Tuesday, October 25, 2011

October 2011 CSFF Blog Tour, Day Three

The Bone House, by Stephen R. Lawhead

I ordinarily do not read the postings of others on the CSFF blog tour until the tour is over. That is so that my postings remain as original and unaffected by the other participants as possible. However, this time I have read a few, and there is one that has encouraged me to consider the absence of God in The Bone House.

In other blogs for the tour, as well other postings on my blog, I have contended that Christian fiction/fantasy is not Christian unless it conveys in a pointed way at least some elements of the Gospel. To be clear, my theological persuasion is reformed and therefore I hold to what are known as the five points of Calvinism succinctly stated in the acronym, TULIP (Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints). I have no doubt there are many CSFF blog tour participants who disagree with at least one of these points, and my intent is not to go into an exposition of these, or begin a dialogue over them. I only want to clarify that I believe the five points of Calvinism are biblically sound and represent the true gospel found in the scriptures. As such, when I hold that Christian fiction/fantasy should convey at least some elements of  the gospel, these five points are what I have in mind primarily. 

I think I am ready to refine my position on this as follows. Christian fiction/fantasy is of two fundamental types: anemic and robust. Anemic Christian fiction will contain elements that comport with a bona fide Christian world-view, that there is a God who is gracious and merciful and saves sinners. But these elements are not stringently Calvinistic nor are they dominant. Robust Christian fiction leaves no doubt of the fundamental truths of the Gospel, that God sovereignly saves a people for himself and for his glory through the death and resurrection of Christ applied through the work of the Spirit without which none of his people would recognize their sinfulness and need of salvation, and henceforth repent and trust in Christ to save them from their sin.

If we look at most so-called Christian fiction today under the robust lens, we find little that qualifies as Christian. On the other hand, there is much that qualifies anemically. Where does The Bone House stand? In one of my posts for The Skin Map tour, which I hope the reader might take the time to consult, I make the following observation after advocating that "Christian fantasy is only ‘Christian’ if it centers on and flows out of the gospel:"

Where does The Skin Map fit? It is entertaining, to be sure. However, the gospel is absent and as such, disqualifies it as ‘Christian.’ I say this because there is no mention of the bad news that must become painfully obvious before the good news will make any sense - and that bad news is the sinfulness of man, which merits God’s wrath.

On the other hand, a novel written by a Christian, but which does not qualify as ‘Christian’ is not wrong. I wrote:

I think so long as a story’s purpose is not to promote a non-Christian epistemological and ontological philosophy, though it may be heavily laced with such philosophy, it is not wrong. Though a fiction or fantasy takes place in a world that is non-biblical, that does not mean that it is by definition wrong. So long as it is clear that the intent of the story is not to promote such a world-view, it is not a dishonor to God. Such tales whose sole purpose is to entertain likewise reflect the creativity of man as image-bearer of God, and the entertainment itself may be viewed as a gift from God for his people to enjoy.

As far as I can tell, Stephen Lawhead is not trying to promote a non-biblical worldview, and, as I observed then:

I want to be fair, however. The Skin Map is book one in the Bright Empires series. The series as a whole may prove to be very Christian even though one or more of the books in the series would not be classified as such.

We now have book two of the series, and there is no noticeable effort on Lawhead’s part to bring in the salient points of the Gospel. What if this persists until the series is finished? I would have mixed thoughts. On the one hand, I can recognize quality when I see it, and the Bright Empires series thus far ranks very high both for the story and for the writing itself, which in my estimation are of equal importance. On the other hand, as a writer of Christian fiction and fantasy, and as a supporter of it, I would like to see quality like this also be true to what makes Christian fiction, Christian. The combination of the two would be powerful, and all things considered, would have a greater impact for the Kingdom.

That is why I am so adamant in pressing for a stringent definition of Christian fiction. I want the genre to distinguish itself precisely where it needs to the most, in the gospel. This can be done without being preachy or soppy. It allows the specially talented Christian writer to pursue an evangelistic and apologetic labor in a way that very few are capable of doing. Such writers and writing is needed, and I find it disheartening that those who could do a superb job are not doing so.

And yet, I don’t want to disparage such writers either. Writing, for whatever purpose, if done consciously as a labor to and for God, is pleasing to God. If Bright Empires is such a labor, I cannot complain. It is worthy and God-honoring entertainment. But I will be disappointed if it does no more than entertain.

Stephen R. Lawhead's Web Page
List of CSFF Blog Tour Participants
The Bone House on Amazon

Thanks to Thomas Nelson for kindly providing a copy of The Bone House for review on the October, 2011 Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog Tour.


  1. I found the lack of specific references to the Gospel mildly troubling also. I mentioned in my review the very specific mention of immortality because it does hint at the whole "God has put eternity in the hearts of all men" aspect of the scriptures. I guess we shall see what redemptive qualities, if any, emerge in the final book. Good point in your review.

  2. I'd be curious what posts you read, Thomas. I saw a couple that said there was no Christian element.

    I devoted my post yesterday to the "religious" aspects of the novel. I think, like other elements -- plot, characters -- eternal truth is being developed as the series goes along.

    I could be disappointed, but I don't think I will be. I mean, how does a Christian deal with the existence of alternative places accessible via a natural phenomenon without dealing with God and His sovereign will and His creative power?

    Will the story address salvation? I hope so. Otherwise the pagan ceremonies might lead to universalism. I'm hoping that false teaching will actually be refuted, but who knows for sure.

    I can't be any more sure of Mr. Lawhead's theology at this point than I am of the direction of his plot!


  3. Rebecca -

    "I can't be any more sure of Mr. Lawhead's theology at this point than I am of the direction of his plot!"


    Actually there was only one post I read, I don't remember which, that started me thinking. I read yours after I posted mine, and thought you made a poignant remark, which you went on to substantiate: "...without a doubt “religion” is moving forward in importance in the Bright Empires series." I agree and am actually quite intrigued by it. It is a lesson in the slow development of a theme which I am a huge fan of. I think much of our Christian story telling is too fast paced which is supposedly the biggest thing readers want these days. What a shame!
    On the other hand, you had to use the term 'religion' because that is all that it is; there is, as yet, no sense of it crystallizing into the gospel.

    Lawhead is a very good writer, very enjoyable, educational, and philosophically challenging. But if we are writing Christian literature, lets make it distinguishable from our secular counterparts. Obviously, the clean language is a big factor that says there is something different about Lawhead's stories, and I really, really appreciate that. But clean language can also be found in a novel which is authored by one who makes no claim to be a Christian.

    Since there are to be five books in the series, we all may be jumping the gun. I hope so.

  4. Great article! I am myself hoping that the Gospel is given more reference in the next books.

  5. You succinctly put into words what I felt about The Bone House. Really good book, but where is it going with God? I thought it was a 3 book series (my error), so when I wrote this post, I wrote it from the perspective that we were 2/3 through the series.

    There was a quote from The Skin Map that has me cautious about this series and where it might be going (http://morganlbusse.com/2010/11/03/csff-blog-tour-the-skin-map-day-3/). Then again, the way Stephen twists and turns with this story, I don't think I'll have my answer until book 5 :)