Should Christians Read Fiction?

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For the past little while, we’ve been exploring what it means to use the arts well as a Christian. I’ve argued that the arts are important for Christians to pay attention tothey are a valid career path for Christians, and that as Christians, our art should be of the highest quality.

Today and next week, I want to look at two very specific types of art, ones that I am personally involved in, ones that I feel some Christians look askance at. I want to explain why I believe they are important and why I believe God created them.

First up? Fiction. Storytelling. The art of writing, of crafting plot and characters and settings to explore themes. I write fiction, although I don’t talk about it much on here, and I believe that it is such an important element of the human experience as God created us.

Whatever is True?

I remember stumbling on one of my mom’s homeschool books when I was much younger, a book where the author talked about her family only read nonfiction or fiction that could be real. They didn’t allow fairy tales, fantasy, mythology, talking animals, etc., using Philippians 4:8 (“Whatever is true…”) as their reasoning.

Even at a young age, that bothered me. Partially because I had already fallen in love with fantasy stories and stories in general, and I wondered if it was wrong to read those things, if I should give them up.

But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized why it really bothered me even then.

What Fiction Does

As Christians, storytelling is one of the means God has given us to reveal his truth. When we limit this storytelling to only representing things that happen in the “real world”, we lose a hugely powerful avenue of witnessing to truth and beauty.

Different genres have different purposes, but all fiction serves several important purposes.

Through fiction, we see the world through different eyes and gain the ability to empathize with people who are different from us.

Through fiction, we get to see how the universal truth of God’s Word plays out in a variety of situations that we will never actually experience.

Through fiction, we gain a more well-rounded understanding of God’s character than we would in the course of our everyday lives.

What About Fantasy?

I want to look at fantasy specifically for a second. Even though so many Christians avoid it like the plague, I think fantasy is so important. Through made-up worlds and magic and epic quests, truth and beauty find one of their best representations.

The best fantasy books are those that look seriously at real issues. By taking those issues into a made-up setting, we can consider them detached from the baggage they carry in the real world. Because of that, we can see the problems and their solutions more clearly.

The other thing fantasy does really well: illustrate the clash between good and evil. In fantasy, we see over and over that good always wins, that evil will ultimately be defeated. There is an ongoing battle between good and evil in the supernatural realm of the real world; in fantasy, without the limitations of the natural world, it is much easier to represent the truth of this fight in the way that does it justice.

The Impact of Fiction

Ultimately, fiction and nonfiction must work together. Nonfiction expresses the truth, and fiction illustrates the truth. Fiction takes nonfiction’s ideas, adds dimension, and makes them beautiful. Fiction shows the truth to us in the light of people and places and stories.

Fiction has the potential to impact the world for incredible good. The truths we learn through fiction often stay with us forever, changing our lives more than the most helpful self-help book. That is a power that Christians need to be harnessing and using for the glory of God.

And as for Philippians 4:8, there is often more truth in stories of talking animals and magic wands than there is in the most realistic of contemporary novels.

What do you think? Do you read fiction? Fantasy? What impact has fiction had on your life? 

love, grace

Read more:

4 Ways to Read More During the School Year (+book recommendations!)

Writing for Building Up (or, I’m Tired of Depressing Stories)

Why I Don’t Limit Myself to “Christian” Entertainment

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16 thoughts on “Should Christians Read Fiction?

  1. C R Flamingbush says:

    I love the way you define what Christian fantasy does, dealing with real problems in a detached way free from the baggage that goes with them in order to put them in perspective. That’s the reason I write Christian fantasy books – aspiring to be the next C.S. Lewis, though I don’t have talking animals in my stories. Instead of a lion, I have a comic book author who writes powerful stories that impact children’s lives. I have begun writing articles explaining how the themes in these stories relate to handling problems in the so-called “real world.” The fact is, we as Christians live in two realities: the day-to-day earthly plain and the knowledge of an invisible world that’s more real than we can imagine. I think that fantasy, when written properly, helps to bridge that gap. I understand that some believers have a problem with the use of fantasy, but I really think it depends on the book. For example, in my book I make it clear that the heroes’ powers do not come from themselves but from the author of the comic books. Anyone using witchcraft would be a villain, though that is an issue I have yet to address. Dragons are bad, etc.

    By the way, I started off writing church skits and plays before I wrote fantasy. Then the churches I attended stopped using them as a way to get their messages across. If you think about it, plays and movies aren’t much different than fantasy books. They’re both creative ways to spread the gospel message.

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    • graceevalyn says:

      I’m so glad you liked the post! Your books sound amazing, and it seems like you have a great handle on how to balance fantasy’s power with its dangers (which is definitely something I’m still learning). I love how you put it about the two realities and fantasy bridging that gap – I think it’s so important. And I absolutely agree that plays and movies are also important! Any art, really, serves this purpose, which is what I’ve been talking about in my posts for a while now. It’s so important to harness the tools we’ve been given to spread truth to the world!

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  2. The Story Sponge says:

    Yes, yes, yes! This is a topic that is fiercely close to my heart. I am an avid writer and reader and it has been through many fictional (mostly fantasy) stories that I have grown as a person and grown in my understanding of God’s overwhelming love for me. I think there is so much to glean from fiction, in combination with nonfiction. The fiction is a lens through which we can better see reality. God gave us imaginations and a yearning for the things that we can’t explain. One of my favorite authors is C.S. Lewis, who believed that fantasy meets a certain need in us that can’t be met by exclusively focusing on facts. God reaches us through Narnia and Middle Earth in unique ways. God is the master storyteller, and when I write I feel closer to Him. All the best stories, fantasy and autobiographies alike, reflect His greater story, a story so grand in scale that we can’t possibly fathom it.

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    • graceevalyn says:

      Absolutely!! C.S. Lewis is my favorite author of all time (which you’ll figure out pretty quickly if you hang out around here…I talk about him all.the.time. haha!) Narnia is always what I have in mind when I write about the power of fantasy, the epitome of what I believe Christian fiction should be.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. kathykuhl says:

    Thanks for writing on this topic. Jesus, the master teacher, created great stories, including the Prodigal Son. The prophet Nathan used a powerful story about a beloved pet lamb to show King David where he’d gone wrong. Good stories told well touch our hearts.

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  4. Lisa Beth says:

    I do read fiction, usually novels with historical settings. i definitely do not read fantasy or anything introducing witchcraft. Anyone familiar at all with the many forms of witchcraft knows that it displays demonic power – often with benign and/or pleasant facades. If God said “Do not allow a witch to live” (Exodus 22:18) how can we find pleasure in their acts?
    Thanks to mainstream witchcraft and superheroes our youth know much more about Harry Potter & X-Men than the wonders of God and His spiritual giants.

    Liked by 1 person

    • graceevalyn says:

      I have to respectfully disagree with you about fantasy, for some of the reasons I talked about in the post, which I’ll try to elaborate on a little more. To be totally honest, I’m still trying to develop all of my arguments in favor of fantasy stories, so hopefully this is coherent… 😉

      First of all, I don’t believe that legitimate witchcraft is always the same thing as the “magic” in fantasy books. Especially for books that are set in totally different worlds, the supernatural/magic system is representative of God and His work in our world. There is a supernatural realm, and fantasy allows us to represent the struggle between good and evil in a way that is much more real than in “realistic” genres of fiction.

      I would also note that the verses you refer to are part of the Old Testament law. So they don’t necessarily apply to Christians after Christ in a black-and-white way. The New Testament talks about fleeing from evil, and I think the line is a little more gray about what constitutes evil. If a fantasy book is using its magic to express truth, I don’t think that would be considered evil, necessarily.

      And finally, I would say that in many ways fantasy allows us to learn more about God (at least, fantasy used in the right way). So while it might be true that much of today’s media is causing youth to know less and less about God, blaming fantasy as a whole for that is getting rid of an entire channel through which we can actually teach children and teens more about God and His truth.

      This is definitely an area of Christian liberty, and everyone has to draw the lines for themselves on what they feel comfortable with. So I totally respect that you avoid media that you feel is sinful! I just disagree on where that line is.

      We can definitely talk about this more if you want!

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      • Lisa Beth says:

        Dear Grace, I know I can comment like a hammer when the subject matter arouses my passion. I couldn’t feel any stronger about witchcraft and ‘magic’. I quoted the O.T., not because we are under the law but because it reveals God’s heart against unquestionable sins like adultery, murder and witchcraft. The N.T. is not at all softer or grayer, “all who practice magic arts are thrown into the lake of fire”. In addition to other N.T. scripture, this should cause us to fear.
        I have (unfortunately) witnessed and/or been a victim of various forms of witchcraft over the years; Santeria, Obeah, Voodoo, and Wiccan practices. There is nothing more grievous than invoking demonic powers.
        All I can say about ‘fantasy’ is that there is a tremendous risk in capturing the mind and hearts of people with the supernatural until even the miraculous works of God are swept into the realm of ‘fantasy’. It blurs the glory that belongs to God alone. Sorry to take so much space! But I must share a recent glimpse into this…..I was waiting in a grocery line behind two men who were discussing The Walking Dead program. After mentioning some episode, one man turned to the other and said, “Can you believe how stupid Christians are? They actually believe that men will rise from the dead!” They both laughed.
        I believe that Satan has contaminated and saturated our culture with a lust for the supernatural. The result is not more faith in God but a greater flow of pervasive apostasy.
        You are a beautiful sister in the Lord. Forgive me if I was harsh – it was passion from my heart b/c I have seen lives destroyed…and God dishonored. May the Lord truly bless you Grace.
        Yours in Christ, Lisa Beth

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        • graceevalyn says:

          You’re absolutely fine! I welcome comments that respectfully disagree, and you’ve been perfectly respectful and wonderful.

          I definitely agree with you that our culture’s obsession with the supernatural (vampires, zombies, horror movies, etc.) is extremely harmful and dangerous and not something Christians should ever take part in. I just disagree that all fantasy novels/fairy tales, etc. fall into that category. But I totally get where you’re coming from!

          Out of curiosity, can I ask what you think of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, and other Christian fantasy writers in their vein?

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        • Lisa Beth says:

          Hi Grace, Although a highly esteemed theologian, I personally do not subscribe to the ‘fantasy’ novels of C.S. Lewis. And regarding J.R.R. Tolkien I can only remark that, unlike Lewis, he seems not a ‘born-again’ believer but is rather a devout Catholic, even forcing his fiancé to convert from protestant in order to marry him. While ‘fantasy is fantasy’, I do not imagine with Tolkien to receive ‘pure water from a tainted pipe’ regarding godly spiritual inspiration.
          The other criteria that I use is, ‘what mental/emotional/spiritual fruit is this planting within me?’ Everyone has their own fleshly vulnerabilities…such as anxiety, fear, lust, etc. I know mine so, within genre of non-fiction, I am careful. “Others may but you may not” is often a useful axiom.
          God bless you Grace, keep posting and pressing on in the Lord!

          Liked by 1 person

        • graceevalyn says:

          That totally makes sense – the most important thing is knowing where your own weaknesses are and how to avoid triggering those. I’ve never been bothered by fantasy (although I still try to be careful what I read within the genre, of course), and the best kinds of fantasy are encouraging and helpful to me. I would never try to force anyone to read it, though, if they felt that it would hurt their spiritual walk. With these kinds of posts, my goal is always just to explain my view and perhaps open peoples’ minds to realize that there isn’t one right answer for everyone. It’s a complex issue for sure. Thank you for taking the time to talk to me – I really appreciate being able to have a respectful conversation even though we disagree. Proves that it can still be done, even in the world we live in!

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