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“Undiscerning” Christian Reviews

“Undiscerning” Christian Reviews

by Mike Duran · 52 comments

Souls-GateChristian readers and reviewers often portray themselves as “discerning.” Being discerning is a good thing. However, if we’re not careful, “discernment” can become an exercise in nit-pickiness and hyper-criticism. Especially when it comes to Christian fiction. Sometimes we’re so busy straining at gnats that we swallow camels.

Case in point.

The Christian Manifesto (TCM) is one of the few Christian review sites that appears willing to give honest ratings. I’ve been reading their reviews for a while now and appreciate their approach. However, in a recent review of Jim Rubart’s Soul’s Gate, one TCM reviewer slipped into Theology Police mode and as I watched, horrified, proceeded to swallow said camel. Rubart’s book received a Below Average rating, not because it was poorly written or boring, but because it contained the word “magic.”

Michelle Black writes:

The first problem in the book comes from the word magic. When I read C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia it bothered me that Emperor’s power was referred to as magic when the word power would have worked just as well and from my point of view, made the stories stronger.

Rubart also uses the word magic instead of the word power in his book, but he’s not writing about a separate time and place the way that Lewis was, he’s using that word to describe the power of the Holy Spirit in our world and in context of believers accessing it.   The first time it happens on page 23 as [the protagonist] states what he is going to be sharing with the rest of the team are Things in the Bible that most followers of Jesus would dismiss as magic.

This is highly offensive. I’m a follower of Jesus and would never, ever, in a million years ever call the work of the Holy Spirit magic. (italics in original)

For the record, I have not read Soul’s Gate. However, there appears ample indication that book is a work of… fiction. Speculative fiction, at that. From the book description:

What if you could travel inside another person’s soul? To battle for them. To be part of Jesus healing their deepest wounds. To help set them free to step boldly into their divinely designed future.

Thirty years ago that’s exactly what Reece Roth did.

Apparently, we are not in Oz. Especially as Reece trains a group of “soul warriors” to travel inside someone’s soul and literally battle their demons. Lest readers be confused about the possibility of supersonic soul travel, Rubart includes this Author’s Note at the end of the novel:

“With regard to our spirits traveling inside the souls of others, no, I don’t believe that’s possible.”

Duh.

Apparently, this didn’t stop other reviewers from joining in the gnat-straining.

Commenter Amanda wrote:

“It’s scary sometimes how authors can slip dangerous doctrine into fiction books!”

Commenter Gee insinuates Rubart’s story is potentially “sacrilegious” before lecturing us on how to correctly write about “the Truth”:

“…many authors, even of supposedly Christian novels, do not ground their narratives in orthodox theology. It is sacrilegious, to my mind, as it is to yours, that Rubart refers to the power of the Holy Spirit as ‘magic’ or ‘magical,’ a term associated not with Christian history, belief, or practice, but with pagan religious doctrines, rites, and rituals. When writing about the Truth, an author should be true not to his own ideas but to the Word of God.”

And commenter Katherine goes so far as to call the author to repent:

“It is my prayer that James Rubart will listen to your comments with fear and trembling in his heart and repent. The Bible is NOT a speculative book of fantasy but the holy, God-breathed, words of the Creator of the Universe to mankind. This fact alone should make fantasy writers tremble in awe and NEVER want to cross the line between fantasy and Truth.”

Reading and reviewing with an eye of discernment is an important thing. I don’t for one second want to downplay that. However, this book reviewer and the ensuing comments seem more indicative of a lack of discernment than anything.

Being “discerning” about theology is different than being “discerning” about art.  How I approach a novel or a film should be different than how I approach Scripture, a self-help book, or a lecture. Simply quoting biblical injunctions against magic or sorcery does little to get to the heart of fictional, especially speculative, stories. (You can see a more detailed discussion in Thoughts on “Magical Hedges” and the Paradigm of Potter Objectors and Can Christian Theology and Speculative Fiction Coexist?)

Furthermore, the reviewers’ approach seems to contain a superstition all its own. As in suggesting that

  • Using the word “magic” is evil
  • Using the word “power” is not

To me, this approach is as problematic as the issue they’re addressing. I mean, does swapping words really make our stories less sacrilegious?

The fact that Soul’s Gate contained an Author’s Note explaining that a fictional mechanism is actually fictional, is embarrassing. It reveals the kind of eggshells many Christian authors are forced to walk on to sell to the Christian market. In their attempt to be “discerning,” many Christian fiction reviewers are straining at gnats and swallowing camels.

Memo to Christian reviewers: Perhaps we should be more discerning about what we call “discernment.”

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{ 50 comments… read them below or add one }

E. Stephen Burnett March 6, 2013 at 6:55 AM

Imposter discernment. It’s long been a problem. Thanks for diagnosing it.

Thus the importance of solid Biblical theology in this business.

So the word “magic” is to be feared and shunned? Who, then, is bringing superstition and pagan witchcraft-like thinking into the issue? If Satan is involved here, he’s actually won a stunning victory by making believers fear and quiver as if Jesus did not utterly smash the Devil’s power forever on the Cross.

A related topic: ever hear someone say “that looks demonic”? If by that they mean that something looks beautiful and attractive and shining with oh-so-spiritual light, then that’s fine. But we all know people only ever mean something with pointy horns.

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J.S. Clark March 6, 2013 at 7:00 AM

It sounds like they were going overboard. However, to play . . . someone’s advocate . . . I can see some of the discomfort. Imagine someone came to you with a story where pedophelia (literally) was set in a fictional world and in that world pedophelia was good. Would you have an easy time swallowing it just because the setting was fiction?

I can get passed magic being used. I’m willing to be lenient where something is not explicit in scripture. However, for myself I ask what is gained by using magic as magic? I don’t mind a mysterious power, and if someone calls it magic for their stories sake I’ll over look that, but I would ask why couldn’t it have been something else?

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J.S. Clark March 6, 2013 at 7:02 AM

Just to clarify, I mean as a weapon of good. I’m fine with the villain using it, or even the hero in a moment of weakness. Even an arc where it is ambiguous that it might be ok, but again its like pedophilia to me. True magic is an abomination, so substitute another abomination and see if we’re equally willing to use it flipantly.

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D.M Dutcher March 6, 2013 at 8:55 AM

I’m not sure I get your latter point though. The former point I’d say “Well, you shouldn’t read fantasy at all, except for sword and sorcery where the unmagical barbarian always beats up on the evil sorceror.”

The second point. Hmm. Maybe if I recast the book’s premise? Science Fiction:

What if instead of magic, the man was a soul hacker? He helps Jesus by using sophisticated computer programs that interface with a person’s soul, draw it out, and represent it in a 3-d “holodeck” that enable people to battle daemons-virtual representations of sin represented by code?

or Steampunk:

What if Professor Soulmonger used the advanced art of Aeltheric Engineering through the power of galvanisation and vitalization to represent the inner landscape of the soul as a form of anima? It would become a fluid that flows into clockwork dolls, “programming” them in a Babbage engine sort of way. If you can explode the dolls containing the bad anima, spiritual roadblocks in the way of a person’s salvation are removed.

What would be the difference between all three? All three are saying that it’s possible for a person to affect another person’s salvation through modifying their soul in some way. Why does calling one magic, one science, and one a power change this?

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J.S. Clark March 6, 2013 at 10:26 AM

That’s a fair question/argument. I’ll freely admit that science fiction accomplishes the same thing as fantasy but by a different means. I’m not making a dogmatic point here, but in fairness as I cannot concretely answer your dilemma, neither have you answered mine.

If magic can be ok as a tool of good, why can’t pedophila? Or adultery? Or murder? It’s really a question of what can you make glorifying to God. On one side of the spectrum we knowingly swallow camels where anything goes and “who are you to judge!”, on the other side we can’t write anything at all because even non-fiction is fictitiously told as fact when at best we never really have fact.

So for me, the word does have some meaning (what is a word without a meaning)? Power is neutral there are many kinds. My arm has power, my computer has power. Science (I’ll give you that is closer to magic, especially when you take God out) but it has the conotation of operating on natural laws. Magic is not something amoral like “eating” or “breathing” or “speaking”, like adultery or murder carries an intrinsic moral meaning.

Again, I’m not making a dogmatic claim.

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D.M Dutcher March 6, 2013 at 11:55 AM

But magic is too undefined to have that kind of moral trait. You’re comparing something very general to something very specific. Magic in the context of a fictional book would be closer to sex, and “using an ouija board” would be closer to pedophilia in that it is an instance which both clearly breaks Christian commands against divination, and corresponds to a real world practice.

I think the more magic is viewed approvingly, and corresponds to real-world practices, the more issues I have with it. We see this with dragons and tarot cards; no one here complains that you can have a friendly dragon in Christian fiction, despite it being identified with Satan in the Bible, but no one, myself included, would be comfortable with a Christian that uses tarot cards. They also aren’t comfortable with pseudoscience like palmistry, ennegrams, or things like phrenology either, though it’s often easier to cloak magical ideas in spurious scientific clothing. But I don’t have to worry about dragons-they don’t exist in the real world.

The book itself though I’d have to read. Usually it seems urban fantasy or spiritual fiction is easier to get wrong in that sense, where pure fantasy is less likely to.

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J.S. Clark March 6, 2013 at 2:39 PM

First, I have no problem believing dragons did exist, and would point out that every other described angelic being has traits described in terms of earthly things. But that’s beside the point, just saying that Satan does not own dragons. Further, I would point out that while Satan may be a dragon, scripture never says that he made himself a dragon. I think the word seraphim (meaning fiery) has a draconic implication to it.

But, I suppose there could be some wiggle room in something like the english word magic can be used in a way that does not mean the same thing as the things in hebrew which are actually forbidden. But in hebrew those things like like “whispering” spells, calling up the dead, having spirit companions, what not are specific things. And I think when you start having characters using those types of mechanisms, I ask why. Why not purposefully have a distinction? For example, I’m reading a story right now with magic, but the author made the point that the magic was really a descended blessing from the god in her world. I’m just saying we should be careful to make such distinctions.

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Amarilys Gacio Rassler March 6, 2013 at 7:57 AM

This subject is something I have struggled with in the past. Thanks for the discussion. Need more time to pray about it. I appreciate how the discussion has gone in a Christian way.

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Laura K. Cowan March 6, 2013 at 8:38 AM

This topic has been driving me crazy, because my own speculative fiction explores the nature of things beyond the buzzwords, but it’s very difficult for Christians in particular to get past words like “magic” and “mystical.” I just read Kandinsky’s 100-year-old book “Concerning the Spiritual in Art” and he dives right into this topic, saying that most people are dragged along by the spiritual theories of others and are not able to think for themselves enough to discern what is good or evil, and so settle for theology or a theory of things instead of engaging with spirituality themselves (armchair theology). Tragic, and apparently not changing over time. I believe Jesus also was abandoned by most of his followers when he stopped using the right buzzwords and started saying bizarre things that required a little engagement to unravel. I think the problem with the above review is also that it confuses facts and truth. Christian fiction readers in general haven’t gone much beyond the sentiment a couple decades ago that fiction itself is bad and one should stick to nonfiction in order to be on the side of truth. i.e. confusing facts and truth. Art is for truth, not facts. Facts make for terrible art, hence the state of much of CBA fiction today.

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Nikole Hahn March 6, 2013 at 8:44 AM

As Christians were so harsh on our own people that it makes us look quite bad to non-believers. I’m a Harry Potter fan, read a secular speculative fiction novel which used the word Magick, but am a solid, Bible believing follower of Jesus. To judge me for reading that is very hypocritical. In my own life, I do not practice what I read in FICTION. I also review secular books as well as Christian books. I’ve only refused to review a fantasy novel which used reincarnation because my worldview can’t imagine it. Believability is important and it’s not there for me in that kind of novel.

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Nikole Hahn March 6, 2013 at 8:45 AM

I can believe that people would fight over the word magic and give a harsh review because of it.

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Amarilys Gacio Rassler March 6, 2013 at 9:35 AM

Everyone is in a different place in their Christian walk. Sometimes what one is allowed to do by The Lord for a specific reason is not what another can do. However, in anything I believe we must not go against His Word and Spirit. We must be careful that the enemy does not deceive us. And, if we have a conviction or an opinion it should be shared in love. I can easily take another’s point of view and consider it if have not been slapped with harshness. It might be the Lord warning me about something or bringing a new point of view to me that I have been narrow in considering it. Thaks for the discussion.

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Nikole Hahn March 6, 2013 at 10:17 AM

I agree. Still, power and magic mean the same thing. We show ourselves as hypocritical when we fight over words like that. :o)

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Linda March 6, 2013 at 9:19 AM

This statement: ” What if you could travel inside another person’s soul? To battle for them. To be part of Jesus healing their deepest wounds. To help set them free to step boldly into their divinely designed future.

Thirty years ago that’s exactly what Reece Roth did.”

This is what opens the door to the astroplane. It’s demonic. We can battle for others, to be a part of ‘Jesus’s healing their deepest wounds and setting them free’ without “traveling inside another person’s soul.” In fact that is not even Scriptural. It’s more like demon possession. Bear ye one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ. It does not say to climb into their souls and do the battle for them.

Pray, intercede, etc., but do NOT climb into one another’s soul. It’s like calling the dead back to talk to us–divination. We saw what happened to King Saaul

Christian authors today need to be observant of the astroplane that is demonic and carefully walk around that aspect and present it in a Godly, Scriptural manner.

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C.L. Dyck March 6, 2013 at 10:38 AM

Having dabbled in the New Age in real life, I agree…*in real life.* But novels are imaginary. Sometimes they reinvent the rules of the universe in order to create a metaphor for something intangible, like spiritual communion.

If readers do dabble in occultism, then (A) that is 100% their responsibility before God, not a fiction author’s, and (B) odds are they were already searching in that direction, not getting flung into it naively and unexpectedly by a single novel.

In which case, there’s a God who judges and who also saves, as He saved me.

Jim’s fiction has been hit hard in the Amazon reviews by non-Christians (people who picked it up on free e-book promo) for being “too Christian.” So if his author note says it’s a literary device, I’ll call him innocent till proven guilty, since I haven’t read his book.

It sounds like he’s constructed a scenario far-fetched enough–not astral travel as occultists normally teach, but a device to describe sharing total spiritual communion–that people can easily understand there’s no intent to reference real-world Christian practice and it’s not a theological expression.

I appreciate your discernment on astral projection. I think a lot of people wouldn’t recognize the term.

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Linda March 6, 2013 at 11:04 AM

But some people have been pressed into the astral plane through Satanic abuse. These books reinforce this concept of the demonic.

I still stand with the idea that we are not to climb into another’s soul and fight their battles. Pray, interceded, counsel, etc., do what ever you can. Just don’t climb into them and fight their battles. That is the Holy Spirit’s job through Jesus.

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sally apokedak March 6, 2013 at 9:30 AM

I’m confused. If the character is saying that things in the Bible are true, though most followers of Christ would dismiss them as magic, then he saying that the things were done by the Holy Spirit and not by magic. And if the reviewer would not dismiss of them as magic that’s great but it doesn’t prove that most followers of Christ wouldn’t do so.

Having not read the book, I have no idea what those things are that Rubart’s character believes most of us would dismiss as magic, but why on earth would the reviewer be offended because he’s on the same side of the author and he’s not dismissing the work of the Holy Spirit as magic?

It doesn’t make any sense to me. Am I not reading the review correctly? Has anyone read the book, and if so, do you understand what the reviewer was trying to say?

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Fred Warren March 6, 2013 at 10:16 AM

I’m with Sally…it doesn’t sound like much of a problem on its face, but it’s hard to assess the statement in isolation without reading the whole book and seeing where the author goes from there.. Magic is often a catch-all term for whatever we can’t comprehend. “How does GPS work? Oh, I don’t know…it’s magic.”

It sounds to me like the author is “materializing” what we do everyday when we pray with people, counsel them, help them however we can when they’re struggling with sin or suffering. Sort of a metaphor writ large, with a speculative twist. It’s a “what-if.” What if we could get inside someone’s soul to take part in the battle within, like the scientists in Fantastic Voyage who miniaturize themselves to execute a delicate medical operation inside a dying man’s body? Sure, it’s impossible, but what would it be like if we could? As Mike noted, this is *fiction,* not a theological treatise on the nature of the soul or the mechanics of spiritual warfare. If you’re looking for serious instruction here, you’ve got deeper problems than whether “magic” is or isn’t a bad word. I *would* be interested to know more about where, how, and why Reese acquired this ability, and where God comes into it.

There’s a certain satisfaction in the thought of finding a way to duke it out hand-to-hand with the powers of darkness, and it’s a common trope within the whole “spiritual warfare” genre. I suppose it offers a bit more audience appeal than “we prayed, and God healed him.”

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J.L. Lyon March 6, 2013 at 10:36 AM

I don’t think this and other similar complaints are about “magic” so much as not paying attention in 6th grade English. Those of us who did pay attention can easily “discern” that this is a metaphor.

Unfortunately I think this concept has been a major barrier to science fiction and fantasy among Christians. Authors in these genres make use of things that can’t happen to illustrate truths about the real world. I haven’t read Soul’s Gate, but it seems obvious that this is a metaphor for engaging someone with the gospel. To Linda, do you really think Rubart advocates jumping into people’s souls? I mean really.

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Linda March 6, 2013 at 6:44 PM

The quote is on the book cover, I didn’t make it up. Spiritual entities, other than the Godly realm, do possess people and wreak havoc in peoples’ lives. Read the Gospels. Full of it. This book opens up the idea to try it, not realizing they could be toying with the demonic, and weaker Christians and/or non-Christians open themselves up to the demonic. Those who have suffered SRA are severely affected by the possibility of possession, because they are tormented with the demonic.

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Jessica Thomas March 7, 2013 at 1:13 AM

SRA?

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D.M. Dutcher March 7, 2013 at 6:54 AM

Satanic Ritual Abuse? Linda, if you mean this, it’s been somewhat debunked. A lot of the SRA stuff of the eighties relied on the idea of repressed memories to the point of memory creation, and many accounts of the era were shown to be doubtful or false, like Lauren Stratford, or Mike Warnke. Essentially it was a moral panic that a lot of fundamentalist churches went through, and it shows very much the risk of ascribing too much power to the demonic. Or to current psychological theories.

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Amarilys Gacio Rassler March 8, 2013 at 8:34 AM

I have to disagree with you, D.M.Dutcher. I have been involved with Satanically Ritually Abused victims. There might have been exploitation of that subject for the wrong reasons but the victims and the reality of it exists. The testimonies of the ones I have heard in counseling have been supported by authorities even members of police forces, that have confirmed their reality. As far as the power of the demonic … that too is real though Our God can handle anything. My upset through the years has been with the believers and churches who assign everything to the psychological and emotiona realm. I have dealt with many cases of those who have been placed in mental hospitals and come out worse, living zombies, under heavy medication. Once they find Christ and freedom ministries they have healthy profitable lives for God’s kingdom. I can speak of that because but, for the grace of God I would be one of those. Yes, there’s mental illness but there is also demonic oppression that mimics some of those illnesses. I think we owe the oppressed the love and mercy to reach out to them with an open mind and test everything as The Word says.

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Abimael Jr March 6, 2013 at 10:50 AM

Hi Mike
Well.. It’s complicated .. I am Brazilian and (perhaps) there are few differences .. but I really do not like that Art books mentions things from the Bible or so .And IF those Art Books are Christian Art books, I think it is worst.
I think that, unfortunely, you can think as you are and I agree with you, because for instance, if I read a book that mention “magic” for Holy Spirit or similar, I will understand properly what the author was saying or trying to say. BUT the problem is that other sort of people will not think like that, and most probably will think that the Holy Spirit is not Holy itself, but just a name for something that you can find in some other pagan religions (for example Wicca) .
And that ‘s where the point strugle and that I think that, even Christian Art author should use propers words .
Also, there are the people that just had became Christians newly. They need support on some terms and the differences between practices that were common in their lifes living for the world, but are antagonic, living for Christ. If those people read a book like that, they start to think that theses books are better or righter than Bible (because Bible are ancient or old text) .
This is very similar with thinks that appear in some movies from Hollywood . People watch the movies and on the exit of the theather start to think that those things are true and make some decisions for your lifes based in a “art” movie, that is fictional in essence, even the director or producer mention it on the beginning of the film.
I cannot express to much opinion as I didn’t read the books yet , but I am doing my point of view using only my post, but I really do not think I will change my mind.
I am sure you know that we are in a process for some sort of ecumenicism and some sort of paganism inside the churches and we, definitively, need to fight against them.

Nice topic and post

Bye

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Mike Duran March 7, 2013 at 6:41 AM

Abimael, thanks so much for writing. I appreciate your concerns. There will always be people in various stages of growth, from different backgrounds, that we must interact with. This is not limited just to fiction. Any time we say or do something, and attach the label of Christ or Christian to it, we can potentially offend, confuse, or anger someone. That’s why I agree that discernment is such an essential tool for Christians. If a novelist becomes too worried about explaining himself and not alluding to anything ambiguous or potentially controversial, our stories are stripped of any power and become little more than Bible tracts or shallow sermonettes. That’s why I think the most important issue is emphasizing discernment and individual freedom, rather than a rigid checklist of do’s and dont’s. Thanks again for writing!

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Lelia Rose Foreman (@LeliaForeman) March 6, 2013 at 11:12 AM

On the cover page I wrote Genre: Magical Realism and then listed some themes to look for so the next reader would not have as many troubles reading the book as I did. I was glad that in the afterword Rubart said he did not believe that what he talked about in the book was possible.
I had to struggle to finish the book, even though in general I like his books. This one had the main character be the kind of person I detest: I’m going to tell you a big truth: No, not today, tomorrow. Not yet, after this. Okay, this happened, but after that I’ll tell you. Nope, you’re still not ready. Aargh! I wanted to slap the protagonist.
I could not finish the Harbinger for the same reason.

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Kat Heckenbach March 6, 2013 at 11:54 AM

I’m only going to touch the point about using the word “magic” in this book. I think the quote is out of context and I can’t “discern” the author’s meaning. To me it looks like he’s saying that people often dismiss the work of the Holy Spirit as “magic”, when in fact it’s not. I’ve placed the book on hold through my library and I’m going to read it and see for myself :).

But what I do want to bring up is this last statement I found in the review:

“Speculative fiction is a marvelous tool for sharing ideas, but the genre has a dark side. Writers can cross the line and muddy Biblical truth with man’s ideas. That’s what happens in Soul’s Gate.”

Um–I think anything man writes has the potential to do this, speculative or otherwise. I’ve read devotionals I thought misrepresented scripture. That’s WHY we’re supposed to “discern” and not take man’s words as scripture.

I happen to like playing with theological ideas in fiction (although I tend to do it under the radar), or reading when others play with them. I know what Truth is–I get that from reading my Bible. Fiction for me is a place to “what if?” or look at Truth through different eyes.

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C.L. Dyck March 6, 2013 at 9:40 PM

This. Isn’t it all the more subtle when contemp fiction stirs in bad ideas about Christian living or doctrine? It places them cozily in a real-world setting, rather than across the sharp divide of a completely different universe.

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R. L. Copple March 6, 2013 at 11:55 AM

I had a similar sort of review on my book, Reality’s Dawn. The reviewer overall liked it, but had an issue reconciling a wizard doing God’s will. Which is actually my point in doing that. “Magic” in real world is simply using the power God created but denying its origin (It comes from me, or Satan, or whatever when it really comes from God). Thus the point of Moses’ showdown with Pharaoh’s magicians. Was Moses doing magic because he was able to do the exact same things the magicians were doing? The only difference between the two is Moses acknowledged it was God that allowed it, which is why at one point, the magicians couldn’t keep up. God cut off their power…because it came from Him. Not from their gods, or Satan, or themselves. God.

In essence, the magicians committed the sin of blaspheming the Holy Spirit by not acknowledging from who their power really came from. Confronted with the truth (Moses matching their “spells”), they didn’t acknowledge that reality. Even attributing it to Moses’ god being more powerful than theirs. But we all know there are not other gods. Only God. So the only place their ability could come from was God. It is in not acknowledging this that is the sin. Not the term we attach to it.

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J.S. Clark March 6, 2013 at 3:56 PM

I really appreciated this insight. It seems very true.

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Iola March 6, 2013 at 1:58 PM

I enjoyed Soul’s Gate and reviewed it on Amazon and on my blog. I will admit to being a little bit worried about the theology as I went through, but the Author’s Note cleared it up for me. Maybe that should have been at the beginning? And maybe a note to the effect that while we can’t literally get inside someone’s head to battle their demons, we can pray for them, fighting for them in a spiritual batt.e

The comment “It’s scary sometimes how authors can slip dangerous doctrine into fiction books!” reminds me that authors can never underestimtate the intelligence of some of their readers. This wasn’t doctrine, or presented as such, but the fact that people believe it was means it was sufficiently vague as to be open to interpretation.

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sally apokedak March 6, 2013 at 2:24 PM

Of course if we wrote in a way that was so solid and clear that no reader no matter how unintelligent could mistake our meaning, then our books would be boring to the majority of readers.

Even the Bible is sufficiently vague as to be open to interpretation. The Author knows what he means and he’s done a good job of speaking to us in baby language, but we still misinterpret Him. I don’t know why human authors should hope for better.

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Jason Brown March 6, 2013 at 2:36 PM

It all makes you wonder how Christians ever accepted Lord of the Rings as a Christian classic at all, and how we’re okay with Ted Dekker letting some of his villains use some form of magic.
It also makes me wonder this: what if a Christian has a background history of using any form of magic, became a Christian, then felt called to write fiction, and used their experience in that field to expose the dangers of it, still used the word “magic”, and still got bashed for the legalistic standards of any given reviewer?
The church I’m currently going to, when I told one of the leaders of one of the church’s Bible Study leaders about the new trend of authors writing a LotR-inspired fantasy version of the OT or just the Bible, she simply said “In other words, they’re altering Scripture.” I had to explain to her that it’s not rewriting it if it’ll grab the attention of someone who doesn’t care about the Bible at all. But Christians today have become so seriously intertwined in their own preconceived standards for what “should” be considered Biblically correct and accurate that it’s a wonder there are some coming to the Church. Yeah, witchcraft is condemned in the Bible, but I don’t recall any given time that God told anyone to never use “magic” (GASP!) in a story.
Oh, last thing, that review on TCM for that book really did annoy me. For that particular reason, to the point that I thought, “Chill out, it’s not like the author is actually supporting the idea, nor the practice oft he word just because he put it in there!” But there will always be those who strain the tiny, trivial matters and make them overly important (jesus-is-savior.com, godhatesfags.com, anyone?)

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Jill March 6, 2013 at 6:22 PM

Yeah, but if you say magic three times really fast, it will *magically* become something else. So I don’t know why everybody’s getting so worked up over a few phonemes.

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D.M. Dutcher March 6, 2013 at 9:00 PM

The problem is that many Christians believe magic really exists in this world, and that even if it doesn’t, excessive focus on it can open a person to demonic influence. This can be taken to some out-there extremes; sometimes the idea of “the occult” or “the new age” is so tenebrous, that any representation of magic, even blatantly fictional ones, can be accused of this. To humorous extremes; Star Wars was often a popular focus of anti New Age Christian apologetics in the 80s due to the idea of the Force.

I can’t dismiss this entirely; there’s a tension between Elijah mocking the prophets of Baal, and Jesus casting out demons. I think though we err too much in seeing demonic influence in things, and short-change our own powers of evaluation.

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James L. Rubart March 6, 2013 at 7:22 PM

Hi Mike,

Since I’m clearly biased I’ll refrain from commenting, but I will say I appreciate you kicking off a fascinating discussion/topic.

Jim

PS Happy to answer any specific questions you or your readers might have.

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Mike Duran March 7, 2013 at 6:32 AM

Jim, thanks for dropping by. Feel free to comment on anything! I’d personally like to know your response to the concerns the reviewer brought up about your use of the word “magic” and the interposition of biblical and non-biblical sources. Thanks!

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Mickey Hunt March 6, 2013 at 8:34 PM

Magic is not real. Pedophilia is.

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J.S. Clark March 7, 2013 at 6:58 AM

Obviously, there is a gap between something in fictitious world, and something in the real world.

However, if magic (the substance of it) is not real, then wouldn’t it be the only thing God forbid that was not real? I’m not saying it really is what people think it is, but isn’t sin by nature deceptive? I mean who thinks I’m going to destroy my life and the relationship with my children and betray a faithful woman by committing sexual sin with my neighbors wife? No they think, but I’m lonely and she’s lonely and we both just want to be happy. Even NAMBLA does not call itself a group of pedophiles, it claims it is promoting a healthy relationship.

Magic may not be what people think, but there is a thing translated as magic that is forbidden. Clearly, God through Moses and the early church thought it was something real enough to repent of.

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Mickey Hunt March 7, 2013 at 11:58 AM

‘So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that “An idol is nothing at all in the world” and that “There is no God but one.”’ [1 Cor. 8:4 NIV]

And yet idol worship is forbidden. A lot of sorcery is mixed up with use of drugs falsely thought to have magical properties. See the NT Greek word for “sorcery.”

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J.S. Clark March 8, 2013 at 6:49 AM

You have a point, in that what is being forbidden is not literal (though in 10:19-20 Paul does say that they are worshipping something). One cannot worship another god because there is no other God. But a commandment is literally a truth placed inside, it is a belief that motivates action. So while there may not be another god to worship, you can believe it. And thus the commandment is about something real. Likewise, magic while we could debate whether the english word describes what is being portrayed in fiction or what is being described in the bible. To say magic is not real is misleading.

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Amarilys Gacio Rassler March 8, 2013 at 8:51 AM

I agree with you J.S. Clark. If magic is not real why did God speak against it in Deuteronomy 18: 10-14? I think the United States’ worldview is lacking sometimes in knowledge of the spirit realm even among believers. We tend to dismiss some of the pages in the Bible as if they were only for Biblical times or as if it was really all myth.
Some long evenings spent with missionary friends from third world countries have helped me believe even more strongly about the truth of the Bible. There is the reality and power of the evil side of the spirit realm. One thing I know though, The Lord Jesus is all powerful. He wins.

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Jessica Thomas March 7, 2013 at 9:36 AM

Two conclusions I’ve drawn relatively recently are, 1) satan’s ability to deceive is far greater than I ever imagined, 2) when and artist/author is free in Christ, God allows more freedom of expression than I’d currently been giving Him credit for. We walk among demons, that’s a fact, but we walk in Jesus’ light, so we don’t have to fret the darkness. Instead, we get to revel in Christ’s victory over it (which is a much more fun place to hang out.) I don’t think either of these are new or profound insights, just took me awhile to get there.

And if you don’t like what’s in a book, stop reading it.

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James L. Rubart March 7, 2013 at 11:00 AM

Mike,

Since you asked …

I didn’t see the Christian Manifesto review, but after reading your post my first reaction to it—and the subsequent comments—was to laugh a bit. This kind of angst over using the word “magic”? I could have easily substituted the word “nonsense” for “magic” but that wouldn’t have had the same impact. (Obviously.) And yes, as earlier comments attest, the quote is taken entirely out of context. I don’t promote magic whatsoever in the novel.

Consequently it’s difficult to see their opinion as valid without having read the book. So are they straining out gnats and swallowing camels? I believe so.

BUT … and this significant … if you take James L. Rubart back twenty five years I could see myself getting hung up on the same type of semantics. I was heavy on the letter of the law and not so willing to press into grace and wait to hear the whole story before I passed judgment. I had a lot of religion and far too little Jesus.

Does it bother me that the C.M. made the comments they did? No. Because we are to be sharpened by each other and if I’m not willing to consider other’s opinions or look at areas that might be blind spots for me, then I’m not wanting to grow. So I mean it when I say I appreciate not only the C.M.’s comments, but the others who have commented on your post.

And (as you know well, Mike) we authors are putting ourselves out there. We have displayed our work in a public place. Some will like it, some will love it, and some will blast it. That’s okay. The only one I need to consider when I write my stories is Jesus because at the end of this age I have to stand before him and no one else.

In the end I have to use Jesus’ litmus test: What is the fruit? (Of people reading Soul’s Gate). It’s been stunning. The many, many e-mails I’ve received have been so cool. People surrendering their lives to Jesus. People getting set free of deep darkness. People being inspired to intercede for others like they’ve not done before. People reading the Word more and pressing into Jesus more and finding greater freedom than they’ve ever experienced.

In my fantasy (can I use that word?) world, I would have everyone sitting a room discussing this together. I think it would be rich time of all of us learning from each other.

Much freedom,

Jim

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Lelia Rose Foreman (@LeliaForeman) March 7, 2013 at 5:34 PM

James Rubart, about the response you have gotten from your book: Wow. Yay!!! How gratifying that must be to have a part in someone getting closer to Jesus Christ.

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James L. Rubart March 7, 2013 at 6:33 PM

So true, Lelia.

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Jason Joyner March 7, 2013 at 2:21 PM

Jim,

Can I just say that your response is amazing in the grace it shows. I really appreciate it as a young author (young in the publishing process, not necessarily so young otherwise…) and I thought it showed a lot of wisdom. Good job.

Jason

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James L. Rubart March 7, 2013 at 4:04 PM

I appreciate that, Jason.

All the best in your pursuit of writing. Go strong!

Jim

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Doreen Grace March 7, 2013 at 10:20 PM

I grew up surrounded by theologians with articulate sounding eschatology, but sadly, many of them weren’t even nice to each other. When I heard Jim speak at a conference in Eugene, the sincere Love of God was very clearly in him, and that’s what matters most. Instead of arguing about diction we all need to be united in our sincere Love for one another. Intentions of Love are what delineate “Christian” acts from “voodoo”, not mere vocabulary.

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Kessie March 8, 2013 at 9:37 AM

Re: magic being compared to the Holy Spirit — you know Tolkien did that in Lord of the Rings?

Gandalf, when facing the Balrog, says, “I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the Flame of Arnor!” Which are metaphors for the Holy Spirit. A wizard using the Holy Spirit to work magic? I guess we should be burning Lord of the Rings, too, huh?

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