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?


Episode sponsors
  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.

Links:

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

Next on Fantastical Truth

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?


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