Children of the Inklings
Emergent “Christian” Fiction
By Richard and Linda Nathan
In recent years, fiction aimed at Christians has exploded in the marketplace. Reading it used to be a more or less reliable escape. But nowadays popular authors in that marketplace are emphasizing more and more of those disturbing elements that once were relegated to pagan, occult, or secular novels.
Since Frank Peretti’s blockbuster novels delivered spiritual warfare to the Christian marketplace, the Left Behind series set millions hungering for apocalyptic literature, and the novels of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis stimulated the appetites of occult fantasy lovers, publishers have been trying to repeat the phenomenally successful sales with a plethora of imitations and wannabes.
But some of the biggest changes have come with speculative or “edgy” fiction.
Speculative fiction “includes all the forms of fantastic fiction or what for ages has been called science fiction and fantasy.” This includes alternative histories, apocalyptic, fantasy, dark fantasy and horror, cyberpunk, dystopia, and science fiction. Included in these forms, of course, are dark imagination and the occult.
“Edgy” fiction. An “edgy” author may write about darker, more violent subject matter and have an in-your-face writing style that shows little concern for readers’ sensibilities. Best-selling author Ted Dekker is commonly considered to have this style, as well as Frank Peretti.
Saint by Ted Dekker (Thomas Nelson, 2006), and Relentless (2006) and Fearless (2007) by Robin Parrish (Bethany House) are three popular novels promoted by houses considered major publishers for the Christian market. Dekker’s influence is enormous. Recently he reached the million mark in sales, and his numerous awards include a Christy, a Gold Medallion, and the Retailers Choice Award.
Yet you won’t find the Gospel or a Christian worldview in Saint or Parrish’s books; instead their fictional worlds are drenched with dark fantasy, conflicts of supernatural forces, and the promotion of imagination as a conduit to special powers.
SaintBy Ted Dekker (Thomas Nelson, 2006)
A Review by Richard Nathan
Saint strongly appears to be a spiritual offspring of the Inklings with its bizarre combination of supernatural thrills, smattering of Biblical references, and strong love of fantasy. It definitely does not provide or promote a Christian worldview.
Power is the book’s main theme—the conflict of supernatural powers and the exaltation of human special powers. The conflict of supernatural powers is very similar to Frank Peretti’s work, and in fact they wrote the current bestseller House together.
This supernatural conflict between good and evil strongly resembles a type of dualism where God and the devil are nearly equal in power and it’s not really clear who’s going to be the victor. It is also tangled with an Eastern religious view of tapping into spiritual power to use for one’s own purposes through the practices of focusing, meditation, asceticism, and contemplation, similar to the way the martial arts focuses on power (see The Dark Side of Karate).
Dekker basically teaches that there is a type of divine power available for human purposes and a type of physical power connected to quantum mechanics, but he never explains or differentiates where the evil character gets his power from, which is extremely similar to the power the hero has. Of course, this is a story; he’s not claiming it as fact. But the way he extols the occult power one can gain through a trance state could actually lead someone to seek such power through a trance state. Dekker also talks about magical books that give special powers to those who write in them.
It is hard to tell if Dekker is trying to talk about Christ through the back door of popular adventure hero fiction or whether he loves the supernatural for itself. If he is trying to talk about Christ, it’s practically invisible. He never talks about Christ directly; he just quotes an occasional saying of Christ’s. He never mentions sin, salvation, or redemption, or the cross or judgment or eternal life. What’s left is an occasional use of statements to describe some aspect of power religion. For example, when the hero confronts the evil demon-like villain at the end, he talks about how “The truth shall set you free.” But somehow the truth comes through the hero’s funny eyeballs, which he has developed; and the truth that sets him free is the fact that when the demon-like figure sees him as he really is, it makes him explode. This bizarre mishandling of the phrase has absolutely nothing to do with Christianity, the Bible, or anything remotely godly.
This novel is teaching a mythological worldview, not a Christian worldview, and the similarities to pagan myths are enormous. For instance, the Greek and Roman gods had special powers and virtues. Zeus could throw thunderbolts; Mercury, the messenger of the gods, was fleet of foot, and statues of him had little wings on his feet. Neptune was the god of water. These were ancient projections of human characteristics on a screen of an unknown heaven. They had no relationship to the real God of the universe who revealed Himself to the nation of Israel through the Prophets and the Scripture and ultimately through the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. Christianity is not about super powers or human abilities. It is about sinners saved by grace and walking humbly with our God, who alone has the power.
Along with the promotion of this pagan mythology is the elevation of Eastern spiritual disciplines as channels to obtain these powers and special abilities. Dekker gives constant praise for the discipline of Buddhist monks and occult warriors. Johnny, his protagonist, constantly refers to how power came to him through focusing in his black tunnel, a barely disguised reference to the “silence” exalted by proponents of contemplative meditation. The story also lifts up visions, and one of the special powers is receiving visions that predict the future. In fact, Dekker equates the prophecies of the occult astrologer Nostradamus with the prophets of the Old Testament.
Dekker’s novel gives me the impression of tagging biblical words onto occult powers. For example, in one scene, one of the heroes is a twenty-five-year-old man who looks like a boy. Dekker connects this with Jesus’ words about how we must become like little children to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. But then he goes on to say that faith is apprehended by imagination, which is the key because little children have good imaginations. When Johnny, the protagonist, talks about faith, he often talks about imagination and how it makes faith “available.” But the Bible never teaches that; rather, it teaches that “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17)
When Johnny talks about love and belief, it is belief in his love for Kelly, the heroine; he never talks about loving God. Johnny supposedly was a former chaplain in the army, yet he shows no evidence of being a born-again Christian who lives by God’s Word and loves and serves Jesus Christ.
The antagonist, a villainous Englishman, is perhaps too vivid and realistic. A demonic character, he blasphemes constantly in such a disturbing way that it seems like letting real evil loose through the story. Again, I have the impression of a fascination with evil that is really unhealthy for anyone and especially for a Christian.
Saint is a modern version of the type of Romantic fantasy that was propagated through the Inklings. In fact, the book reminds me of the works of Charles Williams. I am repelled by Williams’ novels but forced myself to read The Greater Trumps to understand it. Here, too, you can see the fascination with the occult. Williams was an occultist and close adviser to J.R.R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis who practiced ritual magic throughout his life. He belonged to the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn in Britain, a clear descendent of Rosicrucianism basically devoted to witchcraft and various aspects of the occult that contained many literary figures.
Look, too, at the character of Gandalf the magician—and the character of Sybil in The Greater Trump, a semi-divine witch-goddess with special powers. In the Narnia stories, it’s always the children who are appointed for Great Tasks and given special powers. And then there’s The Lord of the Rings with its gamut of powers, witches, elves, and battles between “white” and “black” magic. This type of battle is essentially what occurs in Dekker’s ending. Basically, the story feeds a sinful lust for power and special abilities that is in the human heart. As the serpent said to Eve, “You will be like God.” (Genesis 3:5)
This love of the fantastic and the occult supernatural, along with an attraction to Eastern religions, is part of the massive resurgence of Romanticism that is permeating not only the culture but the Church these days. Romanticism as a movement is a rejection of rationalism and an embrace of and elevation of imagination and feeling, especially through fantasy and mythology. Its historical roots derive from the Romantic Movement in Germany and England during the late 1700s through the late 1800s. It’s important to realize that this movement wasn’t just the love of fantasy and the occult supernatural, but the belief that fantasy (and especially mythology) was a way of knowing truth that was superior to knowing it through reason and Biblical revelation. A powerful unifying theme in Romantic literature is the elevation of imagination to equality with the written Word of God, and even—and this is no exaggeration—to the worship of imagination.
It is vital when considering contemporary “Christian” fiction to realize that the influence of this kind of thinking never disappeared and, in fact, has continued to resurge in Western culture through the works of George MacDonald and the Inklings (C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, and Owen Barfield) and the drug-empowered counterculture rebellion that began in the Sixties in the United States and has become full-blown in today’s culture.
If naïve readers pick up this novel thinking that it’s approved by Christian leaders and that they will find a Christian worldview and message because Dekker has a reputation as a Christian author, and if they aren’t aware of the problems with occultism and Eastern religions, they might well become enamored of this power-seeking story and maybe even turn to Eastern religions, the martial arts, and occult meditation.
Relentless (2006) and Fearless (2007)
by Robin Parrish (Bethany House)
A Review by Linda Nathan
Heralded by Ted Dekker, Robin Parrish’s first two novels of the unfinished Dominion Trilogy carry on Dekker’s tradition.
Dekker’s endorsement on the back cover of Parrish’s first book in the series, Relentless, says: “Robin Parrish is the kind of writer who understands how to entertain from the word go. His stories are sure to shape fiction for years to come.” (bold mine)
Writing these reviews wouldn’t be that necessary if it were just a matter of shaping general fiction, which is already drenched in ungodly fantasy and the occult. But our deep concern is that such books are shaping Christian fiction and are, in fact, probably being mistaken for it by many readers. But not only are they shaping Christian fiction, they are teaching readers a new, and often unbiblical, worldview in the process—a worldview where imagination dominates, anything goes, and truth falls by the wayside.
Parrish is fascinated with and utterly absorbed in the idea of humans having special powers. Reminiscent of the theme of Harry Potter, the protagonist, a miserable, unfulfilled gray man, is suddenly jettisoned by a mysterious conspiracy into the body of Grant, a handsome, wealthy warrior with special powers who immediately finds himself immersed in a hotbed of intrigue, murder, and weird adventures.
Slowly Grant learns that other “advanced” human beings are popping up all over the world with similar special powers, which if used correctly can have strategic defensive and offensive applications. As they become united, they learn more about what they call the “Shift” that gave them all these new bodies and powers. They also learn about the secret order behind the Shift known as the Secretum, whose centuries-old purpose is helping to fulfill an ancient prophecy.
Shades of The Lord of the Rings, Grant struggles to do good while battling against the powerful evil influence of a mysterious, unremovable ring that appeared embedded on his finger when he awoke in his new body. As it turns out, each “shifted” person wears such a ring; these are known as the Rings of Dominion. But Grant’s ring—the Seal of Dominion—is special; he’s supposed to save the world.
Not once do any of the characters ever turn to the Lord Jesus Christ for redemption and for His mighty power—a power based on holiness and truth. There is no Christian witness. Instead, they battle in their own supernaturally assisted strength. Not once do we hear talk of the real battle against sin and Satan or the real Savior. Parrish liberally uses prophecy and apocalypse, none of which is based on or derived from the Bible, and sprinkles in spiritism when, on p. 263, Grant has a visitation from his dead mother who encourages him to “stay true to yourself.” Now, Parrish doesn’t call his characters’ special powers occult powers, and it’s likely he doesn’t think of them that way. Pages 253-4 of Relentless argue that they are for a “reason outside human understanding.”
Out of the 836 combined pages of both books, one character says something Biblically true. On p. 143 of the second book, Fearless, Morgan, a leader of the shifted who later dies, challenges Grant that mere will power, even when combined with special powers, isn’t enough.
“Despite all your awesome abilities, changing the heart is the one thing you can’t use them [the special powers] to accomplish. The heart of every newborn baby is deceitful and prideful and selfish. It is the condition by which each of us enters this world, and rescuing helpless people from calamities will not alter this fundamental state of being.”
She emphasizes that she and Grant are essentially the same as others who are capable of cruelty and pain, but he insists that he’s trying with all his might to master the evil influence of the ring and is the “good guy.”
Now since this trilogy is still incomplete, it’s possible that it will finally come to some kind of biblical conclusion. The third book in the Dominion Trilogy, Merciless, is supposed to appear in summer 2008. So in this sense, the verdict is still out. But in another sense, the reader has already been immersed in a glut of nearly a thousand pages of fantasy sci-fi, the paranormal, and the occult with only one brief call to Biblical thinking. And what of those readers who read only one of the books? Or never finish the trilogy?
Like the emergent church, this new kind of “Christian” fiction often says it aims at trying to reach the culture. In fact, I see it as the fiction of the Emergent Church. And as such, it embodies the same ignorance or rejection of God’s Word and the glorious power of Christ’s completed work and the same fascination with and promotion of mysticism, imagination, and the occult.
As Dekker says, it’s entertainment.
But fiction isn't just any entertainment; its power and danger lie in the fact that it can draw a reader into a worldview.It embraces the soul and the imagination. It brings to life conjecture and imagination. It teaches. And appearing as Christian, it can fool many.
"Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly (1 Timothy 4:7, NIV)."
"See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ (Colossians 2:8)"
© 2007 by Richard and Linda Nathan
Richard Nathan holds a Master of Arts in Religion in Church History and has been a Bible and church history teacher for over twenty years. He wrote his thesis on the debate over the inerrancy of Scripture in a historical analysis. Since 1992, Linda Nathan has been president of Logos Word Designs, Inc., a Christian writing and editing service at http://www.logosword.com. They have taught numerous seminars and classes to Christians.
They also maintain The Fiction Plumb Line at http://www.fictionplumbline.com/, which seeks to evaluate contemporary Christian literature by the light of God’s Word. See Richard's blog at www.gloriousriches.blogspot.com for ongoing discussion about such trends in Christianity as Romantic Christianity and the Emergent Church movement.
See also Emerging from the Emerging Church
"Christian" Romanticism, the INKLINGS, and the Elevation of Mythology
How mysticism & the occult are changing the Church
The Dark Side of Karate
1. “What is Speculative Fiction?” by D. D. Shade at http://www.lostbooks.org/speculative-fiction.html Accessed 9-22-07.
2. An imaginary place where people lead dehumanized and often fearful lives. Circa 1950. Mirriam-Webster collegiate.com at http://www.merriam-webstercollegiate.com/cgi-bin/collegiate?va=dystopia. Accessed 9-22-07.
3. http://www.skyangelestore.com/e/authors.asp?mode=view&index=142 Accessed 9-24-07
4. House will soon come out as a movie. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/This_Present_Darkness
7. See “’Christian’ Romanticism, the Inklings, and the Elevation of Mythology” by Richard and Linda Nathan at http://www.crossroad.to/articles2/006/nathan/romanticism.htm. Accessed 9-24-07.
8. I’m not the only one seeing it that way. The article on New Christian Fiction at http://confessionschristianwriter.blogspot.com/2005/02/new-christian-fiction.html defines a Christian writer as one “whose work falls into one or more rings of a set of concentric circles” (defined in the blog) “and who supports all Christian writers no matter what circle they choose to write in.” Accessed 9-22-07.