Fiction is, by definition, something feigned, invented, or imagined. Basically something untrue. Sometimes fiction is even referred to as "entertaining lies". The Bible, on the other hand, exhorts us to speak truth and reject lies. In addition, 1 Timothy 1:4 tells us to avoid myths and fables. So how should we look at reading or writing fiction?
First off, let's clarify. 1 Timothy 1:4 is a warning to the church to not bicker and fuss over extra-Biblical details. The church's teaching should be based off the Bible, not off the ideas and imaginations of men. Discussing the color of Samson's hair is pointless and a waste of time; declaring the brownness of his hair to be Truth and putting that in your church's Statement of Faith is even worse! However, although this is a misuse of imagination, the Bible does not have an ultimatum against fiction overall.
In fact, the Bible is filled with fictional stories. Just to be clear though, we're NOT saying the Bible is fiction, but that it USES fiction to teach us about the Truth. In other words, the Bible uses storytelling. In 2 Samuel 12:1-4, Nathan the prophet tells David a fictional story of a man whose only lamb was stolen and killed. When the hypothetical crime angers David, Nathan reveals the story is an allegory for David's affair with Bathsheba.
But that's not the only example of fictional storytelling in the Bible. Other examples are Jotham's fable in Judges 9:7-15, Ezekiel's allegory in Ezekiel 17:1-8 and, of course, the parables of the greatest storyteller: Jesus. Every one of Jesus' parables uses fiction as a tool to reveal and talk about a certain spiritual truth.
Over the past hundreds of years, Christian culture has followed Jesus' example. Paul Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress uses allegory to paint the Christian's spiritual journey. Similarly, C.S. Lewis used fiction to encourage readers to really ask questions regarding God and their own spirituality. He also used the medium of a good story to break down complex theology into an easier-to-understand picture.
But does this mean that every story a Christian reads, watches, writes or listens to must, at its core, have a Christian message? Not at all. A good story does not have to be overtly Christian, though there are definitely some things to keep in mind when you choose what to watch, read, write or listen to.
Colossians 3:1-2 reminds us to "keep seeking the things above" and to "set [our] mind[s] on the things above, not on the things that are on earth." Philippians 4:8 explains what those sort of things look like: things that are true, honorable, right, pure, and lovely.
The Lord of the Rings is an example of non-overtly-Christian fiction from a Christian author. J.R.R. Tolkien despised Christian allegory. Instead, his books were an allegory of war and the downside of technological advancement with no intended spiritual message. But his beliefs soaked through the story, leaving behind plots filled with biblical values such as courage, unity of purpose, and self-sacrifice.
Regardless of whether a story is intended to be spiritual allegory, historical fiction, or simple entertainment with kick-boxing squirrels, Christian authors still need to apply biblical guidelines.
Ephesians 4:29 says, "Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear." A few verses later, Paul admonishes, "There must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting" (Ephesians 5:4).
For writers, it is critical to remember that every story contains some element of teaching, whether it's intentional or not. It's important to know what you're intending to communicate, even if people take it wrong. Teaching is serious business (James 3:1), so we need to be clear about what we're saying.
Remember Colossians 3:23, which says, "Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men..." That goes for whether you're speaking in front of people, writing a poem or story, making a video, or creating visual art. We are God's workmanship, created to do good things, so let's make sure we do just that (Ephesians 2:10)!
Fiction can be used to teach God's truth through storytelling. Jesus told many stories (parables) in order to help people understand God's will for their lives. Christians authors can "keep seeking the things above" in their writing and "set [their] mind[s] on the things above, not on the things that are on earth" (Colossians 3:1-2)—things that are true, honorable, right, pure, and lovely (Philippians 4:8). A good story does not have to be overtly Christian, but it is wise to use biblical principles when you choose what to watch, read, write or listen to.
September is an aspiring novelist, book
hoarder collector and movie watcher. She has an incredibly tolerant cat named Scout, an assortment of plants that seek global domination, and a distinct lack of awareness for where she is at any given moment.