Christians talk a lot about “backsliding,” that is, doubts or struggles with our faith. Often the stories we share reflect characters who do the same. But how can Christian-made stories best explore this challenge, moving past cliches and shallow pictures of “backsliders” and showing more realistic images of people who fall back from faith but find restoration in Jesus?
- We’ve already talked about “deconstructing” (episode 10). This isn’t that.
- We’ll also tread lightly on the challenge of whether Christians can “fall away.”
- Some of this overlaps with tropey fiction evangelism, worth its own episode.
- We’ll critique some shallow backsliding narratives, hopefully in good faith.
- Our purpose is positive: to point to better fictional examples of backsliding.
1. How to backslide badly in a Christian(?) book
First, we’ll consider a fictional example Stephen wrote in this older article.
Charis wanted to cry. Did Michael really mean it? Was he really saying there was a good God who loved everyone in the world — everyone, including her? But he could not mean that, she thought. After all, she was not important, beautiful, wealthy, or special. No one could love her after all the bad things she had done. Not even God.
- “Blind faith” is a safe trope, an evangelical version of “just believe in yourself.”
- It’s a pre-cleaned, saccharine version of the sufferings Christians do have.
- Not all backsliders have simple stories. “God loves you” doesn’t fix things.
Second, we’ll consider Mack from the preachy, kinda-Christian novel The Shack.
- The story tries to present tragedy honestly, but keeps Nerfing the horror.
- Three authors, one confusion: The Shack‘s fictional “trinity” is tropey.
- The shtick only works with bad assumptions about The Church Back Home.
2. If you’re going to become a backsliding book hero, do it right
Rayford Steele in the Left Behind series is actually a great example.
- Left Behind book 6, Assassins, brought Rayford to a crisis point.
- The story asked: Is it righteous to seek vengeance against the Antichrist?
- Book 7 then explored Rayford’s repentance and restoration by the Church.
Mary Magdalene’s character in The Chosen is another example.
Matthew: What if you were cut off from Jesus by something in your past?
Mary: He already fixed me once. I can’t face him.
Matthew: I’m a bad person, Mary. My whole life, all about me. No faith.
Mary: I do have faith in him, just not in me.
3. How can we grow in Christ thanks to backsliding characters?
- Scripture gives examples of struggling saints. Fiction gives us backup for this.
- If the backsliding is realistic, it can help cultivate our hearts _and_ heads.
- Even tropes can help us head off some of the sillier backsliding excuses.
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Stephany A. wrote about episode 67, with guest L. G. McCary:
I just finished listening to your podcast episode How Do Fantastic Stories Avoid Preachiness… I had to write immediately because it felt like listening to myself. I grew up on Frank Peretti, C. S. Lewis, Ted Dekker, the speculative greats.
The Visitation is a great book. I was a big fan of The Oath and The Cooper Kids series. I very much love speculative fiction. The fantastical element. But I agree wholeheartedly, we need to tell stories without preachiness and campiness. We have the ultimate storyteller inside of us so our stories should be compelling and full of truth without beating people over the head.
Next on Fantastical Truth
What if you grew up learning Scripture memory and biblical virtue from a Christian-made tabletop game system? Then you discovered that game had been “cancelled” by an irritated televangelist in the 1980s? That’s a decent setup for a fan-friendly contemporary novel, but in fact, it’s a true story, and now suspense and fantasy novelist James R. Hannibal, owner of the game known as DragonRaid, will share the story of dice-rolling, death, and rebirth.
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