant prejudice, within particular houses, or feudal realms, based on economic and social standing, and between the various houses of the land known as The Expanse.

In addition, there is darkness in this world’s history. One of the houses has fallen to ruin because its people have succumbed to a madness that turns them into dreaded beastmen. The effect on the remaining houses is decidedly negative. They shore up their defenses against raids and have less and less to do with outsiders.

A third element that creates the dark tone of these books is the various dangers that encroach. There are dangers from outside the “civilized” communities, but there are also traitorous dangers from within. Each seems to grow as the series progresses.

Another source of darkness is the false religion, and the seers who teach it, that holds sway over one of the houses. Those following the seers are powerful but unprincipled. They pose a threat to every good character in the story.

Along with this aspect is the unknown of the “childish superstitions” that most adults deny — the existence of the Keeper and the reality of the Northchildren. Belief and disbelief create division and suspicion. At times, the most rational of people can’t tell if they are dreaming or experiencing something from a realm beyond.

Finally, the bleak landscape creates darkness. Even if Deathweed weren’t devouring all living things and turning The Expanse into a wilderness, places like The Eastern Heatlands and the Forbidding Wall still produce an atmosphere of gloom and foreboding.

Quite a dark world, indeed. But then there are those “glimpses of haunting beauty.”

I’ll take a look at that aspect next time.

For your enjoyment, spend some time with others discussing this fourth of four, the White Strand in the Auralia Thread.

Check marks are direct links to tour-related articles.

– – – – –

NOTE: Tour participants, the Amazon link you received for our featured book is broken. You may use this one, or another of your choosing.

CBBT – Wayfarer by R. J. Anderson, Day 3


Wayfarer, the Children’s Book Blog Tour feature for June, is R. J. Anderson‘s second novel. I had the privilege of reviewing the first, Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter back in March, which is why I jumped on the opportunity to participate in this tour.

Despite the fact that my initial reaction to stories about faeries was negative, I found myself wholly engrossed in the world and the characters Anderson created. So that brings me to the review of Wayfarer, the sequel to the book that introduced me to the Oakenwyld and the faeries without magic.

The Story. Fifteen years after the end of Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter Linden, the step-daughter to the main character I grew to love, is ready to take on an adult role in the Oakenwyld. But she faces a dying world. Her queen, the only faery with magic in the Oak, is dying, and along with her, the glimpse that keeps predators from knowing that a colony of faeries lives inside.

Linden receives a portion of the queen’s magic and the assignment to find other faeries who can restore the magic to the dwindling and endangered group.

Meanwhile, a new human moves into the big house—Paul’s young nephew Timothy, the son of missionaries who is experiencing a crisis of faith. In days, feeling confused, betrayed and alone, Timothy strikes out on his own.

Except unbeknown to him, Linden goes along. And so their adventures begin. Both their lives and the ones they love are at risk unless they team up to find help.

Strengths. It’s hard for me to say how much I loved this book. At one point as I was reading, I had to put it down and think about how well crafted it was. I was fully engaged, the plot complications naturally ratcheted the tension higher, and the stakes became greater.

How did she do it, I asked myself. One event naturally grew out of another event, one choice naturally let to a greater problem. And the story bloomed before my eyes.

Danger, intrigue, surprise. These are the hallmarks of a great plot. But this story was more. It also had great characters—believable, troubled, courageous, ultimately sacrificial. They became admirable and I wanted so very much to see them succeed.

And still there was more. Wayfarer addresses some deep issues, perhaps the central most being the need to take a risk on behalf of others rather than to seek a selfishly safe haven for a few like-minded folk (or faeries).

Weakness. A few reviewers said they liked Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter a bit more than Wayfarer. I didn’t feel that way. I loved them equally.

If I had to give a criticism, I’d say this one started a little slow. I was shocked to be in the point of view of a human boy in the first chapter (I blame this on the girlie-girl cover). I also thought he was an unreliable narrator because he found fault with the characters I loved in the first book. So it took me a little while to warm up to Timothy.

The turning point for me was when Linden did the first heroic deed. Because I wanted her to succeed, I also wanted Timothy to succeed, and I was hooked.

Recommendation. I consider this one a must read for fantasy lovers. I give the book my highest recommendation to anyone, young or old, male or female, who loves a good story.

Finally, I’d like to invite you to see what tour participants are talking about (several have some excellent author interviews).

Special thanks to HarperTeen, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, for supplying me with a review copy of Wayfarer.

CBBT – Wayfarer by R. J. Anderson, Day 2


Shortly after the CSFF Blog Tour for R. J. Anderson‘s first novel, Faery Rebel: Spell Hunter, I lent my copy to a friend who writes YA fantasy. She’s even written a faery story though it hasn’t found a publishing home. I knew she’d be interested in reading a story about Knife and the faeries without magic.

When our next writer get-together drew near, I asked for the book back because a couple other people were in line to read it. Lo and behold, my friend had started it, but her target-audience daughter snatched it up and devoured it instead. In fact, my friend reported how on pins and needles said daughter was, waiting for Wayfarer.

Thinking that I’d be through with the Children’s Book Blog Tour (I got my dates wrong), I’d said I would pass along my ARC in exchange for the first book. Oh, woe! I feel like I’ve disappointed this eager reader!

But here’s the point. Too often when I’m doing reviews, I lose sight of the target audience. I formulate my opinion based on my likes and dislikes, my expectations and interests, my writing style preferences. I try not to, but it happens. Then I encounter the raw enthusiasm of a reader in love with a new world she’s discovered, and I realize, as much as I may have liked Wayfarer (and I DID), it pales in comparison to the joy a target-audience reader will experience.

Stories like the ones the talented R. J. Anderson has written spark something in young readers, I think. They stretch the world and make all things seem possible. They create mystery but also throw down the gauntlet of becoming to those moving toward adulthood.

A young person can grow to be selfish, using others and protecting self, or he can grow to be sacrificial, helping others and giving himself away. Anderson paints the contrasts clearly and even paints the risks of sacrifice accurately. Good choices aren’t necessarily happy choices. They usually cost.

But when a character a reader loves makes the good choice, somehow that reader, especially that young reader, is ennobled. Suddenly, the idea that sacrifice and selflessness can be achieved and will make a difference seems like an idea for today, for now, for the young as much as for the old.

That’s when stories take on power. That’s when they become much more than entertainment, much more than enjoyable.

That’s the kind of book I believe Wayfarer is.

See what others on the CBBT circuit think:

Special thanks to HarperTeen, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, for supplying me with a review copy of Wayfarer.

CBBT – Wayfarer by R. J. Anderson, Day 1


Here’s Post #2 for today, my contribution to the Children’s Book Blog Tour featuring Wayfarer, R. J. Anderson‘s sequel to Faery Rebel: Spell Hunter, (HarperCollins). I already know, any CSFF Blog Tour participants who see this post will be jealous because I’ve had a chance to read Anderson’s second book (which just released this week) because the first one was so popular with those who recently reviewed it.

I’m happy to say, Wayfarer doesn’t suffer a sophomore jinx like so many second books do. The story continues what the first one started and is as exciting and full of suspense, intrigue, twists, and truth as its predecessor.

I’ll admit, the US cover (pictured above, on the right—the other is the UK version) threw me. During the CSFF Blog Tour for Anderson’s debut novel, a number of reviewers commented on the pixy-like image on the cover, reminiscent of Tinkerbell (you can see that cover pictured here). Since that image fit what I thought of in connection to faeries, I wasn’t troubled. But this more adult, prim and proper version pictured on the cover of Wayfarer was a little off-putting.

Then I started reading. After the short prologue I discovered this story was as much a boy’s story as it was a faery’s. And, quite frankly, in the early going, I missed Knife (the main character in the first book).

But all these concerns led to nothing. I soon forgot about the girlie-girl cover and came to care for Timothy as I delved into the fast-paced, fun story that pushes the reader to think more deeply about … a variety of things—home, family, trust, selfishness, sacrifice, kindness, truthfulness, courage. There’s a LOT in this enjoyable story.

Plus, in a crucial place, Knife stepped up to be … Knife, which added to my delight. The character I’d grown to love in the last book wasn’t just a place holder or window dressing, even though Wayfarer wasn’t her story. She played a significant role, and I loved this book more because of it.

But there was lots to love about this story for itself. While I didn’t lose my attachment to Knife (and in fact actually felt more fond of her than ever), I quickly came to care about Linden and Timothy.

Wayfarer is its own story, not a repeat of the earlier book. The characters were unique, the conflict ratcheted higher, and the effects spread wider with more at stake. In other words, this story felt bigger, more complex.

But enough of my introduction.

Take a look at what other Children’s Book Blog Tour participants have to say about Wayfarer:

Special thanks to HarperTeen, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, for supplying me with a review copy of Wayfarer.

Fantasy Friday – CSFF Blog Tour Wrap


Last week I left for Mount Hermon on the day that I normally would do the CSFF Blog Tour wrap, so I’m slipping it in today.

We ended up the tour for R. J. Anderson’s Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter with twenty-nine participating bloggers who created forty-nine articles.

Here are the participants eligible for consideration as the Top Tour Blogger for March, along with links to their three posts.

Please take a peek at the articles, then vote for the blogger you think most deserving. You’ll have one week before the poll closes.

Thanks for your participation.

Published in: on April 2, 2010 at 12:15 pm  Comments Off on Fantasy Friday – CSFF Blog Tour Wrap  
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CSFF Blog Tour – Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter, Day 3


CSFF’ers are having a good time on this tour for Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter by R. J. Anderson. There’s some excellent content to enjoy. You won’t want to miss YA author Sally Apokedak‘s review, Tim Hick‘s thoughtful summation of its value, or Fred Warren‘s humorous take on manly men reading this faery story.

Now it’s my turn to review this wonderful middle grade/YA/adult book. Already I tipped my hand—I think this is one of those stories that qualifies as a crossover. It is not limited to a certain-aged reader or to a specific gender or to a particular worldview. All this book needs, in my opinion, is more recognition.

The Story. The main character is called Bryony after her egg-mother, but when she becomes a teen, she chooses to go by Knife. However, her real name, known only to her and to those to whom she wishes to give it is … well, when you read the book, then she will have chosen to tell you, too. 😉

Bryony lives in a faery colony, one that has a number of oddities about it. For one, the denizens are all female. For another, only the queen has magic. Then too, they are no longer making any thing new or creative. And they stay in their home, a large oak tree situated near a house inhabited by Humans the faeries are deathly afraid of—so much so that the queen only allows Gatherers and her Hunter to venture outside.

Ah, but Byrony wants so much to fly free into the wide world. When she comes of age, the queen assigns her an adult job, and to her surprise she is chosen to be the Hunter. And so her adventures begin as she protects the Gatherers, hunts meat for the colony, and encounters a human. Or, more accurately, re-encounters him.

And there I’ll stop. You have enough to get the flavor of the story and perhaps the drift, though it takes an astute reader to see where this tale is going. Which brings me to the next part of this review.

Strengths. In my opinion, Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter has everything a reader could want. The characters are realistic—yes, even as faeries; if I didn’t know better, I’d be tempted to check the tree outside my window to see who was living there! 😛 I especially loved seeing the human world through the eyes of the faeries. So a boy is a monster and a wheelchair a throne.

The plot was excellent too, and for me, that means, unpredictable. Lots of surprises, but all of it was so well foreshadowed that none of it seemed outlandish or jarring. There was intrigue, twists, mystery, friendship, self-sacrificial love.

The themes of this book were wonderfully woven into the fabric of the story. No authorial commandeering to make sure the reader “gets it.” And of course, not everyone will get it all. I’m sure I didn’t. But that’s OK. The central themes are ones that come from the ultimate choices and actions of the characters and will have an impact, one way or the other.

The Christian worldview influences I saw include the Gardner, though he is invoked more as a curse word than anything. The faery colony has all the earmarks of a world that has experienced a Fall. Great loses, to the point that the faeries no longer remember what life was like Before or how things got to be The Way They Are Now. They certainly don’t know how to fix things, though the queen tries. And as is true about self-effort, she makes a hash of things.

There’s also a picture of the Incarnation, though I don’t want to say too much about that so as not to spoil the story. I already mentioned the self-sacrifice, and the cool thing is, these two—incarnation and self-sacrifice—are shown by two different characters, two different types of Christ. In other words, the story is not attempting to be allegorical, but there is typology for those who wish to see it.

Weaknesses. In my opinion, the only weakness is the limitations put upon the book by calling it Middle Grade fantasy. The implication is that the story is for children only. Not so. Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter needs to find a wider market because it is that good.

Recommendation. I suppose you can already tell I’m enthusiastic about this one. I’m going to go out on a limb. Even as Narnia is a series written for children but enjoyed by young and old alike, so too is Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter. I recommend this book for anyone who loves a good story.

CSFF Blog Tour – Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter, Day 2


Commercials first, or if you’d rather, announcements:

  • To find a list of other bloggers participating in the CSFF Tour for R. J. Anderson’s Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter, see yesterday’s Day 1 post.
  • If you haven’t voted in the Titles—Which Captures Your Attention? poll yet, please click on the link and take a minute to give your opinion. Thanks. 😀
  • And now back to our regularly scheduled blog post—more discussion about Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter—well, to be accurate, discussion about the author of Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter, R. J. Anderson.

    Yesterday, in her tour post, Donita Paul said, “I have got to meet the lady who wrote this book.” That made me think, I bet a lot of our participants would like to know more about R. J. (Rebecca—cool name, don’t you think? 😉 ) Anderson.

    The sad thing was, when I approached her about availability to do interviews, she had to decline because she’s on deadline. I certainly understand, but it is our loss. R. J. is an intelligent, thoughtful writer; an interesting person; and a committed Christian.

    I’ll just mention here in passing how much I love the first part of the Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter dedication: “To my father, the voice of Aslan.” Is that perfect for a Christian writing fantasy, or what!

    Prompted by Donita’s comment, I did a little research to see if I could learn more about R. J. Happily, there are several interviews online, and each one has a different slant. In the first, I learned some fun facts.

    Which of the following, would you guess, influenced R. J. in writing Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter: J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, the X-Men, the Flower Fairies books? If you said, All of These, you’d be right!

    And how long do you think it took this book (titled Knife in the UK where it first came out) from inception to publication: 2 years, 8 years, 10 years, 15 years? Not, All of These, you goofs. 😆 But the book was 15 years in the making.

    If you’d like to read the interview for yourself, you can learn more.

    Of course you can also visit R. J.’s blog at LiveJournal or you can follow her on Twitter. (I think we’ll have to see what we can do about getting her on Facebook too).

    HarperCollins has a great author interview posted as well. In it, R. J. answers the “why fantasy” question, something I’m sure CSFF’ers and other fantasy fans would be interested in:

    I’m always fascinated by questions of “What if?” It interests me to play around with possibilities and new ideas, and I’m also interested in the meaning behind those ideas. To me, fantasy and SF offer a chance to explore emotional, philosophical, and moral issues in a fresh and interesting way. You can talk about good and evil in a fantasy context, for instance, in a way that it’s difficult to do believably in other genres. And besides, it’s fun. I love seeing the ingenuity of other authors who invent new worlds and new magical systems for their stories—building a really believable and consistent fantasy world is one of the purest expressions of creativity I know.

    Another interview taking a “behind the scenes” approach, with this teaser:

    But as far as the story itself goes, I think I’m most pleased with the way that certain themes and… I hesitate to say “morals” because that makes it sound preachy, so maybe “ideals” is a better word… came out naturally in the course of revising the manuscript. I didn’t want to force anything in there, but on the other hand, I didn’t just want to write an exciting story with no depth or substance to it, so it was a relief when I realized that there actually was more going on than just “tough faery action heroine kicks crow butt, saves world, details at eleven”.

    One more centered more on the writing process. Here’s the teaser:

    The book changed a lot between the draft that sold and the final published version. The basic framework of the story was the same, the order of the main events and so on, but my editor challenged me to make sure everything was tight and consistent and that I’d thought through every aspect of the plot and how it affected the characters, which resulted in a much more layered and nuanced story. I was just feeling all proud of myself after taking the book to pieces and rebuilding it from the ground up, and then she said gently, “Well, we’re about half done. But what about this and this and this? Let’s do it again.” It was definitely a rethinking-and-rewriting process, rather than just tweaking bits here and there. But it was so worth it, and I learned a great deal from the process.

    Enjoy getting to know R. J. Anderson. She’s an author I think we’ll be hearing about for a long time.

    Special thanks to the publisher for providing me with a review copy of the book.

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