A recent exchange on a Facebook group called Iron Sharpening Iron: Christian Speculative Fiction Authors caused me to start thinking about what the term “Christian Speculative Fiction” means.
I posted one of my blog articles about why I ditched the deities in my Otherworld worldbuilding and asked my fellow Christian spec-fic authors what they did concerning deities in their own worldbuilding.
The answers I received rather shocked me. I had Christian authors suggesting that we write fiction with goddesses or even polytheistic pantheons (the latter suggestion made by the group’s owner). Of course, no one in the group [to my knowledge] would ever espouse goddess worship or polytheism in their real lives. That’s heresy! And they know it.
So why are such things allowed in Christian fiction?
Now before I get into the main thrust of this post, I need to first bluntly state what I do not mean to say.
I do not mean to say that Christian fiction cannot include objectionable things. I tire of Christian fiction which seeks to be cleaner than my Bible. My Bible includes violence, witchcraft, substance abuse, swearing, idolatry, and sexual sin. It is in parts graphic [read the last few chapters of Judges if you doubt me] and even explicit [or haven’t you read the Song of Songs lately?] and I tire of the Christian fiction industry’s insistence that were sterilize our fiction to the point where we would be forced to condemn the Good Book by the standard [if we weren’t being arbitrary].
Nor am I saying the entirely silly thing that some folks say when they insist that fiction reflect only the reality we exist in. I cannot find any Scriptural warrant to back up this attitude; it seems to be someone’s suggestion to err on the side of caution that has been codified by some who enjoy fiction, but don’t really like spec-fic. I would remind those detractors of spec-fic that all fiction is speculative, be it science fiction, fantasy, an Amish romance or a crime thriller. As Randy Streu aptly noted in “All Fiction is Fantasy“:
“All fiction is, by definition, a story of things that didn’t actually happen. Or do you really believe that one person can just randomly and accidentally stumble upon mystery after mystery, and outwit the police in solving the crime? That there’s a rich relative just this side of death, just waiting to write his unknown niece or nephew into his will? That the guy bagging your groceries is actually just waiting for the next random terrorist cell to come bust up his neighborhood so he can break out his Special Forces skills and save the town? It’s fantasy. It doesn’t happen. Pretty much ever. And you know something? That’s okay.”
A similar objection is the idea that if a creature or scenario doesn’t occur in the Bible, we ought not use it. This philosophy would hold that zombies, aliens, vampires, ghosts and fairies aren’t allowed, but dragons, satyrs, nephilim, unicorns and giants get a free pass because those words are found in certain Bible versions. This is another arbitrary standard that has no Biblical warrant and sounds like a personal rule of thumb codified into the equivalent literary law by well-meaning Christians. If we didn’t allow critters that weren’t named in the Bible, why do we allow technology, geography or philosophies not named in the Bible into our fiction? Oh, because they’re a part of history and therefor reality. The trouble is that history also names things like vampires, ghosts, fairies, et cetera. We can pretend like these theological inconveniences don’t exist or, as Christian spec-fic authors, we can find a way to put a Christian spin on things.
The bottom line to this preface is that we cannot arbitrarily object to spec-fic for containing objectionable things, fantastical things and things that aren’t named in the Bible.
Stuart Stockton, founder of SpeculativeFaith.com defines Christian spec-fic as speculative fiction with a Christian worldview.
The unfortunate reality is that some members of the ISI author group advocated something… else. For example, when I objected to the idea of God revealing himself as female on some imaginary world, I received two very similar objections. One commenter stated something to the effect that since her goddess was a fictional goddess on an imaginary world that she didn’t feel the need to Biblically justify her deity’s gender. Another stated that I must not comprehend the difference between reality and what was speculative. She even added a rejoinder that if we could not speculate about a different God than the one revealed in the Bible then our fiction wasn’t really speculative.
Even those who said they would draw the line personally closer to what I would objected that I should gracefully allow for speculation about God’s identity and nature in other Christian authors. I have often seen this big-tent theology disclaimer used by folks whose personal beliefs mirror mine but wish to preserve a false unity over truth. You see, there can be no true unity without truth. Two cannot walk together unless they are in agreement, as the Bible testifies to.
Now, I am not judging these folks. I’m not calling them heretics or calling their salvation into question. I have no reason to doubt they are in fact Christians. That is not my point here. My point is this [and I posed this question to all of the commenters on the ISI group]: how can your speculative fiction be termed Christian if it does not paint God as he has revealed Himself to be? These well-meaning Christian authors had chosen imagination over truth. I see this all the time.
For example, take this quote from Mike Duran [and I really like Mike, mind you]:
“Forcing fiction to neatly fit your theology is a losing proposition… at least, if creative storytelling is your aim. (emphasis in original)
Mike seems to be suggesting that our primary objective should be good storytelling – and that would be true if we were merely authors – BUT as Christians our primary goal is to glorify God through good storytelling… and we cannot do that if we do not chain ourselves to the Word of truth. Twice in his first epistle to the Corinthian church, Paul says that all things are lawful (permissible) to me, but not all things are expedient. [I Cor 6:12; 10:23]. Underline that truth. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. God, by definition, is the I AM. To put it another way, He is The Way, The TRUTH, and The Life. God is NOT a What If? We do not get to play god with God’s identity and attributes without also creating a non-Christian god… and how could that be considered Christian fiction in any sense?
Some authors, including the one who proposed a female God, must recognize this dilemma for they want to include “Christian-friendly” fiction under the banner of Christian fiction. Unfortunately, this fails because Christian-friendly fiction could be in fact [by way of example] Jewish or Muslim fiction that happens to correlate with Christianity on the points of theology it raises in the story. Christian-friendly is, by definition, something not Christian fiction. It may be fiction by a Christian, but that does not automatically make it Christian fiction [any more than being born in a Christian nation or being raised in a Christian home makes one a Christian.
Rebecca Luella Miller aptly notes that all “all false teaching shares this “imagination over truth” component.” but as a Christian “an author of fiction is constrained to tell the truth.” I’ll end this post with a quote, from the same article, that I believe summarizes what Christian fiction must be if it is to be called Christian at all:
“And here is the point that separates Christian fiction, I believe, from all other fiction. Christian fiction speaks the truth about God. Other fiction can speak the truth about morals or the way the world works or what makes a person love or hate or live on the edge. Other fiction might be silent about God. Other fiction might speak a lie (though undoubtedly the author believes that what he’s written is true) about any of these things. Only Christian fiction speaks the truth about God.”