I think as long as I write fiction, I’ll have questions about how much of my faith I should incorporate in my stories and how clear I should make what I believe. I don’t have the same uncertainties with writing reviews.
If a Christian writes a novel and incorporates something that is in opposition to Scripture, I think it’s appropriate for me as a reviewer to point this out—or at least question it. For example, I recently finished a middle grade story (not speculative) that had as one thread the return of an estranged parent. The child expressed fear, and the other parent gave reassurance by saying, You don’t have to worry because I’ll take care of you; I’ve already taken out a restraining order.
I have a hard time with that attitude, not because it isn’t realistic, but because the protagonist is portrayed, as is the parent, as a Christian who prays about problems and tries always to do what is right. So, in regard to the return of this parent, it seems odd to me and inconsistent that the author doesn’t at least introduce the subject of forgiveness.
Most Christians, it seems to me, understand our need to extend mercy to others, even those who have hurt us. We may not want to do it, and we may not end up doing it, but it ought to be a topic we wrestle with, at least.
In addition, if a character prays about less important things, why would they ignore prayer about perhaps the most hurtful experience in their life? If they depend on God to intervene in other matters of concern, why not trust Him in this event as well? But no. It is the other parent and the restraining order that will keep the child safe.
These inconsistencies are story problems, but they are also spiritual problems. They well might reflect the way real people live—all too often believers don’t live up to what we know we should do. But as a reviewer, I don’t have a problem pointing out both problems.
Christian writers need to raise our game, I think. We ought to reflect God’s truth as much as we reflect our culture, though portraying the former may be handled best by showing a character’s struggle to do right.
As a reviewer, then, I think it’s right for me to expect more of Christian words.
For example, if a novel depicts a Christian character who cheats on his wife, without showing that behavior as wrong, one way or the other, I’d have a problem with it. I don’t think it’s OK for a Christian character to behave in a way that contradicts the Bible and have his actions treated as normal, accepted, or unquestioned.
My standards for reviewing a work by a non-Christian are also based on Scripture. By and large, however, those stories aren’t showing Christian characters. Consequently, if the protagonist is motivated by revenge, and he never struggles with the need to forgive, I wouldn’t think that’s a great omission.
Rather, I’d believe the character is acting in a way that’s consistent with our society unless he’s been given a motive that sets him apart and communicates that his values are different from the general population. I certainly wouldn’t expect a non-Christian character to hold Christian standards.
At the same time, if I’m reviewing a work of fiction written by a non-Christian, and I’m using the Bible as my standard to evaluate the truth of what this work says or means, I wouldn’t expect Christian truths to be at the core, apart from the ways that those have served to undergird the values of our culture at large.
That doesn’t mean I may not see parallels with Scripture. I’ve used Star Wars as an example in the past, and I think it’s apropos again. When I first saw the movies, I didn’t know anything about George Lucas, and I wondered if he might be a Christian. I saw parallels between “the Force” and God. I also saw parallels with the church and the rebels in their struggle against the Empire. I wondered whether Luke Skywalker might be a Christ figure.
There came a time, though—when it was clear Darth Vader was Luke’s father—that I had to abandon my idea that this epic work was mirroring spiritual truth. I still loved those first stories, still understood God to be powerful, perhaps in a clearer way than I’d thought about Him before.
In other words, my realization that these movies were thoroughly pagan didn’t mean I couldn’t still learn from them, couldn’t understand truth in a deeper way, and couldn’t appreciate them as well-told stories.
Nevertheless, as a reviewer, even though I may also present the truth about God which I saw played out unintentionally on the screen, I have an obligation to point out the error, the sin, the false worldview.
My fear is that we Christians are slipping down the same path the people of Israel took. They had a relationship with God and they had His Law, but they wanted so to be like the nations around them. So they began to compromise.
They built high places, for instance, where they could worship God—a small departure from what God had told them about worshiping only in the place where His tabernacle (and later, His temple) would be set up. But that one step of compromise led to worshiping other gods as well as God Most High. And idol worship eventually led to child sacrifice. How far they fell!
We Christians can fall into this same kind of compromise. Well, the story mostly contradicts a Christian worldview, but there’s this one redeeming aspect, and besides, it had great acting and was really entertaining, and therefore I highly recommend everyone go see it. God and idols.
I suggest we do one major thing differently when we write reviews. I suggest we call idols, idols. We can praise what is good and revel in the emotional experience, even the spiritual experience, we had because of whatever redemptive aspect of the story hit us. But we must also state without compromise the lies the story tells about God and His ways.