The World View of Christian Fiction

Every book you read is a tractate on the world view of the author. In some stories, the author’s viewpoint is immediately discernible; perhaps the book’s premise was even based on a view the author passionately wanted to share, such as Charles Dickens’s frequent crusades against the injustices of Victorian England (Oliver Twist, Bleak House, Little Dorrit). More often than not, however, the author’s world view is simply the de facto backdrop for a story intended for sheer entertainment value.

The Moral Power of Fiction

Don’t be mistaken, though. The fact that an author doesn’t necessarily intend to “preach” his world view, hardly diminishes the fact that his view is still presented to the public in a favorable and often convincing manner, simply because likable main characters share these beliefs. This very subtlety is what gives fictional stories tremendous sway in directing public morality. One need look no farther than Hollywood to recognize the phenomenal impact stories can have on those who participate in them.

The entertainment industry, headed by Hollywood, is probably the single most powerful pundit of public thought, emotion, and belief. People flock to the movies to watch their favorite actors fight their way through incredible odds to rescue the world and save the day. We love these heroes, we admire them, we emulate them. Because of our great fascination with the heroes of the silver screen and the written page, we want to forgive them their faults and gloss over the inconsistencies between the world view of the Bible and those exemplified by our heroes.

That we are affected by what we watch and read is undeniable. That authors therefore bear a huge responsibility to their readers, in presenting the truth in their work, should also go without saying. Christian authors, especially, must be aware of the great burden they shoulder whenever they sit down at their keyboards. In the medium of fiction, we have perhaps one of the greatest opportunities for sharing moral truth with people.

Moral compromise and outright immorality has inundated the mainstream entertainment industry—and therefore the populace at large—to such an extent that immoral standards have not only become accepted, but even encouraged.

The Problems and Potential of Christian

What I find extremely discouraging is how little Christian fiction is presenting a counter-attack to this destruction of biblical morality. A vast majority of fiction written by Christians presents heroes whose lifestyles are cookie-cutter copies of the worldly models found throughout Hollywood. Why aren’t Christians standing as a light in a dark world? Why aren’t we presenting heroes and stories that find their ultimate foundation on the Word of God?

In no way am I suggesting that Christian authors should limit themselves to writing about sanctimonious, puritanical, or “perfect” characters. Many Christian readers are thoroughly fed up with the formulaic stories funneled through today’s Christian publishing houses and distributors.

Not only is it possible to present flawed and interesting characters struggling and ultimately learning to do right, but some of the greatest moral stories in both literature and movies find their foundation in this premise. Ben-Hur by Lew Wallace offers as its hero a young Judahite consumed with revenge. When a Man’s a Man by Harold Bell Wright is fueled entirely by the wrong decisions its characters make throughout the majority of the story. In Mary Johnston’s epic Civil War duology The Long Roll/Cease Firing, her characters, lost in the chaos of a country at war, fall and rise and fall again.

How to Write Excellent Moral Fiction

In all of these stories we find the bedrock truth of convincing morality. Why is it convincing? Because it rings true to life, in its flawed characters and desperate plights. Why is it moral? Because the authors refused to compromise the underlying truth of their stories. Even when the characters themselves do not understand this truth, the reader is led to see it through the logical ramifications caused by the characters’ actions.

Christian fiction must take a hard stand on the truth. We must stand on the laws of God, show the stark black and white of morality, and never flinch from breaking today’s abundant stereotypes. Rise above mediocrity. No matter how excellent a truth you may be presenting, no one will care if it is not packaged with excellence. Don’t fall into the trap of two-dimensional characters, cotton-candy facades of the “Christian life,” pat endings, and unjustified prudery. If we, as Christians, bear in ourselves the Light of the World, how can we dare present unfruitful, second-rate stories? We must excel, we must shine—not for our own glory, but for that of our Creator, King, and Savior.

In his excellent book Outside Hollywood: The Young Christian’s Guide to Vocational Fimmaking (which, despite its title and emphasis, still possesses an abundance of wealth for the Christian writer of fiction), Isaac Botkin puts our case very plainly:

Christ commanded all of us to examine the fruit. So what is the fruit of Christian pragmatism? The runaway worldliness of the Church is easily keeping pace with the runaway worldliness in surrounding culture. Christian radio, Christian television, and Christian movies have simultaneously descended to a level that is not merely culturally irrelevant, but spiritually treasonous. It is also ugly, childish, and of poor technical quality. This, of course, is a generalization, but it is an accurate generalization.

The truth of quality and the truth of morality: both are desperately in demand from Christian writers, both are the bedrock of excellent fiction.

Tell me your opinion: Do you believe fiction has the power to shape society’s morals?

world view of christian fiction

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website.

Comments

  1. J S Williams says:

    Thank you for your excellent exhortation. I hold a BA in Biblical Studies from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I have been wondering how I could marry my knowledge of the Bible with my desire to write fiction. You have just inspired me. Now off to the blank paper!

    God bless you, KM.

  2. The arts are one of the most powerful moving forces in our world. I truly believe that if we want to inspire the world, we can choose few options more catalystic than writing fiction, making movies, and singing songs.

  3. Anonymous says:

    The Bible records that David took another man’s wife and had the man killed. Solomon turned to idolatry because of his multitude of wives. Elijah ran like a scared rabbit and hid in a cave, forgetting his faith and fearing for his life. Saint Peter was a hothead and a loudmouth. Yet these are ultimately some of the greatest heroes in God’s word that overcame their weaknesses and failings. Christian characters don’t have to be boring, squishy teddy bears with no substance. The best ones are as flawed and as richly detailed as any other character.

  4. Couldn’t agree more. The more flawed the character, the better the story, in my experience.

  5. This is why we need more (good) Christian films.

    I once heard it said that the defining thing about a Christian is not that they do no wrong, but the way they handle it when they have done wrong. That is what really speaks a powerful witness to the world. People drop their jaw and take notice when somebody admits “I was wrong” and tries to make it right.

  6. I like that description. I think and hope that Christian fiction is steadily improving these days.

  7. I look to J.R.R. Tolkien as an example. Most people don’t think of his books as being fundamentally Christian, but he did. His entire created world was built on the same foundation of moral truth that he devoutly followed in his own life. While there was no overt religion in his books, the truths and morals that comprise the nature of the world of Arda are fundamentally Christian and Catholic. And see how well loved Middle-earth is?

    My goal is to accomplish the same in my own created world.

  8. Tolkien is an excellent example of someone who let his world view inform his writing, strengthening it as a result.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Okay, I’m trying very hard to put this in a way that won’t come across wrong, and really I have no right to ask you to consider my feelings, and after all it’s stupid of me to complain about such an old post, but in case this subject comes up again, could you consider trying not to imply that non-Christians are less moral than Christians? Thanks.

  10. Thanks for the comment (and thanks particularly for phrasing your concern kindly). However, I would like to point out that this post is discussing *biblical* morality. That isn’t something most non-Christians are interested in pursuing.

  11. Write in truth would always be my first response. If we write the stories we’re compelled to write and the characters we’re passionate about, we’ve accomplished our first and most important job as a writer. Second, of course, is writing quality work. We’re all still learning how to master this crazy writing craft, no matter long we’ve been at it. And, third, I would surrender it to the Lord. He knows the gifts He’s given you and how He best can use them.

  12. So good to see that even in today’s world, there are those who put their religion and faith above all. Well since We, as Muslims, start writing openly about our religion. Most (not all) of the world while seeing our books in anywhere, will just imagine a book about guns and bombs. 🙂
    This kind of options are just not liable for us. I only wish that through my writing, if someone reads it, they get good moral messages. Something through which they can make good changes in their lifes.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Although I obviously don’t agree with the Islamic faith, I do believe strongly that every author, whatever his creed, has a responsibility to be true to it in his writing. If we believe in something – especially something as important as religion – we have to remain just as true to it in our fiction as in our lives. Otherwise, what are we but liars?

  13. Andrew Lacey says:

    Thanks for your wonderful article. As an amateur Christian writer, I was greatly encouraged by your comments on how a writer should incorporate his or her personal convictions on morality into their literary works. Inspiring insight, thanks.

  14. Naomi P Johnson says:

    Hello KM ~

    I recently purchased your Outlining book and was surprised, and delighted, to find your lovely dedication line “Dedicated to my beloved Saviour who outlines my life much better than I do those of my characters”. And then a similar Christ-centric one at the end of Structuring Your Novel.

    It was a lovely delight to come across those love/honour pointers to our Lord and our Creator — even in such subtle innuendo’s, though still warmly clear.

    Christian artistry has, and is, coming a long way — both in film and in writing. If you’ve not had the privilege of reading Francine Rivers (her Mark of the Lion first 2 books are world-class) and Jamie Langston Turner (she decided to write Christian fiction for the unbeliever rather than take the easy route of writing for believers) then, you’ve got an excellent treat still waiting for you.

    Does fiction have the power to shape society’s morals? It already has (Hollywood & cable TV) sadly.

    Can good Christian writerly fiction and films influence society? They, thankfully, already are. With lots of room to grow.

    It’s wonderful that the Church, everywhere, is turning on to the value of the arts and encouraging and making creative room for them. Yay!

    Thankfully your closing quote – from 10 years ago now — is nicely outdated.

    Which brings me to think perhaps its time for another post on this subject?

  15. Robert Plowman says:

    Just ran across this post. A most commendable thought. Thank you for sharing your faith.

  16. Gary Townsend says:

    There are so many writers who are Christians and traditionally published whose works shine in today’s world. To name but a few, and categorize them according to their faith and genres:

    Protestant

    C.S. Lewis (fantasy & SF)
    Tim Powers (fantasy)
    James P. Blaylock (fantasy)
    James Scott Bell (thriller)
    Cordwainer Smith (real name is Paul Linebarger — SF)
    Stephen R. Lawhead (fantasy)
    George MacDonald (a mentor of Lewis Carroll who also influenced C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien — fantasy)

    Catholic

    J.R.R. Tolkien (fantasy)
    Christopher Stasheff (fantasy)
    Katherine Kurtz (fantasy)
    Gene Wolfe (science fantasy & fantasy)

    And then there are others of other faiths who have also enjoyed some great influence:

    Other

    Orson Scott Card (Mormon — SF & fantasy)
    Brandon Sanderson (Mormon — fantasy)
    Russell Kirkpatrick (not sure of his faith, but his Fire of Heaven series is quite Deist)

    There are many more. When I attended the ’93 World Science Fiction Convention in San Francisco (I lived at the south end of the SF Bay at the time in Sunnyvale), Ross Pavlac — a Christian who was key in the organization of the annual SF conventions held in Chicago — gave me a long list of of writers in the science fiction and fantasy fields who were either Protestant or Catholic. Unfortunately, I no longer have that list, but I do remember most of them. What you see above is just a short list, along with my “Other” list addendum.

    • Gary Townsend says:

      Looks like my formatting went wonky. LOL And the comments clearly didn’t care for my attempt to use HTML’s unordered list tags. Oh, well.

    • Gary Townsend says:

      I’d also point out that lots of artists — including people in other arts, such as music — are quite obvious and vocal in their advocacy of using religious faiths to inspire their fiction, even if they aren’t adherents of that faith.

      Sting of the Police, for example, after they had gained some fame, made it clear that he was going to look to more Eastern religions for inspiration.

      The makers of the Matrix films were pretty obvious in their use of Buddhism, specifically Mahayana Buddhism (there are different types of Buddhism in different countries). Van Morrison has some songs that are blatantly Buddhist in his work — for example, there is his song “Enlightenment” which contains the following lyrics which are so obviously Buddhist you’d have to be blind to not see it:

      Chop that wood
      Carry water
      What’s the sound of one hand clapping
      Enlightenment, don’t know what it is

      Every second, every minute
      It keeps changing to something different
      Enlightenment, don’t know what it is
      Enlightenment, don’t know what it is
      It says it’s non attachment
      Non attachment. Non attachment

      I’m in the here and now, and I’m meditating
      And still I’m suffering but that’s my problem
      Enlightenment, don’t know what it is

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