Our vision: discerning spiritual levels of Christian fiction is part of the effort The Lord is manifesting to save everyone possible before it is too late. Recognizing achievement is one of our tools in this process.
Our vision is to encourage authors in this cause and to teach readers to expect this level of engagement with the characters they read about. Part of this is to provide book creators with the knowledge necessary to communicate clearly with their writing. They need to learn that typography, page layout and book design are the tools of their trade just as much as excellent dialog, compelling characters, immersive worlds, and carefully crafted stories. As readers, you should be praying for the authors you read that the Lord will teach them and anoint them to convey Truth.
Our vision about discerning spiritual levels of Christian fiction
In the process of reading and reviewing all the new and often powerful Christian fiction, we have come to realize that there are five basic categories of Christian fiction, no matter what the genre. It is true that the spiritual truths in all five of these groups vary wildly in clarity and power. But the purpose of this page is to share with you what these basic categories are and why categorization is helpful.
There are three levels of spirituality which are common but rarely useful
These books are often well-written, entertaining reads. Many of them are quite popular. This is especially true in the genre of romance, mystery, and thrillers. But at Reality Calling, we like fantasy, science fiction, action/adventure, political thrillers, military thrillers, and even horror. Some call this edgy Christian fiction. We are looking for realistic walks of faith which build up the reader and lead them to truth. The first three levels of spirituality rarely rise to this calling—though it is possible.
1: The clean read: Most so-called Christian fiction is not. Most of it is the stereotypical and dreaded “clean read”. This term needs some discernment. Clean means no cussing, no sex, and no violence. But it also means, in most cases, no spiritual reality. There’s commonly not even any reference to religion, let alone the reality of the spiritual world. Sharing a moral code of conduct is very different than sharing the power and love of an omnipotent Creator. The author may be Christian, but they can just as easily be Morman or a number of non-believing groups marketing to Christians in this time of deception. In the speculative realm, there often is just a vague, poetic deity with a strange name. In many of these books, I have to warn that evil got the glory and the hints at the Lord were capricious with little or no reality.
2: Pre-messianic level: Another large section of “Christian fiction” consists of Old Testament tales, or stories on an Old Testament level. In this case, we find following the law with an occasional prophet where the Spirit comes upon him or her and often leaves the reluctant prophet reeling. The focus is usually on obscure ancient writings and prophecies while mankind is left guessing about meaning. There is certainly no savior, often not even a hint that one might be necessary. So, by definition, without Christ it cannot be a Christian book. It may contain portions of Truth, and I’ve read some which are powerfully edifying. But this is rarely the case.
Even worse, there are many books which seem to be on this spiritual level which are sharing highly speculative, and often erroneous, tales of angels, demons, and antediluvian speculations. Some books of this type share Truth, but it is a treacherous path—and Truth is often obscured quite badly. It’s not for no reason that scripture specifically warns us about the dangers of people presenting “the worship of angels, taking [a] stand on visions, puffed up without reason by [a] sensuous mind” [Colossians 2:18 RSV]. Some books, which otherwise seem to be on the Old Testament level, fall into this type of trap.
3: The religious level: This level of Christian book is already uncommon in speculative fiction. In it, the Christian walk is carried out by human effort, in most cases. Even if grace is understood, it is always in the context of people sharing what they think should be done in the light of the scriptures, tradition, or reason. The focus is the church, and that’s where salvation is found. Christianity has little do with their lives on a day to day, hour by hour basis. They are left to figure things out.
The problem with non-scriptural presentations of angels and demons is much more common at this level. I have reviewed a “Christian book” in which the plot concerned a fallen angel who was trying to repent, but could only be saved by marrying a church member (who was presented as a very religious person). This fascination with angels, demons, vampires, werewolves, and the like can get books into strange territory. It would be a lie to even consider them level-three religious books.
Many of these books are not bad, but these three levels can rarely be useful in the Kingdom
While it is true that the Holy Spirit can use virtually anything to touch people with whom the Lord is working, These first three levels can rarely close the deal. The readers are not presented with characters who are actually saved and regenerated. They can be part of the early moves of the Spirit as He makes men and women aware of the Lord’s existence, however.
To remind you how difficult this process can be, let me share a brief testimony.
You really can’t say I was a hippie, because I dropped out before that term was coined. Though I considered myself a fine artist, I had no real talent except for the necessary ego.
Like Saul (though certainly not on his level in any way) I was an enemy of the church. I was even brought in as a guest teacher for church youth groups to preach the glories of LSD and spiritual seeking—though at that time my seeking was all in the occult and Zen.
I spent many years dabbling in the occult and heresy. Before my rebirth I had seriously explored Gurdjieff, Jung, Taoism, astrology, Tarot cards, numerology, symbolism, Zen Buddhism, I Ching, and more. I lived with an astrologer and hung out with people deeply involved in the occult. I drew illustrations for a major occult publisher.
My normal practice was to get completely involved in the latest area of interest and run my life by the precepts and practices of the belief system that currently had my attention. For example, when I was following the I Ching (a Chinese, Taoist book used for divination), I would check the oracle about every decision large or small, many times a day.
In all of these areas, it was eventually said that the next step was to get a personal spirit guide. I was never willing to do that. I had no reason to avoid this. In hindsight, it has become apparent that I was protected in all of this by my father’s prayers as I wandered in spiritual danger rebelling from the church of my youth.
In fact, the Holy Spirit used the occultic practices to lead me to Himself. In the early 70s I read the Bible from cover to cover—out of boredom originally while I was working in a psychological boot camp for children in the mountains of northeast California (Pulga, to be precise). In my arrogance, I came to the conclusion that the book was true but not necessary. It was just one of many ways to the Godhead.
Several years earlier, my father and I had been in countless debates about all of this. I could see that he had something that worked for him. I was happy for him, but I didn’t see Jesus as a viable alternative for me. As the debates became more like arguments, my dad wisely pulled back after making me promise to never quit seeking for the truth until I was convinced that I had found absolute truth.
After reading the Bible, I realized that what the I Ching called the positive, active principle was just a euphemism for God [though practitioners would never admit that]. I started getting messages in 1972 from the I Ching that I was going to be led through a radical life-changing experience. Toward the end of 1973 I moved into a cold-water storefront next to a rough bar in the Indian (primarily Sioux) ghetto in south Minneapolis just outside the hippie area of the West Bank.
The spiritual darkness in that gallery became oppressive (though I had no real discernment spiritually). I knew my Dad was an exorcist, so I asked him to come over and clean the place out in October or November. Needless to say, he was tickled to do that!
For the next couple of months, my life got worse and worse. I was living on one large pancake a day, dry, filled with sunflower seeds and raisins. I couldn’t afford more than that. I could barely pay the $45 a month rent. Needless to say, my art wasn’t selling well down in that area.
I was smoking pot every two hours as I had for the previous seven years. I was dropping acid (LSD) once or twice a week. I had hundreds of acid trips by this time. Somehow, in my drugged stupor, I called my dad (on his birthday—January 15, 1974), and said, “I need to get filled with the spirit.” I had no idea what that meant and as far as I know I had never heard that term before (though it just dawned on me that I had surely read it when I was going through the Bible in that psychological boot camp in the Californian Sierras).
Needless to say, my father came over and bundled me in the car and took me to his bible study of the night. They all laid hands on me. I renounced the world, the flesh and the devil. They prayed that I would be filled with the Holy Spirit in power.
I felt nothing. I was too stoned. I kept doing my drugs. As with all my spiritual adventures, I got into it fully (as much as I could in my intellectual arrogance). I gave Jesus six months to prove himself. I accepted the Bible as truth. The first indication that something had changed was the note on my wall calendar/journal a couple days later that “I feel strangely peaceful”.
However, I was born again out of this life of fine art, drugs and occult practices on January 15, 1974. I was so stoned, it took several days before I even noticed anything. It was several months before The Lord changed me enough to actual be aware of what He was doing in my life. But the transformation by the summer of 1974 was truly astounding. I am not the same man I was—thank God!
I am now that man nearly 50 years later. I have been constantly teaching scripture on many different levels, to many different audiences, in countless different situations ever since 1974. Believe me I know the necessity of the Holy Spirit bringing about the miraculous transformation of people awaking to the truth of the Gospel.
So, I realize that these three levels of basic content can be used by the Lord
However, even here, there is a huge difference between books which are the result of deep, prayerful consideration. I have read even Old-Testament-level novels which showed the Lord and His interactions with people at a level which revealed truth. But it is very hard to talk about salvation when there is no savior. It is very difficult to make level-two and level-three books useful—though, by the grace of God and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, it can be done.
But there are two more levels which are consciously redemptive
These two spiritual levels concern us greatly here at Reality Calling. They are the core of what we are doing with Radiqx Press as a Christian publisher and book reviewer. We have a vetted bookstore which only lists books at this level. They are books which lead the reader to see and understand what a personal relationship with the Messiah means. They reveal the reality of the Savior and the Holy Spirit.
They can do so in fantasy worlds with only a tenuous hold on reality, and in purely speculative realities. Truth can be revealed with allegory, symbols, and parables — even fables and myths. But it is an awe-struck practice to be sharing on this level. As with teachers, mentors, and pastors, authors are judged more strictly as we are told in James 3:1—it’s a fearful and wonderful calling.
We must prayerfully work at discerning spiritual levels of Christian fiction. Specific words or scripture quotes mislead many authors. There are dangers and temptations which need to be resisted. Often books at these levels demonstrate a strong denominational slant. Some of these books degenerate into what many call Bible-thumping and preaching. The characters are presented in a manner which has little to do with how people actually relate to one another.
There is a place for more direct Biblical teaching and preaching, but it can easily turn off many, if not all, readers. To make teaching or preaching compelling, it must be in the context of a realistic experience of the characters. It has to show the Truth about how the Holy Spirit works to anoint the words of a teacher, preacher, prophet, or apostle. I have prayed fervently that the words of this page and the postings we offer in this blog/Website reach this level of usefulness in your lives.
Books on this level fall into two basic categories
4: Redemptive fiction: These books offer standard rebirth scenarios where a person accepts the Savior as their Lord. They give their life to serve Him and their lives are transformed—sometimes almost violently, often slowly and gently. They show a realistic look of the daily walk of faith for a believer. A clear Messiah is revealed who died for our sins. Through repentance and baptism, a person is forgiven and cleansed, beginning a new life in the Kingdom of God.
The truly excellent books on this level share these truths easily, without pretension, in common human relationships. They recognize that most people do not carry on conversations by quoting scriptures at each other. They cover the arguments pro and con in a natural manner. They leave it to the person to decide, recognizing that you cannot talk anyone into salvation. Only the Holy Spirit can do that. The only source of guidance is the scripture, with occasional visits from angels and the like. God speaks though the Bible or other believers primarily.
5: Spirit-filled fiction: These books are extremely rare. They are focused upon characters with (or who develop) an intimate relationship with the Lord. They talk with Him all the time, day in and day out, hour by hour, minute by minute. It can be very potent in a first-person account told by a character.
The result of this type of relationship is that the Lord moves much more obviously and powerfully in the lives of the characters. The Lord heals people, and gives miraculous resources and solutions to characters—both the believers and non-believing characters. The Lord becomes an active character in these books. It’s a wonderful thing to read and experience. When it is done well, we finish the book in an attitude of worship—built up and empowered by what we have experienced in the lives of the characters.