Monday, April 4, 2011

How Biblically Accurate Does Speculative Fiction Need To Be?

Something I’ve pondered in the past--and something that I haven’t 100% answered for myself, so this post is more about me thinking out loud than offering any answers--is how theologically sound does Christian speculative fiction need to be? If you’re not familiar with the term “speculative fiction”, I mean science fiction, fantasy, and *gasp* horror--you know, that “weird” stuff.

As a writer of said weird stuff I’m always questioning when I can embellish or stretch something the Bible says and when I can’t. In my work, there’s sometimes been a question if something is theologically sound or not, but then the question is: Am I writing theology or fiction? Fiction, especially speculative fiction, is about asking the question “What if?” Can that “what if” sometimes be something that could be construed to be doctrinally false (or sketchy)?

Take the popular subject of angels. The Bible speaks little on the subject, and it doesn’t offer a manual on what an angel thinks about during the course of his day. What do they look like--not when they’re appearing to humans, but in heaven? Do they speak or communicate telepathically? Do they have souls (though I think the Bible possibly points to the fact that maybe they don’t)? What do they think of humans? What do they think of God? Since the Bible speaks so little of these details that writers like to fantasize about, pretty much anything we write about angels is going to be based on personal interpretation or imagination, and therefore can’t be presented as Biblical truth. Which, I might point out, is one reason some writers won't write about angels.

But the discussion doesn’t end with angels! What about aliens, sentient squid building underwater cities, or wizened dragons? Where do these things fit in the Bible? More importantly, should they? You might say, “Well, of course not, those things are made up.” So how do we tackle this issue with things that are found in the Bible, such as angels, demons, and God?

For that matter, how can we ever be truly “theologically sound”? Sound according to whose theology? Coming from a Baptist upbringing, my interpretation of the Scripture is going to be shaded differently than a Methodist, or a Catholic, or a Pentecostal writer.

In my writing, I want to be as accurate to my understanding of the Bible as I can be--for my own conscious’ sake. But, I also recognize that sometimes I wander off the beaten path--doctrinally speaking--and embellish something found in Scripture for the sake of the story and for the sake of bringing to light Biblical truths. But is it possible to unnecessarily tether ourselves to real-life doctrine in a world of make-believe fiction? How far can we stretch? How far should we? Can someone write a story about Christ being a clone, or about the Devil being a romantic swashbuckling hero--if it's to prove a point--and still be considered “Christian fiction”? For the record, I don’t want to write those stories, I’m just asking the hypothetical here for the sake of discussion. Can God illuminate truth through the absurd or even through what some might consider the profane?

Maybe the question lies in, what are we writing for? Are we writing to educate what the Bible actually says, or are we writing strictly to entertain? Of course, this answer will probably vary from story to story.

How much must speculative fiction adhere to real world Truth in order to remain “Christian fiction”? Is there a line to cross when it turns from fiction to heresy? Where is that line?



Lena Nelson Dooley said...

That's a hard questions Greg. I write historical fiction, and I'm always trying to get the historical details accurate.

My husband said to me once, "What difference does it make? Fiction is all untrue."

But is it? Yes, and no. And is speculative fiction all untrue?

As an author, I do a lot of praying about what God wants me to include in the story. I'm sure you do in your fiction as well. That's the best meaure of what to include.

UtM, SherryT said...

As a Christian fantasy writer, I would say that the most important precaution to take is praying for guidance before and during your writing. Oh, yes, and then actually listening for that guidance. ;-P

Responding to Lena's husband:
My mom would have agreed that fiction is all untrue. She also thought that fiction was easy to write, because the author made it all up without any fact-checking.

I disagree. Not that there aren't exceptions, but I think that there's always "truths" of a kind even in works of fiction--even in speculative fiction.

This may be no more than the theme of the work, a moral like "crime doesn't pay", or a educational tidbit about human relations based on a realistic portrayal of the interaction of characters. On the other hand, spiritual truths may purposefully be interlinked in the story, openly or stealthfully. Or they may "fortuitously" just pop up without an author being aware of them. (I've been spiritually nourished by works of fiction which were almost certainly written by non-believers.)

Under the Mercy,
Sherry Thompson

Edward D Casey said...

As a spec-fic author who is also a Christ-follower, that's a question I struggle with quite a bit.

In my latest I retold the story of Onesimus, the runaway slave at the center of the book of Philemon. That was probably the most difficult thing I've ever written just because I wanted to get as many details right as possible-even though it was in a sci-fi setting.

I did so much research, kept a scriptural cross-reference, which I added to the book as an appendix, plus I prayed for God to inspire me and help me get it right. Still, I'm sure I missed quite a bit.

All I can say is that I have to rely on God's grace in my writing as much as I do for anything else in life.

Great questions and great post!

DebMoss said...

Great thoughts! I know as a copy editor, I'm always checking biblical accuracy, especially as related to any time/historical frames. And I know the guidance of the Holy Spirit is all so important. When I think of this genre, an oldie but goodie comes to mind--"The Robe"--even though every event does not take place in the Bible, per se.

Mike Dellosso said...

Greg, great post and a great topic to discuss. I'm always wrestling with this one when dealing with the supernatural in my books. I use the probability vs. possibility rule. When dealing with the supernatural, I'm not looking for probability but rather "Is it possible?" Is it probable that a horde of demons will take on the form of twisted, child-like creatures? No. But is it possible? Scripturally? Why not? Scripture doesn't say it isn't possible. Don't know if that will work for everyone but it works for me.