Tuesday, 10 November 2015

To boldly sow, by Ben Jeapes

“I have a fantastic idea for a Christian science fiction novel.”
“Okay - tell me more.”
“Well, a spaceship travels to a far-off planet-...”
“How far?”
“Uh - light years.”
“So it has some way of travelling faster than light and violating all the known laws of physics? Warp drive or wormholes?”
“Uh - whichever. And artificial gravity, and it’s controlled by an artificial intelligence, and when they get there they beam down by teleport. Right?”
“And they evangelise the aliens with the good news of Jesus Christ. You see? It’s a brilliant way of making the gospel known to a modern generation who dig this kind of thing.”
“So: the modern generation are meant to realise that you’re making up the warp drive and artificial gravity and AI and teleport, but the bit about the risen God is true?”
“Uh. Yes.”
“You know you could have all that, but they preach the risen Horus instead, with exactly the same result?”

That, in a nutshell, summarises most of my early attempts to write Christian science fiction, which is why it was so bad and no one will ever read it. So I looked to see how successful Christian writers did it. How did Lewis make the Lion work?

Well, in writing, as in real life, there is a difference between preaching and witnessing. Even if God puts in a personal appearance in your story, if it’s to work then the story isn’t about God - it’s about other people’s reactions to him. In the Narnia chronicles, what has impact isn’t so much Aslan’s didactic statements as the different ways the characters handle him. (And that opens the door to the didactic statements: Lewis is both preacher and witness, which is not incompatible.)

My wife recently pointed out a glaring implausibility in the Parable of the Sower, which is that no one goes forth to sow without doing a modicum of soil preparation. Not everyone is called to preach (see Ephesians 4.11 and, if there was any doubt, the Daily Telegraph) but everyone is called to make disciples (Matthew 28.19). So it may well be that some of us are called to be preachers and others soil preparers, readying other people’s hearts for the seed to be sown by a third party. The parable provides a handy guide to the different soil types that can be expected.

It doesn’t matter if your humans are living on a starship or a far-off world or just down the road in 21st century Britain. If the human reactions to situations with which the reader is familiar ring true, then whatever else they do and say will also be convincing. Your writing will condition their hearts and minds ready to receive more. It’s not so much a matter of force-feeding Christianity as leaving a Christian aftertaste.

Which is a lot harder.
Ben Jeapes took up writing in the mistaken belief that it would be easier than a real job (it isn’t). Hence, as well as being the author of 5 novels and co-author of many more, he has also been a journal editor, book publisher and technical writer.


  1. Good post, with lots to think about.
    CS Lewis also wrote a science fiction trilogy. I thought you were going to mention that. It certainly isn't as popular as his Narnia books, but it was written for adults. Sue

  2. This is so true, and as sue says above, leaves me with a lot to think about.

  3. Great post Ben. Our minister preached on 'go out and preach the word' a couple of weeks ago. The following day, in our Bible reading notes, Jeff Lucas said that standing on a street corner with a banner saying 'Repent for the end of the world is nigh' is - perhaps - not always the best of way. Wendy Mann's book, Naturally Supernatural (which I chose for my book club) shows how to sow seeds. But, like you, I feel led nowadays to till the ground in the novels I write, and thence to sow seeds. Reaping and harvesting may come later.

  4. Lewis (and Tolkien) discussed and discussed together along with other friends the Inklings, of course, and were steeped in the old myths which lie behind our culture along with Christianity. They also discussed their present culture and thought about how it worked. And so, yes, when they came to write, they wove into their work their observations of how human beings work & have thought and reacted, etc, at a very deep level. Ben is right: that is how to do it, whether we are writing novels or devotionals or even a sermon! In my opinion, Tolkien is even better at it - groan , people, for he re-wrote & re-wrote almost endlessly! He thought Lewis had published before the books were ready! In my contemporary (almost) novels, I try to follow this model too - I do mention Christianity, since that is our culture (or mine, many Brtis are now Muslim & for a long while many have been Jewish, but you get the point) - but not to ever say 'Do this! Follow this!' but to show by the characters reactions a variety of tussles with culture and ethics and a few outcomes. Reader is never expected to change its mind from reading - except to be invited to think. Sorry I seem to've written an essay it was meant to be a response.

  5. Great post. Oh to be an effective soil preparer! That is my dream. Thanks for putting it into words for me :)

  6. That's a really helpful way of thinking about it. Thanks.

  7. This hit me between the eyes. Thank you.