The problem with Christian speculative fiction

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Don’t get me wrong – I’m a strong advocate for Christian speculative fiction. Not only do I read it, but I write it. And most of it, I like a lot.

Write about vampires, elves, alternate reality, virtual reality, dystopian futures, new worlds, aliens, werewolves, zombies, shapeshifters, magic umbrellas, time wrinkles, or invisibility cloaks and I’ll read it.

But write about angels, demons, or the devil, and I am extremely hesitant to pick up your book. Why? Because unlike vampires, werewolves, zombies and the rest– angels, demons, and Satan are real.

Let’s get one caveat out of the way right now: the Bible mentions witches and witchcraft too, and condemns them, but I don’t have a problem with most witch stories. Fanciful Harry Potter-like good vs. evil stories are not the kinds of witches the Bible talks about. What Scripture prohibits are people that mess in the occult- communing with the dead or diving the future. In other words, fiddling with the very real supernatural realm.

I have to wonder about Christian authors who write stories about angels, demons, and the devil. I’ve read books where they are portrayed very well – for instance, Tosca Lee’s Demon:A Memoir, or Shauti Feldhahn’s Veritas Conflict. In these books, we have stories showing how biblical supernatural beings might interact with our world as suggested by the Bible.

Demon Veritas Conflict

But in other Christian books, we have themes that are very troublesome to me because of their lack of biblical basis:

  • Stories about people becoming angels after they die.
  • Paranormal romance between humans and angels.
  • Stories with characters that are half-human/half-demon, or (even worse) half-human/half-angel.
  • Stories where the devil is portrayed as a joke.
  • Stories where a character dies and goes to purgatory, and then has to work to get to heaven. And (even worse), decides once they earn heaven that they don’t want to go there.
  • Stories where angels or demons die. (Where do they go if they’re killed?)

Maybe you remember these two films: Michael starring John Travolata as an irreverent Archangel Michael from the Bible. He’s dirty and nasty, but smells like cookies so women follow him everywhere; and City of Angels with Nicolas Cage and Meg Ryan. Here, Nicolas Cage is a guardian angel that falls in love with a human. (The movie was ok, not great.)double featureI actually liked the movie Michael, it was funny and heart warming at the end. Did I think it correctly portrayed Michael from the BIble? No. But then, I didn’t expect it to because the people weren’t marketing it as a Christian film.

But if a book or movie is marketed as Christian in basis, I expect it to adhere to biblical themes and teachings. How does a reader reconcile Christian fiction where the story contradicts what the Bible teaches about angels, demons, and the devil?

Is it just me, or are others bothered by this?

If the theme of the book is biblical (sacrifice, redemption, forgiveness), does that make it okay to portray real supernatural beings contrary to biblical teaching? Should some leeway be given for literary license?

Please comment because I’d love to hear what you think.

Lisa Godfrees

Lisa Godfrees

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41 thoughts on “The problem with Christian speculative fiction

  1. Interesting post! I honestly hadn’t given consideration to this subject before, but now that you bring it up I believe you have all valid points. My next book releases from Pelican this fall. It is dubbed “supernatural”, and I won’t give away any of the plot; but after reading through your post, I do believe it adheres to the Bible’s teaching in the supernatural department. I’m relieved to realize this! LOL

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  2. I have to say, I’m with you. I take it a step further in that I I am not particularly comfortable with fantasy set in this world, because if we are dealing with a story set in the world that the real God of the universe created, the question of sin and redemption looms. While there was much I liked about the Harry Potter books, the “muggle” side of the world left me wanting somewhat for the implications of faith. (That said, the magic in Harry Potter is very much of the unreal “hocus pocus” variety, so it doesn’t trouble me.)

    Hence, I write stories in a fictional universe, where the truth of scripture can be dealt with through the lens of “this story doesn’t take place on earth. It is fantasy down to instance of creation.” Some don’t need this dividing line, but I do.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this!

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    • I like the freedom of fantasy as well. You can tackle theology head-on without coming across as preachy. And it’s a fun way to be creative too.

      I mentioned Demon and the Veritas Conflict because they are contemporary but do a good job with the supernatural. It’s a fine line, I agree.

      Thanks for commenting! 🙂

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  3. I agree 100%. I’m always hesitant to pick up any stories that have to deal with angels and demons – or half angels and half demons – for the same reasons that you mention, especially after having traveled to different countries on mission trips. I also tend to be a little more wary of end time books … but that may just be me.

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    • I see the book covers and want to read them, but I’m afraid to pick them up. Not because I’m afraid to read them, but I’m afraid not to like them.

      And I told get you on the missionary thing! Not that I’ve been a missionary to foreign countries, but there are other cultures that are much more sensitive to the supernatural realm. Our culture basically acts like it doesn’t exist, and that people who believe it stuff like God, demons, angels, and satan are silly. 😦 That’s dangerous thinking.

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    • I’m also a little wary of end time books. Presuming to have a complete understanding of the Book of Revelations…. eh.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I’m wary of end-times books, too, but that’s because I disagree with most of them.

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  4. I very much agree with you. When books stray too close to supernatural reality I get uncomfortable unless it is handled very carefully. I don’t like angels and demons being lumped into the same category as vampires or werewolves – they are very real. Satan probably enjoys those books – luring the complacent and/or ignorant into disbelief of his existence. But each books handles the subject a little differently and some are more worrisome than others. The first Dresden book went too far for me and I’ve never read any others because of it. The Mortal Instruments likes to dance on the edge – barely tolerable – which is one of the reasons I quit reading them. I think Christian books that touch on the matter *should* be held to a higher standard – books can point (however subtly) toward the truth or away and the author needs to question which direction their work points by portraying angels/demons unbiblically.

    As for magic, my personal caveat tends to be whether the magic is an inherent ability of the person or something drawn from external sources.

    I never saw Michael – I’d forgotten the movie even exists. City of Angels made me roll my eyes so hard – and then the ending happened and I just laughed & laughed.

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    • I haven’t read any of the Dresden files. I enjoyed Mortal Instruments, but that was before I became more spiritually conservative. Her more recent books have put me off reading her stuff.

      Tell me more about the difference between magic as an inherent ability vs. drawn from external sources. I’m guessing you’re ok with the first, but avoid the second?

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      • You guess right. If it’s a natural ability, the way some people can sing and others paint, then I don’t usually have a problem. But if they are calling upon a supernatural force to imbue them with the power, that’s more like the condemned witchcraft of the Bible and that starts getting sketchy.

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  5. And your angel image up top is wearing a bikini. Is the demon naked? 😉

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  6. A valid story about angels and demons can be written in the speculative realm because we don’t know how the spiritual realm really works. We can “speculate” or suggest it might work a certain way. But if those speculations violate what Scripture already says about these spiritual beings, well, I would specifically expect a CHRISTIAN writer not to do that.

    So what I’m talking about would be what writers of “Hard Science Fiction” do. In Hard Sci-Fi, you can do whatever you want, but you commit yourself to obeying the known laws of physics. No dilithium crystals, no “magic” unless it has an explanation in science, etc. Christian writers CAN and perhaps SHOULD write speculative fiction about the spiritual world. But we should do so with a strict eye to saying something compatible with the Bible in a way that makes sense.

    By the way, while Tosca Lee’s “Demon A Memoir” was interesting reading, I don’t think I agree she was fully compatible with the Bible in the way that makes sense–she does a strange “time before time” when events happen nonetheless. Events happening in series IS time, so on that at least that (and a few other things, too in my opinion) she could have been done better…

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    • The thing I liked about Demon was that it didn’t hand feed the answer to you. Her point that demons probably do hate us and that everything they say and do is a lie was well made. I’d have to go back and re-read to figure out what might have bothered you about the theology. (Unless you care to discuss it further here).

      I agree Spec writers CAN and SHOULD speculate on the spiritual realm. We need to shine light on the subject!

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  7. The examples you give above are certainly counter-scriptural, though I would be very surprised to find any of them in Christian fiction. Have you seen some examples of this?

    Maybe what is needed right now is a secular film that actually portrays angels and demons correctly to counteract so much misinformation that is popularised in YA.

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    • LOL, Adam. You expect me to name names?

      I know AJ Cattapan has a new release with an angel in it – Gretchen is interviewing her in the near future here, and they are going to touch on this subject.

      Scott Abel just released a book with a stunning cover, Sunrise, which according to the blurb has a female guardian angel who has growing affections for the human she is protecting. I haven’t read Scott’s book but I would be interested to hear from him.

      Heather Burch’s Halflings series dealts with human-angels, angels, etc. I haven’t yet read past the first book because the theology bothered me, although I was interested to see how it played out in the rest of the series.

      The Devil and Pastor Gus is a satire in the style of Daniel Webster that makes the devil look like a joke. The author’s message was well-meaning but the book was incredibly difficult for me to read so I had to put it down.

      James L. Rupart’s Spirit Bridge has angels and demons fighting/dying, and people going through portals to the spiritual realm. (This one didn’t bother me, although I did wonder where angels and demons went when they died.)

      18 Things by Jamie Ayers was a fantastic story dealing with survivor’s guilt until I got to the end and found out the teens were actually dead and in purgatory. Not sure that was marketed as Christian fiction, but at least some people who read it have listed it as such on Goodreads. (This was the book that started me down this road.)

      I’m sure there are others, but these are a couple off the top of my head.

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  8. I would like to add that as a reader, it doesn’t bother me (at all) to read a book about angels and demons that isn’t biblically correct. For me, it’s fiction. I’m happy to give the author leeway. I’ve read Scott’s book and enjoyed it very much. I’ve also read Heather Burch’s trilogy and liked it well enough (it started to fall apart for me in the last book, but it had nothing to do with the angel stuff).

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  9. As someone who considers himself a Christian, I take fantasy about Heaven, Hell, Angels, and Demons very seriously. I’ve read the Dresden Files and I don’t think Jim Butcher’s portrayal of demons, angels, or God is necessarily blasphemous. It is extremely Catholic, but Butcher is very much complimentary when it comes to his view of Angels, Christ, or Catholics in general. His form of urban fantasy embraces a very European\Catholic syncristic view of supernatural beings. His books are fun and I enjoy them for what they are. Here is something worth considering, angels and demons are not particular only to Christianity or Judaism. Almost every culture past and present mention demons in their mythologies, and there are many that support the belief in angels such as Ancient Greece, Zoroastrianism (Persia, Babylon?), and Hinduism to name a few. Within the context of these other religions, the portrayal of angelic beings have their differences and similarities. If I label a novel as Christian fiction, I’m certainly not going to stray too far from my views in their portrayals. Will I demand the Christian fiction I read adhere strictly to my theological view, not necessarily. To be honest, I’ve not come across much in Christian fiction that matches my theology or even manages to comes close.

    Interesting thing about nephalim (offspring of angel\human mating-Gen 6). Medieval Judaism talks a lot about the Amim, or nephalim, in their traditions. According to Gen. 6, God took profound umbrage at such offspring and flooded the earth. Still, I think nephalim are fair game, and fertile ground for fiction.

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    • Nephilim – and one which many have used. 🙂

      On the “I’ve not come across much in Christian fiction that matches my theology or even manages to come close.” On angels, or anything?

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      • This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness did a fair job in the portrayal. That’s about the only two I’ve come across the I would call a good match. Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe is a notable. Voyage of the Dawn Treader and The Silver Chair had some great allegorical references to the Christian Life. Having said that, I haven’t really found much in the way of fiction that even comes close my views.

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  10. Hi Lisa, I write speculative fiction with angels & demons as key characters in parallel with humans. Yes, we do have to be careful about taking too much literary licence but the challenge is we have such little specific information about them in Bible.

    However, spiritual warfare is such a prominent topic in the NT, Jesus, Peter and Paul speak of it a lot. And I believe it is a very under-estimated factor in normal life. That’s what led me to write such stories because I think in general, the Christian community doesn’t talk about it much and in fact ignore it.

    So may I ask you how does one bring such a prominent Biblical theme to the surface in a fictional sense and remain true to the little we know from the Bible?

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    • It sounds like you’ve put thought into it, Ian, so you could probably answer better than me. I think imaging how the spiritual realm might work based on what little is said in the Bible is fair game. Where I grow concerned is when we perpetuate non-Christian ideas – that people become angels when they die. That believing that Jesus died for our sins and was raised from the dead isn’t sufficient. That the love of any human is more important than the love of God. Or stories that trivialize or discount the spiritual realm– as you’ve said, we already pretty much ignore it.

      I’m glad you’re writing stories to raise awareness. I’m not against angel/demon stories. I’m just hesitant to pick them up if they seem to contain themes more appropriately secular than Christian. Does that make sense?

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      • Lisa, I think we’re on the same page. Let me know if you’d like to read Angelguard. Be delighted to send you a copy.

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      • Well, I guess you won’t be reading my book. LOL! That’s okay. I didn’t write it to be a dissertation on how guardian angels work. I wrote it to bring hope to people who have none. I wrote it to remind those who have forgotten about God that they have a God who loves them and would never leave them.

        I’d say more, but I think I’d just end up giving too many things away. 🙂

        So I guess no “It’s a Wonderful Life” for you, huh?

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  11. Personally, and this is my opinion, I think the problem with Christian spec fiction is as much the audience as it is the stories. There are a lot of evangelicals that barely believe Christianity is supernatural. Many in the US church think that miracles aren’t for today, and if you mention 1 Cor 12, the same audience will dismiss it as irrelevant. So why would such a dour audience want to read fantastical stories when they won’t even take the biblical accounts of the miraculous serious or relevant for today.

    Nephalim make for cool stories and present a great context for talking about redemption.

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  12. I’d say that speculative fiction, of all genres, gets a certain amount of leeway due to its nature. However, I’d still say that from a Christian perspective, there are some troubling points, like the ones they mentioned. Personally, i’m willing to bend accuracy if it lends itself well to the story and it’s not trying to clearly say “This is really how it works.” In your “Michael” example, I don’t think the film is trying to say, “This is how angels really are,” but use Christian themes to tell a story. Sure, it rubbed me the wrong way a little, but I also though the movie was rubbish in general, so there you are.

    And even speculative fiction has to stay within certain realms of “believability”. For example, a centaur is obviously not a real creature. But you can’t just do anything with one. For example, a centaur that only has two animal legs? That doesn’t work. That’s a faun or something. If you’re going to change things about an established fantasy/supernatural element, you have to explain a whole lot more, too.

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  13. Lisa, I totally enjoyed the thread of this topic. I, too, write speculative fiction, but have found that the stories are more acceptable in the general market than in the Christian market. I’ve said from the beginning of my writing career that I’m a Christian who writes not a Christian writer. 🙂

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  14. I’m with you in that I’m fine when the creatures aren’t biblical. But there is a series of books, The Bartimeous Trilogy, by Jonathan Stroud that I really liked reading, as in they were entertaining and witty, but the demons were likeable and almost human. That really didn’t sit well with me, as the books kind of desensitized us to the ‘real’ thing. If they were anything but demons, I would have wholeheartedly endorsed the books. But as they were, no, I’m not going to give them a thumbs up.

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