Monday, November 12, 2007

Finding the Truth Through
Science Fiction & Fantasy

In this paper I propose that commercial works of science fiction and fantasy offer benefits to evangelical readers, preachers, and students of theology. This proposition is actually two: first, that commercial fiction by non-Christian authors offers such benefits, and second, that speculative fiction in particular offers such benefits. Because these two postulates have not been universally embraced by the evangelical church during the last hundred years, they call for some discussion.
--from To Find the Truth, Look to the Lie:
Contributions of Science Fiction and Fantasy to Theological Expression

The above link takes you to the text of a paper delivered by Michael Spence, Ph.D, at the 2005 annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society. Among other thigns, he offers five specific reasons why studying the SF of a culture is a valuable tool in understanding that culture. In doing so, he happens to highlight why SF is a genre that can probe for truth so effectively.

And I think that's exactly why Christians should be reading and writing it. We want to affect our culture. Well, you have to understand it first. The literary quarantine needs to end:

Speculative fiction—a term we will use for the spectrum of imaginative literature, including both science fiction and fantasy—can indeed relate to our lives, even when on the surface it appears to deal with persons and situations far removed from our reality. Furthermore, non-Christian authors can provide insights not always found in literature of Christian origin, particularly insights into human nature and thus the thought patterns of people in the world Christians are trying to reach with the message of Jesus Christ—not to mention the thought patterns of Christians themselves. Those insights can be used both to communicate more effectively with the non-Christian public and to help us look more accurately at ourselves.

Go take a look at Mr. Spence's paper at Brother Osric's Scriptorium.


CaroleMcDonnell said...

Hi Mir:

I totally agree with him. As a pentecostal I always feel as if Christian mainstream literature is often no different from any kind of "good" literature because it leads people to "goodness" versus "badness" but it doesn't deal with the idea of A)a salvation based on God's love regardless of our sinfulness. So often these books lead people to the tree of knowledge and shows the reader THIS IS THE LAW, THIS IS THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOOD AND EVIL. The gospel isn't about behaving right. It's about God's love whether we behave rightly or not. B) Christian mainstream fiction also doesn't deal with the fact that we are an entirely new creation who now have authority to cast out demons and heal the sick... and C) much of Christian mainstream fiction is carnal in the sense that the characters don't really have the mind of Christ. They often walk by human reasoning not by spiritual sight.

A good speculative fiction book shows so much about the power of the world, the flesh, and the devil. In addition, it really is the universal common ground of modern folklore. You mention Eve to someone who hasn't read the Bible and they don't know who the heck Eve is. But mention Terminator and the relentlessness of a being with a demonic and hateful purpose....and bingo, the non-Christian immediately understands...and there's a common ground for discussion. -Carole


Piggybacking on what you said, Carole, common ground is what Christ established in His parables. He didn't talk deep truth in words or images His audience couldn't understand. He made the Kingdom part of their everyday lives by comparing it to fields of wheat, to cities set on hills, to salt and light. The truth was called seed. With Christ as our example, what rich ground we speculative writers have in which to plant the seeds of truth!

CaroleMcDonnell said...

True, Keenan. And so often in Christian books, we want to sow the seed, and reap the harvest all in one book. But we are called to sow seed. We don't know how the seed will grow in a reader's mind. But at least we've planted a little commentary about the way the spiritual world. -C

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks for the link!

michael spence said...

I'm honored that you've chosen to highlight the paper. (I'm also amazed that you were willing to slog through it until the end! Short it ain't.) If you have opinions on the other items in Brother Osric's Scriptorium, I'd be very pleased to hear them.

Ms. McDonnell makes a good point in her last comment. So often, in our "Christian" stories, films, and music, we seem to believe that (a) this is the only chance the reader/viewer/listener will have to hear the gospel and (b) we are (therefore?) responsible to take that person from introduction all the way to discipleship commitment in the course of a single project. Both assumptions are wrong, of course, yet if there's anything wrong with today's "Christian" output, I'm convinced that they bear a great deal of the blame. Happily, we're coming to realize that our biblical mandate is quite different. We aren't a sales force, we're witnesses--and there's a world of difference between the two.

Meanwhile, I hope to hear good news about the Nut Project soon!