of skinheads, submarines and shellfish

This Rant is brought to you by: a discussion over at Mike Duran’s The Dangers of Inspirational Fiction

Regarding society and culture, it seems to me much of the modern Western evangelical community waffles between the extremes of victim or vigilante. Whether it’s Chicken Little hand-wringing over deplorable content in music, movies, TV, the arts in general, or self-appointed watchdogs providing scathing dissections of the offenders, slapping ‘stumbling block’ citations on anything rougher than gravel, I find this bipolar reactionism absurd. It’s not good for anyone, Christian or Non-believer, and I doubt it’s a clear, compassionate representation of the Grace and Truth that is in Jesus.

I’m not saying there aren’t coarse, tragic, and heinous things going on in our world that need immediate action. In no way am I discounting the desperate need for ministry, evangelism, definite boundaries and declarations of absolute truth. I’m referring here to ‘tempests in a teapot’: debates over tertiary issues which, in my opinion, are far too heated and frequent. As a Christian who writes speculative fiction, I willingly enter into discussions on controversial topics. How to portray evil, magic, mythological creatures, violence? Can a Christian writer mention sex? Can their characters employ profanity? What about murder? Rape? Voodoo? Incest?

Before anyone thinks I’m excusing the profane, heretical, or pornographic, I’m not. These are hugely important subjects – in context. I’ve already staked out my position on gratuitous scenes, target markets, labeling, and intended audience. I won’t tire you by repeating it. Again. I spend a tremendous amount of time before God in prayer and in Scripture working out the responsibilities and boundaries of my vocations. (husband, father, grandfather, artist, writer, Bible-Study leader…) I will be accountable before Almighty God one day, and I treat them in deadly earnest. Life isn’t all about me and what I can get away with. Not at all, in fact.

OPEN MARKETPLACE OF IDEAS
Though all the winds of doctrine were let loose to play upon the earth, so Truth be in the field, we do injuriously by licensing and prohibiting to misdoubt her strength. Let her and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter. – JOHN MILTON, Areopagitica

I find it unfortunate that the default position of many evangelicals is one of cloistered avoidance, a sort of censorship in the name of Sanctification evades the presence or possibility of sin, and insists the world conform to their “family-friendly, traditional values” expectations. Hence, the strict diet of pre-packaged, pre-approved, pre-measured “Christian” fare: i.e. music, books, friends, schools, jobs, movies, etc, etc. The quarantine model, the end result is a sort of ideological ghetto where no outside influence is permitted, or if permitted, only after being thoroughly screened and re-packaged for consumption. Baptisneyland.

“Anyone ever told you about Adolf?”
The thing with the Open Marketplace of Ideas is just that: it’s open. Leave your house and you’re bombarded by truth claims, value systems, and world view assumptions all clamoring for your attention and affection. (Actually… just turn on your radio or TV) Like it or not, it’s one of the benefits of living in a free society, but it also means you’re fair game to the advances of neo-nazis, PETA activists, Democrats/Republicans, and Tupperware salesmen. Individual citizens must weigh the consequences of ideas and actions, and make decisions. That’s called being an adult. And a free morale agent.

“After 9/11, Americans discovered there are entire segments of the world’s population that desire certainty, no matter how backward or oppressive, to the rights and responsibilities of liberty. ” – Ralph Peters

Christians are called to have defined theology; to know not just Whom they believe in, but What and Why as well. This burden of responsibility is first on the individual and second on ministers and church leaders. The former have a life-long relationship to develop while the New Testament states it’s the latter’s job. (One minister said it was twenty years before he realized he was dealing with the wrong end of his sheep.)

My question here (as I stated at deCompose) is not “is Inspirational fiction dangerous?”, but does the average reader of Christian and Inspirational literature have enough theological grounding to not be blown about by every wind of doctrine? Can a little corporal with a funny moustache and cool uniforms or a made-up kid with a scar and wand trump the Man who rose from the dead and the ultimate veracity of God-breathed Scripture?

You see, plenty of reasonable people who are not Believers understand Nazism is ugly, ignorant and cruel. They can recognize Harry Potter is a made-up story, not some ‘primer of Satan designed to indoctrinate children into witchcraft and demonic possession.’ (BTW, that hullabaloo way back in the day started from a satirical post at over “The Onion”. Talk about reacting to fiction…) Christians don’t have exclusive rights to morals, values, compassion, and sound judgment. Even a broken clock is right twice a day.

RIG FOR DIVE
Poignant and penetrating insights into the human condition aside, the aim of fiction is entertainment and escapism. (and make money.) Of course they contain worldviews and philosophies that contradict Christian orthodoxy and practice. That’s because our world and its inhabitants have contradicting mindsets and lifestyles. That’s how things are here. The Christian call to Sanctification is first of all internal. That means character is the foundation for conduct.(Remember obedience without understanding is another form of ignorance?) In 1 Cor 5: Paul had to further clarify Jesus’ mandate to be “in the world but not of it.”

1 Cor 5:9-10
I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. 10 Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world .

Christians are called to be distinct – yes, but not isolated, ignorant, or insulated. We are called to be involved with our world, its people and ideas, and we have the promise God’s Spirit and the Word of Truth will preserve us in the midst of sorrow, madness, and dysfunction.

Romans 12, verses 1 and 2 states we are to be living sacrifices with renewed minds that exercise discernment, individuals who can then withstand being squeezed into the world’s molds, carried away in its currents. As a military geek, the best analogy I can come up with is that of a submarine. Designed to operate in an alien environment, it relies on internal counter-pressure to withstand the dark, cold crushing weight of deep water. This touches on the basic disciplines of prayer, fellowship, study of Scripture, faithfulness to a local body of believers and pastoral care. The Christian life is built for the wide open seas, not some dry dock.

BUT I LIKE CRABCAKES
“11 The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven, to test him. 12 And he sighed deeply in his spirit, and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign shall be given to this generation.” 13 And he left them, and getting into the boat again he departed to the other side.” Mark 8:11-13
Shellfish are a whole lot of work for a couple little mouthfuls. You don’t have to break out any hand tools when you pit your wits against one of those hamburgers that come in a little eco-friendly, recycled content cardboard box. But lobster, shrimp, and crabcakes are quite tasty, thank you, and well worth the effort, IMO. So it is with life. God’s fingerprints are everywhere; you have to peel back the layers sometimes, but they’re there.

Augustine was right in saying we were caught between the City of Man and the City of God. Perfection isn’t here, Deception and Distraction are genuine dangers. There is a desperate need for discernment because it’s vital Christians recognize Truth from Error. 2 + 2 = 4, not 22. But it’s equally vital we recognize degrees of accuracy. 5 is a closer answer than 17. Discernment involves spitting out the bones and spotting facets of Truth regardless of when and where and through whom they’re revealed. Take Paul’s sermon at the Areopagus; he referenced one of their idols and quoted from their poets. That’s what I’m talking about.

The Prophet Jerry Garcia* once said “even a blind man knows when the sun is shining.” Demanding truth and revelation arrive only in credentialed, dignified formats is the same mistake the Pharisees made concerning Jesus. Extol form over content like they did and the end result will be parody rather than purity; carry it to it’s logical conclusion and you’re crucifying the very one sent to save you. Epic fail.

1 The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. 2 Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. 3 They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. 4 Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.” Psalm 19: 1-4

So what’s the point to all this?
That Christians are supposed to resemble eagles more than ostriches, victors not victims, paramedics not SWAT. That the Kingdom of God is more like the Raid on Cabanatuan that the Alamo. That becoming “all things to all men” doesn’t mean getting inked and cracking open a suitcase of Bud or neutering definite doctrine in order to “relate” but rather recognizing the translation key in other perspectives and using it to point people to the one who died to redeem them. That it’s all about what you can do, not what you can’t. It means engaging in whatever capacity, vocation or season of life you find yourself in and trusting God will direct and keep you. It means going forward.

Perhaps it also means I need to stop hanging around Mike Duran’s place and spend more time writing.

*(Yes, I did a lot of LSD when I was young but I’m kidding about the ‘prophet’ part.)

5 Comments on “of skinheads, submarines and shellfish

  1. This is a great post, Patrick. Thanks for furthering the dialog. I especially like your point about an Open Marketplace. If the imposition of Law is our ultimate goal, then Sharia law is worth considering. That way, we’ll never have to worry about offense and immorality. Of course, disposing of heads may become an issue.

  2. Interesting post, Patrick. Our pastor continually reminds the congregation that, as Christians, we should not become aloof and condescending. We should make known our views of the world, but be kind and tolerant.

    • Interesting in what way?

      I agree our job is to make them known in word and deed, then let people make their own decisions. I’m not suggesting the Gospel message shouldn’t be declared in a clear, direct manner, but the majority of the contending, the compelling, the demolishing of strongholds, wielding the weapons of our warfare is done on the spiritual level in study and in prayer. Tough to do sometimes, I know, but we all were just as lost and petulant at one point or another.

  3. Sometimes I wish I wrote spec fiction, because I keep running across Christian spec fiction writers who seem to grasp reality better than most writers of plain ol’ contemporary Christian fiction do. Thank you for the exhortation. And isn’t it possible to hang around Mike’s blog *and* do more writing?

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