Should Christians Read Fiction?
To my sweet friend,
Every July Life.Church has a message series called At The Movies. It is described like this,
"During At the Movies, Pastor Craig dissects popular movies under the microscope of God’s Word. He helps us draw life-changing truths out of box office hits—truths we may not have noticed when we saw the flick at the movie theater."
More people come to know and accept Christ during the month of July than any other month at Life.Church. Why is this?
While I cannot answer this question definitively, research shows us that stories can have a powerful effect on our brains (Widrich, Zak). I have experienced this myself, so have numerous friends and acquaintances.
But we are not here to discuss movies. I have a B.A. in English and a Master's of Library and Information Science, thus, my heart truly belongs to books. And just as Pastor Craig finds biblical truths in films,
I believe biblical truths can also be found in literature, and I don't just mean Chrisitan fiction.
While C.S. Lewis was an atheist, he positioned that Christianity was just another myth as he found many similarities between Christian stories and other mythology. However, his friend and fellow Inkling member J.R.R. Tolkien provided this explanation to Lewis,
"…man is not ultimately a liar. He may pervert his thoughts into lies, but he comes from God, and it is from God that he draws his ultimate ideals…Therefore, Tolkien continued, not merely the abstract thoughts of man but also his imaginative inventions must originate with God, and must in consequence reflect something of eternal truth. In making a myth, in practicing “mythopoeia” and peopling the world with elves and dragons and goblins, a storyteller, or “sub-creator” as Tolkien liked to call such a person, is actually fulfilling God’s purpose, and reflecting a splintered fragment of true light. Pagan myths are therefore never just “lies”: there is always something of the truth to them…Had he not shown how pagan myths were, in fact, God expressing Himself through the minds of poets, and using the images of their “mythopoeia” to express fragments of his eternal truth?" (Carpenter, 1978).
I believe that this is why stories can have such a profound effect on us.
Think about it, Jesus told stories, or parables, to illustrate spiritual and biblical truths. ~ CLICK TO TWEET
Listening and reading stories activates our empathy and causes us to connect on a deep level with characters (Kingston University in London, 2017). Telling stories is part of the human experience, and often it is how we relate to our surrounding world. Jesus says in Matthew 13:13,
"This is why I speak to them in parables:
“Though seeing, they do not see;
though hearing, they do not hear or understand."
Jesus was a superb storyteller. Jesus knew the impression of a story.
Stories can challenge our assumptions, challenge us to love and empathize with our neighbors more, help us better understand God, widen our world view, heal us, and unmask us.
Yes, "Spiritual lessons surround us if we know where to look!" (Life.Church).
For example, in the novel, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, Jane's character develops as her relationship with God develops. Though the novel is primarily a gothic romance, Jane's complete faith in God is important to the story.
"We know that God is everywhere, but certainly we feel His presence most when His works are on the grandest scale spread before us; and it is in the unclouded night-sky, where His worlds wheel their silent course, that we read clearest His infinitude, His omnipotence, His omnipresence" (Bronte, 1847).
I could go on providing examples from numerous books, A Wrinkle in Time, Les Miserables. . .
Related posts: Will Future Technology Be the End of Compassion? > Review of Feed by M.T. Anderson; The Secrets Lurking in a Digital-Social Utopia, Review > The Circle by Dave Eggers; Truths from the Titanic and a Chilean Mine > Reviews, The Watch That Ends the Night and Deep Down Dark.
God is always present. Therefore we can trust that the Holy Spirit can appear and challenge or encourage us anywhere, including while reading.
God can grow our faith even from the books we read. ~ CLICK TO TWEET
So, should a Christian read fiction? And if so what kind of fiction?
The answer both questions is that it is up to you. Some things are always true because God discusses them in the Bible. But sometimes the Bible is silent on a matter. In these situations, we can look to Romans 14:23,
"But whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin."
When reading fiction or not reading fiction, we need to look to our conscience. If you feel conviction from reading fiction or reading particular fiction, don't read it!
When God places it on our hearts that something is wrong for us, we need to avoid it.
Sometimes you may start a book and realize that it isn't worth your time or that it makes your conscious uneasy. But other times you may just find Him within a book's pages.
Some guidelines to help you navigate potentially valuable books can be found in Philippians 4:8,
"Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things."
Do you find godly examples of truth, nobility, justice, purity, love, and admirable in the literature you are reading? Of course, not every character or happenstance in a book may have these qualities, but what is the core of the book advocating and supporting?
Included in this article is a set of printable PDF bookmarks that provide Scripture for you to consider while reading a book. I hope you will enjoy them. :)
I also want to mention that reading fiction and connecting with others through shared readings can provide you a unique and unexpected way to share Jesus and biblical truths with others.
Take notes about what God is showing you while reading a piece of literature.
If that book comes up in a conversation with someone, you can work Jesus and spiritual truths into the conversation!
So, keep reading!
You never know what biblical lessons or life-changing truths you can discover from fiction. ~ CLICK TO TWEET
Yours Truly, LeNae
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Bronte, Charlotte. 1847. Jane Eyre. London: Penguin Classics.
Carpenter, Humphrey. 1978. The Inklings; C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, and their friends. London.
Kingston University in London. 2017. "Kingston University student's research into fiction habits and personality types reveals reading may make us kinder." May 22. http://www.kingston.ac.uk/news/article/1856/22-may-2017-kingston-university-students-research-into-fiction-habits-and-personality-types-reveals-reading-may-make-us/.
Widrich, Leo. 2012. "The Science of Storytelling: Why Telling a Story is the Most Powerful Way to Activate Our Brains." December 5. https://lifehacker.com/5965703/the-science-of-storytelling-why-telling-a-story-is-the-most-powerful-way-to-activate-our-brains.
Zak, Paul J. Ph.D. 2015. "Why Inspiring Stories Make Us React: The Neuroscience of Narrative." February 2. http://www.dana.org/Cerebrum/2015/Why_Inspiring_Stories_Make_Us_React__The_Neuroscience_of_Narrative/.