Fantastical Truth

Fantastical Truth

201. How Do Some Stories Fail to Help Us Love Our Neighbors?

February 27, 2024

Nobody claims to like “hate.”[1. Image credit: Christ Washing the Disciples’ Feet by Garofalo, c. 1520/1525 (public domain, source: National Gallery of Art).] That’s bad. Everybody claims they want to “love their neighbor.” That’s good. Should the best Christian-made stories repeat these messages so that readers know Christians are good and not bad? Or could stories with this goal end up actually harming our neighbors?

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  1. Enclave Publishing: Guardian by Cathy McCrumb
  2. Return of the Lost Ones by David Liberto
  3. Realm Makers: 2024 writers conference

Mission update

Concession stand
  • Our neighbors need beauty, goodness, and truth from great stories.
  • That’s the pivotal (and biblical) assumption we make behind all this.
  • We’ll need to presume these definitions as we explore flawed stories.
  • Beauty: artistic excellence, craftsmanship, reflection of God our Creator.
  • Goodness: moral virtue, righteousness, reflection of our perfect Jesus.
  • Truth: biblical doctrine, natural reality, imitation of the Holy Spirit’s word.
  • We do know many critics add more heat than light to these critiques.
  • So in critiquing stories directly or otherwise, we don’t fault their makers.
  • In fact, with one exception, we’ll avoid specific examples on this show.
  • Creators have backstories that lead them to emphasize one or the other.
  • Yet we still need to “stop the cycle” and emphasize all three at once.
  • More than our stories’ excellence is at stake; so our neighbors’ lives.
  • Also, many stories only emphasize one of these, ignoring two at once!
  • For the sake of brevity, we’ll focus on those who try getting 2 out of 3.

1. Stories try to show goodness+truth, not beauty
  • Most of us who think of bad/shallow evangelical stories think of this.
  • For instance, many Christian social dramas want to show good behavior.
  • And many of these movies also want to show characters extolling truth.
  • Readers see these emphases in many works of Christian-made fiction.
  • But if they’re not made with creative excellence, beauty, they suffer.
  • They also fail to meet the needs of our neighbors who need beauty.
  • Stephen once debated a friend who seemed to be getting this all wrong.
  • Friend thought Christians should “sell all we have” and live communally.
  • This ignores the God-given human need for beauty even in our homes.
  • Similarly, a story author could say “only the story matters, not the cover.”
  • But in fact the cover does matter. God wants excellence in all our works!
  • Without this excellence, our stories inactively harm our neighbors.
  • Such stories are bad and even lie by saying “God’s work is not beautiful.”
  • So by ignoring beauty, these stories also ignore goodness and truth.

So what should we do?
  • Look for stories that value biblical beauty, celebrating our Creator!
  • Read both Genesis 1 and Exodus 28, ordering “for glory and for beauty.”

2. Stories try to show beauty+truth, not goodness
  • Many people struggle with Christian creations that ignore goodness.
  • We would group this under the biblical commands to love other people.
  • This is more about bad artist behavior that you do not see, covered up.
  • For instance, a huge cathedral may proclaim truth and look magnificent.
  • But behind the scenes, they exploited people and laborers to build it.
  • Similarly, a book may look amazing and even reflect biblical orthodoxy.
  • But if the author does not act like a faithful Christian, that’s hypocrisy.
  • Worse than hypocrisy, the story’s author is failing to act like Jesus Christ.
  • Without this goodness, these stories inactively harm our neighbors.
  • Such stories are ugly and even lie by saying “God is not actually good.”
  • So by ignoring goodness, these stories also ignore beauty and truth.

So what should we do?
  • Look for stories that value biblical goodness, following our Savior!
  • Read from 1 Corinthians 13, Paul’s view of what goodness/love truly is.

3. Stories try to show beauty+goodness, not truth
  • Now we come to the part where we talk more about that Big Game ad!
  • The ad wanted to show that “Jesus didn’t teach hate. He washed feet.”
  • While many found the ad beautiful and good, it’s based on several lies.
  • Read the whole text of the account, John 13:1–20, hearing Jesus’s words.
  • He does not leave this vague, but explains why he did this act at all.
  • For instance, Jesus washed the feet of 11 apostles and one enemy.
  • He foregrounded his reasons as part of His death and based in the Law.
  • Foot-washing was not simply a decent act, but a ritualistic purification.
  • He spells out the one exception: Judas. “Not all of you are clean” (v. 11).
  • There is no place for revising this story as “Jesus did nice things for all.”
  • That tells our neighbors a great and harmful lie about Jesus’ reasons.
  • And by the way, the “teach hate” line also lies about other Christians.
  • Unfortunately, other stories attempt similar lies for “good” reasons.
  • Without this truth, these stories inactively harm our neighbors.
  • Such stories are ugly and bad by saying “God is not actually truthful.”
  • So by ignoring truth, these stories also ignore beauty and goodness.

So what should we do?
  • Look for stories that value biblical truth, listening to the Holy Spirit!
  • Read from 2 Timothy, especially 3:14–4:5, about why we proclaim truth.


Com station
Top question for listeners
  • Have you benefited from stories that valued beauty, goodness, and truth?

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Hand-washing. Social distancing. Fired employees. Air transmission. Four long years ago, the 195 nations lived together … then, everything changed when the COVID-19 virus attacked. How did lockdowns change culture? How did our reality’s upheaval affect our enjoyment of fictional worlds?