I was engaged in a Facebook discussion the other day and someone asked me how I could justify writing fiction as a Christian.
I mentioned that God is the Creator and we’re made in His image, so creative expression is part of that. I also mentioned how craftsmen and artisans were employed in the building and decoration of the wilderness Tabernacle and, later, the Temple of Solomon. Besides, I noted, we’re supposed to do everything as if we are doing it for God (Colossians 3:23), which would obviously include writing if that’s where God has gifted us.
That wasn’t his beef. He pulled up a quote by Ursula K. Le Guin:
“A novelist’s business is lying. ” (From the Introduction to The Left Hand of Darkness)
He was looking for my justification as a Christian for writing fiction, for creating stories that aren’t true when the Bible says not to lie and even warns us to avoid myths and fables (1 Timothy 1:4).
First of all, I explained that telling lies as if they were truth and the tradition of storytelling where everyone knows that the product is fiction are very different things. And only one is considered a sin. Second of all, 1 Timothy 1:4 is warning the church against getting involved in controversy over extra-biblical details. Context is important.
As to the main point of his question, I noted that the Biblical justification for writing fiction comes in the form if several examples of fiction in the Bible itself; namely, the convicting allegory/parable told by Nathan the prophet to King David (2 Samuel 12:1-4), Jotham’s parable of trees seeking a king (Judges 9:7-15), Ezekiel’s parable (Ezekiel 17:1-8) and, of course, the parables of Jesus. Parables are teaching stories.
As I explained this to him, a horrifying thought occurred to me: the fear that some Christian authors, myself included, had abandoned the Biblical justification for writing fiction as Christians. You see, every example we can cite for storytelling from the Bible involves stories that teach or preach, and yet it’s almost common wisdom that good Christian fiction doesn’t preach or contain explicit Christian messages. Some authors even go so far as to say that Christian fiction is simply fiction written by Christians from their inherent Christian worldview. What do we do with this apparent contradiction?
It should be said that the idea that our Christian worldview will sort of automatically shine through our writing is a myth. Your writing doesn’t have a soul unless you give it one. If you want your book to reflect a Christian worldview in any consistent or coherent manner, you must do so intentionally. Point in fact, if you don’t intentionally write to reflect a Christian worldview, you will almost inevitably write from a non-Christian worldview. The Apostle Paul noted in the last half of Romans chapter 7 that we have a sin nature (a “law of sin”) that conflicts with our desire to serve God, so that we do those things that we don’t want to do. Now if we oftimes fail to do God’s will even when we’re aware of our tendency to do otherwise, what are the chances that a consistently Christian worldview is shining through our writing when we’re not being intentional?
If you want your book to have a theme or message, that has to be intentional as well. So many Christian authors want to reach a broader market but when they do they invariably lose their saltiness [Luke 14:34-35]. We give up the thing thay makes Christian fiction distinctively Christian. We’ve traded our birthright for a mess of pottage in the hopes that we will be successful in appealing to more people with books that are essentially no different than the usual secular book market offering. I mean, is our message really that adding Christ to your life makes no difference in how we do things?
Next, read the second part of this post, entitled Mythopoiea: Writing Truth Through Fiction