March 18, 2013

Should Christians Read Fiction?

I recently stumbled across this interview with Russell Moore on the value of reading good fiction and literature. As someone who reads (a lot) I've often wrestled with my priorities in reading. How much time should I devote to reading? Should I read fiction, or focus all my time on non-fiction books that will help me to understand and apply Scripture? Should I be spending more time reading Scripture instead of books about Scripture? As those who've been commanded to "redeem the time" (Ephesians 5:16), all Christians should be asking these kinds of questions about their hobbies. (How can I best use my time to bring glory to God?) But reading is particularly important for the believer. We are, after all, people of The Book. Reading well in general helps us to read God's Word well in particular. As someone who has reflected on this quite a bit, a lot of what Moore has to say resonated with me. He says it much better than I can, so, in his own words, here are some of the best bits

There’s a place for reading fun, engaging, light works. If you enjoy a mystery novel or a science fiction thriller, have at it. I’ve found that most people who tell me that fiction is a waste of time are folks who seem to hold to a kind of sola cerebra vision of the Christian life that just doesn’t square with the Bible. The Bible doesn’t simply address man as a cognitive process but as a complex image-bearer who recognizes truth not only through categorizing syllogisms but through imagination, beauty, wonder, awe. Fiction helps to shape and hone what Russell Kirk called the moral imagination. . . . moral instruction is not simply about knowing factually what’s right and wrong (though that’s part of it); it’s about learning to feel affection toward certain virtues and revulsion toward others.
Fiction can sometimes . . . awaken parts of us that we have calloused over, due to ignorance or laziness or inattention or sin.
Just as dangerous as [books that are] darkness-reveling, I think, are novels that are darkness-avoiding. Flannery O’Connor’s writing is quite dark, but it is so because she believes in the Devil, and in the Fall, and in humanity as it is. . . . The Christian gospel isn’t “clean” and “safe” and “family-friendly.” It comes to its narrative climax at a bloody Place of the Skull and in a borrowed grave.
But, finally, good fiction isn’t a “waste of time” for the same reason good music and good art aren’t wastes of time. They are rooted in an endlessly creative God who has chosen to be imaged by human beings who create. Culture isn’t irrelevant. It’s part of what God commanded us to do in the beginning, and that he declares to be good. When you enjoy truth and beauty, when you are blessed by gifts God has given to a human being, you are enjoying a universe that, though fallen, God delights in as “very good.”
For those who still aren't convinced about the value of reading (fiction and literature in particular) for the Christian life, I'll leave you with this: If God didn't think reading was important, if he didn't see any value in literature, if he didn't want his people to be shaped by great storytelling , then why did he write a book?

Recommended Reading:
  • Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading Books by Tony Reinke
  • God as Author: A Biblical Approach to Narrative by Gene Fant
You can buy them both here:

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