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When Is Fiction False Doctrine?

One of the many charges against William Young’s best-seller The Shack was its portrayal of God as a black woman. I have gone on record with my concerns about The Shack. Frankly, God being portrayed as a black woman is not one of them.

So does God being portrayed as a black woman cross some doctrinal line? I personally don’t think so. Especially as it’s housed in a work of fiction. But however you answer that question, make no mistake about it: Doctrinal lines are a HUGE part of Christian fiction.

Exactly what those lines are and when they are crossed, is another story.

Over at Speculative Faith, novelist and editor Rachel Starr Thompson revisited this subject in an entry entitled When Speculation is… Confusing. She compares two recent books she’s read, one of them being my first novel The Resurrection. Rachel writes

I’m somewhat ambivalent about speculative fiction that takes place in this world… I mean, when we’re making up an entire world from scratch, then I think we’ve got fair license to make it work however we want. But if we set a story in this world, don’t we have some responsibility to play by the rules of this world? If we don’t– if we blur the lines between reality and fantasy– do we risk causing confusion to our readers, especially as pertains to spiritual realities? (emphasis mine)

So in writing fantasy worlds, the author has a “fair license” to create her own laws. On the other hand, stories rooted in the here-and-now are somewhat bound by “the rules of this world.” In other words, I am free to interject space aliens into downtown Los Angeles. I am not free to strip God of His power to eradicate those aliens. For Christians, an impotent God is less tolerable (and more fictional) than an alien invasion. Which brings Rachel to her concerns about my novel.

… Mike speculates freely about spiritual warfare and the various spiritual denizens that inhabit our world, and while that speculation is at times chilling and at other times just plain fun, I came away a little confused on a few points, and feeling that it wouldn’t be too hard to interpret God as just another deity vying for control of the planet, rather than as the King of Kings thundering His authority over every inch of it. This is reality, but it’s not; the lines are blurry.

In the ensuing comments, Rachel summarized “…we can play with the rules of our world as long as we don’t play with the nature and character of God.” This is THE doctrinal line we Christians mustn’t transgress.

Let me make clear: Rachel’s review is fair and generous. She is not accusing me of false doctrine, but accurately describing the “theological plumb line” that many Christian readers impose upon their books. Nevertheless, she worries that I speculate too freely about God and His world. Behind her concerns is the fear that, at some point, fiction can become false doctrine.

This is a good concern for Christians to have. Nevertheless, its application is sticky. I mean, at what point is fiction false doctrine?

The Lord of the Rings trilogy has not a few Christian detractors. While some consider LotR to be one of the greatest works of fiction ever penned by a believer, others view its theology as askew. The Bible condemns witchcraft and sorcery, they say. So how can Gandalf NOT be antagonistic to a Christian worldview? On these same grounds, any book with wizards, sorcerers, spells or incantations, is categorically branded as biblically unsound. So Harry Potter doesn’t stand a chance.

Truth is, many Christian books take liberties with “doctrine.” C. S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce envisions a bus ride from hell (or, at least, purgatory) to heaven, even though the Bible dismisses such travel (Luke 16:26). His Space Trilogy goes even further, taking us into florid un-fallen worlds. But can there be such a thing as an un-fallen world? This educator watched A Wrinkle in Time removed from her Christian school’s curricula because of what some perceived as a “New Age content.” Tosca Lee speculates about demonsEric Wilson about vampires, and Robin Parrish about ghosts. How can Christians write speculative fiction without, um, speculating?

So maybe this is a no-win situation. I mean, the author writing for the Christian market is invariably forced to dot her doctrinal I’s and cross her theological T’s. Which is why I have suggested elsewhere that the import of theology into our fiction potentially stifles speculation. Yes, God revealed Himself as a Jewish carpenter. But does that mean He couldn’t have used a black woman?

Is there such a thing as “false doctrine”? Absolutely. But when does fiction cross that line? I’m not sure. But whatever that line is, I think Christians often draw it too conservatively.

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{ 43 comments… add one }
  • Jay June 12, 2011, 5:05 PM

    You have to wonder, the world in which a Christian spec fic story takes place…does it necessarily need to be this world? Out of all the possible universes what does God need to be and what does He not necessarily need to be? This is assuming there would be a difference at all.

    That’s a tough shell to crack. In a fallen world of cubes made in His image wouldn’t He come to them in a way which cubes would understand Him?

  • Steve Rzasa June 12, 2011, 6:37 PM

    I think that, as writers, we should be free to speculate — aliens and all. But I agree with this from above:
    … Rachel summarized “…we can play with the rules of our world as long as we don’t play with the nature and character of God.”
    If we alter the character and nature of God, he is not the God we worship.

  • Tracy Krauss June 12, 2011, 7:08 PM

    Fiction is still FICTION as far as I’m concerned. I’m not sure there should be a ‘line’, so to speak. The moment we start drawing lines in the sand, they beg to be crossed. Isn’t it interesting that Christians (yet again) are the ones engaging in what appears to be another ‘legalistic’ discussion. (Argument?) We do love to flaunt our own opinions as absolute truth. In my view, a work of fiction should never be taken as ‘gospel’ truth, no matter how inspirational it might be. THE SHACK is a great example of this, as Mike points out. Enjoy it for what it is; make as many comparisons as you like; use the story as an object lesson if you wish, but remember IT IS STILL FICTION!

  • Tim George June 12, 2011, 7:59 PM

    The Shack horribly muddles fiction, allegory and doctrine. For me “it’s just fiction” never washes if we in any way portray God in any other way than He has portrayed Himself. If you want to call that legalistic then so be it.

    • Mike Duran June 13, 2011, 5:36 AM

      I’m definitely not defending The Shack here, Tim. (Please note my first link.) I am, however, defending his storytelling device.

      • Tim George June 13, 2011, 5:45 AM

        I caught that you weren’t defending The Shack and am quite glad you don’t. But I can’t even defend Young’s portrayal of God as a story telling device. Had the story been written as Lewis’ “Narnia” or Tolkien’s “Rings” the imagery would not have bothered me. Lewis, for example, left it to us to see the Christ figure in Aslan but never identifies him as such.

        In The Shack, Young clearly identifies each person of the Trinity with his portrayal of them. This is what I mean by a muddled allegory and why I don’t consider The Shack to true fiction. Fictional yes, true fiction no.

      • E. Stephen Burnett June 13, 2011, 6:36 AM

        Mike, I’ve seen your views on The Shack and appreciate your strong stand against it. I think, though, that I see both your point and Tim‘s. One could almost defend the portrayal of God as a black woman from some kind of Allegorical Story Device perspective.

        However, Young wasn’t writing pure allegory. His tale was very “literal,” set in our own universe, in which he changed the rules about God: not only the Jesus is the only human incarnation of God, but equally crucial doctrines such as Christ obeys the Father, and yes, there are absolutely different roles in the Trinity. To crap up that truth isn’t honoring to God or loving to people, to whom God has revealed some truths about Him.

        I do believe the “rule” should be what Rachel and I concluded in the comments of that column. Sure, we can change the rules of this world, in a story set in this universe. I’d take that even to the extreme of a “what if Jesus had waited until an alternate-world steampunk Renaissance to come to Earth?” concept. But God Himself must be the same, if we hope to honor Him in our stories. Otherwise we dishonor Him, take His truth about Himself lightly, and on top of that fail to create a realistic story — if we do believe God is real and active in this world and Scripture gives us the surest truth about Him.

        That, of course, necessitates plenty of personal-relationship work with Him, time in His Word, and etc., working out our own salvation while knowing it’s really Him working in us (Philippians 2). …

  • Patrick Todoroff June 12, 2011, 9:28 PM

    Ummm… hate to be Captain Obvious but shouldn’t Christians get their theology from reading the Bible?

    A wise man once said never get your doctrine from Hollywood or comic books.

    I think you’ve got to watch where we lay the burden of theological responsibility on Spec Fiction writers. Should I pounce on Amish Romance for promoting surreal, shallow saccharine fantasies now?

    Deliberate heresy and hostility (see Philip Pullman) is vastly different from generating a fictional setting where things are inexact but holding to an inner logic. For example, the comparison to Tolkien is unfair in that Middle Earth is consistent with itself. It portrays Biblical concepts but not doesn’t have to be doctrinally correct. Messrs Lewis and Tolkien never said they were amending the Holy Writ.

    I think you have to be more careful in real-world scenarios portraying God’s heart, mind and power, but how on earth are you ever going to get a pass from every sect or denomination’s Theology Police? It ain’t happening.

    Besides, how do we know how God dealt with different people in different historical periods or cultures through out the ages? But there’s apparently no qualms about tackling those settings.

    As a Christian I want to glorify God in everything I do, and I recognize there’s always room for improvement in that department. That’s doesn’t mean I’m going to rack myself over every jot or tittle though.

  • xdpaul June 13, 2011, 12:18 AM

    I’m confused, how does viewing the reality that God does compete for the hearts and minds of those made in his image against other gods even begin to border on false doctrine? What else is he jealous of, the Grave?

    If her objection is that the Resurrection portrays creation as a battleground of supernatural powers, the minority of which are the Most High God (the majority of which are others, principalities, and such) then its possible she’s the one flirting with doctrine that’s off.

    If her objection is that God could possibly be interpreted as another deity, no better, no worse than any other, well, I guess that’s possible, but it would require pretty much ignoring His qualities as displayed, especially as the text goes forward.

    I’m more than likely reading her quote wrong.

    In any case, the fact of it is that people can read Augustine’s City of God and develop doctrines that Augustine would puke at, but no one advocates that he shouldn’t have written it — and he wrote specifically to educate on theological matters!

    You can’t judge a religion based on what its adherents mistake, only on what its adherents faithfully follow in truth. If you know a satanist who cares for others and loves Jesus, it doesn’t mean satanism is good, merely that he’s a bad satanist.

    Same with readers. You have good ones and bad ones. The bad ones read your work faithfully and don’t pay a bit of attention to what you wrote.

    • Mike Duran June 13, 2011, 4:52 AM

      Dan, Rachel and I exchanged some private correspondence and she spoke specifically about plot elements that provoked her concern. For the sake of not spoiling the story, she refrained from mentioning those points in her post, which I appreciated. Those points were…

      * spoilers ahead *

      Mr. Cellophane and the pagan spell that kept Aaron’s spirit entombed at the old graveyard.

      I totally understand Rachel’s concern and definitely took liberties with both those subjects, which is one reason for the Afterword. Did I cross a theological line? I don’t think so. However, I get where Rachel is coming from and appreciate her wrestling with this issue. In The Resurrection I intentionally tried to frame a world of mystery, where Jehovah allows other spiritual powers a degree of freedom and willfully submits Himself to human choice. I think both of these elements are biblical. Even if a reader were to come away believing in a world of warring gods, the fact that the Christian God is front and center in my story (and ultimately triumphant), I feel I’ve accomplished what I wanted. I am fully prepared for misinterpretation or confusion along the way.

      But just to be clear, I don’t slight Rachel in the least. She’s doing her job as a discerning Christian reader. I am simply asking whether or not we give enough room to our storytellers.

  • Kat Heckenbach June 13, 2011, 3:54 AM

    I agree that there is a line….somewhere. Obviously, as Patrick said, Philip Pullman is an example of heresy–Pullman *wanted* to portray God in a way that goes against the Bible. I think, though, that Christians try to portray God as they see Him. Unfortunately, that is going to be tainted by human experience and limited human understanding. I’m sure at any point in any piece of Christian fiction there will be something that another Christian will say is theologically offensive. I mean, we can’t even agree on what the Bible says sometimes.

    My personal opinion is this: Fiction is fiction, and I don’t consider novels some extension of the Bible. I separate fact from fantasy. I don’t expect novels to always be theologically sound because they are fiction.

    That said, I hated The Shack on so many levels. And yes, some of that has to do with theology. But much of it had to do with the fact that it’s all dialog and no plot. All in all, when people ask me about it, I tell them it’s not a story–it’s a Christian acid trip

  • Carradee June 13, 2011, 6:00 AM

    I think some of the issue stems from folks who don’t understand how speculative fiction works. My mother, for example, takes issue with the Harry Potter series namely because it has “witches” in it. I’ve pointed out to her that the series defines “witch” as a girl born with magical ability; demonic power has absolutely nothing to do with it. She insists that “witch” still refers to demonic power and that the series shouldn’t dilute the definition like that.

    (My mother also believes all fantasy to be worthless and “childish escapism.” She’s seen notes for one of my stories and said: “Elves… dwarves… faeries… Write something meaningful.” To her, meaning only comes in non-fiction.)

    For some people, the meaning of speculative fiction comes in its parts, not in the overall whole. Those “some people” can be the writers or the readers. When a part-focused reader encounters a whole-focused author, some “false doctrine” concerns arise.

    As for me, I’m more concerned about the implications of a speculation. For example, I do take issue with fiction that compares God to a created being, or that displays God as an imperfect character. I haven’t read The Shack to know how it’s done there, but I know I don’t necessarily mind characters that are supposed to represent God.

    I actually find it more difficult for me, as an author, to create my own world in which to speculate, because that requires creating my own version of how God created the world, of the Gospel, the Church, etc. *shudders*

    • E. Stephen Burnett June 13, 2011, 6:53 AM


      I was glad to read your comment, though sorry to read of your mom’s lack of comprehending why fantastic fiction matters at least to some people (even if it’s not her personal Thing).

      What does your mom believe about a Christian’s eternal destiny? Does she comprehend the truth that Christ will remodel/remake this old, sin-saturated Earth and bring Heaven to it, resulting in the New Heavens and New Earth (Rev. 21)? Does she understand that things like human imagination, culture, technology, storytelling and space travel are very good things that surely will carry over into this fantastic world under Christ’s rule? (And what about Christ’s stories?)

      Or might she instead have what I used to have: a suspicion that such thoughts and views of our eternity on the New Earth are “unspiritual,” and so we need to focus only on things that Really Matter, such as nonfiction that’s only limited to the current world?

      Somehow it seems more Biblical in creating stories that tap into that desire for the After-world, and who elements even reflect what true Christians are destined for: a fantastic, sci-fi universe.

      A book like Randy Alcorn’s Heaven (which, by the way, is nonfiction yet often mentions quotes from famous fiction that feeds our desires for the After-world!) might be very helpful to your mom, and to others like her (as I once was!) who don’t “get” the New Earth.

      Also, may I use your comment in a future column on Speculative Faith, about why the Harry Potter debate matters?

      • Carradee June 14, 2011, 6:13 AM

        You may certainly use my comment!

        My mother does believe the world will be remade, but she doesn’t connect fantasy to a focus on the next life. There aren’t elves and dwarves in the Bible, after all. (Well, except maybe Zaccheus! 😀 )

        I’ve pointed out to her that part of the fun of reading fantasy is to figure out the worldviews and assumptions that were used to produce the worlds involved, but she still thinks that reading actual non-fiction books on those perspectives would be more valuable. :-/ Um, non-fiction would present the theory; fantasy can show more of the implications. *shrug*

        Strange thing is, just this past Sunday, I was chatting with someone about my age who apologized for only being interested in reading non-fiction. Her apology made me scratch my head, honestly. What’s so offensive about her knowing her own interests?

  • Tim George June 13, 2011, 6:58 AM

    Just wondering – how can this cast of characters with such divergent views of faith based fiction all so seemingly agree on how bad The Shack is and yet it continues to sell like gangbusters?

    • Katherine Coble June 13, 2011, 7:53 AM

      Because most of the people to whom that wretched book is marketed are those with a surface interest in Christianity, those without a lot of experience with apologetics.

      As diverse as the commenters here are, that diversity lies mainly in approaches to fiction writing, tastes in reading, etc. The larger identifier–that all are pretty well-versed in theological matters and study–ibs both the thing that lends vibrancy to discusiion and the reason why we know what awfulness that wretched book is.

      • Jill June 13, 2011, 8:57 AM

        Theology aside, I hated the Shack because of the trauma-based emotional manipulation. I’m not easily manipulated; therefore, I couldn’t accept the premise of the story. It was just too hokey.

  • E. Stephen Burnett June 13, 2011, 7:06 AM


    Because there’s a class of readers out there (and if not for Christ we would likely be among them ourselves) who think that there’s only one Set of wrong ideas about God (He’s mean, He’s not loving, He’s an old white man on a throne, etc.), and as long as we Fix those notions, by any means necessary, we’ll be okay, and saved from all those Bad Guys. And our own sin, of course, inside ourselves, goes unnoticed.

    To be sure, some outlined reason that includes the Biblically warned against “itching ears” sucker-uppers of false teaching would also fit here.

    • Tim George June 13, 2011, 7:09 AM

      Now there’s a title for a sermon!

      Thou shalt not be sucker-uppers. 🙂

    • Sally Apokedak June 14, 2011, 5:39 PM

      I think you hit it. It seems from the people I’ve talked to who like The Shack, they liked it because it told them that God is loving. I’m like…yes, but the Bible says the same thing. Only it doesn’t make God into a nincompoop to get the point across.

  • Jessica Thomas June 13, 2011, 7:14 AM

    I wrote a short story in college that was, um…seriously depressing. I was trying to convey what depression feels like. After my husband (then boyfriend) read it, he said, “I feel depressed.”

    Hmm. That really made me think. Writers may not officially be “teachers” but we’re close to it. Even those of us who write fiction. The Bible clearly says teachers will be held to a higher standard. For that reason, I take my fiction very seriously, even the more light hearted stuff. I don’t want to paint in innaccurate picture of God at the risk of leading someone astray, nor do I want to leave them in a place of darkness. (Like my short story did.)

    That being said, I will misrepresent at times, unintentionally. And, even when my representation is spot on, people will dig into it and find holes…satan will try to twist the truth in their minds as he always does. For these reason, I can’t spend all my time fretting about what others think of my writing.

    Writing induces a meditative state, in my opinion. When we’re in that state, inspiration whispers in our ear. Who’s doing the whispering? The Holy Spirit or satan’s minions? Well, perhaps both, and it’s my job to discern between the two and write according to the Holy Spirit’s prompting. I won’t always get it right, but I’m certainly expected by God to do my best.

    Wouldn’t it be easier if there was a line in the sand? But there’s not, nor will there ever be. In these matters, God is the ultimate judge, and when all is said and done He’ll let me know how successful I was at my task.

  • David James June 13, 2011, 8:47 AM

    I don’t know about The Shack as I haven’t bothered to read it yet. It was too popular for me I suppose by the time I found out about it. But as one commenter on here said, shouldn’t we be getting our doctrine from the Bible? Yet, how many of us can say for 100% that we really understand the message of the Bible? I know that I don’t as I’m constantly learning new things. And having the Bible memorized doesn’t prove anything as you can be accurate in your quoting but wrong in your interpretation.

    And which version do you have memorized anyway? I wonder how many “Biblical scholars” out there which are so proud of their puffed up knowledge of the Bible with their memorization of the entire King James Version has bothered to learn both Hebrew and Greek and likewise memorized the complete original text? And then there’s the arguments over which text is truly original and which isn’t. Thank God for the Dead Sea Scrolls being preserved as they were for the veracity of those particular books of the Bible, yet amazingly enough that gets argued over as well.

    And then you have legitimate denominations ranging from the Lutheran to the Southern Baptist to the Presbyterian to the Pentecostal/Charismatic denominations and more, and each one of them has a different way of looking at things which can be considered Biblically accurate when viewed only from their perspective. Once you start challenging those perspectives though with other Biblical text it’s very hard to get the person in their denomination to admit that they might be wrong in one area or another, or that they need to adjust that area ever so slightly to be in greater alignment with the overall message of scripture. Yet, is the person which is bringing that correction to said other person of different denominations even a person which fully understands the Bible.

    There may even be “general” agreements we have on Scripture, but are we even sure that we have those right? Does majority rule? Or does God rule? A good example is: If the word “trinity” is not found in scripture, is it a Biblically accurate term to use? And what about the seven spirits of God? How does seven fit in with three? Stuff like that. Things that don’t argue with scripture validity but rather the traditions made by man which are used to describe or explain scripture.

    Anyway, when it comes to fiction, I think we should just write things – if we put in a God reality to the setting – from what we ourselves believe to be true. The Presbyterian is not going to write his theology from the perspective of a Baptist unless he’s writing about a Baptist character and seeks to portray that Baptist character as accurately as possible. Even so, the overall theme of the book will more than likely be from the perspective of a Presbyterian. And when the speculative nature comes into play, well, I really think that’s all about using our imaginations to come up with stuff and not about “creating” “theology” or “doctrine”. 😉

    Good blog post with thought provoking issues as usual, Mike! 🙂

    • Tim George June 14, 2011, 5:40 AM

      David – I don’t want to hijack Mike’s post so maybe you can email me privately. I understand your concerns but there is much you said it here that is very disturbing. Would love to talk to you more about it one-to-one. tegeorge@att.net

      • David James June 14, 2011, 1:27 PM

        Sure, Tim. Sounds good. I’ll contact you. 😀

  • Jill June 13, 2011, 11:09 AM

    “Is there such a thing as “false doctrine”? Absolutely. But when does fiction cross that line? I’m not sure. But whatever that line is, I think Christians often draw it too conservatively.”

    I’m actually relieved there are people out there who are willing to draw lines and to say, “You know, just because it’s fiction doesn’t make it all right.” I shouldn’t have to point out the logical fallacy intrinsic to the idea that everything’s cool so long as it’s cloaked in fantasy (related to imagination, not the genre). Mike, I know you may not make this claim, but I’ve heard it frequently from well-meaning Christians who don’t understand why I draw my lines so conservatively.

    I draw my own lines conservatively because I have experienced enough of the occult to have strong warning bells ring loudly in my head when I read books such as Harry Potter–and, yes, I gave HP a fair shake. Why do other Christians love Harry Potter? They haven’t had my experiences. They don’t have the same context that I do. When the warning bells won’t stop ringing, I stop reading. This is my weakness, and mine alone. And you know what? I don’t have to read HP books or even C.S. Lewis, for that matter (I actually enjoy Lewis, but I’m trying to make a point, here). My soul doesn’t depend on those books. I don’t have to or need to read them.

    Please don’t ask me to read books that are harmful to me based on the idea that I need to expand my horizons or not draw my lines so conservatively. I will not dredge up those spirits that have haunted me for much of my life. You wouldn’t ask an alcoholic to drink just a little alcohol, maybe a soft beverage like a wine cooler because his line is too conservative, would you? And, ironically, alcohol isn’t forbidden by the Bible, but matters of the occult–like consorting with the dead–are.

    Why didn’t I have a problem w/ your book, Mike? Well, you draw your own lines, don’t you? And they’re conservative. If I had one criticism of the spiritual nature of your book, it’s that the pagan characters in your book are too campy, and in real life, they aren’t (if they’re for real, and not just playing at a game).

    • Jessica Thomas June 13, 2011, 11:48 AM

      I probably draw my lines fairly conservatively too. Although, I don’t think the location of the line necessarily has any bearing on how technically/stylistically good the work of fiction is. That’s a different unit of measure, and we can apply the same high standards on either side of the line.

      • Jill June 14, 2011, 8:50 AM

        Yes, this is true, which is why I fall back on my critique of The Shack as a really awful work of literature.

    • Mike Duran June 14, 2011, 5:38 AM

      “Please don’t ask me to read books that are harmful to me based on the idea that I need to expand my horizons or not draw my lines so conservatively. ”

      Jill, I’m definitely not suggesting that you need to read books that are harmful to you. In this context, what I mean by “too conservative” would be the lines drawn, ad hoc, against ALL wizards, magic, ghosts, or vampires. Theology becomes a ruler we use to whack errant storytellers. Yes, someone who has a blatant agenda to undermine God’s character or dismantle traditional morality, should be called out. But the Christian author who invokes wizards, parallel worlds, and space aliens, I think, should be given some latitude. Sure, we can discuss whether dragons are ONLY evil archetypes. But let’s not abandon Christian stories just because the author envisions a good dragon. If not, we end up straining at gnats and swallowing camels.

      All that to say, it is one thing to have personal boundaries; it is another to impose them across an entire genre. I can draw my own personal lines conservatively, and still give other fiction writers the freedom to cross those lines without being branded as heretics. Thanks for commenting, Jill! I really appreciate your readership…

      • Jill June 14, 2011, 8:38 AM

        I don’t impose my boundaries on other people, but I feel like you’re asking readers not to draw their personal boundaries so conservatively. If it’s the industry you’re talking about, fine. You can have your Babette’s Feast w/ them. And I really hope they partake. I’ve already eaten mine.

        Oh, and just as an afterthought, I know there are people who confuse their personal boundaries w/ general boundaries that all people should follow. I’m not sure you’re going to change that. So if those people want to rant about the demonic nature of Tolkien or Rowling, so be it. It can only be good for sales. Unless, of course, you’re writing for the Christian market. Oops. Back to Babette.

        • Mike Duran June 14, 2011, 9:39 AM

          Am I asking readers to not draw their lines too conservatively? I suppose I am. Note: I am not advocating the eradication of all doctrinal lines. Only that we not impose doctrine too literally upon fiction.

          • Jill June 14, 2011, 10:20 AM

            As the artist, that’s your job. You have to find ways of getting past your readers’ lines w/o them being aware of it.

            • Katherine Coble June 14, 2011, 8:24 PM

              Or, i would say, of the readers to not read things that cross their lines.

              I personally have no problems with Harry Potter,but i can understand a person saying that they do, for them. To me it’s part of the whole “everything is permissable, but not everything is beneficial.”

              If a reader cannot partake of a work because their personal experiences and boundaries are at odds with the story’s content I think that’s just fine. And wise. And part of a strong faith walk.

              Where I have issues are with people trying to force their boundaries on artists for the sake of all Christians everywhere.
              I dont think you, Jill, are doing that.

              But, Mike, I do have to admit that I think it’s not fair to ask people to relax personal boundaries to experience your (anybody’s) work. Sometimes we as artists just have to accept that not everyone can be entertained within the framework of our story. I know my book has a lot of things that some readers will not take kindly to. I have no problem with that, until they start questioning my faith.

              • Mike Duran June 15, 2011, 5:00 AM

                “Mike, I do have to admit that I think it’s not fair to ask people to relax personal boundaries to experience your (anybody’s) work. ”

                Katherine, this is a fair concern — and if it appears I AM saying that, it should be a concern. As I said regarding Rachel’s thoughts, she is doing her job by being a discerning reader. But in our quest to be discerning, I happen to feel we can superimpose “institutional boundaries” and “personal preferences” over actual doctrinal prohibitions and guidelines. And when that comes to writing fiction, I don’t believe the Scriptural guidelines are nearly as defined (or tight) as the current industry often reflects. All that to say, I don’t think I’m asking people to “relax personal boundaries” as much as I am to hold them up to the Light.

  • Patrick Todoroff June 14, 2011, 5:56 AM

    “Personal boundaries…”

    Right – We bring our own perspectives and baggage when approaching art/fiction, so is it the writer’s job to second-guess the peculiarities of any/all potential readers or do (Christian) readers have an obligation to exercise self-control and discernment?

    A valid question or well-reasoned concern is one thing, but sometimes critiques/reviews sound like a blame game, or spiritual posturing.

    • Jill June 14, 2011, 8:47 AM

      Of course we bring our baggage to what we read. If writers concerned themselves w/ that, they would end up in the loony bin. But no reader has an obligation to read a writer’s books, either.

      Yes, many reviews do sound like blame games/spiritual posturing. I’m not sure if that’s entirely wrong, however, because they open up dialogue and debate. Dialogue and debate are a hell of a lot better than silence.

  • Patrick Todoroff June 14, 2011, 12:15 PM

    It seems the charges of offense, leading the weak astray, and inexact doctrine demand exactly that. As if really spiritual people could avoid that. Somehow. By magic, perhaps.

    Perhaps by offering a fare so insipid or banal as to be pointless?

    I also agree it’s better than silence, to a point. Those responses aren’t reasoned reviews – just a ‘lunatic symphony’ of angry piety – and I’m uncertain they’ll lead to genuine dialogue and debate.

    End of the day though I’m not itching for a brawl or looking to slag anyone. I think Christian artists, Christian writers, have to proceed prayerfully, boldly, honing their craft in the sight of God but definitely engaging to the best of their ability, then let the chips fall where they may.

  • Sally Apokedak June 14, 2011, 6:12 PM

    This laying down of the theological lines is exactly the reason the Christian publishers are…infamous, for putting out shallow stuff that no one likes. I do think they are changing but I can remember not many years ago being told that if there was to be a church in my novel, it would have to be called, First Church or Community Church or something equally nondescript. Once you pick a denomination, you’re bound to offend someone. So writers hoping to get published by a Christian house couldn’t grapple with real life issues because we couldn’t have real life characters. A presbyterian is going to baptize his children and a Baptist isn’t. So we couldn’t even mention baptism.

    Do any you remember the list of words going around several years ago that we couldn’t use in Christian fiction? It was really eye-opening to read it. I only remember two words on the list because I did a comical blog post on them–priest and panties. Those words could not be used in the fiction put out by one publisher–I believe it was Steeple Hill. Thankfully, I think the Christian publishing world has come miles since those days.

    I agree with those who say in the real world with the real God, you must be true to his character. This does not mean you need to show him exhaustively, but that what you show must be Biblically accurate. That’s where I lay my line. But I can handle books about characters who believe differently than I do about a whole lot of things.

    Are books that tackle hard things and miss the mark by a smidge worse than books that have no meaning, no definition, no color? Is God boring and shallow and silly? Is he pleased with boring, meaningless stories?

    Patrick asked: Should I pounce on Amish Romance for promoting surreal, shallow saccharine fantasies now?

    I don’t read Amish romances so I’m not condemning them, but any book that makes God look small and boring and dowdy, is not worth writing or reading. For those books I can almost hear God say, “Oh that you would be cold or hot. But you are lukewarm and I’m going to spit you out of my mouth.”

    No, he didn’t really say that. I’m speculating.

  • Carole McDonnell June 16, 2011, 2:59 AM

    Good piece! Although I think there probably can be such things as unfallen worlds. Who knows what other universes God has made? The children of Man/Adam are the only ones God gave the choice of “tree of knowledge or not.” So other beings may well exist…but they cannot be children of Man or be fully imbued with God as the children of Adam are.

    As a Black woman, I found The Shack patronizing.

    As for Gandalf, I have no problem with words used to create stuff or to affect human reality. Only in the matter of theology would I find anything to challenge..and I’m not real sure about Gandalf’s doctrines. Elijah, Elisha, and the apostles in the book of ACTS have power through the Word of God. And they often used earthly elements to effect healing. So that might have to be hashed out a bit…but mere affecting the world through magical words don’t bother me.

  • Jessica June 18, 2011, 6:47 AM

    I’m visiting from Glynn Young’s Saturday line up, this is my first time to your site.

    Your article left me with a couple of thoughts.
    1. Christians live and move out of fear… We are afraid of our imaginations. We are afraid of being too apart of the world. We are afraid of being unbiblical (so that biblical has become an adjective). We are afraid of being wrong or right. We are afraid of sin, afraid of death, afraid, afraid, afraid. And so even our reading falls into this weird trap of fear.
    While some hail the Harry Potters books as from the pit of hell… those same moms can’t get enough of their Nicholas Sparks books, or Francine Rivers or any other number of Romance-type (sometimes far removed from reality) novels.

    2. At what point do we make it better for an author NOT to be a Christian? When we attack and scream foul, when we scour the words, or use a fine tooth comb to pick at everything… so that even fiction can’t be fiction. When does it become a better choice in the world of publishing to just NOT claim Christ?

    That’s all I’ve got. I’ll be finding some time to read your book.

  • Linda June 20, 2011, 8:35 AM

    Your Q: “Yes, God revealed Himself as a Jewish carpenter. But does that mean He couldn’t have used a black woman?

    A: Jesus had to be from the Jewish lineage and male, as sin originated by the first Adam (not Eve) and salvation through the second Adam (Jesus).

    • Mike Duran June 20, 2011, 8:39 AM

      Understood, Linda. But if God had chosen the Ethiopians as His chosen people, somewhere along the way He might have spoken or moved through a black woman.

      • Tim George June 20, 2011, 8:45 AM

        The problem being the black woman in The Shack is a representation of God the Father. Scripture is very plain about physical representations of God. We only see God in Christ (John 1). In fiction story I would not impose such restrictions because it is purely fictional. Here is where the problem comes in mixing fiction with allegory with something more akin to commentary as in Young’s story. Its the same problem I have with Left Behind (among others).

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