I have always loved stories, and the Bible is the greatest story ever written. The unfolding drama of redemption is a story, but it is a true story. When we write fiction, what we are doing is making up a story as, what J.R.R. Tolkien called, ‘sub-creators.’ Creators with a small ‘c.’ We are made in his image, so we can invent a story, and that story, though invented, is not ‘false.’
Like Jesus’ parables, such as the parable of the prodigal son—which are sometimes actual events and other times fictional stories—fiction can, and should, contain many truths. It can be true to life. People have said to me, ‘I thought fiction was just a bunch of lies. How can you write lies?’ But they’re not lies, because lying is when you are trying to convey the impression that something happened that really didn’t. When someone picks up a novel, they know the story really didn’t happen—it’s made up—but it tells truths about life. Novelists provide people with an imaginary world they want to participate in. Likewise, through his parables, Jesus made up stories that had specific components. He used them as illustrations to convey a point. This is what I try to do in my fiction as well.
Any time I try to reflect God in a story, I want to make sure that it is biblically based. Occasionally I’ll write stories where Jesus is in heaven speaking to a character who has died. I’m especially careful with that, because if you’re going to put words in God’s mouth, they better be true to Scripture. So I’ll have Jesus say to a faithful servant, ‘Well done good and faithful servant’ (Matt 25:23). There are novels now that put words into God’s mouth that are not consistent with what the Bible says, and I don’t want to do that.
By incorporating Bible verses into stories, I hope people who might not read a Bible will be confronted with biblical truths. One of the reasons I love writing fiction is that it can help readers open up the gates of their minds. Through good fiction that contains biblical truth, both non-Christian and Christian readers—who may not believe in certain things that the Bible teaches—can discover truth. A person who wouldn’t read a book on suffering and pain might read a novel like my novel Deception, which addresses the problem of evil and suffering in one man’s life. Through this story, which is actually a murder mystery, readers may be more open to biblical concepts they might have resisted if they had seen them directly in non-fiction form.
I call this the Trojan Horse effect. You open up the gates of your mind, and here comes this big horse. You don’t realize that hidden inside are soldiers. Fiction has a subversive element. Often that’s bad, because people will read fiction not realizing how a non-biblical, anti-Christian worldview being portrayed in a novel can affect their thinking about God. But the Trojan Horse can also smuggle in what’s true and good. People who are resistant to faith may open their minds and hearts to truths they wouldn’t have been open to in a non-fiction form. Likewise, people who wouldn’t have gone to church may hear truths, not through preaching, but through the lives of the characters.
Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries.