I’ve always loved reading and writing fiction. When I was a preteen, I would sometimes stay inside and write stories just for fun while my siblings were running and playing outside. And I would read every book I could get my hands on, always eager for the opportunity to dive into another rich, new world of imaginative possibilities.
But aren’t you called to preach? Some of you might be thinking. Shouldn’t you be spending your time reading God’s Word and writing commentaries and sermons? What business do you have writing fiction?
While I agree that it would be wrong for me to neglect my calling to study God’s Word so deeply that I’m able to show myself approved unto God (2 Timothy 2:15), and just as wrong to neglect my calling to teach the people of God (John 21:15-17), I would like to submit to you that writing inspirational fiction is not a distraction from ministry, but an extension of ministry.
Jesus Viewed Fiction as a Teaching Tool
When it comes to masterful teachers, it just doesn’t get any better than Jesus. He knew better than anyone how to grab the attention of His audience, take difficult truths and make them clear and easy to grasp, and present God’s Word in a way that each listener could personally relate to. And one of the secrets to Jesus’ teaching success was the use of parables, or short fictional stories that Jesus invented as a way of instructing his audience in a fun and memorable way.
Think of the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:11-32. We’re all familiar with it, and the story has inspired millions to stop wandering on their own and run back to their Father’s open arms for forgiveness and restoration. But this story didn’t actually happen…if you look at Luke 15:3, you’ll realize that this was a parable! Jesus wrote this beautiful tale to help us understand how the Father feels when one of His lost children finds their way back to Him. So it appears that Jesus was not only a Master Teacher– He was also a Master Storyteller.
Fiction Is More Mentally Stimulating Than Fact Alone
We’ve always known that we enjoy the movies more than a college lecture. And according to an article published by Psychological Science, there is a scientific reason for this. The Dynamic Cognition Laboratory at Washington University discovered that a great deal of brain activity takes place while we read or listen to a narrative story, because our brains our actually simulating the actions and sensations from the story, allowing us not only to understand the stories, but to “live” them! This is why we can read about a hungry person and start to feel hungry, or feel a sudden pain in our chest when reading about someone getting stabbed.
No wonder Jesus made use of fiction and storytelling…what a powerful tool for sharing truth with others! Listening to a lecture may inform our listeners for moment, but living out a narrative scenario is sure to engage listeners more fully and stick with them for a longer period of time.
Using Fiction to Enhance Teaching (Not Replace It)
I’m not saying in any way, however, that we should stop teaching the pure truth of God’s Word! To completely replace factual teaching with “fun stories” would directly contradict the Scriptural command to “preach the Word of God” (2 Timothy 4:2). However, we would do well to follow the example of Christ and find ways to incorporate storytelling and gripping narrative into our teaching in order to make use of this powerful, mentally stimulating tool God has given us called fiction. (What? Did you really think that every illustration your pastor used from the pulpit actually happened?)
If learning to tell stories in a gripping, unforgettable way will make my sermons stronger, than reading and writing fiction isn’t a mere hobby or a foolish distraction. It’s a way for me to sharpen one of the vital tools God has placed in my “Minister’s Toolbox.” And if God chooses to use a story I’ve written to inspire a reader or help them to see a biblical truth more clearly, then glory be to God!
Just like anything else we do in life, I believe writing fiction should be done for the purpose of glorifying God (Colossians 3:23). If I read a story that clearly teaches an unbiblical concept or spits in God’s face, then it’s my responsibility as a reader to close the book immediately and “shelve” it in the dumpster. But when done the right way and with the right motive, fiction can take the truths of God’s Word and help them spring to life in the minds of its readers.
Jesus was faithful to God’s Word and faithful in His use of fiction… may every Christian writer learn to do the same.