Theological Implications – Part 2

Another question that’s been asked is why Running Black’s backstory/history didn’t follow the current, accepted Evangelical end-times schedule. (If I’m supposed to be a Christian, and all. The profanity and violence already cast doubt on the condition of my soul…) I mean, Tel Aviv is nuked for God’s sake! There’s no mention of the Rapture, Gog/Magog, the Auntie -Christ, etc, etc. How could I do that?

First off, Running Black is a work of fiction. (So are the Left Behind novels.) It’s a Sci Fi thriller, not a dramatic extrapolation of End-Times prophesy. While it has a ‘definite worldview statement’ that contains favorable mentions of God and Christianity, it’s meant to entertain, not sermonize.

Second, and I’m being Captain Obvious here, where does it say in Scripture it’s Game Over, Baby by 2012? You must be thinking of Mayans, not Matthew.

I can hear it now: Aha! I knew it. Grab your torch and pitchforks! Burn the heretic!

Hold on there, oh, Hound of God. Hear me out. The Bible states quite clearly the world had a beginning, and that it has an end. I believe that. I also believe in the Rapture. My question is where does it say God is obligated to play Earth’s Coda on your call?

Consider this from Matthew 24: 36“But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. 37“For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. 38“For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, 39and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be. 40“Then there will be two men in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41“Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one will be left. 42“Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming.

Contrast that with this: Yet another prediction…

It’s not the purpose on this post to debate eschatology, and please be assured I understand about ‘signs of the times’, but the fact is the Almighty can keep this show going as long as He wants. I want to be ready whenever it all goes down, but I’m not making predictions one way or the other. That’s six kinds of stupid and contrary to Scripture.

If the Bible shows us anything, it’s that God frequently does not act according to religious expectations. (“My ways are not your ways…” Isaiah 55) And if you’re one of those who gets their theology from movies, spec-fiction, and comic books, I suggest you go speak with your Pastor. Right now.

Supernatural Fiction?

A recent post on Mike Duran’s blog, “deCompose”, dealt with the subject of the Christian market’s continued interest in supernatural fiction. Peretti and Dekker are the heavyweights in the Christian corner, while X-Files, Supernatural, and Buffy start the mainstream line-up. I could go on and list hundreds of shows, novels, films in the same vein. It’s obvious our society has an appetite for the supernatural.

One of the reasons I ask is that as I plug away at the draft to “Shift Tense”, (it’s going well, thanks for asking) I have scenes for a completely different story dropping in my head out of the blue – a story about a retired Greek Orthodox Priest stumbling upon a demonic activity. I went so far as to write up one of these scenes.

My question is if you and/or your friends and family read supernatural fiction. If so, do you think there’s an audience for yet another such novel, albeit one with the grit and tone of “Running Black”?


Unlearning the Bible

Unlearning the Bible.

Kicking Cartoon Adolf out of the top spot, I found this video and wanted to share. Remarkable concept to let the Bible speak for itself instead of sifting it for scriptural rationalizations. Funny and sad this applies to modern American Evangelicals. I believe it was Os Guinness who said eventually the ‘reformers need to be reformed.”

Shades of Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation.



Separation? Sanctification?

How does God look unflinchingly on this world and remain holy?

I’m not talking about viewing evil deeds done in secret; in bedrooms, prison basements, isolated places, and slums. If we mortals were to view even a fraction of the brutalization, the depravity, the anguish at any given moment, it would cripple us mentally and emotionally. Talk about PTSD. No… add to that wicked motives, imaginations, scheming, the sheer unmitigated selfishness of the human creature and you’ve got some small notion of what God sees all the time.

(Yes, He also sees love, hope, sacrifice, mercy, courage, however awkward or incomplete, but I’m making a point here.)

Passed off as “Sanctification”, there’s a prevalent notion in Christianity that believers mustn’t mention, view, or discuss the specifics of a sinful world after their conversion. If forced to do so, then it must be neutered and saccharine. I’m not minimizing the crucial issues of character or boundaries, or legitimizing being deliberately crass and offensive, but we must recognize facts – however unpleasant – without reveling in them.

Even a cursory glance at the Bible tells you God doesn’t separate Himself from creation. He does not retreat – He is immanent and involved, or as the Psalmist wrote “a very present help in time of trouble.” Jesus was never concerned with touching the “unclean” – the leper, the hooker, the tax collector, the demoniac, the sick, the dead – because those things didn’t effect Him. They didn’t render Him any less holy, any less God. In fact, His touch made them whole.

God does not preserve His holiness by distance but engages fallen humanity precisely at the point of need. That’s what the Incarnation and the Cross are all about, and redemption is only possible when we’re willing to be brutally honest and face both sin and God.

So back to the idea of addressing reality when communicating in art, sermons, fiction, film, whatever… to ignore cancer altogether is just as fatal as calling it the flu because that’s easier to treat. Playing it safe didn’t get a nation of slaves out of Egypt. Being nice didn’t deliver the Gadarene demoniac. Christians are called to be salt and light, to be in the world but not of it. Jesus promised to preserve us by His Name, His Spirit, and His Word, and at the end of John’s Gospel, He tells the disciples, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

Consider this next time you worry about leaving your comfort zone and getting your hands dirty in whatever field God has called you to: Jesus left Heaven – the ultimate “Gated Community” – to come down here and rescue us. Innocent, He endured the brutality and humiliation of a criminal’s crucifixion.

But we know the end of the story, and the Resurrection should give us all the confidence we need to step out and do the same in His Name.

Theological Implications?

A Pastor friend finished Running Black the other day and while he said he enjoyed it, he was anxious to discuss the “theological implications”. Our phone conversation was cut short, but I’m sure we’ll get back to it. However, it made me curious what other readers thought.

As I’ve said before, a sci-fi action novel isn’t a Bible study. It’s simply not the place to wax exegetical. Listen to my sermons if you’re hankering for that, or better yet, read the Bible yourself. Running Black is entertainment with Christian themes intersecting the story arc. Now I’m sure there are “theological implications”; after all, ideas have consequences, but I’m puzzled as to what they might be. The use of violence and profanity? Financial entities leveraging governments? Clones having souls? Jihadists glassing Tel Aviv with a nuke? Christians handling firearms?

If you’ve read the book, please weigh in on this. I’m genuinely interested. And to sweeten the deal, I’ve got an extra 11″ x 17 poster of the book cover I’ll send to someone who responds. (in a civil and intelligent manner)

Caprica ends and I’m sad.

Now I realize it wasn’t renewed for a second season and the producers had to wrap it quickly, but in the final episode, the writers defaulted to the stock “all religion is a man-made construct. Followers are dupes while leaders manipulate the ideals and organization for their own petty or deranged ends” trope. Monotheists are dangerous, ignorant bigots. (Polys are ‘tolerant’ but in reality little better.) No one – save the Lacy character – exhibits any genuine faith, and hers is nebulous at best. Aside from the occasional tip of the hat to elusive ‘principled believers’ in dialogue, no one exhibits grace, forgiveness, or authentic conversion. There is no spiritual reality. Indeed, the Monotheist’s entire Resurrection/Apotheosis scheme denies the existence of the soul and cripples the whole idea of accountability, justice, and an afterlife.

Side Note: Let’s just come out in the open and admit the Monotheist faith was patterned after Christianity. Sure, you had a nod to suicide-vest wearing Jihadists and terrorists, but cathedrals, love, forgiveness, confessionals, and the constant chorus of ‘Praise God’… ? Come on.

Do I really expect Ronald D Moore and Co to comprehend/convey sound theological thinking? No. Are they obligated to portray a balanced view of monotheistic faith? No. Their job is to tell stories, entertain, and make money. The characterizations were engaging, the writing brilliant, the story layered and rich. Why then am I so disappointed? Because there is in fact so much ammunition currently and historically to support such a perspective, that it persists and was reinforced in the minds of otherwise creative and perceptive people, and that no Christians seem to be stepping up and providing a quality counter-points.

Napoleon Bonaparte said “Imagination rules the world.” If the battleground is the mind, I fear we are losing entire continents.

Mixed Content part II: Cloistered or Realism?

Someone asked recently why I couldn’t write “nice Christian stories”. Answer: because I can’t.

There’s a tendency of modern western evangelicals to cloister, or enclave. Christians only associate with other Christians, go the Christian Schools (or home school) work for Christian companies, live in Christian communities, shop at Christian stores, read Christian books, listen to Christian radio, watch Christian TV… It’s safe, it’s predictable, controllable to some extent, and it’s a fantasy. The salt stays in the saltshaker and the light is safe under its bushel basket.

Life isn’t Disneyland. For most of the world, life isn’t even America, and for much of America, life isn’t suburbia. This is my Father’s world but it is not Christian. The real world is a messy, dangerous, beautiful place. Now I believe God has a passionate concern for His creation and the Gospel is the mind-blowing news that He offers genuine forgiveness to real people who have committed real sins in our real world. The struggle is to accept that with all it’s brutal ugliness and awesome wonder, and effectively pass it on.

“Running Black” is fiction, but I made an effort to include Christian characters in an organic way in realistic settings. I wanted to avoid creating a “scary but safe” adventure, as if it were some sort of theme-park ride where you’re titillated but not touched as you wind towards the happy ending. I wanted more “gritty realism” than goose bumps. I included a bit, a tiny bit, of abrasion and discomfort; not gratuitously, but because I felt (believe it or not) a conviction to do so. This conviction of realism factored in everything from my decision to avoid light sabers, aliens, FTL space-travel, to name real cities and companies, as well as to let my non-Christian characters say and do non-Christian things. Explicitly. But I wanted the Christianity to be just as explicit.

Did I execute that conviction in my first novel perfectly? No. But my inability to do it perfect wasn’t an excuse to leave the task undone. I’ve got more stories inside and I pray to get better as I continue.

Mixed Content: Part 1. Audience and Vocation

There’s a C.S. Lewis quote about the necessity of writers who are Christian as opposed to Christian writers, that has always resonated with me. That sentiment in mind, I want to touch on the idea of “mixed content”, and some of the difficulties of genre fiction writing as a Christian over the course of the next several posts. Author of a single book, drafting my next project, I’m by no means an expert. I can only discuss my experience.

One of the first complaints about “Running Black” is the use of profanity and the depictions of violence, the indictments coming that A. they negate any Christian message; and B. that those things obviously reside in my heart and thus render my faith suspect. Now there’s not much I can do about other people’s opinions, but if you think I didn’t struggle with it, think again. I’ll address the idea of negating later.

Part of my responsibility before God is to walk in the vocations He’s called me to. I use the plural because I’m called as a man, a husband, a father, grandfather, neighbor, glass artisan, and writer, each with their own peculiar boundaries and responsibilities. None of them absolve me from cultivating moral character, but each makes specific demands in the context of pursuing them to the best of my abilities.

Now I believe it was John Stott who said Christians shouldn’t pander to an unbeliever’s intellectual arrogance, but they must cater to their intellectual integrity. My intended audience is those already familiar with military sci-fi and cyberpunk, and one of the cardinal rules of fiction is to “Show, not tell.” I don’t dare classify “RB” as a Christian novel. It’s not, and it was never meant to be one. It’s a straightforward sci-fi run and gun that happens to have Christian characters in it, written by someone with a definite Christian worldview. These Christian characters act and speak – I hope – consistent with their faith, while those who are not, act accordingly as well. The novel’s setting isn’t in the grim darkness of the far future or a galaxy far, far away; it’s grounded in real-world politics, society and technology, and I have populate this realistic, recognizable world with credible characters. That’s part and parcel of the necessity of the story and the vocation of fiction writing.

Given the demands of genre fiction, the setting, and the audience, I think typical readers are more likely to be discomforted by the Christian elements than by occasional bad language or violence in a science fiction action story. That’s all for now. Feel free to comment. Thanks for your time.