Christian fiction dangerous? There is nothing wrong with Christian fiction per se. My concern is with how too many Christians (especially women it seems) feed on a steady diet of Christian fiction. One should strive for a “balanced diet” with reading. Just like eating too much candy, cookies and junk food will make you unhealthy physically, reading primarily Christian fiction can lead to an unhealthy spiritual state as well. Please don’t mis-understand…I am NOT saying Christian fiction is junk! But…compared to the amount of time spent reading Christian fiction, how much time is spent reading the Bible or quality non-fiction Christian books?? My concern is not so much the fiction itself, but this lack of balance that I have observed.
However, I do have another concern. Some who primarily read Christian fiction end up basing their theological beliefs on it (unknowingly I think), which can be problematic. Christian fiction often has spiritual truth in it, but it is fictionalized none-the-less. The spiritual truths can even end up distorted or not quite accurate as it is intertwined with a fiction story. The reader has the potential of coming away from the story with some inaccurate beliefs. This is something that has indeed happened with The Shack. (But that would be another post entirely!)
Frank Peretti, with his many fiction books on spiritual warfare and the unseen spiritual world, is another case in point. The Bible does not tell us a great deal about the unseen spiritual world. Basic facts are there, and some things are hinted at….but there is much we are not told. While Peretti’s books indeed contain some spiritual truth, a great deal of embellishment and liberty is taken as he writes of the spiritual realm. Yes, Peretti is writing fiction and not claiming to be writing non-fiction. But, some believers seem unable to differentiate between the fiction and non-fiction aspects of his stories.
I’ve actually observed believers quote or reference fictional aspects of the spiritual realm from a Frank Peretti novel as though it was truth from the Bible. In one case where I attempted (graciously I thought) to point out that there was no clear biblical teaching on the matter, I was treated as though I was a borderline heretic. Their response was to quote more Peretti to me! Hmmm…A fictional Peretti book trumps the Bible? I think even Peretti himself would not approve of his books being used in this way. I honestly don’t mean to sound so critical here but this is an example of the concerns I have. There is a lack of discernment and biblical knowledge in some situations.
Which leads back to the beginning paragraph of my post. If a more balanced selection of reading was taking place, I think there would be more discernment. With more time spent studying the Bible and reading quality non-fiction on the Christian faith, one would be more likely to read and enjoy the fiction without confusing the fictional and non-fictional aspects.
We all need to kick back and enjoy a novel sometimes! Christian fiction can encourage us, and even help us get more enthusiastic about some aspect of the Christian faith. Years ago I read a historical Christian fiction book on Priscilla and Aquila, and it got me very excited about the book of Acts in the New Testament. And I then read through the book of Acts with an excitement and interest that I had previously lacked.
Yet, let’s remember that we should not be basing our beliefs on fiction stories, and we need to be careful and cautious that we are not inadvertently doing so.
Reading the Left Behind series does not make you an expert on the end times.
One should not rely on reading The Shack for a proper understanding of the Trinity.
Nor Frank Peretti for understanding the unseen spiritual realm.
Novels can’t be a substitute for the Bible. Nor for other quality non-fiction books on Christian beliefs. (“Lite” of fluffy non-fiction can pose the same problems.)
We shouldn’t be reading only for the sake of entertainment or comfort, but also to challenge ourselves to grow in wisdom and knowledge of our faith.
If you are looking for a book to help you better read and understand the Bible, one I recommend is: Living by the Book by Howard Hendricks. A contemporary classic on Christian beliefs which I highly recommend is: Knowing God by JI Packer. If anyone local who knows me personally would like to borrow my copies, please let me know.