Christian Fiction: A Biblical View

Should Christians read fiction? Should we write it? What about speculative fiction--science fiction and fantasy? Instead of deciding these matters based on our wisdom and prejudices, let's see what the Bible itself can tell us.

First, are we allowed to read fiction of any kind? Modern fiction didn't exist in biblical times, but similar items--myths, plays, and poetry--did. For example, when Elijah confronted the Baal worshippers in 1 Kings 18:27, he said of Baal, "Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened." This ridicule is based on events from the Baal myths, so Elijah must have been aware of them. Why did he bother learning such things? Surely any charge against fiction must apply here.

Or consider Daniel and his friends. They were among Israelite exiles who had to learn "the language and literature of the Babylonians" (Dan 1:4). "To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning" (v. 17). There are two points of interest here. First, the four looked for an alternative to their normal rations, because the food had been part of an idol sacrifice. They were not rebellious about this; they merely found a way to avoid being contaminated by the local idolatry. This is important because what they had to learn would have included astrology and other forms of divination, and Babylonian mythology--somewhat beyond Elijah's likely involvement. So the second point is this: though they resisted idol sacrifices, they did not make a recorded protest against the mythology and divination they were told to learn. Yet God blessed them--though it is true that they turned to him for answers, not to the stars and idols. If reading Babylonian textbooks wasn't condemned, neither should reading modern Christian literature be off limits.

What about Paul? In Athens, he quoted the pagan poets Epimenides ("In him we live and move and have our being") and either Aratus or Cleanthes ("We are his offspring") in Acts 17:28. He quoted Epimenides again in Titus 1:12. And in 1 Cor 15:33 he quotes from Menander's comedy Thais, which was fiction. Why would someone like Paul bother reading such things, much less memorizing phrases from them? Unless we allow Christians to read literature, there is no answer.

Second, what about writing fiction? Is reading it okay but producing it forbidden? Some have already referred to Jesus' parables, but we can't be sure they were fiction, any more than we can be sure they weren't. But if writing about talking lions is a problem, let's bump it up a notch to walking, talking plants!

In Judges 9:7-20, Gideon's son Jotham confronts those who murdered his brothers, and part of his speech is speculative fiction: verses 8-15. We have trees that move around and talk, even referring to "gods" (vv 9, 13)! Yet God evidently listened, for Jotham's curse on the murderers came upon them (v 57). "Who can speak and have it happen if the Lord has not decreed it?" (Lam 3:37)

One can find many cases of "speculative fiction" in the Prophets; a complete list and examination would generate a book. But this should serve to eliminate some of the charges brought against Christian fiction.


chrisd said...

This was such a great rebuttal, Steve. Thank you for posting it!

Frank Creed said...

Steve-- You ought to consider writing the non-fiction book you mention in your closing sentence. Christian Universities need such a reference. Well done.
Light at the Edge of Darkneess

Anonymous said...

Thanks for doing this. I just found your post of August 30, 2006.