On Literature and Reading Fiction/Fantasy – Hf #134

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This is our second year running our Christian reading challenge for women and our Christian reading challenge for men. And with it, we often get the question about reading fantasy, media choices, and how to approach this as Christians. That’s what we are chatting about today!

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How we approach reading fiction

Jason and I love reading fiction! And among our very favorite fiction reading are fantasy novels. So the very first thing we need to cover: is it Biblical to read fiction?

Jesus taught primarily through stories. There is something about hearing or reading a story that helps you connect with it better, learn it, and remember it. Stories tug at our heart strings, stories have a way of drilling in a point and making it come alive. We can learn through stories, weep with stories, and come to know God more through stories.

“I’ve found that most people who tell me that fiction is a waste of time are folks who seem to hold to a kind of sola cerebra vision of the Christian life that just doesn’t square with the Bible. The Bible doesn’t simply address man as a cognitive process but as a complex image-bearer who recognizes truth not only through categorizing syllogisms but through imagination, beauty, wonder, awe. Fiction helps to shape and hone what Russell Kirk called the moral imagination. My friend David Mills, now executive editor at First Things, wrote a brilliant article in Touchstoneseveral years ago about the role of stories in shaping the moral imagination of children. As he pointed out, moral instruction is not simply about knowing factually what’s right and wrong (though that’s part of it); it’s about learning to feel affection toward certain virtues and revulsion toward others. A child learns to sympathize with the heroism of Jack the Giant Killer, to be repelled by the cruelty of Cinderella’s sisters and so on.

When you think about it, that’s how the Scriptures often work. The Proverbs, for instance, paint a vivid picture of the revolting tragedy of adultery (Proverbs 7). Jesus doesn’t simply speak about God’s forgiveness in the abstract. He tells a story, the prodigal son, designed to shock (a son who would spurn his inheritance) and to elicit sympathy and identification. The apostles do the same thing. They employ literary, visual language meant to appeal not just to the intellect but to the conscience through the imagination. Think of the Apostle Paul’s language of “laboring until Christ is formed in you,” or his use of literary themes in the OT (“fruit of the Spirit,” and so on).” – Fiction and Literature: An Interview with Russell Moore

We also know that reading out loud to our kids is one of the most beneficial things we can ever do with them. If you haven’t already, go get Read Aloud Family by Sarah MacKenzie right now.

“Fiction and poetry provide authors a unique way to glorify Christ that more overtly intellectual genres, like theology, simply can’t. These genres that aim directly for the heart and soul—rather than aiming at the heart through the mind—do not argue for belief, they show what it looks like and make you feel it. Theology, devotionals, and other books in the “Christian Living” section of the bookstore talk about belief explicitly. Their goal is to explain truth as clearly as possible. Fiction and poetry, on the other hand, tell the truth, but tell it slant. They offer an author a way to give his beliefs flesh and blood by enacting them in the confusion of the real world. In fiction, belief is not what you look at, but what you look through.” – How is Fiction True and Valuable?

What about Fantasy and Magic?

This is of course the biggest controversial subject. So before we dive into it, I want to make a very big announcement/reminder: We need to handle this sensitive subject with humility, grace, and love for one another. We will have differences of opinions from one another and we need to remember that Christ gives us a huge amount of freedom in many of these grey areas and we need to walk in wisdom for our own family and follow our own convictions on these topics. But we also need to be very careful that we don’t hold others to our own personal convictions or preferences. And that we approach those who hold different convictions than us with grace and love above all else!

“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” – 1 Peter 4:8, ESV

“As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.

Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written,

“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
and every tongue shall confess to God.”

So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.” – Romans 14:1-23

So let’s briefly talk about sensitive topics in fiction:

“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” – Galatians 5:19-21

This is where we need to use judgement and wisdom. And if you, or one of your kids, struggles with a particular sin or area, then be even more sensitive to those topics. And realize that you may be able to read a book and you don’t struggle with it, it doesn’t bring up any sin or feelings that you shouldn’t have, but your best friend may not be able to read the same book without drawing up sinful feelings.

Choosing what to read and what you are comfortable with is a very personal decision! And your family needs to pray and discussion what you will do and then walk in that decision!

So what about “Magic”?

“If you search the bible for the term ‘magic’, it doesn’t come up that often. In the HCSB translation, the word only appears five times in the whole bible. And two of those instances are figurative. For example: A bribe seems like a magic stone to its owner, wherever he turns, he succeeds.3 But we can broaden our search a little and find that the bible does make some explicit commandments against divination and sorcery.4 A representative example is Deuteronomy 18:10:

‘No one among you is to make his son or daughter pass through the fire, practice divination, tell fortunes, interpret omens, practice sorcery, cast spells, consult a medium or a familiar spirit, or inquire of the dead.’

Note that the bible lumps a whole bunch of things here into the same basket. If we look at the other commands on the topic too, we find that the bible repeats this pattern. It groups things like telling fortunes, talking to the dead, and burning babies alive. They all appear to be different facets of the same core idea.

Translating into modern-day English, we tend to use the term ‘occult’ for these practices. The bible seems more concerned about the occult than the type of magic found in fantasy stories. But that doesn’t mean fantasy stories are automatically OK. These laws are there for a reason. It’s important to understand why they’re in the bible. Otherwise we end up like the Pharisees. They followed truck-loads of laws but missed the point along the way.

With a little thought, it’s not hard to see why God is against occult practices. They generally involve summoning or otherwise invoking supernatural beings. The summoner’s aim might be find out about the future or to manipulate people, but the power source is the same. If we start with the assumption that God is powerful and cares about us, then dabbling in the occult is a bit of a kick in the teeth. It’s saying to God: “You’re not giving me what I want, so I’m going to find it somewhere else. I don’t trust you and don’t believe you care about my wellbeing. I’m going to find some other supernatural being that will do my bidding.” Using magic in this sense is a rejection of God. So, when it comes to writing, we want to avoid anything that might encourage people down this path.” – Why Christians Should Write Fantasy

For a more Biblical discussion on how to decide for your family, check out Disputable Matters: Harry Potter by Heidi St. John.

Links & Resources:

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