I have recently spent some time in thought about Christian literature, especially reflecting on "Christian fiction" after reading Sir Quinlan. I have been doing a lot more reading in the past year, and I have been exposed to a wider variety of literature from Christian authors than ever before. It has always been rather easy for me to get "caught up" in a good fiction novel. I know that is true for MANY people. My oldest 3 children devour fiction novels, then talk about them endlessly for days. They recall favorite scenes and conversations. The characters in these stories almost become real to them. Caleb is usually first to research the author on Wikipedia and find out if there is going to be a sequel. They beg me nonstop to search our library for more books by the same author. They don't even complain when I ask them to write a one-page book report for me. When their supply of new books to read dries up, they pick up favorite books and read them again.
This is good, right?
I cautiously say "yes." And "no." What are they hungering and thirsting for? Is their love of fiction literature driving them to explore other things? Is it challenging them to grow in character? Is it challenging them to move on to harder pieces of literature?
Or is it just tickling their insatiable desire to be constantly entertained?
It's almost like our books have become another version of "screens" for the kids. There was one day recently when the weather outside was absolutely beautiful. The younger kids were begging to go outside to play. I couldn't go out with them at the moment, so I asked Eden to go out and be my eyes for me (I could hear them, just not see them, as they played in the back yard). I happened to look up in time to see Tirzah escaping from our fenced-in back yard to the front yard. Where was Eden? Oh, she was outside, alright. With her nose stuck in a book. When I demanded that books stay inside and all lazy children go outside to play in the warm sunshine and fresh air, I was met with whines of "There's nothing to do!" and "It's too hot!" Sheesh, kiddos!
Sir Quinlan is an allegory, which can be good and bad when analyzed theologically. Every allegory is going to fall short of the true Gospel presented in God's Word. But an allegory can also reignite our passion for the true Gospel, it can encourage and inspire. I'll make my own little analogy:
Soda = general fiction/popular mediaIf your diet consists of a lot of general fiction (or even non-fiction), will you have time left over for God's Word? And what you put into your mind (garbage in?), will come out (garbage out?). Just as soda will deplete your body of fluids, a heavy diet of popular media will interfere with hiding God's word in your heart. Don't get me wrong--I'm not slamming popular literature/media and saying you should not read it. I'm aiming to point out that possibly a diet heavy in those things will detract from your ability to read and digest the Bible. But focusing on only reading materials from Christian authors isn't the answer either. There's an awful lot of "sugar" in these novels. When your desire to read the next novel (or self-help book) outweighs your desire to go straight to the Bible, your diet may be imbalanced.
Koolaid = Christian fiction
Water = the Bible, God's Word
Let's say you are a soda drinker. You must drink a prescribed amount of soda every day or you have withdrawal symptoms. The problem with drinking soda is it not only quenches your thirst, it will deplete your body of fluids causing you to be dehydrated. And it actually makes you LESS thirsty so you don't drink as many fluids overall as you should in a day. Now say you switch to drinking koolaid. It's better for you, but still not as good as pure water. Don't they say "a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down"? Yes, it's true, but there's an awful lot of sugar in that koolaid. And the problem is that it creates a desire for more sugar. Plain, pure water doesn't taste as good when your diet is accustomed to drinking so much koolaid. It quenches your thirst, and you don't head for the water.
Ok, maybe my analogy is a bit far-fetched, but this is what I'm trying to get at. A good Christian book can remind you of Biblical truth. It can help you understand things about life that you are struggling with or questioning. It can encourage you or convict you. It can help you think about things from a completely different angle. It can even help you understand Scripture that you are hung up on! These are all really good things! But they are still no substitute for turning to the real thing. And if you find yourself picking up your Bible and thinking, "Uh, this is boring. I don't understand this.", then you may have a real problem with an unbalanced diet. Oh man, I know this personally!
And another thing, I worry that my kids' favorite fiction novels will become so "real" to them, they will become equivalent to Bible stories. The only way this can happen is that Bible stories will become more like fiction in their minds. I know that this is how my kids think! If that happens, the fiction novels, even though they are "Christian", will be doing some serious damage--way more harm than good.
It is good to read. It is good to curl up and "escape" in a good book. But don't let it interfere with your (or your kids') desire to read the Bible. Hunger and thirst for God's word. Hide His word in your heart.