What: This form of Christian fiction will tend to have a contemporary setting. It’s a subgenre of allegorical Christian fiction, but I wanted to deal with it first. The author retells elements of the story of Jesus, particularly through a Jesus like figure. Depending on the author’s take on the significance of Jesus, we get different aspects of his life coming through – the atonement or his concern for the poor or his outsider status.
Eg: New Zealander Mike Riddell tackles this form in his Insatiable Moon. He was a theology lecturer at a Baptist theological college. And then, as he says on his website, the publication of this novel was contentious enough to force his resignation. Was it the extended (adulterous) sex scene involving the Jesus-like figure or was it just that the Jesus-ish character was insane? What Riddell gets so right in this novel is how confrontational Jesus would have been to the religious establishment. I suspect that that is the theme he would want us to take away.
In a completely different mode, C.S. Lewis creates a fantasy world in the Narnia books, with a Jesus like creature in the form of a lion – Aslan. Like Jesus, Aslan is sacrificed for the world’s sins. My friend Mark Hurst pointed out that Revelation pictures Jesus as a slain lamb rather than a lion. But then someone else responded saying that Aslan appears as a lamb later in the series. (I don’t remember that; I’m sure it’s true, though.)
If Stephen Lawhead’s Pendragon books are to be considered as an example of this form, then the Jesus-like character is King Arthur. The problem being that this Jesus leads his followers into battle so effectively they manage to kill all their enemies with swords. No turning the other cheek for these fellows! I loved these books when I was a teenager; they were a violent heroism sanctioned by my conservative Baptist church! I wonder what I’d think of them if I tried reading them now?
Dostovesky’s The Idiot is perhaps the most enduring example of the form. The saintly main character has no guile and society doesn’t know how to handle him. It’s so terrible – I didn’t manage to finish this book, either. (I have a terrible record of incompletion with long books, and particularly with Russian writers.)
Should I attempt this form? I started to write ‘no’, because Jesus is unique, and retelling the crucifixion or any other part of his life is tiresome. But then I realised that I’ve fallen into one of the traps I warn against – that of thinking that Jesus is so far above us we can’t emulate him. There is the uniqueness of Jesus, but that doesn’t stop there being Jesus-like figures who are following him faithfully and end up crucified, just like he warned. That would probably be my take on it.
In fact, I sort of did attempt this form in Dreams of Revolution (unpublished). The character of Melchizidek is Christ-like in bringing together a band of disciples who he feeds and teaches about the kingdom. And his name, well that’s kind of obvious… to theology students -Melchizidek being the priestly king of Salem who came from nowhere and, in the book of Hebrews, is seen as prefiguring Christ.
Do you want to add some more examples you think I should have included?
Good Christian fiction is hard to find, and to write, because once you get the sense that the new story is only the wrapping for an older and completely familiar one, the momentum is lost. You know, or think you know, the “point” of the book without having to read it. From the writer’s perspective, I think the category of Christian fiction should not be limited to stories that retell Biblical narratives directly or allegorically, but should also include writing any ordinary story such that both the process and the product are infused with a Christian way of seeing the world: incarnational rather than gnostic, life as meaningful not meaningless, the ever-present possibility of grace and unmerited forgiveness, honoring your characters as flawed individuals whom Jesus loves, trying to understand “sinners” and people different from yourself, and not reducing them to mouthpieces for ideology. Which certainly doesn’t mean tying everything up into a neat little moral package at the end. That’s not real life. I guess the Christian novelist above all has to be someone who’s not afraid of the truth.
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