"Is it wrong for Christians to ... write, read or even watch fictitious material?" asked a commenter named Mukwemba on Zondervan's Facebook page today.
Mukwemba (who permitted the use of her name here) adds some important context: her Christian friends do not approve of fiction, arguing this:
Fiction is wrong because it's not true... As Christians we should hold fast to the truth and not saturate our minds with falsehoods regardless of what "good" they seem to bring about.
I'm sure Mukwemba's friends are well-meaning, but I believe they are mistaken. I will show you why writing fiction can be an excellent calling.
An Editor Speaks
I sent Mukwemba's question to my coworker Sue Brower, who is an Executive Editor here at Zondervan. Sue says:
When Jesus wanted to teach something to his disciples, he used story—Parables. Fiction is truth in story form. It makes concepts more accessible to the reader because the reader relates to the characters and sees themselves in the story.
I agree wholeheartedly with Sue. Let's look more closely at the biblical basis behind these points.
3 Biblical Observations about Fiction
1. Fiction can help us understand, love, and serve others.
A writer (whom I can't recall) said stories can help us "extend our sympathies" toward people who are different from us. In other words, stories can open our eyes to suffering we didn't see or care about before. With our new awareness, we can choose to better love and serve others.
I can think of two examples where fiction is even linked to changes in public policy. Arthur Miller's play, Death of a Salesman, portrayed the struggle of older workers so well that Miller's story was invoked during a 1968 Senate hearing (The Adequacy of Services for Older Workers) as a sketch of the obstacles that face older Americans. Also, a novel by Upton Sinclair, The Jungle, actually influenced the passing of new health legislation for the meatpacking industry in the city of Chicago!
2. Fiction can show you truth about yourself.
Sometimes a story is a mirror. Let's look at an example from the Bible: after King David hides his sin with Bathsheba, remember how Nathan gets through to David? Nathan goes to David and says,
'There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.
'Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.'
David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, 'As surely as the LORD lives, the man who did this must die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.'
Then Nathan said to David, 'You are the man! This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: "I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul... Why did you despise the word of the LORD by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites..."'
Then David said to Nathan, "I have sinned against the LORD." [-From 2 Samuel 12:1-18, NIV]
So if you're reading a story and think, "I can relate to this character," keep your eyes peeled. You may find some some fresh insight into your own motivations, and maybe even sins. I've been given a few such "eureka" moments through fiction, most memorably from reading Douglas Coupland's story collection, Life After God, and a short story by Flannery O'Connor called "Everything That Rises Must Converge." These stories revealed some of my attitudes that needed to change.
3. The best fiction is truth made memorable.
As Sue writes above, "Fiction is truth in story form."
Think about Jesus's Parable of the Prodigal Son. Can you imagine one of the disciples interrupting Jesus to say, "Before you go any further, Teacher, did this story actually happen?"
(Image: Rembrandt's interpretation of the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons.)
I could write about faith and fiction all day, but instead I'll recommend a few books on writing fiction by Christian writers.
5 Books on Fiction by Christian Writers
- A Stay Against Confusion: Essays on Faith and Fiction by Christian novelist Ron Hansen. (Published by HarperCollins.)
- Shouts and Whispers: Twenty-One Writers Speak about Their Writing and Their Faith. Includes essays from fiction writers such as Madeline L'Engle, Ann Lamott, Frederick Buechner, Walt Wangerin Jr., and a lot more. (Published by Eerdmans.)
- Creative Writing for People Who Can't Not Write by Kathryn Lindskoog. A book on writing, not just fiction, but Creative Writing includes a fine chapter on the wonder of creativity, and Lindskoog writes elegant and wise prose throughout. Sample: "A good writer is a graceful guest in a reader's brain." (Published by Zondervan.)
- Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose by Flannery O'Connor. This collection of essays by the short-story great includes O'Connor's four essays on the interplay of faith and fiction. Also included are two renowned essays on the craft of fiction, including "The Nature and Aim of Fiction." (Published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.)
- Soul Survivor: How Thirteen Unlikely Mentors Helped My Faith Survive the Church by Philip Yancey. Yancey shares how his faith has been nourished by the work of Christian fiction writers including G.K. Chesterton, Leo Tolstoy, and Fyodr Dostoyevsky. Yancey doesn't only write about authors though; for instance, he discusses Martin Luther King Jr. (Published by Doubleday.)
Lastly, An Open Note to Mukwemba
Your desire to honor the Father in your stories is excellent. I encourage you to remember that motivation during further discussions with your friends. It's good to listen to your friends, so keep listening with an open mind. Also share truth in love with them, and even if you and your friends don't end up in total agreement, then I pray you'll come to a greater understanding of one another. And today I pray for you to continue to honor the Father in all the best ways you know how.
- Adam Forrest, Zondervan
(This post does not necessarily represent the views of Zondervan. The writer's opinions are their own, and are shared for information purposes only. To receive new blogposts in your reader or email inbox, subscribe to Zondervan Blog.)