I consider myself a reader, and by that I mean that I love books and that I love to read many different kinds of books. But I do have my favorites, and many of my favorites happen to be fiction. But maybe I shouldn’t say that fiction just “happens” to be the genre held by many of my favorite books. In fact, I think it is the very nature of fiction works that draws me to them – I love to get lost in a story. Sometimes I feel guilty when my Christian friends are jumping from one Christian Living title to the next while I work my way through Steinbeck’s short novels, or whatever book by Marilynne Robinson I can get my hands on. But it is in these stories that I find I learn more about the nature of humanity, the futility of earthly endeavors, and God’s ability to weave our stories together. I do not think it is beyond our God to use the fictional works of Christian and non-Christian writers alike to draw us to himself. It is this conviction of mine that drew me to this article by Paul Anderson, originally posted on Relevant Magazine. Read on to hear his thoughts on why Christians not only may, but should read fiction.
First off, I wouldn’t normally compare myself to a street preacher on a soapbox. But as an English major at a small Christian liberal arts college, I can’t think of a more fitting analogy to convey how I often feel when I talk to my friends about books.
As it usually goes on busy street corners, the conversations typically begin with civility. It starts with the evangelical heavyweights: Lewis, Chesterton, even Tolkien. Then we make the rounds through heroes of the bygone eras, tossing around names like Bunyan, Edwards and Spurgeon. And before I can get a word in, we’re spiraling through the contemporary, pop-Christianity canon. A John Piper fan sternly rebukes a lover of Rob Bell’s work. Donald Miller gets a nod, and Henri Nouwen a gentle sigh of approval. Someone mentions The Shack and a debate about the Trinity ensues, then someone brings up Narnia and common ground is established once again.
With our roots planted deep in the truth of Christ, even the darkest, most secular-seeming work of fiction can refine, highlight and remind us of our own beliefs.
And that’s when I start wailing on the bullhorn. “But guys, what about fiction?! What about Faulkner? Melville! Does the name Steinbeck ring any bells?!” I cry, as the crowd trickles away, whispering about the guy with crazy eyes and a copy of East of Eden in his hand. One bold soul hands me Calvin’s Institutes and is on his way.
Perhaps I’m exaggerating a bit. OK, a lot. But my frustration stems from a deep belief that fiction deserves a place in these conversations. And this is not to say the established canon of great Christian literature is anything less than just that. We need those books. We need the words of wise thinkers to keep our theology tight, to keep our minds sharp and filled with good things. And of course, we need the Bible most of all.
But, putting my bullhorn aside, I’d like to make a case for the imagined stories, the ones that can throttle our hearts and challenge our biases, and for the fictional characters who, if we get close enough, can become real.
It’s dangerous to approach any art form with the intention of finding some sort of personal benefit. When I started reading fiction years ago, I didn’t do so because I was seeking anything, except, perhaps, the thrill of saying I’d finished The Brothers Karamazov. But aside from that typical bit of teenage vanity, I did it because I liked stories. And that is, on the surface, the one qualification for reading fiction. That being said, I could ramble for days about the unexpected joys, benefits and lessons I’ve learned from the novels I’ve read, but for brevity’s sake, I’ll distill it down to two practical ways that reading fiction can benefit Christians: beauty and empathy.
Read the rest over at Relevant.com. Click HERE.
Here are some of our top picks for new fiction!
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