This was my question: Though you encourage Christians to read deep books, you never seem to recommend fiction on your website; how come?1 His response was well-reasoned, personal, and sensible.
Yet sometimes I might think he didn’t go far enough.
Frankly, some Christians don’t deserve awesome stories.
And in difficult times I also wonder why we even bother pushing for more of them. I’ll just come right out and admit it, even grump a little: Earn2 great stories, then we’ll talk.
Dr. Mohler’s remarks didn’t endorse this conclusion of mine. Here’s how it went Monday night, Feb. 10, at the small lecture and Q-and-A session at the University of Texas at Austin.
Actually my sister-in-law, Lyric, nearly stole my question; hers ended up being a perfect lead-in. Based on Mohler’s refrain that good Christians engage culture and read, she asked what Mohler thought of stories such as the Harry Potter series or the Hunger Games series.
I didn’t have a digital recorder handy. But in short, Mohler said that he is often asked about such popular-culture issues in person and during interviews. Parents want him to speak against these stories. But he can’t, he said; after all he has given similar novels to his own children. And, Mohler added, Christians must not condemn what we haven’t read.3
Next came my question about why Mohler doesn’t recommend fiction. He replied like this:
I read a lot of fiction and enjoy fiction. But I find it very difficult to recommend fiction, so I tend to avoid that. I suppose I believe that one’s response to fiction, positive or negative, is far more personal than one’s response to nonfiction. If I were to recommend a particular novel, for example, and say it was wonderful, someone could immediately question why I didn’t see this or that element wrong or un-Godly about the novel. So I lean toward nonfiction.
Sometimes I find myself taking his reasons to what seems an even more-logical conclusion.
- You know, this whole exploring-epic-stories thing is more trouble than it’s worth.
- Christians will make up their own reasons to hate, treat lightly, naïvely praise or else ignore great stories; what’s the point of spending hours of nonprofit time on the topic?
- Are most folks in this movement to explore God’s glories by exploring epic stories together, or mainly to promote their own stories and build autonomous careers?
- God spreads His eternal Kingdom through preaching and churchy things and other specific ministries, so really, isn’t all this simply trivial? Sure, God inspired creative, beautiful, and even artistically “dangerous” Psalms, and Jesus spent three years telling and re-telling parables that outpaced all other oral traditions from his era — but what are creative reflections of that kind of art compared to preaching sermons and overt Gospel work and giving to the poor and Saving the Nation from religious technocrats?
- We can have all the great stories published, reviews written, talking points about the truths and beauties of great stories distributed — and yet someone for whatever silly or supposed “sola Scriptura” reason is going to hate the story you love, and claim you are either lying to them about your motives or even going to Hell — so the point, again?
That last returns me to Mohler’s comment. I can’t imagine what it must be like to have that kind of ministry “platform.” Suddenly you’re an Evangelical Bigwig. People want you to kiss their babies and bless their pets and write forewords to your latest greatest life-changing book. And no matter how much you speak about the value of personal-level education and discernment — to Mohler’s credit — people will try to outsource their discernment to you. And if you say something they don’t like — to my debit — people will grump at you for not taking up their pet cause or promoting your amazing ministry work or not also speaking out against Historic Abuse X that this group/person/affiliate once actually did.
So no wonder Mohler avoids the fiction issue. If he compliments Harry Potter even once or says he found value in The Hunger Games, it’s clobbering time. Christians can’t handle the disagreement. Better to keep your head down, avoid specifics, and do your best to build better and more-thoughtful readers who read anything for personal joy and love for neighbors. In fact, this is exactly what Mohler and others are doing.
Lately I wonder if I should also do this: simply help Christians earn the right to great stories. Then I can come back to the speculative fiction thing in about, oh, 50 years.
Yet I love stories. And I love the friends these stories help give me.
Still, it’s better to concede struggles like this. Let us not contribute to the notion that some of us are Super-Evangelicals who can’t be pained by weariness or just plain irritation with all those people who don’t “deserve” it. God Himself did not treat His people the same way. We didn’t deserve His greatest Story.
And for all its flaws, I hope He will bless the Christian-spec-stories “cause” anyway.