shut-up-1Literary agent Wendy Lawton, who’s a member of the team I’m agented by, recently cautioned authors about publicly voicing their political opinions. In a Facebook post, she wrote:

Guess what? You can’t win if you discuss politics on Facebook. No matter how passionately you feel about an upcoming election it is potentially damaging to open the subject in your news feed because (a) half your “friends” will be irritated with you, (b) they may post incendiary comments taking your feed to a full fledged flame war, (c) those who agree with you will stand up for you and challenge those who commented negatively, pouring fuel on the fire, and (d) you will change no one’s mind.

If you are an author, as many of FB friends are, you can’t afford to tick off half your potential readership. We can all name authors we cringe to read because they’ve become so political.

It’s a question I’ve thought lots about. While I’m a very opinionated person, I have intentionally stepped back from posting — whether on this blog or in my social media feed — a lot of political commentary. Please don’t mistake that as me not having an opinion. Also, don’t mistake this for me necessarily fearing that I will alienate some readers. In my case, I’m just extremely fatigued about the state of our country and the fracturing of relationships this election has caused.

But, in a way, even THAT’S an opinion which could get me into trouble.

As much as I respect Wendy Lawton and those authors who choose a similar approach, I’m unsure about the basic premise that an author “can’t afford to tick off half [their] potential readership.” Sure, I understand not turning your writing platform into a political advert (especially if you’re a novelist as opposed to a non-fic author). Problem is:

  1. Lots of creatives are vocal about their political opinions
  2. Being a public person inevitably demands a certain degree of transparency
  3. Your art will inevitably reveal your values, morals, beliefs, and opinions

There’s a good argument to be made for novelists keeping their mouth shut and letting their art speak for itself. On the other hand, there’s lots of writers who are transparent AND popular. In fact, you could say that someone’s art is an organic part of who the artist is. Although the reader can separate the art from the artist, the artist can’t really separate her opinions from her artistic output.

The pop cultural consumer eventually learns to separate the art from the artist. Either that, or they choose build their library around ideology rather than art. Good art can be made by bad people… much less, people I disagree with. I disagree with many novelists about politics. But it hasn’t stopped me from reading their novels. I mean, the “goodness” of a piece of fiction / film / music has nothing to do with whether or not its creator meets my ideological standards.

The problem is when the art becomes a vehicle for the ideology.

Some of my favorite creatives are people whom I often disagree with. The point which I stop buying their stuff is when it subsumes their art. When your story, song, or film becomes a megaphone for your politics, I check out. Other than that, go ahead and voice your disdain for a political candidate. As long as you keep creating good stuff. Truth is, I avoid some artists who never publicly share their political opinion, not because of the content of their art, but because of a perception (on my part) of the philosophy or worldview driving them. In this case, public opinions are moot because the art does the talking.

Point is: Your novel is going to express its own worldview and opinion which, in one sense, is going to self-select your readers.

All that to say, building a readership and marketing yourself is obviously a tenuous thing. Like many walks of public life, the broader the audience, the more we must temper what we say. To what degree we temper our opinions is another story. Either way, people come to fiction, film and music for what it does for them, not the political, ideological views of the artists. Of course, some of those views may or may not expand their audience. Still, a good story, well told, trumps ones political affiliation.


Pastor John Piper, in this podcast, proffers a brief “Theology of Art.” His conclusion is that “Christians have deeper and better foundations for serious art than anybody.” While I agree with Piper, most of the evangelical artists (musicians, novelists, poets, craftspeople, etc.) I run into do not appear to have a well-developed “Theology of Art.” For example, ask the average Christian fiction writer why they write and what they hope to accomplish with their writing, and you’ll typically receive some variation of “I write to glorify God.” A perfectly fine answer… until you start digging into details. Is it possible to “glorify God” in a fictional story? What does it mean to “glorify God” in a novel? How explicit must you be about God and the gospel content in order to truly “glorify God”? And what about those Christians authors who do not write explicitly Christian stuff? Can they also “glorify God” in their writing? Such inspection often reveals shaky theological “foundations.” At least, the absence of a comprehensive view of art and theology.

Dorothy Sayers, in her book Towards a Christian Aesthetic, notes that biblical truth, by its very nature, must embrace and define the Arts.

“If we commit ourselves to saying that the Christian revelation discovers to us the nature of all truth, then it must discover to us the nature of the truth about Art among other things.”

But exactly what truths does the Bible reveal about Art and Artists? Where are the “deeper and better foundations for serious art” that Piper speaks about? Or does the Bible, when speaking about art and aesthetics, simply frame it as a field outside of any clear theological principles?

The graphic below is designed to illustrate three Christian theologies that inform the artist. I developed the following graphic from the essay Should Christians Write Novels, Pt. 1 and Pt. 2. written by Rory Shiner, Pastor of Providence Church in Perth, Australia, which I encourage you to read.


If “evangelical art” — Christian music, Christian fiction, Christian film, etc. — reveals anything, it is a fairly narrow view of any rigorous theological underpinnings. The God’s Not Dead franchise is a good example of how “commercial viability” has distilled an evangelical approach to art into tract-like propaganda pieces that wear their message on their sleeves. Unbeknownst to many Christian consumers are more broad biblical understandings about art and artists.

  • Theology of Creation and Covenant — Based on what the Reformed faith calls the “Cultural Mandate,” this approach sees God’s command to Adam and Eve to “fill the earth and subdue it” as a “commission” to produce human culture; to import the “image of God” into every possible field we may venture. For the novelist, this frees our work from being, as Shiner puts it, “enlisted in the service of the church for validity.” Rather, writing fiction is part of the larger cultural mandate to advance our God-given talents into and through culture. The Christian writer is not simply a propagandist, but is ultimately advancing God’s reign.
  • Theology of Incarnation and Sacrament — Orthodox and Catholic positions frame the arts in terms of sacraments, representations of Truth and Beauty. Just as “the Word became flesh” (Jn. 1:1, 14), the Christian artists seeks to “flesh out” or embody some form of biblical Truth or Beauty. Or as C.S. Lewis described it, fiction literature is a “little incarnation, giving body to what has been before invisible and inaudible.” In this way, the Christian artist is commissioned to make the intangible real, the subtle profound, and put words and images to the indescribable.
  • Theology of Education and Eschatology — In this approach, novels are tools to steer and shape culture, “to enlarge moral sympathies or to commend proper behaviour.” Shiner writes, “A self-conscious agenda to educate is by no means incompatible with great literature. ” While such an approach can be hijacked by those of various ideological persuasions, the believer infuses the “eschatological urgency” of the call to repentance, the fount of forgiveness, the Second Coming, and the Judgment into their art.

Each of these theologies impacts, indeed elevates, our understanding of the artist and novelist.

  • Novelist as Worker — The Theology of Creation and Covenant frames the novelist in terms of a worker, using his God-given talents and the Imago Dei to “fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28). Whatever cultural sphere he traverses — whether State, Church, Law, Science, Arts, etc. — the Christian worker brings the image of God with him. Thus, the novelist does more than just write Bible tracts. Rather, he is a witness for God and extends His rule through his entire work and life.
  • Novelist as Priest — The Theology of Incarnation and Sacrament frames the novelist as a priest, “mediating an experience of beauty and recognition, all of which ultimately finds its ends in God.” Just as Christ made the Father tangible to His listeners, the novelist “fleshes out” biblical truth and beauty his readers.
  • Novelist as Herald — The Theology of Education and Eschatology transforms the novelist from simply an “entertainer” who provides escapist literature, to someone who heralds a Moral Universe, affirms a biblical view of the world, and seeds culture with this message. In this sense, the Christian writer is driven by a “cause” and a sense of urgency, compelled by the Gospel, the immanence of Christ’s return, and the judgment to come.

Piper is correct: “Christians [should] have deeper and better foundations for serious art than anybody.” Covenant, Incarnation, and Education are three such foundational theologies that help us understand and approach art from a more rigorous, comprehensive perspective.


nicaea_iconThat was the question posed by Dan Balow, President of Enclave Publishing, the premiere press for Christian speculative fiction. In his recent post, Theological Accountability Partners, Balow writes:

Just because an author is a mature Christian, doesn’t mean they are immune from writing something containing shaky theology. In an effort to craft compelling phrases and stories, orthodox theology can sometimes be a casualty of creativity or even carelessness.

The possibility for “shaky theology” is only heightened when applied to speculative novelists. Those who constantly conjecture new worlds and re-imagine old ones are bound to push the boundaries of orthodoxy. And, really, isn’t that what they’re supposed to do? But therein lies the rub.

While most Christian authors and publishers would agree about what constitutes theological orthodoxy, applying that orthodoxy to art and fiction is not nearly as clear-cut.

In my recent workshop at Realm Makers 2016 entitled “A Theology of Speculative Fiction,” I floated a pitch for a theoretical novel called “The Second Judas.” The pitch went like this:

A brilliant scientist, inspired by Satan, travels back in time to persuade Judas to NOT betray Jesus, thus preventing the crucifixion and the redemption of humanity. However, after successfully persuading Judas to abandon his plans, the scientist comes to believe Christ IS the Messiah. In an attempt to fulfill biblical prophecy, the scientist plots to assume the role vacated by Judas, betray Jesus, and reboot the Crucifixion. Until Judas, now a believer, plots to stop the scientist and the betrayal.

Of course, this plot is intentionally crafted to push a lot of boundaries and illustrate the slipperiness of the subject. Nevertheless, the number of possible responses and/or objections to The Second Judas would illustrate the dilemma faced by a “theological accountability partner.”

  • Time travel and The Butterfly Effect are not tenable; history cannot be altered
  • Only future history can be altered, not past
  • ANY extra-biblical portrayals of Christ are not permissible
  • God’s purposes cannot be thwarted; it is heretical to speculate alteration of biblical history
  • The story is permissible, provided that the Crucifixion occurs
  • The story is permissible, provided that Judas still betrays Jesus
  • Judas should never be portrayed in a positive / sympathetic light

Flammarian engravingPlease notice that the issue for most Christian novelists would not be theological orthodoxy per se, but to what degree theological orthodoxy should be demanded of their fiction. In other words, being a Christian means believing certain specific things about God and Christ. Being a Christian novelist does not necessarily mean that stories like The Second Judas are categorically untouchable. At the least, there will be a spectrum of beliefs regarding what is theologically tenable (in our fiction) and what isn’t.

Balow acknowledges this, noting that there’s a degree of theological give-and-take between publishers and authors:

A significant function of a traditional Christian publisher is to act as a theological accountability partner to their authors. Of course, some publishers have a very distinct theological bent to their books, while others will have a wider theological spectrum in which they operate. As agents, we spend quite a bit of time sorting out those differences, which can have a significant effect in how we deal with an individual publisher.

Suffice it to say not every publisher would agree with whatever theological stance you might take.

With a traditional publisher, your theological position or main point could even be strongly challenged by an editor. It is part of the collaborative editorial process. (bold, mine)

It is fascinating, but a bit of a sidenote, that Balow suggests that “self-published” novels, because they have not been “reviewed by a trained theological eye,” may be more open to “possible error.” Nevertheless. while part of the “function of a traditional Christian publisher” is to act as a theological gatekeeper, there remains a danger of confusing theological orthodoxy with various publishers’ cultural distinctives. Frankly, many evangelical publishers’ content guidelines are indistinct from their theology, blurring the line between hard-and-fast creedal orthodoxy and cultural preferences. As such, peripheral issues like alternate histories, extraterrestrials, and R-rated content are elevated from “disputable matters” to issues of theological orthodoxy.

Still, art and orthodoxy have a tenuous relationship. While we should vigorously protect the boundaries of Christian orthodoxy, it is quite another issue to label The Second Judas — or its author! — as a purveyor of heresy. My point is not that Christian novelists should dismiss the issue of theology, but that there is no clear-cut principle or interpretation for applying theology to fiction. So by all means, have a theological accountability partner. The main issue, however, may not be conceding the importance of theological orthodoxy, but exactly how that orthodoxy applies to alternate histories, space aliens, and other speculative content.


ordwayIn his interview with professor and apologist Holly Ordway, Brandon Vogt asks about her conversion from atheism to Catholicism, as recounted in her latest book Not God’s Type: An Atheist Academic Lays Down Her Arms. Interestingly enough, it started with “Christian literature.”

…classic Christian literature planted seeds in my imagination as a young girl, something I write about in more detail in my book. Later, Christian authors provided dissenting voices to the naturalistic narrative that I’d accepted—the only possible dissenting voice, since I wasn’t interested in reading anything that directly dealt with the subject of faith or Christianity, and thus wasn’t exposed to serious Christian thought.

I found that my favorite authors were men and women of deep Christian faith. C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien above all; and then the poets: Gerard Manley Hopkins, George Herbert, John Donne, and others. Their work was unsettling to my atheist convictions, in part because I couldn’t sort their poetry into neat ‘religious’ and ‘non-religious’ categories; their faith infused all their work, and the poems that most moved me, from Hopkins’ “The Windhover” to Donne’s Holy Sonnets, were explicitly Christian. I tried to view their faith as a something I could separate from the aesthetic power of their writing, but that kind of compartmentalization didn’t work well, especially not with a work of literature as rich and complex as The Lord of the Rings.

Eventually, I came to the conclusion that I needed to ask more questions. I needed to find out what a man like Donne meant when he talked about faith in God, because whatever he meant, it didn’t seem to be ‘blind faith, contrary to reason’.

The Christian writers did more than pique my interest as to the meaning of ‘faith’. Over the years, reading works like the Chronicles of Narnia, The Lord of the Rings, and Hopkins’ poetry had given me a glimpse of a different way of seeing the world. It was a vision of the world that was richly meaningful and beautiful, and that also made sense of both the joy and sorrow, the light and dark that I could see and experience. My atheist view of the world was, in comparison, narrow and flat; it could not explain why I was moved by beauty and cared about truth. The Christian claim might not be true, I thought to myself, but it had depth to it that was worth investigating. (bold, mine)

In this podcast, Ordway talks about the “inconsolable longing” that novels by Tolkien and Lewis evoked in her. Even though their stories were not explicitly “Christian,” it was their perspective, their worldview, that “planted seeds” in her imagination and drove her to find out more about the authors. In fact, it was this research which led her to discover the religious beliefs of the authors and the stories’ Christian underpinnings. At first, Ordway felt somehow tricked. The sense of hope, transcendence, and beauty evoked by these novels was an outgrowth of the beliefs of their authors. Yet this reality is what eventually initiated her journey to Christianity.

There is a belief among many evangelical authors that fiction can only be “Christian” insofar as Christian elements and themes are explicit. I think Ms. Ordway’s testimony challenges that assumption.

There is, without question, different views as to the aim of Christian fiction. On one side are those who believe Christian fiction should target Christians — encourage them, inspire them, reinforce their values, and ultimately make them better believers.  On the other side are those who believe Christian authors should target seekers — whet their spiritual appetite, disarm antagonism, simplify biblical themes, reinforce a biblical worldview, and leave them thinking about God, Christ, sin, and/or heaven and hell. Or simply pique their interest in the author and where she is coming from.

However, for the most part, writers and publishers of Christian fiction aim at the Church, not the world. This is a fatal error. The downside of such an approach is that, though well-intentioned, writing and marketing novels exclusively to Christians limits the degree to which authors can “plant seeds” in the imaginations of seekers. Ordway’s testimony is a reminder that simple worldview elements can stoke a reader’s spiritual quest.

Interestingly enough, many question whether or not novels like The Lord of the Rings trilogy should even be considered “Christian.” In Ordway’s case, it was “Christian enough” to prompt her to begin a quest — a quest to research the author. She came to the conclusion that she “needed to ask questions” about why men like Donne, Lewis, and Tolkien all shared this same worldview.

Their poems and novels led her to investigate the authors and their faith.

And this is where I believe many Christian fiction defenders err. The best apologetic for a specific worldview is not the story, but the author. This isn’t to say that our stories should not contain Light. Rather, theological specificity should not be sought in fictional tales. In fact, the more we demand a doctrinal checklist from one’s novels, the further we move from telling stories to preaching sermons. Ultimately, the best apologetic is the author, not the story. If people want to know what an author believes they should ask them, listen to them, research them. But demanding theological specificity from fiction eliminates the author’s ability to “plant seeds in the imagination” and the reader’s desire to, as Ms. Ordway did, “ask more questions.”



Authors understandably have mixed feelings about fan fiction. For example, in How authors feel about fan fiction, George R.R. Martin is quoted as saying, “Every writer needs to learn to create his own characters, worlds, and settings. Using someone else’s world is the lazy way out.” Martin is joined by others like Anne Rice, Orson Scott Card, and Ursula K. LeGuin as opposing fan fiction involving their characters and stories. On the other hand are novelists like J.K. Rowling, Stephanie Meyers, and Charlie Stross who are a bit more tolerant.

Meanwhile, the popularity of fan fiction has exploded, with some even calling it the future of publishing. And with this explosion comes increased debate about the stories one creates and the degree to which an author actually owns them.

Stephen King famously described writing in terms of archaeological excavation. In his memoir on the craft King writes,

“Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered pre-existing world. The writer’s job is to use the tools in his or her toolbox to get as much of each one out of the ground intact as possible.”

It’s a unique way to look at it. The suggestion is that stories somehow exist independent of their authors. Or perhaps they exist uniquely “inside” their authors, part of our “collective unconscious,” like some weird offspring seeking to be birthed into the world. But IF stories exist independent of their authors, then shouldn’t they be held loosely? And really that’s what I find most interesting about this debate — what fanfic tells us about the nature of story.

In The Power of Fanworks In Sci Fi, Fantasy Is Now Undeniable Inverse estimates that “There are over 22,000 fandoms represented with fan fiction.” Quoting Tea Fougner, a fanwork creator and co-editor of RAW: A Hannibal/Will Fanthology,

“When you deeply identify with a character or a narrative, exploring it is second nature I think we often forget this today in the world of corporate IP, but for millennia, stories were a collaboration across generations: oral tradition and the scarcity of literacy or written texts meant that sharing stories by necessity meant retelling them to a degree, and building on top of the creative work of those who came before, whether it was embellishing their stories, or creating more stories about the same characters, or commenting critically on the original work by creating new stories, were all extremely common activities. It’s how we get things like the Argonautica, or Paradise Lost, or many of Shakespeare’s plays.”

Sadly, the article veers into to the popularity of fanfiction as an ability to insert “queer characters” and minority characters into existing story worlds.

“I think that fandom often points to gaps in what popular media is presenting,” says Fougner. “So much fanwork is created by people and for people who aren’t seeing the kinds of stories they want to read being produced on a larger scale. There’s a great deal of fanwork that is specifically about queer identities, or about characters of color, for example, because fans who want to read about characters like that are feeling let down by pop media.”

This is, frankly, one of the reasons many authors hedge at sharing their characters with other creatives. According to an official statement from her agent, Rowlings desires that Harry Potter fanfic remain PG-rated.

“…she is very flattered by the fact there is such great interest in her Harry Potter series and that people take the time to write their own stories. Her concern would be to make sure that it remains a non-commercial activity to ensure fans are not exploited and it is not being published in the strict sense of traditional print publishing… The books may be getting older, but they are still aimed at young children. If young children were to stumble on Harry Potter in a an X-rated story, that would be a problem.”

An X-rated Harry Potter strikes me more as artistic hijacking than “collaboration.” Nevertheless, this is one of the motivations behind the fanfic craze — to synthesize characters we love with agendas and lifestyles we value. But even more than that, it is the ability to insert ourselves into fictional storyworlds that is so compelling. According to Fougner, this is a reaction to the sting of isolation that mainstream media can create in viewers.

“…fandom is something of a salve for the sting of a mainstream media that doesn’t include us. To see yourself in work you love is to see yourself as a part of the world, and even when mainstream media won’t give us that luxury, fan creators and fanworks do.”

We read and view epic adventures only to return to our mundane lives. Fanfiction empowers us to “collaborate” with the adventurers, to see ourselves in the works we love, to continue the journey in whatever direction we choose. Now, the fanfic writer need never leave Pottermore.

Even if it means damning authorial intent and stripping the characters of autonomy.

Undoubtedly, legalities and copyright issues remain the big issue. On her website, Anne Rice puts it bluntly: “I do not allow fan-fiction. The characters are copyrighted. It upsets me terribly to even think about fan-fiction with my characters. I advise my readers to write your own original stories with your own characters. It is absolutely essential that you respect my wishes.” While I totally respect (and probably agree with), Ms. Rice’s sentiments, it’s readers desires to even consider tinkering with an author’s characters that fascinates me.

Shelley may have excavated the Monster, but is it right to think the creature is only hers’? Or Dr. Frankenstein’s?

What we often lose sight of in the debate about fanfiction is what it tells us about the nature of “story.” If King is correct, that stories are “part of an undiscovered pre-existing world,” then how much credit can one author really take for “excavating” it? Of course, you could argue that Lestat did not exist until Rice dredged him up. Then again, maybe Lestat, Potter, and Frankenstein’s Monster were always there, existing in some type of Platonic Form, just waiting for some eager, imaginative author to start digging where no one else had broken ground. In that case, even though Harry Potter may have been around long before than J.K. Rowling, at the least we must give her credit for excavating a character that others had left buried.

And that alone should cause fandom to respect both her — and Harry’s — wishes.



Writers Helping Writers #WHW16

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I’m fortunate to be part of a great writing group. There’s five of us, and we’ve been blessed with moderate success, being published across a fairly wide spectrum of genres and markets, traditionally and independently, fiction and non-fiction. Our members have experience in numerous areas, including editing (copy and content), marketing, cover design, formatting, etc., […]

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Author Event at Mysterious Galaxy

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Even with the publishing industry in major flux, Mysterious Galaxy has run a thriving brick-and-mortar store, becoming one of the premiere independent booksellers in SoCal. The store hosts hundreds of authors a year for signings, discussions, launch parties, and other events. Mysterious Galaxy also hosts a monthly Writers Coffeehouse workshop led by local author and five-time Bram Stoker award […]

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Omniscient POV as Meta-Narrative


The last half of my “writing life” has involved unlearning much of what I learned in the first half. Perhaps it’s necessary to teach beginning writers the “writing rules.” Some of those rules are: Show Don’t Tell — Use action and dialog rather than exposition POV — Maintain a consistent, realistic narrative point-of-view; don’t “head hop” from […]

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Horror v. Sci-Fi as a Vehicle for Morality


One of the common arguments against a Materialistic, Naturalistic worldview is its inability to define or present a compelling Moral universe. And as much contemporary sci-fi is tethered to such a worldview, it could be asked whether science fiction (at least, of the Materialistic cloth) is a fitting vehicle to address issues of morality. The […]

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“Clean Fiction” as Evangelical White Magic


Evangelical readers’ objection to fictional magic — i.e., Harry Potter-like spells and witchery — is far less evil than the actual incantations and “spiritual formulas” wielded by many believers. At least, that’s the going thesis in E. Stephen Burnett’s article, Six Christian White Magic Spells Worse Than Fantasy Magic. What are those “magic spells” evangelicals naively […]

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Novelist Tim Ward on Biblical Worldview in Fiction


Tim Ward is a Hugo Nominee, former Producer / Editor at Adventures in SciFi Publishing, and the author of several popular futuristic thrillers. His latest novel  Godsknife: Revolt, is an apocalyptic fantasy set in the rift between Iowa and the Abyss. Tim joins us today to contribute to our ongoing discussion about integrating a biblical worldview into […]

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Goodreads Giveaway: Saint Death

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Giving away three autographed copies of “Saint Death” at Goodreads. Enter HERE. * * * Reagan Moon didn’t plan on being an earth guardian. He was your average paranormal reporter…until 1,000 volts of raw electricity fused an ancient relic into his sternum. It left him with Powers and lets him do things most humans can’t. […]

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