Copyright 2016 by Gabriel Connor Salter
“A gracious messenger of the Lord in the midst of all oppositions, is a man made all of fire walking in stubble—he overcomes and consumes all opposition; all difficulties are but whetstones to his fortitude.”
-John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople (347 AD – 407 AD)
Recently I was asked to interview the owner of an independent Christian publishing house that specializes in speculative fiction (which, if you haven’t figured out from my last few entries, is my preferred stomping ground).
As I compiled my research for the interview, I discovered something I didn’t know. The articles I found showed that ten or more years ago speculative fiction – sci-fi, fantasy, supernatural fiction – was basically nonpunishable in the Christian book market. A few writers got through, but most didn’t. Now things were beginning to change, and those kinds of stories (along with other genres) were beginning to find a voice in the Christian market.
I processed this information, and while I suppose I should have been happy – my career viability had just gone up a notch – the only thing I could manage was to be worried.
On one level, of course this new acceptance is a great thing. It means speculative fiction has finally moved from “the stepchild of Christian publishing” (as a 2008 article in Library Journal put it) to being something respected in the Christian market. We can finally convince people it is legitimate to write about time travel and prophecies and vampires for a living. Maybe not all together at once, but still.
On another level though, this means speculative fiction writers are about to become acceptable in Christian circles. This means losing certain opportunities we have right now.
I’m going to have to go autobiographical to explain this. When I realized most of the fiction I write is not strictly acceptable in Christian publishing – not just because it’s mostly speculative fiction, but also because it’s not very explicitly Christian – I also realized by extension my work wouldn’t strictly be acceptable in the Christian sub-culture we’re built in America. I may never be a total pariah, but I would be misunderstood a lot and wouldn’t have as many opportunities to speak in Christian circles as writers who write more explicit Christian works. I’ve talked a little about some of this in my “Speaking of Evil…” post.
When I put all this together, I became frustrated. I couldn’t understand why God would give me a gift to write stories which many Christians wouldn’t accept.
I kept feeling this way for a while, bouncing back and forth on just what my place in the Church is, until one day I realized something: God doesn’t always call us to do things other Christians agree with.
God calls us to follow him and his Word (Psalm 119:9). He says wisdom is found in many counselors (Proverbs 15:22), so we should have spiritually mature people around us who can guide us. Scripture also states several times we must strive for unity and avoid creating waves (1 Corinthians 1:10) (Ephesians 4:3). But he never says he will call us to do things everyone will agree with.
If anything, Scripture and contemporary stories suggest the opposite. Sometimes God calls people to do things and everyone, including the Church, says they are crazy. Jeremiah tells the Israelites they are going to die if they fight the Babylonians and God wants them to surrender. The Israelites threw him in a muddy well for being unpatriotic (Jeremiah 38).
Peter follows God’s instructions to go and preach at a Roman soldier’s home. The church in Jerusalem convenes a heresy meeting for him (Acts 10-11).
An English scholar named William Tyndale argues that everybody, not just priests and people who can read Latin, should be able to read the Bible and he personally translates it into English. The church in England finds him guilty of heresy and burns him at the stake in 1536.
And so on. God’s ways, it turns out, are not always our ways.
When I realized this truth, that it’s okay for me to be controversial as long as I’m doing the Father’s will, I finally got peace. I realized I would probably be marginalized in Christian culture and that was okay, and then I gained the freedom to follow God more closely.
Opportunities like that are hard to find once you become “acceptable” in mainstream Christian culture.
I really don’t know where Christian speculative fiction is headed next. Maybe it will become the next big Christian fad. The closet cynic in me says the whole thing will probably implode on us and we’ll be back to being a hungry, angry indie movement. Maybe something else will happen we don’t expect.
Whatever happens, I am hoping and praying we take advantage of the opportunities we have right now. For better or worse, they won’t be around much longer.
The Holy Bible, New International Version. Zondervan, 2005.
Copyright 2016 by Gabriel Connor Salter