‘Leviathan’ Will Pull You in with a Hook

Reviews | | Wednesday, April 23, 2014 at 3:00 am
In this frenetically savage thriller, an evil creature of incredible power drives characters into the arms of that Being Who is mightier still.
"Leviathan" by James Byron Huggins

Don’t let the pathetic cover fool you.

It’s been a sad century for dragons. Though they’ve proliferated throughout genre fiction and attained a semblance of life thanks to the wonders of CGI, so often it seems that something vital has been lost in the shuffle. From Toothless to Saphira, the modern iteration of that terrifying serpent whose image was for millennia emblazoned upon the collective imagination of humanity has succumbed to Disneyfication. Modern dragons hold polite conversation, accept riders, and bless mankind with ancient magics. Gone is that stark naked horror which wafted before a “moonlit shape coming down from the mist-laden fens as the atol angengea, the terrifying solitary one.” Gone, too, is that awestruck reverence once reserved for the mighty who dared face monsters. We now possess no yardstick by which to measure their valor. Gone is the nightmare, replaced by a daydream.

Were you underwhelmed by Smaug’s cinematic desolation? Did you crave something more … effectual? And what of those who would defy such a threat? Is it your dream to see the Norse god of thunder redeemed from paganism to more perfectly embody the likeness of his archetypical Heroic Model? Do you like military-industrial conspiracies, clandestine sci-fi experimentation, cat-and-mouse pursuits through sprawling subterranean fortresses? And do you secretly wish someone a little more story-savvy shared Michael Bay’s fondness for unnecessarily large explosions?

Then do I have a book for you.

It’s a mixture of Predator, Reign of Fire, and That Hideous Strength, with a dash of Tron thrown in for good measure. It’s a titanic, thunderous, knock-down-drag-out confrontation between good and evil, love and hate, unshakable courage and unstoppable rage. It’s a raw, savage, passionate vision of apocalyptic conflict nearly choked by its own superfluous verbosity, which somehow manages to transcend failures of diction through sheer zeal, reaching imperfectly for a sense of poetry to which few dare aspire in this self-conscious era. Like the Book of Job which first profiled the titular beast, Leviathan is an ode to power. And it’s gloriously, shamelessly Christian.

James Byron Huggins’ novel unfolds on the fictitious, ice-shrouded island of Grimwald, situated north of the Arctic Circle between Iceland and Norway. Perforated with lava tubes, this isolated bastion has become the cradle for a creature concocted via a potent cocktail of pseudoscience and latent genetic memory: a flame-throwing, impenetrably-armored, double-decker-bus-sized reptile capable of charging at 145 miles per hour and sustaining an internal resting temperature of 326 degrees Fahrenheit, whose synapses fire five times faster than those of a human, and whose brain has been neurally programmed with a vast tactical tutelage.

Got all that? There’ll be a test. It’s kinda pass/fail.

This cooped-up force of nature was intended by its inventors as a test case for technology with the potential to cure cancer, and by its funders as an unstoppable, untraceable weapon of global political domination. But altruistic aspirations and conceited schemes must alike defer to the “king over all the sons of pride,” for Leviathan, independent of human design, has developed a mind of its own.

It escapes containment of course, and, incited by a malevolence baffling to its erstwhile masters, begins laying waste to everything and everyone. Trapped with the terror in a tangle of tunnels by an automatic lockdown, a desperate band comprised of scientists, soldiers, a resourceful electrician, and his computer-programmer wife must defy certain death. Oh, and there’s Thor, too. But we’ll get to him in a bit. What follows are 200 pages of unrelenting action driven by taut choreography and ridiculously high stakes. If once the monster gives the island the slip, nothing but a nuclear blast will be able to put it down. It’s do-or-die time for Team Grimwald, and, due to acts of ill-conceived posterior-covering by incompetent authority-figures, no help is on its way.

Stylistically, the novel is a decidedly mixed bag. Huggins betrays his enthusiasm at every possible opportunity, piling on the abstract modifiers until even simple sentences feel laughably distended. The words “immediately” and “instantly” cease to convey meaning. “Murderous” and “mushrooming” become throwaway adjectives. To be fair, part of this is due to the fact that tension escalates swiftly and then plateaus in thin atmosphere for the remainder of the narrative. And I can’t get too perturbed, because, miraculously, the story doesn’t suffer from its unvaried and bloated vocabulary. The pacing is too breathless, the syntax too seamless, the plotting too precise, the characterization too lifelike, and the dialog (aside from some clunky data-dumps up front) too natural to let me stall out in annoyance. At its height, the language lapses into a kind of cinematic surrealism, streaming the characters’ consciousnesses in fragmented fever-dreams reminiscent of Frank Peretti Climax Mode.

But it’s Huggins’ deft dance with theme which truly thrills me. Page one plunges the reader into moodiness so thick it could be cut with a bladed weapon, introducing us to a hulking figure who stands alone upon the frigid strand, staring intently into the distance, epitomizing mythic manhood, embodying “the image of a Teutonic frost giant of old, or a Viking sea king loosed from the corridors of time.” He’s eight feet tall, hunts mountain goats for a living, and resides in an ancient, abandoned tower. He knows dozens of languages and talks history and philosophy with ease. He keeps a double-bladed battle-axe suspended over his mantlepiece. His name, superfluously, is Thor.

My friends, it is this man — this man — who is the novel’s Christian.

That fact alone should tell us something about the story’s thematic substance. Specifically, that it ain’t no morality play. Yes there’s a lot of talk, mainly from Thor himself, about good and evil and the ubiquity of their dissonance. But Leviathan, ultimately, is a battle of wills, a trial of strength, not some appeal to abstract principles or the nebulous “power of love.” For the purposes of the novel, love is epitomized not primarily by Thor the man of God but by Jackson Conner the resourceful electrician, a deeply empathetic agnostic who yearns for a better life and fights like a rabid animal to safeguard his family. Connor’s noble-yet-narrow paganism is thrown into sharp relief by the brightness of Thor’s myth-tinged Christianity, by the man’s fierce devotion to that heroic ideal captured in the tableau etched upon his axe-blade: a winged warrior grappling a galactic dragon amid the heavens. By his willingness to run toward danger instead of fleeing from it, by his readiness to exhaust his immense strength in a seemingly futile cause, Thor attests to an eternal hope that’s honed his soul for battle.

Connor fights evil because his survival depends on it. Thor voluntarily seeks out evil to destroy. It’s a reversal of the prudently-fearful-Christian-versus-recklessly-bold-Viking historical-fiction stereotype. The distinction between these two isn’t a matter of morals; they’re both admirable men. Instead, their disparity is one of power. And this makes me very happy.

In the Book of Job, God gives no justification for His actions. When Job accuses Him of injustice and demands an airing of grievances, God responds not with patient explanation but with a whirlwind of rhetorical questions. Can you draw out Leviathan with a fishhook, or press down his tongue with a cord? Who can open the doors of his face? Around his teeth is terror. His back is made of rows of shields, shut up closely as with a seal. Out of his mouth go flaming torches; sparks of fire leap forth. Though the sword reaches him, it does not avail, nor the spear, the dart, or the javelin. He counts iron as straw, and bronze as rotten wood. On earth there is not his like, a creature without fear. No one is so fierce that he dares stir him up.

“Who then is he who can stand before Me?”

In other words, might makes right. And none is mightier than God. To nothing higher than Himself does God appeal. His kingdom consists not in talk but in power. Thus, if man finds it impossible to defeat Leviathan, a mere creature, it follows that man possesses no means to contravene the will of God Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, the sea, and all that therein lurks. “Is it logical for a created being to be greater than its creator?” screams one of Huggins’ heroes during a climactic scene. “What is the final purpose of life? Answer the question!” Thor knows the answer, believes it even in the face of death. And we, with Connor the noble pagan, look on in transfixed awe.

Only the fear of God can swallow that evoked by the dragon in the darkness. For the Almighty alone makes Leviathan His pet.

Marital Reality in Fiction

Blog | | Tuesday, April 22, 2014
We don’t counter the excesses of secular morals about sex by ignoring sex, but by showing it in its proper context.

wedding bouquetChristian fiction is often accused of shying away from the issue of sex, even in marriage. It is one of the main charges as to why Christian fiction tends to not be “realistic.” In some circles, having a couple kiss is considered bold and daring. To insinuate a married couple is going to have sex is writing “edgy” fiction.

Early in our marriage, my wife used to enjoy an occasional romance novel. She felt convicted about all the casual sex frequently presented as normal in those books and so started reading some Christian romance novels. It wasn’t long before she just stopped reading them at all. She said the stories built up all this sexual tension that had no where to go since holding hands is about all you ever saw them do even when married. In short, it read too unrealistic for her on the sex front.

While that has changed some since the late 80s/early 90s when she read those books, sex avoidance is still the standard operating procedure among Christian fiction, especially in the bigger Christian publishing houses. So much easier to not bring the subject up than to risk losing your audience over it, even if it does make the story unrealistic.

I think there are two main reasons this attitude prevails among readers of Christian fiction. It is the reader’s rejection of such elements being in a story that keeps publishers from accepting more realism in regards to sex.

One, the topic makes them uncomfortable.

Many grow up in households where sex is never mentioned, discussed, or acknowledged. They’ve let the secular abuse of sex and marriage define how they think of it: shameful and dirty. Therefore, they prefer novels that don’t talk about it either. To do so is considered naughty and not Christian, often promoted as such by Christian leaders.

Two, they are running away from secular excesses by running toward “clean fiction.”

Consequently, any mention of sex feels to them like a slippery slope. “It won’t be long before we end up with Christian porn, and then what will be safe to read?” So it preserves the novel-haven to not even go there. One crack in the dike can cause the whole wall to collapse.

We don’t counter the excesses of secular morals about sex by ignoring sex, but by showing it in its proper context.

The proper way to run from secular excesses is by running toward showing a proper Biblical model. The way to obtain a Biblical attitude isn’t by ignoring sex as if the topic is dirty, but demonstrating a healthy model.

The problem is, too many Christians don’t have a very Biblical perspective on this topic. Too many actually believe that a marriage certificate from the state makes one married. Or a wedding ceremony at a church. This secular concept has promoted the idea that people get married in order to morally have sex with someone. It’s all backwards.

In the New Testament times, the state wasn’t involved in marriages. The only contract was between the two families. Having a rabbi at the wedding festivities was optional and none of it took place in the synagogue. When the couple united physically is when the two became one flesh. This is still highlighted symbolically in the modern Jewish wedding ceremony.

Sex unites two people into one flesh.

Paul makes this strikingly clear:

15 Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ? shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them the members of an harlot? God forbid. 16 What? know ye not that he which is joined to an harlot is one body? for two, saith he, shall be one flesh.
(1Cor 6:15-16)

The two becoming one flesh—first mentioned in Genesis 2:24, reinforced by Jesus in Mathew 19:5-6; Mark 10:7-8, and highlighted by Paul in Ephesians 5:31—forms the foundation of what it means to be married: becoming one flesh through the physical, sexual union. As Paul plainly states, this happens even when the couple is not committed to a marital relationship, like sexual relations with a prostitute.

The sin is in treating that union lightly, as not serious. Having sex and uniting as one with another without the commitment to live out that union abuses what God has joined together. It is like buying a Rembrandt painting so your kids can have something to color on: a total disregard for the meaning and value of what has been created.

The implications of this Biblical model are counter to our culture. For instance, the term premarital sex is a contradiction. There is no such concept, Biblically speaking. The moment you have sex, you’ve joined with that other person as one. It is getting married without the intention of fulfilling that life-long commitment that makes it sin. It is treating a marital sacrament as just another way to have fun that is the error. But no one can have sex before they get married. It is physically impossible.

This is why fornication when you are married is committing adultery and tearing asunder that union created by sex, as Jesus described it. It isn’t the bill of divorcement that makes it adultery, but the remarrying to another through sexual union. Likewise, each new sexual encounter involves tearing the previous bond asunder and forming a new one, committing adultery each time before ever getting legally married.

If we want our stories to be more realistic, Christian writers have an obligation to make them Biblically realistic, not secular realistic.

By so doing we can take the shame and dirty out of sex by countering secular values with Christian ones. We can run from secular sex scenes by running to the Biblical, marital sacrament. Sure, we can show people sinning by abusing sex, but at least we’ll know what they are abusing and the natural consequences that will follow as a result, and hopefully display also a healthy, Biblical sexual relationship.

The question is, can anyone name off any novels, Christian or otherwise, that reflect these Biblical values as described above? The choice isn’t between reflecting secular realism or nothing, but secular realism or Biblical realism.

When Christians Review

Blog | | Monday, April 21, 2014
My fear is that we Christians are slipping down the same path the people of Israel took. They had a relationship with God and they had His Law, but they wanted so to be like the nations around them. So they began to compromise.

Bible-openI think as long as I write fiction, I’ll have questions about how much of my faith I should incorporate in my stories and how clear I should make what I believe. I don’t have the same uncertainties with writing reviews.

If a Christian writes a novel and incorporates something that is in opposition to Scripture, I think it’s appropriate for me as a reviewer to point this out—or at least question it. For example, I recently finished a middle grade story (not speculative) that had as one thread the return of an estranged parent. The child expressed fear, and the other parent gave reassurance by saying, You don’t have to worry because I’ll take care of you; I’ve already taken out a restraining order.

I have a hard time with that attitude, not because it isn’t realistic, but because the protagonist is portrayed, as is the parent, as a Christian who prays about problems and tries always to do what is right. So, in regard to the return of this parent, it seems odd to me and inconsistent that the author doesn’t at least introduce the subject of forgiveness.

Most Christians, it seems to me, understand our need to extend mercy to others, even those who have hurt us. We may not want to do it, and we may not end up doing it, but it ought to be a topic we wrestle with, at least.

In addition, if a character prays about less important things, why would they ignore prayer about perhaps the most hurtful experience in their life? If they depend on God to intervene in other matters of concern, why not trust Him in this event as well? But no. It is the other parent and the restraining order that will keep the child safe.

These inconsistencies are story problems, but they are also spiritual problems. They well might reflect the way real people live—all too often believers don’t live up to what we know we should do. But as a reviewer, I don’t have a problem pointing out both problems.

Christian writers need to raise our game, I think. We ought to reflect God’s truth as much as we reflect our culture, though portraying the former may be handled best by showing a character’s struggle to do right.

As a reviewer, then, I think it’s right for me to expect more of Christian words.

For example, if a novel depicts a Christian character who cheats on his wife, without showing that behavior as wrong, one way or the other, I’d have a problem with it. I don’t think it’s OK for a Christian character to behave in a way that contradicts the Bible and have his actions treated as normal, accepted, or unquestioned.

My standards for reviewing a work by a non-Christian are also based on Scripture. By and large, however, those stories aren’t showing Christian characters. Consequently, if the protagonist is motivated by revenge, and he never struggles with the need to forgive, I wouldn’t think that’s a great omission.

Rather, I’d believe the character is acting in a way that’s consistent with our society unless he’s been given a motive that sets him apart and communicates that his values are different from the general population. I certainly wouldn’t expect a non-Christian character to hold Christian standards.

At the same time, if I’m reviewing a work of fiction written by a non-Christian, and I’m using the Bible as my standard to evaluate the truth of what this work says or means, I wouldn’t expect Christian truths to be at the core, apart from the ways that those have served to undergird the values of our culture at large.

Fighting_lightsabresThat doesn’t mean I may not see parallels with Scripture. I’ve used Star Wars as an example in the past, and I think it’s apropos again. When I first saw the movies, I didn’t know anything about George Lucas, and I wondered if he might be a Christian. I saw parallels between “the Force” and God. I also saw parallels with the church and the rebels in their struggle against the Empire. I wondered whether Luke Skywalker might be a Christ figure.

There came a time, though—when it was clear Darth Vader was Luke’s father—that I had to abandon my idea that this epic work was mirroring spiritual truth. I still loved those first stories, still understood God to be powerful, perhaps in a clearer way than I’d thought about Him before.

In other words, my realization that these movies were thoroughly pagan didn’t mean I couldn’t still learn from them, couldn’t understand truth in a deeper way, and couldn’t appreciate them as well-told stories.

Nevertheless, as a reviewer, even though I may also present the truth about God which I saw played out unintentionally on the screen, I have an obligation to point out the error, the sin, the false worldview.

My fear is that we Christians are slipping down the same path the people of Israel took. They had a relationship with God and they had His Law, but they wanted so to be like the nations around them. So they began to compromise.

They built high places, for instance, where they could worship God—a small departure from what God had told them about worshiping only in the place where His tabernacle (and later, His temple) would be set up. But that one step of compromise led to worshiping other gods as well as God Most High. And idol worship eventually led to child sacrifice. How far they fell!

We Christians can fall into this same kind of compromise. Well, the story mostly contradicts a Christian worldview, but there’s this one redeeming aspect, and besides, it had great acting and was really entertaining, and therefore I highly recommend everyone go see it. God and idols.

I suggest we do one major thing differently when we write reviews. I suggest we call idols, idols. We can praise what is good and revel in the emotional experience, even the spiritual experience, we had because of whatever redemptive aspect of the story hit us. But we must also state without compromise the lies the story tells about God and His ways.

No More

Blog | | Thursday, April 17, 2014
Christians have a hope beyond this sinful age of earth — and beyond even the present Heaven.

Icon of the ResurrectionResurrection Sunday is this Sunday. I don’t expect it to be the only Resurrection celebration on our calendars for too long, eternally reckoning. After all, after the future Resurrection Day when Christ returns and raises His people to life, clothing them in a redeemed Spirit-empowered body rather than a sin-wracked body (1 Cor. 15), how would we celebrate such a day forever if not under the name Resurrection Day? I suspect we might keep the original Resurrection Sunday to refer to Christ’s original, once-for-all resurrection victory.

Either way, I can’t wait. I can’t wait for Resurrection Day, can’t wait for New Earth, can’t wait to have work/play be only rewarding and joyous forever, can’t wait to be free of sin and its consequences — can’t wait to see my Savior and live with Kingdom family forever.

You may notice I did not say, “I can’t wait for Heaven.” This isn’t because I take lightly the current Heaven, a literal location, likely outside our own dimension, to which all Christ’s people go when they die. Yet I think of the present-day Heaven like I think of the rest stops when my wife and I moved to Texas last fall. Those restaurants, stores and the hotel were welcome, but they were not our final destination; they were only waypoints. Our new home — that was the best part.

This kind of hope is sadly missed by movies such as Heaven Is For Real1 and other books, sermons, and anecdotes that focus on the present-day Heaven2 — as if that Heaven is where God’s people will live forever.

Near-death-experience controversies aside, the New Earth is even realer.

Near-death-experience controversies aside, the New Earth is even realer.

If you came for a Heaven Is For Real rebuttal, I am afraid I must disappoint and direct you to the excellent reviews by Randy Alcorn or Tim Challies, or this reminder by Wade Bearden at Christ and Pop Culture. This Resurrection Sunday I have no (further) criticisms of books that try to project Heaven’s wonders based on the word of people who say they won the golden ticket and a grand tour. Instead I feel mostly regret that these materials focus so much on the present-day heaven that will pass away just like the first Earth (Rev. 21:1). I regret that the kind of eternal hope they offer can become as fleeting as cheap utopianism — the kind that embraces this sinful age and promises we can build a kingdom our way.

Against either set of errors I want to cry: No more. Into hopelessness about life or stray notions about a tedious forever, I want to cry: No more. For those who may doubt the promises of Christ, who grieve over this groaning world and the sin and suffering in their lives, and who may have missed the wonder and magic of whatever God has promised for the final-and-forever After-world … Scripture itself in Revelation 21 vows: No more.

No more first heaven or first earth (verses 1–3)

The classic Betty Lukens Sunday-school flannelboard lesson: closer to the truth than we thought.

The classic Betty Lukens Sunday-school flannelboard lesson is actually quite close to the truth — right up to and including the giraffes.

What Jesus did spiritually now becomes physical. God replaces the first heaven and first earth, now “passed away,” with their resurrected replacements. Yes, this groaning world (Rom. 8) passes away, but so does the first Heaven. Where then will God live? Where will we live? Heaven is where He lived and where the saints lived — now the Creator is the first to relocate His home to Earth (verse 2). “Now the dwelling of God is with man” (verse 3).

No more tears (verse 4)

Have you ever cried from an emotion that wasn’t grief? I have no doubt those tears will still be “allowed.” We may gaze into the face of Jesus and weep with joy. But the other tears, the kind that come from God-created tear ducts only during a sinful age, will be wiped away. Can you imagine no more weeping over separation, depression, pain, fatigue, hopelessness, anger over wickedness in yourself or others, or as any other response to sin and suffering?

No more death (verse 4)

Personified Death itself was hurled into Hell a few verses ago (Rev. 20:14). God’s people are beyond all that. What God fixed spiritually in Christ’s resurrection He now fixes physically and completely in our resurrection. His people are eternal. Imagine being set free not only from the spiritual concept of physical death but the threat of real death in everyday life.

No more mourning, crying, or pain (verse 4)

And imagine being set free from death’s consequences. No longer do we need to mourn over God’s people, dear spiritual and physical family members who had died; now they are here with us. Crying has expired. Pain has passed away. And after death itself dies, what in the world would this do to human culture? Entire mourning/crying/pain industries have also passed away. Doctors, nurses, funeral workers, morticians — all can joyously give up the tools they used to ease or bring closure to suffering (included insurance paperwork!) and pursue other callings. Lawyers? Gone, or they will find their professions transformed. Emergency workers? Their ministries are fulfilled. How will they use those skills in the Kingdom? We have all worked in the mourning-mitigation business — how would we?

No more thirst (verses 5–6)

Seated on the throne, God Himself, the Alpha and Omega who speaks only truth, promises for certain: those truly thirsty will receive “the spring of the water of life without payment.”

No more delayed victory; no more separation from God (verse 7)

Members of the Kingdom, all conquerors in Christ, “will have this heritage.” This is as close as you can get to hearing God Himself specifically say, “You have a part in this great Story. I promise you will forever know where you belong. In My Son you share in this victory.”

Moreover, as players in the Story our adoption is complete: we all function as sons of God. This isn’t gender-exclusive language — it’s inclusive. The Father himself says that anyone who conquers becomes an adopted son. Daughters are treated as sons, with all the rank and privilege that comes with that role as perceived by the first-century world. That’s huge.

No more cowards, faithlessness, detestable acts, murder, fornication, sorcery, idolaters, lies, and any other sin (verse 8)

This verse is often included in evangelistic pleas, and it should be. Even a boring-sounding Heaven would be better than a lake of eternal burning fire (a reality that is surely worse than Scripture’s already-horrifying descriptions would indicate). But New Earth is the most incredible, perfect, magical, wondrous place that could ever be conceived, ruled over by the most interesting and infinite Being beyond imagination. That makes the horror even worse.

Yet apart from that sobering truth, this text includes such hope for Christians. Perish all prideful notions that this is a guarantee text that Those People won’t be allowed in the Kingdom. In fact those people will be there — us. When we are beyond all those sins and love Jesus more, we ourselves will never again deal with cowardice, fear, sexual temptation, manipulative impulses (which lead to sorcery), idolatry, lies, or any other sin. All that has passed away. Our whole selves are made new. No more sinful self. Only Jesus Christ. Only His perfect, remade, purified, fantastic world set free: Resurrection Sunday, all over again.

  1. The film released in the U.S. on April 16.
  2. And/or rumors about what Heaven offers, based on subjective “near-death experiences” and not Scripture.

‘Valor’s Worth’: Trusting the Lord With Our Traumas

Reviews | | Wednesday, April 16, 2014 at 8:30 am
Though an exciting story, “Valor’s Worth” is also a journey through the main character dealing with traumas in a realistic manner, upheld by faith.

cover_valorsworthI loved the first two of Rebecca P. Minor’s Windrider Saga books, and had high expectations of this third book, Valor’s Worth. Suffice it to say, Minor did not disappoint.1

As the story begins, Lieutenant Commander Vinyanel Ecleriast and his group are on the way back from their adventures of the previous book when they intercept a letter to representatives of the Elven nation of Delsin (of which Vinyanel is a part). The letter asks if Vinyanel’s people will agree to a meeting with the remnants of the Elgadrim. The Lt. Commander sends most of the rest of his force home while he goes with his dragon friend, Majestrin, the prophetess Veranna, and the former assassin Hridayesh, to meet these Elgadrim.

At the same time, a newly-hatched dragonling, Iriscendra, who was accidentally bonded to Vinyanel while in her egg, goes off looking for him. When she finds him, she follows him everywhere, much to Majestrin’s dismay and annoyance. Of course, the young dragonling’s keeper, the Elf Maiden Raen from the previous book, goes looking for her with another young dragon named Mythrenese. All of these disparate people are together when the evil dragon-kin attack and cause havoc. The party members are in various states of injury and separated. Now they must find each other and set out in time to stop a horrific sacrifice designed to summon an evil force that could spell their doom.

I really enjoyed this story, as I said in the introductory paragraph. The only critiques I had were mainly four-fold.

First of all, the narrative started out really slowly. Until the fateful meeting of Raen and Vinyanel at the camp site, everything seemed to drag on and on. I think that a slightly faster pace amidst the set-up in the first part of the book would have helped enormously in this regard. I encourage anyone bored early on to keep on reading. It is worth it.

The second and third things are related. Mainly I didn’t like how a certain character died, as I liked that character, and I really, really did not like how another character, Raen, acted after that death. Due to the dead is a big thing with me, and Raen’s harsh, unforgiving, uncaring heart, didn’t demonstrate it. It really turned me against her. I know she had reason to be angry, and I’m not saying she isn’t a good character, but her attitude rubbed me the wrong way the rest of the novel to the extent that I just couldn’t care about her. Worse yet, no on called her out on her callousness.

The last part that annoyed me was Vinyanel’s hypocrisy. In the books, he has an emotional, “do the right thing and the rules be damned” attitude, and can be highly disrespectful with superiors. When it comes to lower-ranking folks with him, however, he is all about the respect due a superior and proper military decorum. What?! I can take this as a character failing of his, if it were ever addressed as such. But it’s not really pointed out by others beyond general rebukes over “rudeness.” Only near the end of the book is this mentioned, and even then, he looks like he’ll get off scot-free.

Despite these criticisms, I really was into this story, and think it is Minor’s best effort yet. I would contend that the first two books each had the opposite weaknesses and strengths. The first book, for instance, was written in very beautiful, almost poetic, prose, but was somewhat lacking in details. The second book, meanwhile, was chock-full of information about the world, characters, military, so on, but the prose seemed to be a bit “rougher”, if you will. This third volume had the best of both worlds with in-depth details and elegant writing.

I appreciated in the story how Minor fleshed out and (forgive the term, you know what I mean) “humanized” the dragons. They are not just plot conveniences, but real, thinking, believing, caring people. So many books, treat dragons, even the sapient ones, as glorified, extra-smart horses. Minor is to be praised for not doing this.

Beyond that, Valor’s Worth dealt with some important inter-connected themes, such as faith in God, dealing with trauma, and trusting the Lord to help us to persevere in hard situations in life.

This series is set in a world where the God-analogue (Creo) is there and protects His people, but doesn’t solve all of their problems for them. Instead, He works through people. Just as in the real world, people suffer and die, but their faith in God is what makes them able to withstand this. God has a plan, and we must trust Him to fulfill it. Trust in God is truly a major theme of the work. Not just with our physical problems, but with our emotional anguish, as well. As someone dealing with issues from Iraq, I like that Minor didn’t make Vinyanel’s war traumas either fake or easily gotten over. He has to trust Creo with these hurts (very real hurts) as well. They still hurt him. He is still affected by them, and probably always will be. The answer lies not in magically getting rid of pain, but learning how to deal with it and trusting God to help him do so.

This kind of dovetails into the final theme, from the title, which was knowing why we fight or endure bad things in life, and seeing the right thing through to the end. It connects because of the truth that crises, disasters, and other hard times are (or ought to be) far more bearable for those who truly trust God, Whom the Bible says will never leave or forsake us. He is with us always.

Valor’s Worth was a fun, edifying read. I can’t wait until Rebecca Minor releases her next book in the series.

Highly recommended.

The Plowing of Hades

Blog | | Tuesday, April 15, 2014
When we speculate, it becomes a story. When God speculates, it becomes reality.

Resurrection of Christ and the Harrowing of HellThe resurrection of Christ, which we will celebrate this coming Sunday, is the core teaching of the Christian faith. Upon this reality hangs every doctrine, belief, and truth of Christianity. As the Apostle Paul said:

If Christ hath not been raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also that are fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have only hoped in Christ in this life, we are of all men most pitiable.
(1Co 15:17-19 ASV)

Note the link Paul gives between Christ being raised from the dead and our own hope of resurrection. Without Christ’s resurrection, we have no hope of leaving Hades and avoiding the fires of Hell into which Hades, and all within it, will be thrown into on the day of judgment. (Rev. 20:13-15)

The defeat of death, Hades, and the grave is what the resurrection of Christ accomplished. Likewise, the celebration is also known as The Harrowing of Hades.

For those not familiar, a harrow is a multipronged instrument used to plow the ground. To harrow something literally means to plow it up, or analogically, to disturb it.

Hades is known as the place of the dead. Our term actually comes from Greek mythology, as the Greek god Hades ruled the realm of the dead. In the Old Testament, it was called Sheol. Within its boarders, all who died, both the righteous and the wicked, were held, awaiting the final judgment. Death reigned over Adam and all his descendents until Christ.

The best scripture about Christ going to Hades and harrowing it is the Apostle Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost. Quoting from King David in Psalm 16, he says:

Because thou wilt not leave my soul unto Hades, Neither wilt thou give thy Holy One to see corruption. Thou madest known unto me the ways of life; Thou shalt make me full of gladness with thy countenance.

Brethren, I may say unto you freely of the patriarch David, that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us unto this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins he would set one upon his throne; he foreseeing this spake of the resurrection of the Christ, that neither was he left unto Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption.

This Jesus did God raise up, whereof we all are witnesses.
(Act 2:27-32 ASV)

One of my favorite liturgical text personifies Hades. Hades swallowed Christ, got a really bad case of indigestion from the Giver of Life, and ended up vomiting out all the righteous.

PlowingDeath was plowed with Life.

Sounds fantastical? Far fetched? Like something out of a novel I or any number of people might make up? To our modern and skeptical world, yeah. But there is one big difference between when we create and when God creates.

When we speculate, it becomes a story. When God speculates, it becomes reality.

This is the hope we celebrate this week: Christ entered death and Hades, plowed life into it, flung open its gates through His resurrection so that we too might rise in newness of life.

As Jesus comforted John upon seeing Him in His glory:

Fear not; I am the first and the last, and the Living one; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive for evermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.
(Rev 1:17b-18 ASV)

So fear not! Rejoice! For Christ has become our Passover Lamb. If we smear His blood over the doorpost of our hearts and souls, death will pass over us as well.

He has the keys to Hades.

Why Don’t Christian Writers Speculate According To Scripture?

Blog | | Monday, April 14, 2014
We have an infallible, Spirit-inspired revelation of God’s work in the world from the beginning of creation. Why, then, don’t we Christian speculative writers more often take what we know from the Bible and speculate on what the world might look like?

The_Holy_BibleI’ve long contended that Christians can and should include spiritual truth—theology, if you will—in our stories. At the same time, I believe truth about God ought to open up our imaginations as we grasp the ramifications of a world ruled by a sovereign God who can do the impossible.

We also have an infallible, Spirit-inspired revelation of God’s work in the world from the beginning of creation. Why, then, don’t we Christian speculative writers more often take what we know from the Bible and speculate on what the world might look like?

I know, some have. We’ve certainly seen a good deal of speculation about angels and demons and Nephilim. But I’m thinking, for example, more along the lines of what the world as a whole once looked like in light of what Genesis says.

Some writers, such as Brian Godawa, have taken particular people from the pages of Scripture and speculated about their lives and the world in which they live. That’s not quit what I’m suggesting, though. Rather, I’m wondering if we couldn’t imagine the world the way the Bible describes it, and use that as a basis for our stories.

For instance, what would the world look like if people lived to be 900 years old? How would that affect society? What might a person be able to learn in 900 years? Stories with this idea as a basis wouldn’t be Biblical fiction. They would be utilizing a fact Scripture revealed as once true of our world.

Here are a few others: What did the world look like that caused God to say, “Nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them”? What would the world have been like with one language? With only one large land mass? What would it be like to live in a temperate climate year round, with no rain?

What would it be like to hear God’s voice? To have Him warn against sin crouching at the door, to have Him ask, Where’s your brother?

What would it be like to have the earth divide into continents? To have someone violate God’s created order and take a second wife? To have someone live a righteous life and to disappear because he’d been taken away by God?

Understand, I’m not actually advocating for more speculative Biblical fiction. Rather, I’m suggesting that the Bible shows us things that are beyond the accepted norm. However, instead of using those in our stories, we tend to accept what we learn from secular history books and scientific theory, and make the secular norm the groundwork for what we write.

Consequently, since archaeology has no evidence of an advanced early civilization that aimed to reach the heavens, and science theorizes that early man was primitive, having evolved from apes, we Christians think within those boxes rather than beyond them to the world pictured in Scripture.

Oh, sure, we may stand against the ape idea, but we still have early man living in primitive circumstances as Stephan Lawhead does in his imaginative and thought-provoking Bright Empires series.

But what if God’s creation of humans in His image meant that we had a greater capacity to think and create than we have now. I mean ten times greater. Or a hundred times greater?

Adam_and_Eve019What if humans could communicate with the animals? God gave Adam and Eve dominion over the rest of creation, after all. How were they to exercise this dominion if they essentially lived separate lives from the animals?

I’ll admit, some of my thinking on this topic has been sparked by how reviewers have reported the way the Noah movie depicted life on earth.

To be clear, I’ll say again, I don’t think we need a flood of new speculative Biblical fiction—a Christian version of Noah, for instance. That seems to be the knee-jerk reaction to things we Christians don’t like that come from secular pop-culture.

Rather, I’d like to see our approach to fiction broaden. I’d like to see us take the Bible seriously and ask more what if questions about Biblical history rather than secular history or scientific theory.

I’ll move my examples out of Genesis. Psalm 18, written by David, has an incredible verse about God’s response to David’s prayer for protection:

The the earth shook and quaked;
And the foundations of the mountains were trembling
And were shaken, because He was angry. (v 7)

What would the world be like if God answered every prayer by His people with that kind of judgment? What would that do to humankind’s understanding of Him? How would such a world be different from the one shown by the Greeks?

Maybe I’ve not read widely enough and Christians are writing these types of stories. If that’s the case, I hope readers will leave comments with the titles and authors of books that speculate grandly about the world the Bible shows.

Too often, however, when I see speculation about the world the Bible reveals, it revolves around something like half-angels.

It seems to me, those stories aren’t really using the world of the Bible but speculating about what would be if the world of the Bible was different from its revealed existence. That’s one type of speculation, certainly, and it does require imagination. But why aren’t we Christian writers doing more when we have such great source material?

On Raising A Family of Nerds

Blog | | Friday, April 11, 2014
My wife and I grew up nerds but tried to raise our family differently — until our rules changed.
An entire nerd family: the Reinis.

The generations of nerds: the Reinis.

My wife, Becky, and I didn’t set out to raise a family of nerds. But perhaps it was inevitable, given our personal affinity for geek culture. We did, after all, grow up in the Seventies during the golden age of Original Star Wars, and our courtship included reading the entirety of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter series together.

So, yes, we were nerds back when being a nerd wasn’t cool. Maybe it still isn’t, but please don’t tell our adult children. In validation of both nature and nurture, they never really had a choice in the matter.

But, as I said, we didn’t set out to indoctrinate our children in geekdom. In fact, in our early days of parenthood, we faced some interesting theological and practical parenting decisions. While we desperately wanted our children to be able to appreciate a masterpiece like The Empire Strikes Back, we had to prayerfully consider this: Did our love for sci-fi line up with our love for Christ? Did the somewhat “new-agey” worldview of George Lucas, et al., line up with scriptural teachings? And most importantly, as Christian parents, were we comfortable introducing our children to those elements?

At first, we weren’t. For family entertainment, we turned, instead, to Christian-based dramas like Adventures in Odyssey. (Fantastic, intricate nerd-level storytelling in its own right, it turned out.) Rather than watching television, we read books—a LOT of books—out loud as a family. The kids grew up on a steady diet of Stevenson, Twain, Lewis, and Ingalls-Wilder. It’s not that we had some grand master plan—we were just doing the best we could at the time. But without realizing it—or even having a clue as to what we were doing—we ended up inadvertently planting a seed, sowing a love for a well-told story that would bring our entire family a tremendous amount of joy in years to come, along with countless two a.m. rants about why Pixar is infinitely better than Dreamworks.

For our children, the rules changed one night when we left them in the care of a trusted baby sitter. Looking for some entertainment, he pulled a VHS copy of Star Wars off the shelf.  (No, we hadn’t thrown it away—we were young parents, not idiots.)  The kids knew it wasn’t something we let them watch, so of course they were apprehensive—and mesmerized.

onraisingafamilyofnerds_playingxwingminiatures

Two second-generation Reinis in full nerd mode.

When we discovered this grievous infraction of our house rules, we were more relieved than upset. We began to realize that our children were getting older and their ability to process the difference between fantasy and reality had matured, as had our own personal faith. We weren’t so much afraid of “hurting” our kids with exposure to alternative worldviews as we were excited to see them applying critical thinking to allegories, morality plays, and studies of good versus evil. But who are we kidding? We were mostly excited to be introducing a new generation—our children—to the characters, the stories, and the genres that we had grown up loving.

We had no way of knowing at the time how much this nerdy interaction would permeate and bless every element of our family life. One night, I overheard our four year old humming the Trench Run passage from the Star Wars score, exactly, note for intricate note. He, his brother, and his sister, would all go on to become all-state vocalists in choir and small groups. We would listen, with great joy, as they would passionately debate and prove, empirically, that The Empire Strikes Back is the best Star Wars film, and that, while the prequels were bad, it was the “Special” Editions that were the greater sin against everything good and holy. As a family, we probably drove friends and relatives crazy with inside jokes—every other sentence between us a quote or reference from a film or novel. All of this just served to draw us closer as a family. None of the kids was ever in serious trouble (to our knowledge), they were always well behaved (in public), they all, as adults, still love to spend time together, and yes, the inside jokes and references still dominate every conversation.

Aaron and Allen Reini, coauthors of Flight of the Angels.

Aaron and Allen Reini, coauthors of Flight of the Angels.

So, we are proud to have raised a family of self-professed nerds. We’re proud of the adults, and the people of faith, that they have become. We’re proud that all four (and spouses) are actively involved in ministry, and I am proud to have co-authored a sci-fi novel with our eldest.

But perhaps our greatest joy has come from seeing the impact this life has had on the next generation. Becky and I remember the day we were babysitting, and our six-year-old granddaughter walked into the room, DVD in hand.

“Papa,” she asked, “Can we watch Star Wars? We want to watch this one. It’s the good one.”

I could have wept.

She was holding The Empire Strikes Back.

 

‘Captain America’ Sequel Fights for True Freedom and Salvation of Enemies

Reviews | | Thursday, April 10, 2014 at 1:07 pm
The latest Marvel film proves fans will follow a true hero across genres and into serious explorations of freedom.

banner_captainamericathewintersoldier

Two-thirds through Captain America: The Winter Soldier1, the story brings a Big Reveal that about half the audience must have expected given spoilers from the original story, reviews, even the film’s IMDB page. Yet as soon as the story had given this revelation … and slowed for impact … the theater was filled with reactions. People shouted, “Oh!” Hands clasped to mouths. Other mouths swore, the kind of swearing that does not mean, “I am a sinner who wants to sin by saying this” but, “I have been drawn completely beyond myself and now feel overwhelmed by an Other and simply don’t know what to say.”

I’ve never before seen anything like this in a movie theater.

Yes, this was a good crowd, as if the very same crowd with whom my wife and I enjoyed Captain America: The First Avenger (2011). Viewers were captivated by both Captain America stories with an intensity I don’t recall perceiving even among audiences for The Avengers (2012). Why is that? Something particular about this hero’s story has captured fans to the point of making them want to “follow” Cap and his adventures across genres.

Captain America: The First Avenger was set in the hero’s original era, World War 2. The Avengers brought him to the modern age in time to join other heroes and fight an alien invasion. Winter Soldier follows Cap and his new friends on a different kind of journey, weaving a complex and even elegant blend of real-world battles and action-heroics.

Cap: a true hero

poster_captainamericathewintersoldierRecently I read that Captain America is the only superhero not to receive a big reboot even in the comic-book story-world. Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, Iron Man, and entire hero universes have been revamped at one time or another. For instance, Superman came to Earth in the 1930s (original story), then again in the 1950s (Superman: The Movie in 1978), then again in the 1980s (Man of Steel, presuming it is set in its release year of 2013). But the story of Steve Rogers, Captain America, must be tied to his World War 2 origins.

What does this mean? It means we get a hero grounded in history, or at least an idealized history — a history when right was right (Allies) and wrong was wrong (Nazis). And in an era when some storytellers (with justification) wish to explore the nuances of things, to show that even heroes are flawed and villains have redeeming qualities, Cap is exceptional.

Cap knows this. In Winter Soldier’s story he doesn’t have a single moment of self-aware “angst.” He knows himself and his values even in this strange modern world, but he doesn’t yet know what he can do for it. The iconic super-soldier suddenly finds himself beyond the victory he spent the rest of his 1940s life to win. So from where does the drama come? Not from self-doubt but from the clash of true hero versus flawed world. Other hero stories can well learn the lesson: Not everything needs a Gritty Reboot. This already seems to be a slogan scrawled in large letters on Marvel producer Kevin Feige’s office wall.

Of course with only 2.5 hours, you can’t see everything Steve faces or spell out his code of honor. Instead you must fill that in yourself. Actor Chris Evans doesn’t tell you Cap’s beliefs by pledging allegiance or waving flags; he simply does his job and shows what he said in the first film: “I don’t want to kill anyone. I don’t like bullies; I don’t care where they’re from.”

But let political conservatives who reflexively label this “liberal/Big Hollywood”2 take note: Captain America is on their side. In fact, he and his friends and his story are truly on the side of anyone who fights bullies, no matter where they’re from.

This kind of idealism is shocking and even disturbing, demonstrating the audacity of Cap’s character and narrative. Can there truly exist such a person? Yes, such a Person exists, and Cap might fly His battle flag without knowing it. And when the story takes a strangely-not-predictable heroic-narrative turn toward the other truth — of our hero showing mercy for someone he loves who had become his enemy — I lost it. Already Marvel films reflect John 15:13 when Tony Stark is willing to sacrifice himself to save New York City or even Thor fights to save the planet of the evil Frost Giants from being destroyed. Stark would die for his friends; Thor would die for a race of his enemies. But this is an even more iconic, close-up version of the truth: Cap would give himself for his personal enemy, to save his enemy’s life. More than many other Christ-figure-like heroes, this action shows Him clearest.

Colorful allies

Winter Soldier made me a new fan of returning heroes such as S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury and Agent Maria Hill, a new fan of new heroes such as Sam Wilson (the Falcon), and all over again a fan of returning heroine Black Widow. In The Avengers, Fury and Hill served basically and understandably as placeholders; in Winter Soldier both of them, especially Fury, have their own stories to tell and new journeys to show. And Wilson’s story parallels Cap’s and his own more-recent military service naturally leads to the two men’s tangible friendship. From the moment Cap can’t help repeatedly lapping Wilson in the park and Wilson can only laugh at his own comparable physical inferiority, you love this new hero.

captainamericathewintersoldier_capandblackwidow

Black Widow’s and Cap’s differences are about truth and humanity, not gender and sex.

But Black Widow nearly steals the show. Gone are my earlier wonderings3 about whether she would be another character who exists to check off a box on a memo and then slavishly follow the whole desperate-sounding “anything men can do women can do better” shooting-up-heroine nonsense. As in The Avengers, neither Black Widow nor her writers are so silly. Instead here is a heroine that anyone can emulate, someone eager to be redeemed. Super-soldier serum may not exist, but Marvel has found the “secret” formula for strong, sexy and capable heroines who are completely unaware of the supposed feminism of the whole thing, and who are human, vulnerable, complex, and not merely sex-objectified.

Pairing Widow with Cap for much of the film was pure genius. You get little romantic wink-winks, but that’s all there is. I love how Cap continues to respect her with such ease as a total equal, yet he also literally shields her from harm as he did in The Avengers. Despite their different pasts — he the truly good super-soldier, she the spy with a dark past — they both dig in and perform their duty against hideous evil as soldiers for a righteous cause.

Real world on super-serum

Several reviewers have remarked how effortlessly The Winter Soldier springs between only slightly updated comic-book tropes, such as decades-old artificial intelligences and a man with a winged jetpack, and sobering contemporary concerns, especially the question of how much freedom people may need to sacrifice in order to avoid harm and live securely.

The cost of security?

The cost of security?

Given Cap’s statement in the trailers when he sees new massive military ships made to stop threats beforehand — “This isn’t freedom, this is fear” — I thought The Winter Soldier might be loading up with some nuance. I also expected this take in the concurrent Marvel television series “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”, something like: “These are sobering questions, and we will explore them as part of the story but not technically take a side because we’re more interested in how our heroes respond to these challenges.” Well, throw that notion out the window and then jump out after it with a fiery explosion at your heels because that’s not happening. The Winter Soldier takes a side and hoists colors for it, then wraps itself in that flag and fights. How much freedom must you sacrifice for security? Cap says: None. Ever.

Once again the story imitates its hero’s straightforwardness. Cap never varies from his view, never once wonders if freedom is really worth it. So how is that not merely fiction-as-propaganda? Answer: because the audience does wonder. The story challenges Cap’s belief and poses tough questions of other characters: might security matter more than freedom? Then the story answers them not with philosophy telling but heroes showing. Cap will not sacrifice others’ freedoms but will lay down his own life. Black Widow makes an almost greater sacrifice. Nick Fury is brave enough not to flip that switch. And good civilians and S.H.I.E.L.D. agents reject any “I was just following orders” excuses and take their stands.

This heroic inspiration and fleshed-out truth has haunted me to this day. Once again it gives the lie to ignorant “it’s just a movie” cultural-carelessness. It also gives the lie to myths that “Big Hollywood” is only filled with evil double agents. Sometimes they are agents for truth. Sometimes heroes are truly heroic. And sometimes that is all we need.

  1. The ninth Marvel Cinematic Universe film released in the U.S. on Friday, April 3.
  2. I tire of the dehumanizing term “Hollywood.” Conservatives, especially if they are Christians, would do well to avoid this kind of subtle verbal “eugenics” against visual storytellers, most of whom see any cultural “agendas” merely as means to tell great stories and/or become rich and famous.
  3. Sex in the Story 1: Shooting Up Heroine on SpecFaith, Feb. 9, 2012.

Agenda Fiction Is Alive and Well

Blog | | Tuesday, April 8, 2014
The purpose of fiction is to experience the truth lived out in real life. Even if that real life is in the future, past, or a fantasy world.

Lion, Witch, and Wardrobe movieChristian Fiction has often been accused of being so agenda/message driven that story quality suffers. Michael Trimmer quotes author Mike Duran in the Christian Today article, “What’s Wrong With Christian Fiction”:

Christians are so desirous to get the gospels out there, that we tolerate mediocrity. I think that does a disservice to the gospel. We tolerate mediocrity for the sake of the message.

He is probably right in many cases, but because of that, the solution often tends to be to get rid of the message to improve quality. But it’s not that simple. It isn’t the presence of an agenda that is the problem.

Agenda-driven fiction has a long history and not by just Christians.

There are college classes offered on how to use the arts in getting the message out about “climate change,” as reported in the New York Times article, “College Classes Use Arts to Brace for Climate Change.”

Whether you agree with “climate change” claims or not, the article list fiction titles going back into the 60s that focused on climate change. The article ends on the following quote:

“In this sense,” he (Shane Hall) said, “climate change itself is a form of story we have to tell.”

Sums up what most Christian writers would say about the Gospel.

That is just one example. How often did the Star Trek TV series illustrate an agenda, both the original series and The Next Generation? The list could go on.

The answer isn’t to get rid of our messages. The real problem comes in two areas.

One: Treating Fiction Like Non-fiction

This is the cause of Mike Duran’s concern above. What do I mean by it? I’ve mentioned it in a guest post many months ago on SpecFaith and most recently last week in talking about the dynamic behind the debate on the movie Noah.

Stories in non-fiction, whether true or made-up, exist to serve one main purpose: to illustrate a point in an emotionally engaging manner. The story does not exist for its own sake, but is subservient to the message being conveyed. Consequently, the stories tend to be simple, black and white realities that make a clear, unambiguous point. They don’t want the reader to wonder, “Hum, I wonder what he meant to say?”

Christians who write fiction often make the mistake of treating their story as an expanded, non-fiction illustration. As a result, characterization tends to be shallow. Plots exist to drive the reader to one conclusion. Anything like real-life ambiguities that would muddy the message are avoided.

This in direct opposition to what Jesus did. He didn’t give illustrations to make a point. He taught in parables. He was fine letting the hearer figure out the meaning for themselves. He didn’t offer conclusions/interpretations except to the disciples. He trusted that those who were ready to hear the truth, would.

When we move into fiction stories, the purpose of the book can no longer be to illustrate a truth as in non-fiction. Rather, it is to experience the truth lived out in real life. Even if that real life is in the future, past, or a fantasy world.

In fiction, the message and the story take on a symbiotic relationship.

The message, to be effective, is dependent upon the story to have the ring of authenticity to it. To be an engaging, emotionally impacting, and entertaining story. If the quality of the story fails here, few will experience the message lived out.

For the story to amount to more than a good time, but to have meat on its bones, requires a living message/theme running through it. The stories that impact us most are those that open our eyes to see truth lived out in a character, and then in us as well. Any book, no matter how entertaining, that doesn’t say something to us, is quickly forgotten.

Two: Getting Sucked into the Niche Whirlpool

Overt agenda-driven, non-fiction, illustration-styled fiction stories, Christian or not, are primarily red meat for the faithful of that niche. Few outside that niche care to read it. The above “climate change” books and films highlight that. Few who disagree with their agenda are going to plunk down money to partake of that story.

The overwhelming majority of people who will enjoy those stories are those who already agree with them.

This is the irony of the Christian whirlpool effect. The drive to present as clear and unambiguous of a Gospel message as possible ensures few who are not already saved and in the fold will ever read it. The tighter into the niche it falls, the less chance it has of transcending that niche to become truly evangelistic. The story gets sucked into the niche whirlpool.

By creating a symbiotic relationship between story and message, the story can gain a following and those who have ears to hear and eyes to read will get the message. For that to happen requires them getting lost in a world and characters to the point they live the message through them.

The more the quality of the story supports the goal of fiction instead of non-fiction, the more likely that story will change someone’s life.

Agenda fiction is not the issue. Tossing the message is not the answer. Reading stories that marinate us in truth experienced through characters is the goal.