Christian Reconstruction... and Fantasy?
"Each of you also represents a history of God's providence, one that has brought you to where you are today. You and I have our distinct roles in God's Kingdom ..."1 ~ Mark Rushdoony
Among other things, my small role in God's Kingdom is to write fantasy novels-inspired first and foremost by the Bible itself, but also by the work of R. J. Rushdoony and his teaching of Christian Reconstruction.
That may strike some of you as preposterous. After all, one of the obvious characteristics of a fantasy is that it isn't true. But then Jesus Christ told parables. These were not true in a literal sense: Our Lord never said, "I knew a man who had a prodigal son." They were short, fictional stories told to teach the truth-to illustrate a Biblical principle in terms that could be easily understood by ordinary people.
A fantasy novel can be-but often, in this fallen world, is not-a long fictional story that presents truth from an unexpected angle so that it can be seen as fresh and new. A Christian fantasy will illustrate truth already encountered in God's Word. Well, at least it should do that. The works of C. S. Lewis, notably The Screwtape Letters and the Chronicles of Narnia, are well-known examples.
God's Providence at Work
I have written, and continue to write, a series of Christian fantasy novels, beginning with Bell Mountain.2 This is God's providence at work. If R. J. Rushdoony as a young man had not discovered the theological writings of Cornelius Van Til, and become Van Til's friend and fellow-laborer; if he had not been led by them to build up his own teaching of Christian Reconstruction; if he had not gone on, with the providential help of others, to establish his own ministry, the Chalcedon Foundation; if an editor at Focus on the Family had not suggested to me that I ought to get in touch with Chalcedon; if I had not been taken on by Chalcedon as a reporter and editor; if I had not immersed myself in Rushdoony's writings when I joined; and if another editor at Chalcedon had not suggested that maybe the ministry ought to try publishing some fiction in addition to its many books on theology and its application to life-if any of those things had not happened, I would never have written Bell Mountain, and you would not be reading this. I see God's providence in this, every step of the way.
Christian Reconstruction preaches the imperative to bring all of life under the lordship of Christ, to reclaim the culture for Christ's Kingdom: hence Christian schooling instead of public education, Christian marriage and family life, Christian self-government in the life of every individual, public policies brought into line with God's laws, and so on. This would also include the reclamation of our popular culture, which today is widely perceived as some kind of God-free zone-you can check your Christianity at the door when you enter a movie theater or open a book.
Fantasy fiction is one of the dominant sectors of the Young Adults Fiction market. But when it comes to fantasy, what are these young readers reading?
If you visit the Goodreads website, you'll find a page for "Young Adult Novels of 2013 ... vote for your favorites."3 Here you'll see the leading candidates for the honor, complete with book covers and descriptive blurbs. I examined the top ten.
Six of the top ten were stories set in a future dystopia, a la The Hunger Games. Featured themes included "a single girl ... who can command the power of angels"; teenage "alchemists" in love; teens with assorted super-powers; a girl who is "part-angel"; and teen "demigods" interacting with pagan Greek gods and goddesses. On and on.
It looks like here is a portion of our popular culture badly in need of Christian input.
Oh, there are books marketed as "Christian fantasy." I don't want to snipe at other authors who probably mean well, but a lot of these books sound drearily similar to the ones on Goodreads' list. Some of them suggested novelized video games. I salute the authors for trying, but depictions of teens with super-powers strikes me as an effort headed in the wrong direction.
God Is In Charge
I decided early on to rule out both magic and super-powers from my stories. Not only is "magic" overly hard to distinguish from witchcraft; it has also become, for many fantasy writers, a too-easy way to get things done. And why titillate and tempt young readers with visions of "powers" that make them superior to adults? So the characters in my stories are ordinary human beings for whom there are no magical short-cuts. They must be courageous and strong without being able to fall back on quickie spells and hexes or superhuman abilities.
Rushdoony's vision is steeped in "Reformed thought," which may be briefly defined as a presupposition that "God is in charge"-of everything.4 Although my characters have neither magic nor super-powers, they are God's servants, and thus able to call on a source of power infinitely greater than those available to secular fantasy heroes and heroines-the power of God.
I allow in my stories nothing that the Bible does not allow. Those who serve God receive their strength from Him. He raises up protectors for them-sometimes the most unlikely protectors they can imagine. Because God's Spirit is active in the fantasy world, as it is in the real world, there is always the possibility of repentance, reformation, and redemption. I've made redemption a major theme in these books-and by no other agency than the sovereign grace of God. An assassin devotes his life to safeguarding the children he was sent to kill. Heathen chiefs and warriors come to God. A cowardly traitor becomes a selfless man of God. A servant of the false god sacrifices his life in the service of the true God. There are, of course, Biblical examples of all of these.
All my characters are able to proceed, in spite of obstacles and hazards arrayed against them, because God is for them.
Taking God at His Word
Another key element in Rushdoony's teaching is "to take God seriously, to take God literally, at his word."5
In Bell Mountain, at the start of the adventure, the only persons who take God at His word are the two children, Jack and Ellayne. The adults-even men who love God, and have studied the scriptures-are unable to take God's word literally. But quite a few of them learn to do so.
Because these books are fantasy, set in an imaginary world following its own unique arc of history, I couldn't give its people the Bible that we know. They had to have their own scriptures, going back to ancient times: God's word to the people of another world that He created. Although the fantasy world's scriptures differ from ours because its history is different-the imaginary world is still in what we might call "Old Testament times," having yet to meet its Savior-its scriptures proclaim the same God, the same immutable moral laws handed down by God, that we find here, in the Bible.
The protagonists in my novels advance by putting their trust in God and obeying His word. Characters who do otherwise, in the long run if not in the short, don't prosper. Because Jack and Ellayne obey God, even when they don't understand why He wants them to do certain things, they come under God's protection.
Throughout all the books, I have tried my utmost to tell a story that is faithful to the teachings of the Bible. Sometimes obedience to God is hard. Sometimes those who try to obey God don't seem to be prospering at all. But it would be presumptuous of me to try to mirror the whole Bible in a series of fantasy novels.
An Assumption of Victory
Christ's lordship over the earth has already been proclaimed, Rushdoony taught: and so for Christ's people there is "an assumption of victory."6 God's word will not return to Him without having fulfilled its purpose.
This "assumption of victory" empowers my characters. They carry on with their work even in the face of disaster. When the Thunder King besieges Obann City with the mightiest army the world has ever seen, King Ryons, still just a boy, sets out alone, obeying God's command to go to Obann. His own tiny army of converted Heathen, now bereft of their king and having no idea whether he is even still alive, nevertheless obey a divine command to march out of their safe refuge in Lintum Forest to confront King Thunder's horde, many times their number. These things they do, not out of a death wish, but by faith. God has promised never to forsake them; and they, like Abraham and Joshua, believe His word.
Restoring the Balance
Rushdoony taught that each and every sphere of government, including church and state, is established under God and accountable to God as the one and only ultimate authority. No one sphere of government is to reign over the others.
In the Bell Mountain novels, the Thunder King has proclaimed himself a god, claiming supreme authority over both state and church-indeed, over every aspect of his subjects' lives. That should strike modern readers as alarmingly familiar. We have seen both hard totalitarianism-think of the Berlin Wall, or North Korea, or any other one of numerous terrible examples-and also a softer king, whose tools of domination include food stamps, speech codes, public schooling, and a worship of "diversity" that insists on uniformity of thought and employs various means of coercion to get it. The Thunder King has mastered both kinds of totalitarianism.
Obann has a monopolistic church, the Temple, and an oligarchic state. The separation of the two is a façade: in Obann, the Temple and the Oligarchy are hand-in-glove together. This has rendered the Temple, and Obannese religion in general, spiritually dead.
So, in addition to having to fight for survival against the Thunder King, God's servants in Obann struggle to achieve a great revival of religion-not only in their own country, but also to deliver God's word to the Heathen nations. For the whole earth is the Lord's, and they that dwell therein: God means to have the love of all the people He has created. For the Bible's "Jew and Gentile," read "Obannese and Heathen."
God is using His servants-and using the Thunder King, too-to break open the Temple that has become a prison for His word, so that it can be known to all mankind. God's Holy Spirit will not be restrained by man. Church and state will be brought back to their rightful places in God's scheme of things, and tyranny will be replaced by liberty.
It Wasn't Easy
The hardest thing about writing these novels was to write the stories in such a way that "the religious element" was organic to the story and impossible to separate from the events being described-not just pasted on to the surface, as seems to be the case in much of what is marketed as "Christian fiction." But what was difficult when I started on Bell Mountain has grown less and less difficult as the story marches on. By now, I couldn't write them any other way. Even so, I still can't quite find words to describe how hard it was to achieve this effect.
I have not dared even to try to make the Lord a "character" in the story: that belongs to the Bible alone. But I have tried to make His presence felt throughout, chapter by chapter, book by book. The reader will judge whether I've succeeded.
So there you have it-fantasy novels inspired by the Word of God, by R. J. Rushdoony's theological teachings, and by such resources of the imagination as God has given me. It's territory reclaimed for Christ's Kingdom-maybe only a square inch or two. But "God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty ... and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are" (1 Cor. 1:27-28)
Like the characters in my own stories, I must walk by faith.
1. Mark Rushdoony, "The Vision of R. J. Rushdoony," http://chalcedon.edu/research/...
2. For descriptions of the books in my "Bell Mountain Series," visit my blog, http://leeduigon.com , and click "Books."
4. Rushdoony, ibid.
Topics: Biblical Law, Christian Reconstruction, Church, The, Culture , Dominion, Education, Family & Marriage, Government, Justice, Fiction