Things happen in life that don’t fit neatly into our theology. So why do we expect our fiction to?
I was thinking about that after reading THIS REVIEW of my latest novel The Telling. The author gave it three-stars, called it “eerily good,” and said some very nice things about the story. Nevertheless, they had some issues. At the top of the list:
The theology. It was definitely wacko, so unless this book is entitled STRICTLY Science Fiction, then some people could possibly be deceived into thinking this was reality… Use caution when reading this book
It’s one of the most peculiar, yet most defining, characteristics of the Christian fiction community: We demand sound theology in our fiction.
Confession: I don’t think that’s reasonable. In fact, I don’t think any work of fiction can possibly encompass and/or articulate any theological system. In whole or in part. Furthermore, can any one person or a series of events — especially fictional ones — ever live up to theological scrutiny?
- Did King David’s life fully represent sound theology?
- Did Jonah’s life fully represent sound theology?
- Did Rahab’s life fully represent sound theology?
- Did Judas’s life fully represent sound theology?
- Did Samson’s life fully represent sound theology?
- Did Peter’s life fully represent sound theology?
So why should we expect any single story, much less a single story about a slice of life of any particular character, to be a model of sound theology?
I’ve gone on record about my issues with Don Miller’s Blue Like Jazz, both the book and the movie. What I haven’t done is deem it (specifically, the movie) as artistically flawed because I don’t agree with its entire theology. Despite my reservations, I really appreciated pastor Larry Shallenberger’s recent critique of a review of the Blue Like Jazz film. In Christianity Today’s Odd Straight-Jacket for Christian Art Shallenberger summarizes:
The purpose of art, and even religious art, isn’t to proselytize, or to affirm a body of doctrine. Art exists to reveal beauty and truth. No story, sculpture, bears the whole weight of that task…
As long as we expect the arc of every faith-based story to touch a set of arbitrarily determined bases, Christian art will continue to earn the stereotype of being sentimental, emotionally dishonest, and stilted.
It’s time to take the straight jacket off our artists and let let them tell all kinds of stories. Only then will our stories of God escape the Evangelical ghetto.
No “story [or] sculpture” should “bear the whole weight” of “affirm[ing] a body of doctrine.” Much less one person! I mean, does your life always reflect good theology? All the time? Could I determine what God is like, what the Gospel means, the nature of God’s relationship with Man, grace, evangelism, eschatology, prayer, atonement, etc., by simply observing you? (Much less doing so over a short period of time, which most stories encapsulate.)
So why do we expect our fictional stories to?
Good fiction can contain bad theology in the same way a bad life can contain good theology. Just ask King David, Moses, Saint Peter, Mother Theresa, Jimmy Swaggart, Ted Haggard, etc., etc., etc.
“Good Christians” live in ways that don’t match “sound theology.” Things also happen in life that don’t fit neatly into our theology. So why do we expect our fiction to?