Read Fiction for Christ’s Sake
‘Make the most of the time, because the days are evil’ says Paul to the Ephesian church (5.16). Somehow many of my brothers and sisters have taken this as an injunction against reading fiction. ‘Why would we spend time on something that is essentially a lie?’ says the diligent Christian. Never mind the time that we waste on so many other useless pursuits.
Sadly, this seems to be a case where many Christians use Paul’s words as their excuse for not having read a novel since their senior year of sophomore school. I say ‘No’ to this nonsense. Give me a good novel over a spiritual how-to book every day of the week. The problem with fiction is that it does not tell you what it means. It is dangerously open-ended and vague. It can strike readers in hundreds of different ways.
I am here to say that not only is this a good thing, but it is an essential concept that we need if we are to understand why people interpret the Bible so differently from one another. At a live show Rich Mullins once said that if we got enough Bibles together form all over the world and all throughout history, every verse would probably be underlined by someone. The Bible is not fiction, but it is a story. And as such, it is at times more open ended and vague that we would like. It strikes people differently. The Great Tradition is our anchor amid uncertainty and variety, but outside of the essentials of the faith, there are thousands of directions we can go.
Fiction trains us not only to deal with this open-endedness, but also to be compassionate and open to learning from one another’s readings of the text. So Christians, please read fiction for Christ’s sake!
If you are at all persuaded by this argument, I am assuming that you will come up with Lewis and Tolkien (and associated Inklings) on your own. So, here are 5 non-Inkling works of fiction that you should check out.
- The Book of the Dun Cow by Walter Wangerin Jr. – Great animal allegory of the cosmic drama. [Credit to Jordan and Kathryn King for this recommendation.]
- The Sparrow by Maria Doria Russell – We discover aliens. We send missionaries to another planet. Fantastic.
- Dune by Frank Herbert – A kind of Messiah story in a desert world where water is at a premium, and tensions are high.
- A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving – Brilliant look at what a prophet would really be like as a kid and teen.
- The Power and The Glory by Graham Greene – A Mexican priest grapples with his calling while he is on the run from government persecution.