Sunday, March 4, 2007

Christian Influence Writing Part I: Beyond Preaching to the Choir

One of the great tragedies of Christian publishing in all venues, whether in print or online, is that 99 percent of Christian writing is for other Christians. It uses Christian jargon, makes oblique allusions to Christian principles and "familiar" Biblical passages, and assumes a general agreement with Christian doctrine. Even most spirituality-based speculative fiction is like this.

There is nothing wrong with this per se. The Christian world view has certainly been at best ignored and at worst ridiculed by our popular culture. Rarely is a "born again" character in a secular book, movie or TV show presented as sympathetic. One can argue that the actions of many of our high profile leaders contribute to this ugly view of evangelical Christianity, but whatever the reason, Christians are not presented positively in the mass media. So, having an alternative within our own community of faith makes sense.

However, we were never called to be insular. Jesus' last words to his disciples were not, "Go to your churches and stay put until I come again." They were, "You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and all of Judea, and in Samaria and unto the uttermost parts of the earth." (Acts 1.8) While there is nothing wrong with writing "insider" fiction and nonfiction - and I've written a lot of it - it is not our primary mission.

I want to emphasize that I believe we do not need to abandon efforts to write good quality Christian fiction which entertains and challenges the reader to live a more productive Christian life. I simply want to encourage some of us to prayerfully consider expanding our mission by writing fiction (and nonfiction) which engages the non-believer’s imagination but with a Christian spin. I have come to call this type of fiction "Christian Influence Fiction."

In some ways speculative fiction is a perfect venue for Christian influence fiction. The readers already come to the page with an expectation of the numinous, the fantastic, the supernatural. Even science-fiction readers, who tend to be a bit more cerebral, are ready to consider extreme possibilities like alternate universes, time travel, hyperspace, tachyons, extraterrestrial cultures, and speculative futures. In other words, the speculative fiction reader by nature approaches a story with fewer expectations and keeps more of an open mind, than say a reader of Romance novels or historical fiction, in regards to that which lies outside the phenomenal world.

This gives the Christian writer an open door to present spiritual principles in a nonthreatening way. Gene Roddenberry broke new ground in the 1960's with Star Trek by addressing social issues such as racism, war and peace, poverty and ethical implications of technology during a time when television was dominated by shows like The Beverly Hillbillies, The Donna Reed Show, Leave it to Beaver, and The Adams Family. He claimed that he could address social issues left untouched by other shows because he could wrap them in a series he pitched to the network as "Bonanza in Outer Space." When the insanity of racial prejudice is presented by an alien race with faces split between black and white and the contention is over whether the black is on the right or left side of the face, people could examine their own prejudices more safely.

The same can be said of theological concepts. C.S. Lewis' book Perlandra is a case in point. Two human beings: A professor of philology and a physics professor find themselves transported to Perelandra (our Venus). The planet has floating islands and the only two natives have been commanded by Maleldil, the great creator spirit, to live only on the floating islands and not the fixed land. The struggle ensues between Westen, the physics professor, to tempt the woman to live on the fixed land, and Ransom (great name, right?) to encourage her to obey Maleldil's wishes.

This is the classic struggle between good and evil with a very simple definition of each. Good is following God's commandments. Evil is not following them. It is the Garden of Eden played out on an alien planet.

In a less cerebral way, Zenna Henderson's "The People" series of stories brings us face to face with a community of aliens who "Praise the Power" at their good fortune and depend on his/its help while stranded on an "alien" planet which the natives call earth. This easy relationship with the divine seems somehow less threatening when it is practiced by an advanced race of extraterrestrials than when it's your neighbor, saying "Praise God" over a blessing received.

Therefore, science fiction, fantasy, even horror stories provide us with opportunities to explore spiritual, moral, ethical and even theological themes in a manner which can be understandable and appealing to non-believers. Of course, we have to approach it correctly. We'll talk about that in our next post.


Blogger chrisd said...

Couldn't agree with you more. That takes guts, to break out of the safe Christiany cocoon. Excellent, excellent post!

March 5, 2007 at 6:44 PM  
Blogger Terri said...

Hey, salt is no good in the shaker and lighting a candle in a well lit room does little good.

March 6, 2007 at 1:53 PM  

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