Four levels of Christian fiction: A call for reality with our characters…
The following is outrageous personal opinion—
hopefully written in obedience
to the One whom I serve
Of course, most of you might say, “My characters are already real.” In that case, again for many of you, I have to say, “I’m sorry to hear that.” Surely we all realize that the characters in most Christian fiction today are barely Christian. My focus is Christian speculative fiction, as you know. Maybe romance is better, but I’ll bet not. Much is accepted in the name of escapist fiction.
I find the heroes and heroines
in Christian speculative fiction
fall into four groups
Clean books, vaguely good people
Old Testament believers
Full Gospel believers
None of these types are evil or “bad”. I’m trying to avoid value judgements, because I do not know of any real right or wrong here.
This posting is the result of rumination on an email conversation I had with Guy Stanton III yesterday or the day before. In the midst of a lot of stuff, he said:
I always wished growing up that I had been born in the antiquity eras so that I could wield a sword and fight to live free by the force of the blade in my hand, but more and more I’m beginning to see what a great honor has been afforded me to be placed in these last days into a position to do warfare for the Kingdom of Heaven.
As many of you know, I have always seen myself as a dirty, crusty, often smelly, knight/scout out looking for possible incoming danger or joy. I am a knight serving my King in daily battle. He called me and He deserves the best I can offer. This is what I am looking for, praying for, and trying to encourage. I want to see books entering into the battle at the end of the age before we go home to be with our Lord, friend, and husband. But most Christian books are merely entertaining and that is certainly a waste of a gift of God. I’m afraid that many authors are going to hear the dreaded words of Jesus in Matthew 7:23:
And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.”
Of course, I only have their written words to use for discernment. I know little or nothing about the authors’ personal relationships with Jesus, our Messiah. I can only talk about the characters’ spiritual lives. As we talk about these four levels of spirituality in Christian fiction, I beseech you to prayerfully consider where you fit in all this. The reason I have the cover of my book on Knowing Jesus on this page is because I’m concerned that this may be the dividing line between those that go to heaven and those who don’t. With that covered, let’s talk a bit about the four levels of Christian content in novels.
Clean books, vaguely good people:
These books are clean but really have no spiritual content. I reviewed one of these recently. These are no better than clean heathen books like all recent Clive Cussler works [now that he’s moved away from serial fornication]. Sometimes the level of book is excellent like Becoming The Chateran by S. J. Aisling. But there’s nothing edifying. It’s merely good entertainment. At least they are not evil as most of the heathen books are these days. Some of the worst, in my eyes, are books like shadow hand by Anne Elisabeth Stengl. I realize she has a huge, vocal following who claim strong ties with spiritual reality in the earlier books in the Gladstone series. But to me, evil got the glory and the hints at the Lord were capricious with little or no reality.
Old Testament believers:
Probably the majority of so-called Christian fiction falls in this group. Here we have people responding to holy writings or an Old Testament type of calling to please God. They are works oriented. Keeping the law is the highest good. Sometimes we have Old Testament-style prophets as we see in Prophet by R.J. Larson. It’s an entertaining book, but not Christian. In books like Son of Truth by Morgan L. Busse, spiritual reality can have some real depth, but the savior is always missing. These books at least point to God, but they’re just entertaining. There’s no real reality toward helping to develop Christian maturity in the readers. Some books with this level of story cannot be categorized like Arena by Karen Hancock, but they have that ring of truth we recognize as believers. Others are books from ancient history, pre-Israel & pre-Jesus. A book like Fallen Kings by Sarah Witenhaufer seems realistic and the story is compelling. But the characters so desperately need a savior and He simply is not available yet. They can be very depressing books. Wonderful books like The Staff & The Sword trilogy by Patrick W. Carr present a compelling Old Testament style of religion which is wonderful. But it is hard to express how much these books need a Messiah.
Here we have a major step up. The characters have usually “accepted the Lord”, even though we know the He called them. They are strong believers in the Bible. The only problem here is a tendency to get preachy and the common lack of a real active communication/relationship with the Lord. Characters tend to get all their guidance from scripture. There is little or no rhema, that specific word the Holy Spirit quickens to lead us. We are starting to get into rare territory even here, but these books can be a strong edifying witness to the truth of the Gospel. Sometimes the author goes through some real contortions to have a link to spiritual reality as David G. Johnson does in The Chadash Chronicles. David’s characters show a spiritual reality which is really fun to read. What distinguishes these books is a spiritual reality that strongly points to our Father and His Messiah. Excellent examples here are the Redemption Tales by George McVey which are Westerns having a really strong evangelical witness without preaching and a hero who is a preacher/gunslinger. The Legends of Astarkand by Krystine Kercher add reality to the idea of a righteous Godly king. The strong, personal, walk in the spirit aspect of Christian living is still missing though. The Makilien trilogy by Molly Evangeline offers much more than most—it’s an edifying read. But it still has a ways to go. The new series, starting with Resistance, is better, but still evangelical. God is a vaguely distant person with little openly personal interaction with His people.
Full Gospel believers:
Here we have the best and most helpful Christian fiction. These are evangelicals who have come to a deep and close personal relationship with Jesus, communicating daily about needs, direction, seeking guidance, praying for/receiving healings, and so on. Now, I’m not talking about characters who are necessarily pentecostal, but those who have a real relationship with the Lord which includes regular communication, direct guidance, prophetic implications, a touch of the miraculous, and the normal evidences of Christian life as presented by Jesus at the end of Mark:
Afterward He appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at the table; and He reproached them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who had seen Him after He had risen. And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned. These signs will accompany those who have believed: in My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
Yes, this is a very high standard. Ralph Smith’s Seal of the King does this extremely well by showing a Godly romance which is so compelling that it’s really hard to put the book down. Peter Younghusband’s review of Ralph’s book today is excellent. David and Aurora heal people, receive strong words of wisdom, and function as true believers with no preaching at all—leading to a strong, lusty, Christian marriage in holiness.
I’ll always be grateful to Peter for leading me to Guy. Guy Stanton III books are a sterling example of this type of book. His premise for The Warrior Kind series is as radical as that found in The Chadash Chronicles, but his characters are strong, vibrant, spirit-filled believers leading Godly kingdoms, doing good, and loving large. His Agents for Good series has the same type of believers—black, white, male, female, it doesn’t matter. All the good guys [male and female] have an intense personal relationship with their savior and give us outstanding examples of how to live the Christian life abundant. His newest book, which begins the third series: Journey Into The Deep, The Water Wars takes us into the world of Atlantis on a realistic, creationist level. His action/adventure, fantasy, science fiction, romances stand in a league of their own at this point in time.
Of course, we have Stephen Thompson’s outrageous, full-bore, Pentecostal black ops warriors in his Crossfire novels. I’m sure the 99-cent sale is over, but these books are filled with over the top pentecostal warriors called by God to battle demons and principalities. They are good fun.
Another series at this level of spirituality are the three books [so far] in the Outlaw Preacher series by John Andrews. These are marvelous tellings of the deeds of some outrageous outlaw bikers who have become true believers. Mine are relatively tame, but I try to reach this level of spiritual reality with my two books: Daniel’s Mighty Men and The Righteous Perish.
We need more true believers amongst our characters
My goal is to encourage authors to be much more open about the reality of their life in the Kingdom. If our characters show forth the reality of the Gospel and the power of the Holy spirit, our readers might actually get a glimpse of who God is calling them to be. So, are you ready to go for it? Do you think I’m nuts? What are you trying to do with your books?
Thanks for the encouragement, Peter! So far, the only comment other than yours is on one of the Facebook groups saying the best way is to be basically subliminal as in Tolkien, Lewis, Sayers, et al. That did have its place several decades ago. But, it ignores what the Lord seems to be doing now.
Wow, man, this is just great! Comprehensive and thought provoking! You have bound together these differences really well. This needs to be out there for authors to be encouraged by.
I will add this to my review blog. This has given me the idea of adding a page of articles of Encouragement and interest to visitors to the blog.
It is very encouraging for me as an avid reader of Christian fiction but as a lover of speculative fiction to see you and Guy discussing and developing this area. It has been a real blessing to have been placed by Him in your paths. I am glad to have been part of this too, through my reviews.
Regards to you and Guy!! (Must catch up with you Guy!!)