Saturday, April 17, 2010

I Love Historical Fiction Except When I Hate It

I love history. The story of the past is fascinating, compelling, gripping, engaging and seemingly endless. How did people live, what did they eat, how did they think about their world? These are the questions that history tries to answer. Right next to history in my interest is historical fiction. Books like Johnny Tremain, Red Badge of Courage, Ben Hur, and Master and Commander bring to life historical events more or less accurately by narrating the historical facts through fictional characters. The thing that separates these two genres is that one purports to give the facts of the event and one sets out to fictionalize around the facts of the event.
In our present age we seem to like to confuse so many things. I recently read a book that alleged to be a historical account of the the War Between the States. As I got into the book I noted that hardly a page was turned where the words, "perhaps, seemingly, supposedly, possibly, maybe or conceivabl" were not used. This "history" book had a lot of reading between the lines, secondary and tertiary sources and speculation. It was not history in any objective sense; it was historical fiction. Don't get me wrong–it was a great read and a compelling story and it may even be a true account of the events. But it was not history. It should not be presented as history nor should it be read as history.
Unfortunately the same thing seems to be happening with Church History. People are writing and reading books that appear to be factual, historical accounts of the followers of Jesus Christ. The problem is that they are fanciful. They rely on hearsay, supposition and fallacies to prove the authors point of view. That point of view may be correct, compelling, verifiable, and true but if it not shown to be that from the primary sources then it must not be portrayed as historical. The first time that I can remember reading something like this was a book I was loaned called "Are Baptists Calvinists." The author proceded by abused logic and selective use of sources to "prove" that baptists are and always have been soteriologically in the reformed camp and to paint all opponents as false baptists and Pelagians! I am sure there is a bizarro twin book that "proves" that baptists have never been calvinistic and that all who disagree with it's author are false christians and hyper-calvinists!
Even further afield are the writings of people like Dan Brown and William Young who claim to be christians and yet deny cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith. I think that they use the expression, "I am a christian," the same way I say, "I am a ninja." I am not really sure what it means but it is cool and I want it to be true so I say it!
The New Testament gives warnings about believing and passing on these kinds of fables. 1 Timothy 1:4 and 4:7 and 1 Peter 1:16 along with other passages tell us that christians are to give the truth of the gospel without mixing in unsubstantiated stories and embellishments. Pastors and church leaders need to be careful that what they teach and preach is accurate, factual and logically valid and all Christians must learn to be discerning, able to search the scriptures like the Bereans of Acts 17. The Gospel is built on facts substantiated by logically consistent proof and reasonable experience just like everything true.


rogercanaff said...


I understand the danger of embellishing what we know, particularly of Jesus' life for instance, for the sake of bringing Gospel stories to life in movies, plays or fiction. But don't the fleshing out of those stories help bring some closer to Christ by humanizing Him at bit more? I'm torn by this- I've seen some Gospel dramas that I have really enjoyed, and it seems that Christ's actions, words, etc were in line with Biblical teachings. How far is too far with this kind of animation?

Jon from Bucksport said...

Thanks as always for stopping by and reading! I re-read this and it is clear to me what I was saying but obviously not clear to others. I agree with you and I think that it is helpful to people to have fleshed out what life was like in ancient times and to provide more details. I think that they problem comes when your fiction twists historical facts clearly established from primary sources or presents as fact what there are no primary sources to back up.