Sunday, January 26, 2020

Entrance into the Story-World: An example

“In books I have traveled, not only to other worlds, but into my own. I learned who I was and who I wanted to be, what I might aspire to, and what I might dare to dream about my world and myself. More powerfully and persuasively than from the ‘shalt nots’ of the Ten Commandments, I learned the difference between good and evil, right and wrong. One of my favorite childhood books, A Wrinkle in Time, described that evil, that wrong, existing in a different dimension from our own. But I felt that I, too, existed much of the time in a different dimension from everyone else I knew. There was waking, and there was sleeping. And then there were books, a kind of parallel universe in which anything might happen and frequently did, a universe in which I might be a newcomer but was never really a stranger. My real, true world. My perfect island.”
-Anna Quindlen, 'How Reading Changed My Life.'
This relates the powerful impact of fiction on the imagination and heart of the reader. It illustrates the phenomenon of entering a story-world via imagination, which world affects the entrant as surely as the world from which he came.
The Ten Commandments and derivative principles should not be replaced by the good lessons from fiction (novels, short stories, plays, etc), but such fiction does serve to offer them up in ways that are quite influential and inspirational. Caution is due, however, as that fiction must be informed not from human imagination and social mores as though they are autonomous, but from an imagination and culture that is imbued with and acquiescent to the revelation of God through the scriptures.

Friday, May 18, 2018

The Gospel and the Fairy Tale

Frederick Buechner wrote an essay entitled, The Gospel as Fairy Tale. [1] Buechner was a Pulitzer Prize nominee, a Princeton graduate, and holder of the Bachelor of Divinity (nowadays, Master of Divinity) from Union Theological Seminary among whose esteemed faculty were Paul Tillich (existentialism), Reinhold Niebuhr (neo-orthodoxy), and James Muilenberg (Old Testament rhetorical criticism). Please note I have little to no sympathy for their theology. In his essay, Buechner does not define what the Gospel is. The redemptive element that the reformed theologian ascribes to the gospel is clearly missing.

Buechner draws from L. Frank Baum's, The Wizard of Oz, a picture of how things supposedly really are. That we all - like the scarecrow, tin woodman, cowardly lion, and even Dorothy herself (in her shoes) - think that we are helpless and incapable of gaining our deepest desire or most urgent need except through the magical help of the Great Wizard, only to find out he's a fraud and that, all along, we had in ourselves the stuff to do it.

Buechner writes of Baum's fantasy:

"The book was published in 1900, and maybe it is not stretching things too far to say that in a way it foreshadows something of what became of the fairy tale of the Gospel in the century it ushered in. The magic and the mystery fade. Like the Emerald City, the city whose gates are pearl and whose walls are adorned with jasper and onyx and sapphire turns out to be too good to be true for all except those who see it through stained glass; and just as for Dorothy home is finally not the Land of Oz, where all things are possible, but Kansas, where never yet has a camel managed to squeeze through the eye of a needle, so for us home is not that country that Gideon and Barak, Samson and Jeptha, glimpsed from afar, but rather just home, just here, where there are few surprises. As for the one who promises to save the world, he is in the richest sense a good man to be sure, but like the little bald man behind the screen, when you come right down to it [he is] not all that much of a wizard. His goodness, his love, his simple eloquence, touch our hearts and illuminate our darkness across the centuries, but for all of that, both we and our world remain basically untransformed. Though he is wizard enough to set us dreaming sometimes of a world of joy more poignant than grief, we tend to believe in our hearts, that, however holy and precious, it is only a dream" (The Christian Imagination, 333-334).

If I understand Buechner, he implies that the myth and make believe of the Wizard of Oz, in particular, and by broad extension, the Fairy Tale in general, has a debilitating influence on how one may perceive the gospel, even tempting one to treat it as belonging to the same level of absurd, even mythical or fantastical, reality. As such, the sacred words of the sacred Wizard turn out to be hollow, and their promises, wishful thinking.

This disparages the gospel. Perhaps Baum was indeed trying to make the point that we can do what needs to be done on our own without the help of the extraordinary and magical. Even so, to place gospel under the same construct, as Buechner does and the way he does, is entirely unwarranted and demeaning. It betrays a very low view of the book that reveals it and misconstrues the person and work of its central figure, Jesus Christ.

That aside, if it were Baum's intention to make the point that we actually do have great potential ability, and we do not really need help from an other-worldly figure, he succeeds. He does so in a way that he may not have in any other genre for children. The fairy tale has its advantages. It can be a vehicle of great ideas (however right or wrong they may be). It captures the child's imagination in a way that the mundane does not. If I may slightly twist a threadbare witticism - it paints truths in pictures, albeit fantastical, that speak louder than the words of a story set in this humdrum world.

Obviously, I am critiquing Buechner from a conservative theological point of view. However, as a writer of Christian fantasy, neither can I let Baum slip away easily. While Buechner demeans and reinterprets the gospel, Baum ignores it because there is no sense at all that the scarecrow's brains, the tin woodman's sensitive heart, the lion's courage, and Dorothy's magical shoes are the result of common grace and providence. This is not to say that every tale of fantasy must be written from a conservative biblical worldview, but it is to say that without writing from that perspective, the truth can be marred or incomplete.

The author of a truly Christian fantasy-world, whether it be a retelling of a classic such as Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, or the Frog and the Prince, or whether it be a tale that has not yet been told, must redeem the genre for the sake of the kingdom and the glory of God. As such, it must reflect truth as it really is, as God tells us what it is.

[1] Appearing in The Christian Imagination, ed. by Leland Ryken.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

The Shock of Night, by Patrick W. Carr.

  This is the first book of The Darkwater Saga, whose medieval setting is in the twentieth year of King Laidir’s reign. The key figure is Willet Dura raised to minor nobility by Laidir, King of Collum whose citadel is Brunard. Dura served as the king’s reeve and the story begins as he is summoned to investigate the brutal murder of Robin, a guard whose keep was Elwin, a member of one of the religious orders known as the Servants. In an attempt to glean information from Elwin who survived the attack, the Servant pronounces “Domere” upon Dura and expires. From that moment on, Willet Dura is able to delve the minds of all those whom he touches.
  The story unfolds in a tale of Dura’s encounters with the rest of the higher nobles who despise him, a mysterious group known as the Vigil, the four religious orders (Servants, Vanguard, Clast, and Absold), and the menace of Laewan whose minions are those who were once lured into the Darkwater Forest to become his blind followers.
  Willet Dura himself is a survivor of the Darkwater - in a past war, he led a band of warriors into the dreaded forest as a matter of survival against an overwhelming enemy; only Dura escapes, the details of which he is not able to recall and marks him as mysterious and dangerous.
  The singular bright spot in his dismal existence is his betrothed, Lady Gael, with whom he shares an indomitable love. Yet, the prospect of their marriage is increasingly threatened.
  Dura continues his investigation and slowly discovers that there are as many who seek his death as those who are sworn to protect him. As his inquiry becomes more involved, he unearths a plot that threatens the survival of kingdoms and all that he holds dear.

  I grant that the story itself is intriguing and goes a long way in sustaining one’s interest. However, I am quite distraught. One might take issue with its anemic theological world-view (there is an obvious Trinitarian Godhead that corresponds to the Three Persons of the Christian faith) in which little of redemption in this present evil world is artistically dealt with. But that is not what disturbs me. It is the writing itself.
  When I first considered reviewing this novel, I read cursory samplings of some of Carr’s other works, which seemed to hold promise. But I found the writing in this novel to be extremely disappointing. I suspect there are few on this tour, if any, who would agree with me, or at least not to the same extent.

  There is a constant commentary whose purpose, I guess, is to bring the characters to life, but I found to be unrealistic and very distracting. The relentless narrative of body language and facial expressions was simply overbearing: shrugging shoulders, furrowed brows, lips thin, lips tighten, lips quiver, gazes go flat, blossoming anger, blossoming heat, arched eye brows, bile in the throat, chewing the inside of cheeks, faces knotting, standing on the balls of feet, etc. Combined with this were silly metaphors. I catalogued a list of examples, which could have easily been extended. Here are some of them:

p. 46, Invisible hands reached inside my gut and started kneading my stomach like dough.
p. 77, He scowled down at me, his brows meeting over his hooked nose.
p. 77, He spat and growled a curse that could have stripped paint from wood.
p. 78, I gnawed on the inside of my cheek.
p. 112, I felt a trickle of sweat begin to trace an icy path down my spine.
p. 114, My stomach, still queasy, started tumbling in my gut, like an acrobat but not nearly as graceful.
p. 160, His voice rose as the rage trapped behind his eyes broke free.
p. 167, A network of wrinkles radiated out from her mouth, a tight circle at the center of a spider’s web that communicated anger and fear.
p. 170, I could feel the tension in my throat, like lute strings tightened to the breaking point.
p. 172, Uncertainty drained from her like water through the sluice of a dam.
p. 172, She smiled, but her lips imitated the quiver in her fingers.
p. 174, A tremor began in the outer two fingers of his right hand, working its way up his arm until Gael nudged me.
p. 179, A distant rumble of thunder rolled across my hearing like a drummer’s knell before an execution.
p. 206, My stomach collapsed into a hole in my middle, pulling my breath and heartbeat with it.
p. 228, He could feel his eyes trying to start from his head.
p. 232, Cold like the point of a dagger in winter, traced its way through my middle.
p. 238, Anger welled up through my middle, spreading to my arms and legs until the chill from the air faded and my face burned with shame and anger.
p. 260, His eyebrow, as thick over his nose as it was over his eyes, lowered some more.
p. 262, Her brows made half circles over her dark brown eyes.
p. 284, I shook myself like a dog in the rain and stepped behind the barrel.
p. 297, Fear ripped through me like the disturbance of a pebble dropped in a reflecting pool…
p. 309, Her brow lowered, and a vertical line appeared between her eyes.
p. 384, I smiled, forcing my face to don an expression that belied the fear churning in my gut.
p. 399, He eyed Bolt, his dark eyes squinting until they almost disappeared.
p. 401, A giant hand had hollowed out my middle leaving naught but a shell of skin and bones. Spots swam in front of my eyes.
p. 402, Bile built at the back of my throat as more puzzle pieces slipped into place.

Nothing like this is found in the Christian writing that is worthy of emulation (C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Andrew Peterson). Perhaps this is what is being taught at our Christian Writer’s conventions or approved by editors of Christian Fantasy. I hope not.

I received a review copy  from BethanyHouse for this blog tour.

Amazon The Shock Of Night
Author Website

Participant's list:

Thomas Clayton Booher
Keanan Brand
Beckie Burnham
Carol Bruce Collett
Carol Gehringer
Victor Gentile
Rani Grant
Rebekah Gyger
Bruce Hennigan
Janeen Ippolito
Carol Keen
Rebekah Loper
Jennette Mbewe
Shannon McDermott
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Joan Nienhuis
Audrey Sauble
Chawna Schroeder
Jessica Thomas
Robert Treskillard
Shane Werlinger
Phyllis Wheeler
Nicole White

Monday, September 21, 2015

September 2015, Christian Fiction and Fantasy Blog Tour

The First Principle, by Marissa Shrock.

After  the Great Collapse and the Second Civil War, the geographical and polical makeup of Canada, Mexico, and the United States was reformed by the Council of World Peacekeepers into the United Regions of North America. Governor Wilkins of the The Great Lakes Regions is about to be nominated for the presidency of URNA, when Vivica, her daughter finds out that she’s pregnant. Term law requires that she abort the child, which Vivica has no problem doing. But she begins to have second thoughts when she is challenged by her boyfriend and father of  the child, Ben to keep the baby. Ben is a Chrisitian, who acknowledges his sin and seeks to make things right between him and Vivica and the baby she is carrying. Keeping the baby would not be an easy task as teen girls are constantly monitored. However, Vivica does have a knack for hacking into networks and modifying information, a skill that has been financially rewarded by those whose school grades were in need of adjustment. She’s able to keep her pregancy test results negative, but she is up against the clock as time is obviously going to reveal something that no hacking skill is going to be able to amend.

Ben’s Christianity is an offense to Vivica, but her continued interest in him, and an almost unwilling acknowledgement of a commitment to protect her baby, keeps her from rejecting it outright. To make matters more complicated, Ben is part of the rebel contingent that is gaining in strength; any commitment to him is to place Vivica in opposition to her mother and the whole naturalist philosophy that dominates the political and social structure of URNA.

Marissa Shrock has written a tale that takes current-day issues and injects them into a future that is teetering between dystopia and eutopia. Vivica has to make some hard choices, any of which is going to place her in opposition to family or friend.

The story is fairly well-written, though there is one thing that I find very annoying – free indirect speech. An occasional use is acceptable, but a steady diet can become very irritating. I do not doubt that I am in the minority on this, but I think it is a cheap, colorless way to peek into someone’s mind and see what is going on. Overlooking that, I am quite pleased with Ms Shrock’s writing.

I suspect that the strong, and at times tract-like (though artful), presentation of Christianity might be a source of consternation for some, but frankly, I think it has its place in Christian literature. If the purpose of a story is to present the Christian faith in a straightforward, head-on manner, The First Principle fills the bill. I suspect that is at least part of what the author had in mind. In concert with that was the subtle and sometimes not so subtle encapsulation of the social issues of today – teen pregnancy, abortion, rationale for abortion, the anti-intellectual charge against Chrisitianity, etc. Some of it may come across as stereotypical and might detract from the story, but regardless, the issues are laid out for the reader. For those who are familiar with them already, they might find the novel one-dimensional. But for the world of teens in which not much thought has been given to the issues, or in which the party-line has been uncritically swallowed, this story is precisely what is needed, and it is in that I find its greatest value.

Not only that, but it was very entertaining. An enjoyable read that I have no problem recommending.

am very grateful to Kregal Publications which provided a copy for this review for the September, 2015 Christian Fantasy and Fiction Blog Tour.

Blog Tour Participant Links:

Julie Bihn
Thomas Clayton Booher
Beckie Burnham
April Erwin
Victor Gentile
Carol Keen
Shannon McDermott
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Megan @ Hardcover Feedback 
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Joan Nienhuis
Jalynn Patterson
Chawna Schroeder
Jessica Thomas

Monday, December 15, 2014

November/December 2014, CSFF Blog Tour - The Fatal Tree, by Stephen Lawhead

Stephen Lawhead brings his Bright Empires series to a close in the fifth installment, The Fatal Tree. A lot was going on in the first four books and if asked if everything came to a satisfying conclusion, I would say, 'Mmmmm, I guess so.' The End of Everything is reversed, the cast of characters more or less have settled into a happy state of affairs, even as some of those have taken an unexpected turn.

Foremost in mind is Lord Archelaus Burleigh, fiend par excellence who has been converted. Converted? Can we say that he was actually converted? I guess we can; that is, after all, the language used in the tale. And indeed there is a change with Burleigh, a very radical one at that. Since change is at the heart of conversion of any kind, I guess we can agree that such a word can be applied to the character.

However, I do have some serious questions about Burleigh's change of heart. The context of the conversion is the backdrop of the exemplary behavior of Etzel (the business partner and friend of Mina) who is a devout Catholic with a seemingly genuine sense of what it is to imitate Christ, and it is that relentless behavior that wore on Burleigh breaking down all barriers. As a side note, I want to give Etzel the benefit of the doubt, that his character and behavior are based on real New Testament conversion through faith in Christ alone as Lord and Savior without the need for meritorious works (in which case, he is a New Testament convert in spite of his Catholic doctrine which holds to conversion/justification through faith plus works). As a Calvinist, I must make the point, seeing that our theology cannot help but color our story-making, and we all hope our story is good because our theology is good. If not, I wonder how we can still call our writing at its very heart, Christian writing.

Given that context, Burleigh seemed to have undergone some deep seated conviction. His eyes were opened to his nefarious state, and he is so overwhelmed him that his only recourse (as he saw it) was to change and seek whatever means to undo all the wrong he had done. That does lead to a near disastrous miscue on his part that came out of intentions that were noble (I think), and that seemed to be enough for Kit to suddenly have some pity for the man (p 324).

My complaint is a Calvinistic one. Conversion is a work of God in the heart in which God produces a conviction of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8). Without such conviction there is no true repentance toward God and faith toward Christ (Acts 20:21). Burleigh's remorse is over his behavior of the past and the despicable results of that behavior, but it does not come across that he sees himself as a sinner in need of a Savior from that sin. He feels the need to make up for his wrongdoings rather than recognize there is nothing he can do to make up for them and that another must atone for them if he is to have any hope of forgiveness and cleansing.

I know, The Fatal Tree is a work of fantasy, but it is advertised as a Christian work of fantasy. Where is the gospel - the real gospel that you find in Paul whose desire was to boast in nothing but the cross of Christ by whom the world was crucified to him, and him to the world? Who insisted that it is not through keeping the law that one is justified before God (Rom 3:20), but through faith in Christ (Rom 3:22), and that law keeping is a result of salvation rather than the basis of it (Eph 2:10)? Burleigh's behavior does not look like repentance and faith as much as his seeking to fix things for the mess he has made.

The usual objection to this kind of inclusion of the gospel in a novel is that the story will become preachy or soppy or pedantic or confined. It's audience will be limited, and its prospect for publication by a respectable publishing house severely limited. 

Well, I would grant the latter although Thomas Nelson is no mean publishing house, and if the gospel were present in the Bright Empires series as I would like to see it, such a publishing house would not for that reason alone turn Lawhead away provided he applied his fabulous writing with a view to work out the gospel at the appropriate places (such as the conversion of Burleigh).

I must say this, that Mr. Lawhead's development of the inner struggle of Burleigh over Etzel's kindness was brilliant. There was nothing artificial in it, or soppy, or preachy, or pedantic. It was simply a magnificent portrait. My point is the same can be done with the gospel where sin, repentance, and faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior can come through explicitly, genuinely, and naturally. I think that often the offense taken with Christian fiction (such as you see in Amazon reviews) has as much to do (if not more so) with the writing as with the message.

This was the final book in the saga. Did it have a satisfying conclusion? Did it draw all the strands together and bring a closure to the tale? Yes and no. We see what the end of the story is for all of the main characters, but I am a little bewildered. Foremost in my mind is Lady Fayth and Giles who are stranded in a time and place from which there will be no way out. They have only each other and there is the happy conclusion of their discovery of mutual love and resulting marriage. If these two meant anything to the reader, the reader began to root for their romance at some point in an earlier book in the series. But if you were like me, you also expected them to have a significant involvement in the final resolution of things. That they did not was disappointing to me.

I would not hesitate to recommend the Bright Empires series to anyone but would caution that the tale is quite convoluted. Nevertheless, if one bears with it, the complexity actually adds to the quality rather than detracts, and provides ample opportunity for the imagination to romp like a child in an amusement park.

In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher. 

The Fatal Tree (Amazon)
Steven Lawhead's Website
Steven Lawhead's Facebook page

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Merlin's Nightmare by Robert Treskillard, CSFF Blog Tour (August 2014)

Overall evaluation: I recommend the whole Merlin series for young readers, especially those who are fond of Arthurian legend. They would not be disappointed.

I regret that I have not been able to finish Merlin's Nightmare in time for this blog tour, having read only half of it. However, I do wish to make some general remarks.

Without question, the tale is very good. Lots of things going on without any of it feeling out of place or extraneous. So far, the shift of focus is from Merlin to Arthur (Artorius), which had to come sooner or later. It should lead to Arthurian sequels with Merlin still in the picture but likely taking a less important or less prominent role (which is sad - as I found the transition from Bilbo to Frodo).

As a novel for young fantasy readers, the writing is probably appropriate. I have enjoyed everything I've read thus far. The battle in the south and the killing of Horsa by Arthur would wrest the imagination of most young readers, though I did find Arthur's removal of his boots in the heat of battle with a chariot and foot soldiers almost on top of him a little far-fetched (unless they were slip-ons, you just wouldn't have time to do such a thing). The story is a bit gory at times, but not so graphic that it is offensive - at least for me.

Morgana and the Voice come across in a very menacing, dark way; the transformation of Ganeida (Merlin's half sister) into Morgana has been developed quite well through the series. The despicable Vortigern, at least in the first half of the book, seems to be more down to earth. Not that he has become a likable fellow by any means, but you see a side of him that is less monstrous than what we've seen in the previous volumes. At the same time, Vortigern's capricious attitude toward the Saxenow is setting up for what might become a climactic conflict between him and Arthur.

The Picti of the north are an ominous threat, and Merlin, though he has been drawn away to the south with Arthur, receives puzzling signs of something amiss through the remnant of his wife's (Natlenya) skirt which he has taken as a keepsake. For me, his reaction to these signs (wetness, renting) are quite subdued and therefore unrealistic.

Again, I recommend the series for young fantasy readers.

 In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher. 

Friday, July 4, 2014

Glorifying God in the Secular Arts

Luke 15:11 - And he said, “A certain man had two sons. . .

Jesus told stories and by that we conclude that story-telling is a legitimate and noble practice. I recently read an article by one of my Facebook friends (E. Stephen Burnett) the title of which was How to Glorify God with Wizards, Captain America, and Spider-Man. It seems to me this friend has strong leanings toward a reformed perspective (influenced by Abraham Kuyper and Herman Bavinck), and I anticipated a theological defense of what the title intimated. However, he surprised me, and though he indicated that he could provide such a defense, he opted against that and chose rather to show from his own experience how one may glorify God in that way. It was quite intriguing, and I am in full agreement not only with the premise, but also in the way in which he demonstrated it through his life’s experiences rather than a biblical treatment. Here is an example of those experiences:

To this day I can remember Peter Parker in Spider-Man 2’s final battle recalling the truth he had just learned and repeating it to a remorseful Dr. Octavius: “Sometimes to do what’s right, we need to be steady and give up the things we want the most — even our dreams.”
I can’t always say how, but that truth imaged by a fictional hero has aided my spiritual “revival” for years. I followed Spidey’s web all the way to the true story — God’s story — of the Hero who surrendered Himself to help people become the heroes they should be. To this day, I can credit the original Spider-Man films for helping save my marriage before it even began.

I was a little hesitant to present this example lest it be misunderstood that my friend’s theology saw Christ’s heroism at the cross as only an example by which others may become heroes as well. I know that is not the case, but it underscores a problem that is inherent with fictional heroes invented by the secular mind. They are horizontally oriented rather than vertically. They do not take their starting point in the biblical world and life view, but from the one which man devises out of his own resources, which are actually borrowed from God. As a result, though the hero may be powerfully inspiring and noble, and though he may illustrate to some measure what we find to be true from a biblical perspective, it is dubious at best. Not merely because of the finitude of the secular creator, but because of the tendency of such a one to create something that tends to exalt the creature rather than the Creator (cf Rom 1:25).
Spidey’s epiphany of the truth in Spider Man 2 is a powerful challenge to the movie-goer in the context of Dr. Octavius’s relentless and unmercifully violent drive to complete his dream at all costs. Even so, Spider-Man 3, in my opinion, is even more potent as it portrays the virtue of forgiveness in an evocative, nearly tear-jerking manner. How is it that a story written from an unbiblical world-view, whose setting itself is atheological (people live and work as though there is no God, regardless of any professed beliefs in the existence of God) can include such noble ideas?
The overarching answer is what theologians call common grace. It is grace that God has bestowed on all men alike, regardless of their relationship to him. Louis Berkhof explains that "[common grace] curbs the destructive power of sin, maintains in a measure the moral order of the universe, thus making an orderly life possible, distributes in varying degrees gifts and talents among men, promotes the development of science and art, and showers untold blessings upon the children of men.”[1]
Wizards, Captain America, and Spider-man are fantasy characters representative of a special type of literary art, and, as Berkhof noted, the ability to produce such art is a result of the distribtution of God’s gifts among men. These are gifts for which all should give God the honor, yet the unbelieving sinner can do so only in a superficial way because he does not know God through a faith in Jesus Christ resulting in a renewed mind and enlightened heart (Rom 12:2; 2 Cor 4:6; Eph 1:18; 4:23; Col 3:10). He may sense that there is a Higher Being who is responsible for his artistic greatness, and acknowledge that, but he does not sense that he should love that Higher Being with all of his heart, soul, mind, and strength (Luke 10:27). The gifted secular literary artist writes about what he knows to be true of right and wrong (Rom 2:14-15), but does not really know why it is true. He just knows it. He knows there is good and evil, and his God-given literary skill enables him to write in such wonderful imagery that these truths can come across very powerfully. And yet, unless the truths of his novel or screenplay or poetry are overtly grounded in the gospel, though they may persuade some, even unbelieving sinners, to outwardly alter their behavior in one degreee or another, they cannot transform from the inside out. Such stories may inhibit sinful behavior, but they cannot free from sin because there is no gospel in them. Their usefulness for true spiritual growth is profitable only for the Christian who recognizes the virtues as beliefs and behavior that are the result of a new birth which changes the heart (cf 2 Cor 5:17; Eph 4:24; Col 3:10) and for that reason he works them out in his life because he knows that it is God that works in him to do his good will (Phil 2:12-13).
How can secular man write such stories? It is because he is in touch with the predicament of this world and himself though he is not in touch with Creator of the world through his Son. Secular man is not unintelligent. He can observe and analyze. His sinfulness does not inhibit that, as intelligence is one of those gifts God disperses commonly among human beings. His observations and analysis are influenced by another common grace, which is the law written on the heart (Rom 2:14-15). He cannot help but sense the right and wrong in this world and judge it to be truly that, good and evil. There is no man-made story, tragedy or comedy, which is not shaped by the overall character of this present age – the conflict between good and evil (cf Gal 1:4; Rev 19:11-21). And though it provides opportunity for the secular man to put his twist on the true, the good, and the beautiful, it is only the Christian who can listen to it and discern the truths that underlie the story-world. As such, there is a legitimate place for the Christian not only to attend such movies as my friend alludes to, or read the stories that such movies are based on, but to carefully think about them and see what is in them that may help him, in light of God’s word, live up to the true gospel standard.

[1] L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology, Wm. B. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1939. p 434.