Not Ashamed Of The Gospel


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Because we are Indian,” said Shridula.

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

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

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

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

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

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

CSFF Blog Tour Wrap – Outcasts By Jill Williamson


CSFFTopBloggerJan14What a great tour for Outcasts, the second book in Jill Williamson’s The Safe Lands series. Not only did the tour participants provide great content, a number of people shared the posts via Twitter or Facebook. Reviews of Outcasts spread to Amazon and Goodreads and any number of other social media sites. In other words, buzz is happening.

RebelscoverIn the end, twenty-two bloggers posted about Outcasts. Notably Meagan @ Blooming with Books posted a short interview with Jill, asking specific questions related to the Safe Lands; Jason Joyner discussed why dystopian fiction is the perfect genre for Christians; Julie Bihn speculated about the third book in the series, Rebels, based on the back cover reveal at Goodreads; and Shannon McDermott took an intriguing look at the various factions opposing the Safe Lands regime. (Sadly, due to illness, Steve Trower was not able to regale us with his usual Tour Tuesday Tunes post. I’m sure it would have been remarkable!)

In all there are a grand-total of thirty-four posts connected with the tour about Outcasts. Several pointed to the captivating (pun intended) book trailer for the first in the Safe Lands series, Captives. If anyone is still vacillating about whether or not to jump in and read this series, perhaps the video will help you decide.

Also, the new plan, for now anyway, is for me as the CSFF Grand Puba or Overlord or Head Honcho–whatever names our members use–to choose the winner of the Top Tour Blogger Award instead of putting it to a vote. So, I’m happy to announce that the January 2014 winner is Julie Bihn! Congratulations, Julie, and thanks for giving us such interesting and original content in your posts.

And now the video:

Published in: on January 23, 2014 at 6:53 pm  Comments Off on CSFF Blog Tour Wrap – Outcasts By Jill Williamson  
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CSFF Blog Tour – Outcasts by Jill Williamson, Day 1


Outcasts cover

Addressing Frank Topics

This month the CSFF Blog Tour is featuring Outcasts by Jill Williamson, book 2 of the young adult dystopian fantasy series The Safe Lands. Because of Jill’s experience working along side her husband with youth in churches, she understands the pressures and temptations, hopes and desires, teenagers deal with. Rather than side-stepping frank topics, Jill faces them head-on, and I think this series is the richer for it.

I can’t think of the last time I read a book in which one of the point of view characters was struggling with lust and addiction. If only those twin demons were not part of the inner life of today’s youth. Unfortunately, I think the truth is the opposite. Our culture has held up sex as the Great Desire and the Inescapable Conduct. Consequently kids from homes and churches that teach abstinence automatically are faced with a struggle.

Their own desires are fanned into flames by the music aimed at their demographic, TV and movies, their peers, and sometimes even their parents (some wishing to live vicariously through their teens). When the culture tells them sex is natural (it is), and all that matters is that they do it safely (it is not), but the church, and more importantly, the Bible tell them sex is to be reserved for a monogamous marriage relationship between a man and woman, teens are bound to struggle. Their own passions align with the culture. Their head says one thing, their desires another.

Who helps teens navigate across this divide? Too often this is a period of their lives when they are distancing themselves from their parents as part of their growing-up-and-becoming-independent stage. Do youth leaders talk frankly with teens about how to handle the urges they’re experiencing? I suspect so. But I also suspect these kinds of talks simply give teens more information.

Stories are different. They show. Outcasts shows. Here’s a teen, two teens, three teens dealing with the same stuff, the same sexual desires, the same craving induced by mood-enhancing substances. The characters take different paths and the outcome of their choices is a natural part of the story. No preaching. No lecture. No one drawing conclusions for the reader.

Instead, the story itself gives models for teen readers. They can draw their own conclusions, understand, perhaps, their own feelings a little better in light of the struggle they see the characters experience.

The subject matter is frank, not graphic or indulgent, but not pretending that things are better or easy, even when a character wishes to change. Outcasts is an honest treatment of sensitive material, without making it The Focal Point of the story.

I think this is a huge triumph for both Jill Williamson and the editors at Blink for bringing this book, this series to readers.

Other CSFF members participating in the tour are listed below. A check mark links to a CSFF post about Outcasts.

CSFF Blog Tour – Captives by Jill Williamson, Day 3


CaptivesSafeLandscoverAnother set of interesting posts in the CSFF Blog Tour for Captives by Jill Williamson, including an enjoyable interview with the author. Be sure to check out the other blogs featuring this intriguing, in some ways, disturbing, young adult dystopian fantasy.

From my perspective, Captives is an example of what Christian speculative fiction should be. There’s been some recent discussion at author and friend Mike Duran’s site about speculative fiction. In the concluding paragraph of his post, Mike says

if Realm Makers [the recent conference for Christian speculative fiction] is about simply reproducing CBA-style fiction for speculative readers, I believe we’ve failed. (emphasis in the original)

Later, in one of his comments, Mike adds

Without some type of extensive vision, which would include, for lack of better words, a “theology of Christian spec-fic,” we’re just mimicking ACFW, replacing Amish / Romance fans with spec fans. In order to compete with other professionals cons or associations, I believe we would have to address some of the same issues Christian fiction faces re: culture, theology, and art.

Further on he calls for “more intellectual rigor”and then goes on to say

I believe the Christian publishing industry needs a Fiction Reformation of sorts. Our “theology of art” keeps us beholden to an ultra-conservative readership and stymies creativity. While I don’t believe Christians should ever have to apologize for their beliefs, I do think Realm Makers could benefit by actively distancing themselves from the existing industry and its strictures, determine to represent a larger swath of beliefs, and have a bit more of a “broad tent” approach regarding authors and audiences.

Because I’m invested in speculative fiction, fantasy in particular, this discussion has been of considerable interest to me. I’m also a Christian, believing the Bible to be true and authoritative and inspired by God Himself. From some people’s perspective, I’m hamstrung as a fantasy writer because I have this box constructed by my theology that keeps me hemmed in.

I’ve refuted that notion from time to time, but as I read Mike’s remarks, I realized I don’t want to be in a “broad tent” with “a larger swath of beliefs” if that means cozying up to falsehood.

I guess you’d say my theology of art means that I aim to show truth through the means of beauty. Not that I write about beauty or that my writing must be poetic and lyrical (though that isn’t a bad thing, either). Rather, the novel art form needs to be “pulled off” well. The story needs to be entertaining, the characters well-developed and properly motivated, the setting fully created, and the theme tightly woven throughout.

Which brings me to truth. What Jill has done, in my opinion, is show this world, our world, as it is by creating the dystopian world of her story. Shannon McDermott put it this way:

the dual worlds of this dystopia are not too unlike the dual worlds of our present time.

The world is not as dissolute or libertine as the Safe Lands; the Christian community is not as strict or isolated as Glenrock. Yet the parallels may be drawn long.

The Christian community, like Glenrock, has a sternness – you could almost say a harshness – that stands against the looseness of worldly ways. “Take the straight and narrow path, or you’ll go to hell;” “Don’t do that, don’t go there, don’t even think about that.” A Christian is called by the unyielding will and holiness of God to a web of commands and duties.

And the young, brought up in that web and looking out, see the world – all awhirl, glittering with lights and flashing with colors. It promises all you could ever want.

So the Safe Lands were to Mia and Omar, and they believed the promise. But as the whole book shows, the beauty of the world is shallow, and beneath the foam of pleasure is an ocean of despair.

The lessons of Captives – how one can be corrupted by bad company, how the small falls make the large ones easy, how deceptive the world’s seduction is – are good for anyone.

So here’s the thing. Jill showed the fallacies of both worlds and of the different characters. She also did it within the “strictures of the CBA,” meaning that she didn’t use cussing as we know it, she didn’t gratuitously linger on the violence, and she didn’t have graphic sex scenes. Does that make her story lacking in “intellectual rigor”?

She created a story that qualifies as a “beautiful novel,” in the sense that it excelled in each of the structure elements. It also was a truthful novel–truthful about our world and truthful about God’s truth (which we really ought not to see as two different things, in my opinion). So what intellectual rigor is missing?

In the end, I guess I’m saying, I think it’s a false assumption that a Christian writer can’t honor conservative mores and still create quality literature. I think it’s a false assumption to say that “CBA fiction” all falls into the category of lacking intellectual rigor. It’s no more true than that all general market fiction achieves intellectual rigor.

But here’s the thing. Only the people who read Christian speculative fiction are in a position to know whether it is “second class” because of the strictures to which it must adhere. I for one didn’t find Captives wanting in any way compared to the last three general market young adult fantasies I’ve read.

I think this book says a lot for Jill Williamson as a writer, but I also think it says a lot for Zondervan and their new Blink imprint. This “isn’t your grandma’s fiction.”

Captives By Jill Williamson – A Review


CaptivesSafeLandsI know I just finished the blog tour for Broken Wings and did the review, so most visitors here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction probably aren’t expecting another review so soon. But, hey, I waited a day and I can’t wait any longer. 😀

Unlike my normal reading pattern these days, I inhaled Captives, a young adult dystopian fantasy by Jill Williamson. What an awesome book. But I’m getting ahead of myself. I need to give you a disclaimer so you understand my perspective as you read this review. I haven’t read a dystopian novel since Brave New World and 1984. No, I didn’t read the Hunger Games series or Veronica Roth’s books or any of the others in that genre which has been all the rage.

Why is that significant? Perhaps what I think is fresh and inventive will not seem so, at least to the same degree, to those who have read the more recent dystopian novels. All I can tell you, of course, is my opinion from my limited perspective.

For those of you who may not know what kinds of stories fit into the dystopian category, they are ones like the TV series Revolution. So here we go.

The Story. A plague initially carried in the water supply wiped out most of the population of earth. However, a small community with access to clean water survived. They walled themselves in, named themselves the Safe Lands, and built a society utilizing some of the most advanced technology available. The goal of the citizens is to live happy, pleasurable lives. Their “have a nice day” has morphed into “have pleasure in life.”

A handful of small communities exist outside the walled city, also relying on the same water source, but these people do not have the resources or the technology of those in the Safe Lands. They rely on scavenging and hunting to survive. To them, family and community relationships are of utmost importance, and they adhere to the traditions that have been passed down from their elders.

Another major difference exists between the two cultures: the people in the Safe Lands are all infected with a virus passed through bodily fluids. Along with other symptoms, their women can no longer bear children.

The outsiders, however, are healthy, monogamous, and have strong familial ties.

The Guild governing the Safe Lands decide they need to bring in outsiders to repopulate their land. Hence, with the help of one young disgruntled outsider, they forcibly take the entire village of Glenrock captive—those they don’t kill—and move them into the Safe Lands. One young man, engaged to be married, was away during the attack, and he determines to get his people back.

Strengths. What isn’t a strength in this story? I’ll be honest—I love Jill Williamson’s writing. Her stories engage me from the beginning, and I race through them. You might say I find them to be page-turners. But in my experience, page-turners, books I gulp down, tend to be ones I quickly forget. That’s not the case with Captives.

First, the characters are memorable, distinct, engaging—even the sell-out who enabled the Safe Landers to capture the people of Glenrock. From time to time I complain about multiple-points-of-view stories, largely because I feel disconnected from all the characters. Captives is a story about Levi, Omar, Mason (three brothers), and Shaylinn. There’s even a prologue in the point of view of one of the Safe Landers, and yet I feel equally invested in each one of the characters, though I admit I was initially partial to Mason.

Jill has done a remarkable job making me care for each person as they adjust to life as honored prisoners. I understand their motives and the decisions each makes. I cheer for them to be wise and careful and strong. I want them to resist the temptations that the “have pleasure in life” way of living throws at them. I even want them to escape the consequences of the situation in which they’ve been thrust. It’s heart rending at times.

The plot obviously is filled with conflict. The overarching story question is, will the captives escape or will they choose to become a part of the Safe Lands? That question, in one form or another, drives the plot.

Stated in that way, it doesn’t seem so different from run-of-the-mill kidnap stories, but another significant factor in Captives is the setting. Jill has created such an incredible world–with advanced technology but with enough connection to our culture today, that it feels so real. She’s created future slang, future attitudes toward reproduction, future monetary system, future approach to employment, future entertainment, future penal system, future outlook on growing old and on death, and more.

Each of these, standing in stark contrast to the outsiders and their traditions, creates a spotlight on our own culture, which of course, lays the groundwork for the themes of Captive. In short, this novel has all the elements of a good story, in the proper doses.

Weaknesses. I have one issue that’s really too picky to mention and another one I’m willing to ignore. So that’s it.

OK, for those of you too curious to accept such a brush off, the too picky issue has to do with time. The story takes place in 2088, but that seems too close to now for the traditions in both cultures to have built up. I like the fact that it isn’t in the distant future because that makes the similarities with our culture believable. But I think a better time might have been another generation later–maybe 2120 or somewhere around there.

The other point which I willingly ignored and only thought about because I was planning this review, is something that happened too easily. It would be a huge spoiler to go into detail, but there was a character made a dramatic change. I thought it was believable and well motivated, but other characters seemed to accept this change with little angst or serious working through of issues that should be worked through.

Recommendation. Great book. Really entertaining, full of material that provokes thought and, potentially, discussion. Love this story. For young adults–must read. I think any reader could enjoy it. Highly recommend for anyone who enjoys a story with a gripping conflict and engaging characters.

I received a review copy of this book from the publisher with no restrictions or requirements on what I might write.

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