Part Two: Tempering Involvement in Culture

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Part Two: Tempering Involvement in Culture

**Click here to read Part One**

Overcorrecting Subculture

I’ve lived in four different states in the US and visited ten countries around the world. God has been gracious to show me how different cultures and subcultures can greatly impact the way we live out our faith. I want to focus on two specific cultures that I have the most experience with: First, where I was born and raised in Southern California, and second, where I have lived the last eight and half years in the Bible Belt of the South (Kentucky for six years and Texas for two and a half).

As I’ve said, it is human nature to overcorrect problems within our subculture. There are two main ways we do this as individuals. First, we observe the subculture around us and think that it is right, then demonize and stereotype people outside of it. Here are some overly simplistic examples: “Southern California is so much more enlightened than most of the US. I’m so glad I don’t have to live in the South with all those racists and fundamentalists.” Or, “The South is so much more grounded in its history and the Bible. I’m so glad I don’t have to live around all those crazy liberal feminists on the West Coast.”

The second way we overcorrect is to observe the subculture we live in, think it’s wrong, and then jump ship entirely, usually into a very different subculture with it’s own set of problems. Here are some examples: “Southern California is way too progressive and the churches are so shallow. I wish we could go to one of those churches that sings only hymns, offers Sunday school, and has a potluck after service every week.” Or, “The South is so legalistic and they hate women. I wish I could go to a more inclusive community in California where I can serve anywhere or teach anyone.”

These examples are trite, I know. But you get my point. No culture is perfect because everywhere you go, there will be sinful people there. There will be sinful you there. Yes, sometimes the answer to a problem is to jump ship. God can use discomfort to call you away from a place. But just because you’re uncomfortable doesn’t mean it’s time to quit. This is where temperance, critical thinking, and more importantly prayer comes in. Temperance is needed to say, “I know there is a problem with my community but I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water and think the solution is doing the exact opposite.” Critical thinking is needed to ask questions like, “I feel like there is nothing good about my community, but I know that can’t be true. What is good and what is bad? What is salvageable here? What needs to go?” Prayer can enlighten your path more than any virtue or critical thinking ability. There will be times when your options ahead look perfectly equal and you really have no idea what to do. Thank God for his Spirit that directs our hearts and minds toward wisdom.

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Part One: Tempering Involvement in Culture

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Part One: Tempering Involvement in Culture

Temperance and Secular Culture

How far is too far to participate in secular culture? How far is too far to pull out? Can I let my kids read Harry Potter? Should I go live on a farm in the middle of nowhere to escape secular culture?  

I’m not actually going to answer any of those questions specifically. But I do want to talk about one of the virtues we use in answering these questions (and others) for ourselves and our families.

This is an age old conversation, but an important one. I don’t really plan on saying anything new here, but merely to cast this in a virtue ethical light that is rarely seen in the evangelical church. First let me quickly define some terms.

  • Temperance: The ability to moderate your actions. Most Bible translations refers to this as “self-control” in the lists of the fruit of the Spirit.

  • Virtue ethics: Focuses on the virtue or moral character—the heart, dispositions, and habits—of a person rather than on external actions and duty (deontology). We can see this in scripture in many places, most notably in the Sermon on the Mount.

  • Aristotle’s Golden Mean: Virtue is the mean between two extremes—the opposing ends being vices of excess and deficiency. This principle can be seen many times in the Bible when it talks about not turning aside. Such as Deut. 5:32, “Be careful to do as the Lord your God has commanded you; you are not to turn aside to the right or the left.”

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There are two common dispositions towards American culture that I see in the church at the moment (and for all time really, but I’m going to speak only into modern, western society). One is unrestricted (or nearly) indulgence in secular culture which can lead to further sin and idolatry. This is the “excess” side of the golden mean scale. The other is total (or nearly) abstinence from secular culture which often leads to legalism and self-righteousness. This is the “deficient” side of the golden mean scale. Both are vices, not virtues.

Now, I know what some of you are thinking at this point. Most orthodox Christians attempt to find a balance between participation in and abstinence from culture. We don’t always draw the line in exactly the same place. I would agree with that. It’s even a good thing that we don’t all make the exact same choices with our cultural diet because some disagreement, as long as it is civil, builds up the body of Christ.

So then, why say those vices (a lack of temperance) are common? Although it is generally known that we should find balance with our participation in secular culture, there’s real confusion about how to express such temperance. Confusion comes from our evaluation of our subculture and the human tendency to overcorrect when we see a problem. More on overcorrecting subculture in Part Two.

Christians are not taught how to think critically. Most evangelical seminaries do not even offer classes in the basics of philosophy (i.e. critical thinking, logic, metaethics, etc.) whereas Catholic and Orthodox seminaries require them. (Rabbit trail: Why is that important? I could go on and on about that, but I’ll keep it simple. Lest you think “human philosophy” is all evil, recall that logic is a kind of science that says if A and B contradict each other, they can’t both be true. Seeing as God does not contradict himself, it’s safe to conclude that God is logical, and we should strive to be as well. We should not believe contradictions.)

Our church congregants as well as our church leaders typically have no training in how to think critically. And how can we rightly discern the balance of such things as cultural involvement without those skills? We usually don’t. We overcorrect into vice which leads some to cultural indulgence and idolatry and others to cultural abstinence and legalism. Then we sit back and judge those who overcorrect in the other direction. Without temperance, we will not only fall, often unknowingly, into vice, but we will have a complete lack of grace for others who simply fall differently.

Let me give you an example of these two things.

Indulgence (excess vice): The community of Christians who write and read science fiction and fantasy, like myself, varies widely. There are those who make great effort to think critically about how far they should go with their writing and reading and how closely it should resemble that of the secular market. Then there are others who, upon seeing the problems with abstaining from much of pop culture, delve headlong into the fantasy world without restraint. Some of their fiction includes sex and the use of explicitly dark magic by protagonists. They see themselves as critical thinkers because they dodge the bullet of “legalism.” Yet, in their new found freedom from fundamentalism, they display an utter lack of critical thinking against indulgence, seeing it as good or the lesser of two evils. Cultural indulgence in general is prone to either deleting parts of scripture or twisting the meaning to fit certain needs. By some of these well intentioned readers and authors, I have been accused of being a fundamentalist due to articles like this one that tell of my position on sexual purity. (Not to be confused with the purity movement which uses shame to keep young people from premarital sex.)

Abstinence (deficient vice): In some circles I run in, lifestyles such as homeschooling, stay-at-home moms, and even patriarchy are commonplace. For the right family and the right child, homeschooling is prudent. And not only am I a stay-at-home mom, but I think it’s a blessing for any mom to be able to stay with their child when they’re an infant and toddler. Yet, where the indulgent delete or twist scripture, the culturally abstinent tend to stretch the commands of the Bible like silly putty so that they are no longer recognizable. For example, Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go.” This becomes the basis by which they advise others that public school is inadvisable or even immoral. Worse is the petrifying fear within the American conservative community of radical feminism. The overcorrection against such liberalism can be drastic and horribly unbiblical. Was the baby not thrown out with the bathwater by Paige Patterson, former president of a Southern Baptist seminary, when he advised a female student who had been sexually assaulted not to go to the police? In this conservative subculture, I have been labeled by some as erring in indulgence due to my stance on women’s roles within the church because I affirm their need to use their God-given spiritual gifts in accordance with scripture. Their role should not be defined by Bible-belt culture. Ironically, this view is shared by at least some professors at the theologically orthodox Southern Seminary.

I point out how I have been labeled by these subcultures not to merely complain or to show that I must be in the right because I think I fall in the middle of the two and, therefore, must have the virtue of temperance. But, instead, I want to illustrate that they can’t both be right. We can’t all be right, especially when we believe such contradictory things. I said before that disagreement, as long as it is civil, builds up the church. We must have temperance paired with grace if we are to flourish in unity. Knowing that it is in our nature to overcorrect into vice, grace is required for others who do the same in a different direction.

Pray that God grants his people temperance, wisdom, and understanding in this area. Ask also that we would learn to be more gracious to our brothers and sisters who are different from us.

**Click here to read Part Two**

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Is my identity in culture?

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Is my identity in culture?

The New York Times released an article this week about an African-American teenager forced to cut his hair, styled in dreadlocks with a cap over them, or forfeit his wrestling match. He chose to cut his hair. The article, not the teen, stated that he should not have to forgo part of his identity in order to continue the match.

The language in the article disturbed me. It wasn’t the teen who was using it but someone imposing that particular sense of identity on him without his consent. Perhaps he does consider it part of his identity. We may never know. But what disturbed me the most was that the way the author of the article uses “identity,” although normal for our society, was wildly ambiguous.

What is my identity? Who am I? Is my cultural identity the same as my individual human identity? Can I still be me if I’m stripped of my culture?

The word identity is often thrown around in these ambiguous terms. My appearance is my identity. My hometown is my identity. My gender is my identity. My church is my identity. But is this helpful? Does it diffuse racial tension or infuse it?

This is especially important for the Christian. Our individual identity is in Christ first before anything else. We should not be demanding of others to understand us whether they are unbelievers or weaker brothers and sisters in Christ. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23,

“Although I am free from all and not anyone’s slave, I have made myself a slave to everyone, in order to win more people. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win Jews; to those under the law, like one under the law—though I myself am not under the law—to win those under the law. To those who are without the law, like one without the law—though I am not without God’s law but under the law of Christ—to win those without the law. To the weak I became weak, in order to win the weak. I have become all things to all people, so that I may by every possible means save some. Now I do all this because of the gospel, so that I may share in the blessings.”

As unpopular as this opinion may be, I am not my earthly culture. Culture, although important in many ways, is not something I will take to heaven with me. It is temporal and I am eternal, made to commune with Christ forever in heaven.

Right about now I probably sound like a know-it-all white evangelical who likes to tell other people who they can or can’t be. But I’m actually attempting the opposite. While keeping in mind that all cultures are flawed in some way, cultural identity should still be celebrated. The teen with dreadlocks shouldn’t have to cut them because of someone else’s cultural preferences. (Whether he actually broke a real rule by having long hair is moot because I’m trying to make a point here….)

To understand this better, I will give another example of evangelicals rudely butting into culture—one which I am passionate about: worship styles. It is so common, especially among my own people (the young, restless, and reformed), to tell people how to worship. “Don’t be too loud, it’s not a show!” “Your smoke machine is too distracting.” “Hymns are the only thing you should be singing.” And my personal favorite as it directly contradicts the example set for us in the Psalms: “Don’t sing any song that’s repetitive!”

Should we not celebrate our culture differences (as long as it does not contradict the Bible’s direct or implied teaching) with something that is as personal as music? Should we not worship God in our own musical, mother language? It is not wrong to play your music loud. It is not wrong to keep using the organ and singing hymns. It is not wrong to dance and shake a tambourine. It is not wrong whip out the synthesizer on a Sunday morning. Worship is a celebration! Celebrate in a way that best communicates your love for God. Celebrate in your own culture, and when need be, gladly celebrate in someone else’s culture for the sake of the gospel.

Cultural identity is much like listening to my favorite style of music. Or better yet, worship music done in my favorite style of music. It can make me dance, cry, or wrap up in a warm blanket with a cup of tea. It feels like belonging.

That’s what the author of the article is talking about when he says that boy was forced to forgo his identity in order to compete. And that’s why it was so offensive. It was like stripping him of his sense of belonging—stripping him of his cultural identity. What he was not stripped of was his value—his innate human worth. Cutting his hair did not literally devalue him as a human being. With or without his dreadlocks, he is made in the image of God and has just as much value as a fetus, a small child, a teenager, a middle-aged man, an elderly man dying in a nursing home. He is always valuable because his individual identity is as a human being made in the image of the almighty God.

But what if the man who forced him to cut his hair really was a racist and was attempting to devalue him? That’s an important question. And it begs another—is every racist act committed, whether purposeful or not, an attempt at compromising another person’s value as a human being? Or is it disrespect for their cultural identity—their appearance, music, hometown, etc.?

You may be wondering why it matters. Racism is racism! It’s all bad! Well I think those categories do exist and they matters because, at least for me, it helps to have specific questions to ask myself in order to root out my own sin. As the song goes, “Everyone’s a little bit racist sometimes.” And if I don’t think rightly and specifically about my sin, how can I find it and, as John Owens says, mortify (kill) it?

Questions I can ask myself (or others) in order to know my heart better:

  1. Do I think I am better than that person? Do I actually believe I have more value than someone else? If so then I am calling into question their human identity given by God.

  2. Do I think my cultural preferences are superior to someone else’s? Am I imposing those preferences on them when I speak to them or advise them? If so then I am being disrespectful of their cultural identity.

  3. Does my life invite the celebration of other cultures or do I make them uncomfortable by being narrow minded or willfully naive?


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Top Ten Books of 2018

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Top Ten Books of 2018

This year’s reading was a little different for me. I normally read a far greater number of fiction books with only a few non-fiction titles. But knowing my weakness in this area, I decided to forgo all fiction (outside of my own writing) during Lent. I needed that time to reset my mind and habits. I also used the “Reading Challenge” feature on Goodreads to help track my books for the year and discourage random seasons of booklessness. Out of 46 books read, here are my top ten of 2018!

Fiction

  • Wayfarer by K.M. Weiland (5 stars)

    I’d been anticipating this book ever since reading a tiny blurb about it years ago. 1700-1800s is my favorite time period and superheroes are my jam. I also knew K.M. would do it right. And she did not disappoint! She definitely did her homework for the period and the characters were well developed. Out of all of her novels, this is probably my favorite (although tied with Behold the Dawn). I highly recommend this to anyone who loves historical fantasy/superheroes.

  • The Electrical Menagerie by Mollie E. Reeder (5 stars)

    Wonderful genre bender! Reeder infused The Electrical Menagerie with elements from steampunk, fantasy, science fiction, and murder mystery. I loved that the world and tech was all simple (mostly--I was a little confused about the stars and what they had to do with religion and politics) but still quite unique. The characters were lovable and had real depth. I originally read this book as research for my own writing about automatons, but I will keep reading this series for sure.

  • The More Known World (#2 in Oddfit Series) by Tiffany Tsao (5 stars)

    Despite the author’s occasional (intentional?) shirking of modern storytelling *rules* I love her. I love this series. I love love love LOVE it! If you are a fan of a Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy sense of humor and a love of awkward people, you just might adore this book (series) as much as I did.

  • Keeper of Shadows by Bridgett Powers (4 stars)

    Christian epic fantasy anyone? This is a classic fantasy setting (including setting, verbiage, and classic mythical creatures such as faeries and unicorns), but the use of "magic" in this world is forbidden by the King--as in scripture. A delicate balance is struck between fulfilling reader expectations for the fantasy genre while simultaneously staying true to commands in the Bible regarding sorcery. The prose was gorgeous and free from common commercial ailments. The characters, especially Brennus, were well developed and grew slowly, and believably over the course of 500 pages. I’m looking forward to the next book!

  • The Gateway Chronicles by K.B. Hoyle (4 stars)

    I reread this series this year because the author rereleased it with some edits including a couple new scenes. She’s even beginning to release it on audiobook! Exciting stuff! It’s been one of my favorite Christian YA series for time and I loved delving back into the world of Alitheia with Darcy and Tellius!

Non-Fiction

  • On Reading Well by Karen Swallow Prior (5 stars)

    Okay so technically I haven’t finished this book yet. But that doesn’t change the fact that it is one of the most wonderful things I have ever read. And some of my reasons for saying that are very personal. Not only is this book about reading fiction (my heart!) but it’s about reading fiction with purpose and for the sake of Christian virtue (more on why virtue ethics is personal for me in a sec). I have long been discouraged by the amount of modern secular and Christian fiction on the market that seeks to entertain (and even torture) readers for the sake of writing thrilling page-turners. Although this book is about reading well and not specifically writing well, I think the Christian fiction writer can pull a lot from it too. And now regarding virtue ethics! My husband has been studying that branch of ethics for over ten years with the desire to see more people in the protestant church adopt it. We both feel God has called us to serve the church. One of the ways we hope to do that is through the teaching of virtue ethics—he in a classroom and me with my stories (which may one day see the fluorescent lights of a bookshop). I’ll need to stop there before I write an entirely new blog post. Basically I think this book is super important for more reasons that I can say! Read it. And then give it to someone else to read.

  • Humble Roots by Hannah Anderson (5 stars)

    This might be my new favorite book on humility—or perhaps tied with The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness. What this has over Keller’s is thoroughness, and (IMHO) a slightly more accurate definition of the virtue. But I could be wrong. (Shrug.) I would highly recommend this to anyone looking for a deeper understanding of humility.

  • Lit! by Tony Reinke (5 stars)

    This book was EXCELLENT. Even writing this at the end of the year, I feel like I need to reread it already. Reinke gave a theology of reading along with some very practical thoughts and suggestions. . . . I could go on and on. I loved this so much that I wrote one of my Lorehaven articles based on one quote from this book. If you’re a Christian and you like to read, don’t like to read, don’t like to read but wish you liked to read, then this is for you!

  • Women and God by Kathleen Neilson (5 stars)

    This book was wonderful and timely. I have perused other books on women lately only to be disappointed in their treatment of scripture. Nielson's theology, application, and understand of women's inner workings was on point. She was fair, but critical. She did not throw the baby out with the bathwater (my pet peeve....) I bought this book in kindle format but now I'm going to get it in paperback so I can loan it out. If you're swinging on the pendulum of women's issues in the home and church, READ THIS BOOK!

  • All That's Good by Hannah Anderson (5 stars)

    Two books from Hannah Anderson made it onto my top ten this year! That’s only because I haven’t read her third book yet. Expect that to show up next year! I had a hard time getting into this one, but the pay off was well worth it. I especially enjoyed the last chapter on the spiritual gift of discernment. I will highly recommend this book for a long, long time!

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Divergent wrecks you, the reader.

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Divergent wrecks you, the reader.

This review contains spoilers.

Someone recently asked me how Divergent negatively affected my life. It wasn’t out of the blue or anything. I’d posted it as an answer in a series of questions on social media. Well I ignored the inquiry. It’s a bit of a long story. . . . Long enough to deserve it’s own blog.

In 2013 I’d just given birth to my second child. Pregnancy insomnia hit me hard that year, and clung on until, well, now. I was coming out of a season (a rather long season) of booklessness, when a friend let me borrow Divergent. Much like my initial introduction to Twilight, it wasn’t long before I was completely engrossed. You know what I mean—that kind of book that sucks you in so fast and hard that you are forced against your will to stay up till all ungodly hours of the night reading, never knowing who will be dead by morning.

So I read during the day . . . and during the night when I had to get up to nurse. And in those wee hours of the morning, pages turned, my mind raced, I got even less sleep, and my anxiety (which already bordered on PTSD) soared to new heights. I ate those first two books in a jiffy. Then I stopped. Oh, I didn’t really want to stop. The third book sat on the table laughing at me, watching me pace around the room like an addict without a needle. So, I snuck a look in the back to see what happened in the end. What did it matter if I was resolved not to read it? Well if you’ve read the series or have seen the movie (assuming they didn’t change the ending) then you know what happened.

The protagonist died.

And that sealed the deal for me. I was no longer tempted to read the third book. And I never did. (If only I’d had as much self-control years earlier while reading Twilight.) And in the aftermath of that encounter, I began to see troubling patterns emerge. It was definitely a case of 20/20 hindsight—Northanger Abbey style.

I realized that just about every time the author introduced a likable character, they either died or turned to the dark side. This kept pages turning and emotions running high, but it also guaranteed total heartbreak. Even worse was the near constant nagging by the male love interest for his girlfriend (the protagonist) to please, please, please stop throwing herself into super dangerous situations because it would destroy him if she died. Every time he repeated this plea, it cranked the tension higher. And then, of course, she threw herself into a super dangerous situation at the end of the series and died. I didn’t even read the last book, and I felt like the author slowly dragged me to the top of the Empire State Building then dropped me. Talk about heartbreak.

Those plot points were not only devastating, they were clearly intentional and formulaic in their execution. It was as though the author had plotted the series purely for the purpose of torturing her readers. What better way to keep them turning those pages and buying the next book? Also (and this is my pet peeve but I’ve written about it enough not to get into it too much now) the romance was your typical sexy, obsessive, teen angst nonsense. I’ve also heard there was a sex scene in the third book. (Young adult? Give me a break. It’s just good old fashioned porn for your teen.)

When I started writing fiction in 2014, I heard a lot of authors taking joy in the idea of torturing readers with tension and death.

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“. . . and forget the whole Point of It All. Which is, of course, to wreck you, the reader.” And I get it. Tension is necessary for a story. Without it, there is no story. Without conflict, it’s all just ponies and rainbows and no one will read a story about that. But what happened to caring about the reader? There is such a thing as creating tension, and even realistic darkness, in such a way that takes the heart of a reader on a journey of bad to better, or from mediocre to superior. Not that I’m say that has to be the point of the story. But there is a way to create tension and write an amazing story that doesn’t smash the reader to tiny bits for the sake of sales (not that I’m accusing the author of Divergent of being that shallow—I don’t even know her.)

Maybe some of you are thinking. Who cares? People like to read stuff like that. I mean, the books sold well and they made them into movies. So why not keeping giving them what they want? Well people also like to eat candy and drink vodka, that doesn’t make it good for them. It’s like the tagline I heard recently in a Diet Coke commercial: “Because I can.” And honestly, every time I see a Coke commercial lately, I think, “Wow. These people have the worst logic.”


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Magical Humility: Finding the virtue dividing fictional and real magic

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Magical Humility: Finding the virtue dividing fictional and real magic

“‘It means,’ said Aslan, ‘that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know: Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor's stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards.’” C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Magic. An elusive word often thrown around ambiguously. What is it? Doesn’t the Bible only speak ill of it? If so, why does C.S. Lewis put “magic” in the mouth of Aslan—a Narnian Jesus?

Christians are not only divided on this, we’re also confused. Theologically grounded parents puzzle over their children’s books wondering if they’re making the wrong choice by allowing them to read fantasy.

Aslan and the Pevensie children provide a helpful guide. When Lewis writes of Aslan’s magic, he is using it as a literary device—revealing something about reality through unreality. In The Chronicles of Narnia, both good and evil are represented with magic. This is a broad umbrella term for both evil magic and the signs and wonders performed by Christ and his disciples. The Bible doesn’t use the word that way, but it has been defined differently in literature. In fairy tales, anything supernatural—including miracles—is considered magic. That may cause you to cringe, but Lewis is simply using the word in the same way it’s used in such stories.

So if the good miracles performed in Scripture fall into a magical category according to literary standards, how do we ferret through modern fantasy novels without being drawn toward the occult? There is, after all, fictional magic (used as unreality to shed light on reality), God’s “magic” known to us as miracles, and real evil magic used to deceive and wrongly empower. How can we tell the difference between the these when they are given the same name?

It is not so much the magic system that will give the answer, but a heart system.

Take a closer look at a few mentions of evil magic in the Bible. There is a common thread in the heart motivation of those involved.

Acts 8:9 reads, “But there was a man named Simon, who had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the people of Samaria, saying that he himself was somebody great.”

1 Samuel 28 tells the story of Saul seeking the help of a medium (a witch or necromancer) to speak to Samuel’s spirit. When Samuel questioned why he was disturbed, Saul said “God has turned away from me and answers me no more, either by prophets or by dreams. Therefore I have summoned you to tell me what I shall do.” (1 Samuel 28:15)


In Exodus, Pharaoh's magicians (under Pharaoh’s authority) copied Moses and Aaron (under God’s authority) as they brought the plagues into Egypt. During the third plague, the magicians weren’t able to imitate them. “Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, ‘This is the finger of God.’ But Pharaoh's heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the Lord had said.” (Exodus 8:19).

The common thread in these stories is pride. Like Pharaoh's magicians, using this kind of magic is merely copying God. They wanted to be like God on their own strength and merit. In Acts 8, Simon practised magic saying that he was “somebody great.” In 1 Samuel, Saul pridefully took matters into his own hands when calling up Samuels spirit. He was not satisfied with God’s answer, or lack of answer, to his petition. In Exodus, the magicians assumed they were as skilled as God at the supernatural. Their eventual confession that the miracles were the finger of God after they were not able to duplicate the gnats is how God humbled them.

It’s the same sin Adam and Eve committed in the garden. The serpent said, “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:5)

Pride is the heart motive for these magicians and humility is the cure. It’s knowing who you are and who God is. Knowing that everything good you produce comes is from God. It is also for God. In Exodus 9:16 God says to Pharaoh, “But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.”

How are disciples of Christ able to perform miracles? John 15:5 says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” They, the branches, draw all strength and nourishment from the vine. Without the vine, they can do nothing. Their health, even their very existence is dependent on the vine.

So too should fictional “magic” show a dependency on the power of God. When Lucy Pevensie uses her magic cordial (given to her by Father Christmas—an agent of Aslan) to heal someone, she doesn’t say she’s so wonderfully powerful. She uses it with humility—under the authority of Aslan and for the good of others in the same way Moses used his staff in Egypt. It was as if Lucy was saying, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)

When approaching a fantasy novel, critical thinking should always precede censorship. Analyze the magic system to determine where the source of power lies. Do the magicians seek to elevate themselves, or do they wield their power in sacrifice and service to others? More importantly—does it cause you, the reader, to desire to elevate yourself over others or even over God, the source of all real power?

There is no such thing as a perfect magic system. The beauty of common grace is that despite cultural trends, mankind will continue to tell stories of humble, sacrificial love—of people laying down their lives for the good of others. And it’s that kind of humility, the kind that considers others as greater than oneself, that makes the very best kind of magic.

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Lorehaven Winter Issue: The Biblical Source of Super-Strength

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Lorehaven Winter Issue: The Biblical Source of Super-Strength

Lorehaven Magazine Winter Issue!

Download for FREE!

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Inside this issue:

  • Thomas Locke shares his faith journey and creative motive behind his many fantastical novels, including his newest release, Enclave.

  • We review Enclave, in which white-hat heroes in a corrupt frontier cope with the remnants of the now-decaying nation.

  • Our team reviews the best Christian-created fantastical novels.

  • This issue also includes two sponsored reviews: Mary Ting's Jaclyn and the Beanstalk and C. S. Wachter's The Light Arises.

  • Paeter Frandsen asks if Christian geeks might react like Spock and think of God (merely) as "fascinating."

  • Marian Jacobs gives practical, biblical advice to parents of children obsessed with superheroes.


Meanwhile, at the Lorehaven Book Clubs group, we're still hosting many of the authors featured in our book reviews. Staring in January, watch for more storytellers to arrive in the clubs and explore more at SpecFaith.

This March: watch for the spring 2019 issue! (Advertisers, click here.)

But first, watch for more surprises we plan to announce in January ...

Join the mission at Lorehaven.com. You can also browse our the LorehavenLibrary, which helps you find more than 900 Christian fantastical titles. Enjoy daily, free articles at Speculative Faith. And be sure to share this magazine with your church, friends, family, and anyone else who would love to explore great Christian fantasy.

Thank you for joining this mission to find truth in fantastic stories.

Maranatha, and merry Christmas!

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Lorehaven Fall Issue: Molding Your Child's Plastic Imagination

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Lorehaven Fall Issue: Molding Your Child's Plastic Imagination

Lorehaven Magazine Fall Issue!

Download for FREE!

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Fantastic stories are capable of God-glorifying good, but also idolatrous evil.

Book Reviews

Lorehaven review team

Sponsored Review: Affinity

Lorehaven review team

Affinity is a creative and original play on old concepts, and if you’re willing to take the ride, you’ll find it goes places.

Featured Review: Mark of the Raven

Lorehaven review team

Here’s dreaming that fans can share in more stories like this.

‘I Want to Share with Other People Who God Is’

Interview with novelist Morgan L. Busse

Morgan L. Busse’s fantastic realms challenge us to ponder our place in God’s world.

Fanservants: The Secret Identity of Christian Geeks

Paeter Frandsen

In Christ, you are a holy, adopted, cosmic ambassador on a mission.

Fanservants: Molding Your Child’s Plastic Imagination

Marian Jacobs

We can nurture young ones’ creativity for the glory of God.

New Worlds: The Christian Roots of Fantasy

R. J. Anderson

The genre once known as ”fairy stories” sprang from biblical ground.

Folklore: Werewolf Tales Reveal the Beast Inside

C. W. Briar

Dark creatures personify our struggle against the sinful nature.

Roundtable: Engaging the Magical Spellcraft of Stories

Parker J. Cole, Marian Jacobs, Ronie Kendig, Robert Treskillard, E. Stephen Burnett

Our panel explores how Christians discern fiction’s magical elements.

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Review: Haunted Man by Charles Dickens - Intro. by Dave Swavely

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Review: Haunted Man by Charles Dickens - Intro. by Dave Swavely

In Haunted Man by Charles Dickens, Redlaw is tormented by memories of his tragic past. When a demonic spectre appears and offers to take his haunting memories away, Redlaw accepts. He spend most of the book visiting people as passing his gift (i.e. his curse) along to them to disastrous results.

What’s the moral of the story? Well as C.S. Lewis said, “A pleasure is full grown only when it is remembered.” Okay that’s not really what Dickens is saying. But there is something to be said about looking back and remembering your life, whether pleasurable or tragic. Either way, it produces virtue. In the case of Redlaw, retaining his difficult memories brought him closer to Christ once he took the time to see their value.

Haunted Man is a novella published in 1848, twenty years before Dickens died. I mention the date in relation to his death because I was often wondering if there was a correlation as I was reading. I don’t know a great deal about Dickens, but until I’d read this version, which includes an introduction and afterword by Dave Swavely, I’d assumed, like most, that Dickens was not a Christian. His portrayal of organized religion and “religious” types in his novels was not always favorable. Swavely argues that the explicit Christian content in such stories like this one (and some others) proves that, despite his dislike of religious hypocrites, his affair, and separation from his wife, Dickens was, in fact, a Christian. Or at least possibly a Christian. So as I read, I sometimes wondered if he wrote this near the end of his life after repentance. Instead, he didn’t separate from his wife until ten years later. I think this only heightens Swavely’s point in his novella, Next Life, that heaven is filled with saints who were no stranger to sin on Earth.

This version is abridged and includes a fascinating commentary by Dave Swavely. I love his proposed idea that Dickens could have been a Christian and it makes me want to read more from this prolific author. I’ve seen a number of BBC film adaptations of Dickens novels but have only read Great Expectations so far.

I also highly recommend the 2017 film (also a book), The Man Who Invented Christmas, available on Amazon Prime. Although partly fictional, it offers a lot of good tidbits on the life of Dickens as he wrote A Christmas Carol—a similar story to Haunted Man.

This is one of three fictional titles from Cruciform Press

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Thanos Offered Fake Love in ‘Avengers: Infinity War’

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Thanos Offered Fake Love in ‘Avengers: Infinity War’

My article, Thanos Offered Fake Love in ‘Avengers: Infinity War’, was featured on Speculative Faith. I make a case for why Thanos could not have truly loved Gamora, because love is not just affection—it’s self-sacrifice.

"It’s been months since I sat down to watch Thanos wield Infinity Stones in Avengers: Infinity War.

[Editor’s note: Beware spoilers, starting in the very next sentence.]

And it’s taken me nearly as long to fully wrap my brain around Gamora’s death. It was meant to be disturbing and heartbreaking, yet there was something much deeper at work than the evil of Thanos..."

Read more at Speculative Faith.

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Review: The Mona Lisa Mirror Mystery by Latayne Scott

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Review: The Mona Lisa Mirror Mystery by Latayne Scott

The novella, The Mona Lisa Mirror Mystery by Latayne Scott, follows Christian girl, Addy, through the ups and downs of teenage life and . . . time travel! Addy is an artist and covers her room--as teens usually do--in posters. When one of da Vinci’s paintings hanging on her wall wooshes her back in time to the year 1500ish, she finds herself befriended by none other than Mona Lisa. Or at least the woman who is thought to be Mona Lisa.

The unexpected twist (no, not a spoiler) was her being shortly thereafter whoosed back to her own life. This happened a number of times throughout the story, parallels between her two lives appearing along the way.

The writing was enjoyable and engaging. I particularly liked that Addy was a good little Christian girl, yet her thought life still rang true to teenage temptations and immaturity. Yet, those thoughts and temptations never went overboard or became inappropriate for a young reader. I loved every scene that Addy spent in Italy and wished I could have just marinated in that time a whole lot more!

A major theme in the story was sexual abuse. (Like I said, there was nothing explicit.) This is where most of the parallels arise. Addy is dealing with her own close call of abuse in 1500 while her best friend, Lace, is being molested back home. All turns out well and the abusers are caught (in a way). Lace learns from the story of Joseph in the Bible and from Addy’s time travel stories that what others mean for evil, God means for good. After reading up on the author, Latayne Scott, I noticed that she has another book coming out next year on how to protect your children from sexual predators. It’s clear from this novella that Scott is passionate about this topic.

My only issue with the story was the lack of foreshadowing or clear plot progression. I felt pretty confused as to the point of the story or it’s themes until three quarters of the way through. Until then, Addy was just time traveling, hanging with her friends, living life, etc. I also felt derailed by the random subplot of evangelism and textual criticism. I’m all for a good conversion story (and apologetics for that matter), but this did not seem to fit the theme (that I later discovered) and added to my sense of aimless wandering. Hopefully this review will help you feel less lost.

This is a fun, quick read for anyone seeking Christian speculative fiction!

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Review: Next Life by Dave Swavely

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Review: Next Life by Dave Swavely

Dave Swavely’s book, Next Life, is a fictional account of a man dying, going to heaven, and then coming back to life. This is not your average heaven tourism book! Where those (supposedly) non-fiction books fall short (from Scripture), Next Life attempts a reformed, and more biblically faithful speculation on what the afterlife will be like. I would even go so far as to say this book was partly a critique on those “non-fiction” afterlife books.

Okay so I’ve been meaning to read those theology books on heaven . . . but they’re still chillin’ on my TBR list. I’ll get there, ya’ll. So I definitely learned a lot from this book. Be warned! It reads differently than your average work of fiction. The tone and style more closely resemble a letter or a journal. Swavely even left out all the quotation marks for the small smattering of dialogue!!! (Gasp!)

But that approach allowed him to be more open about his thoughts on the Bible as well as other books on heaven. He often mentioned other authors books on the topic—both positively and negatively. This was . . . okay. But I had to get past the unpleasant feeling that he was speaking as a real authority on the subject (he wasn’t because the book is obviously fictional) when he said such and such author was wrong.

My favorite thing about NL was its ability to put sin into better perspective. For example, the main character, Pastor Tim Carler, spoke about how much more he could see his old sinfulness when he got to the intermittent state (the IS being the place in which one goes before the finally coming of Christ). Yet, his “tour guides” were both serial killers while on Earth. This made for a heavy image of how gracious God is and how diverse the community will look in heaven. When Tim asks Jesus why he picked the serial killers to be guides, Jesus responded by saying, “because they love me so much.” No doubt.

This book put a rather new spin on both a theology of heaven and heaven tourism. My only real qualm was the main character’s assertion that everything in his account will be biblical. I think he meant that he isn’t going to be making stuff up like the faux non-fiction tourism books do. And that is definitely true. Yet, the story is speculative (as a fictional work of this nature would undoubtedly be). The good part about this is that all Swavely’s speculating is based on scripture and his interpretation. I think I would have borne any theological disagreements a bit more happily had I not been told up front that nothing within the story would function outside the Bible. How he could get away with not saying that though, I have no clue. . . . I’m not here to fix problems, but only to create them.

Overall, Next Life, was enjoyable, fascinating (especially the part where Charles Spurgeon and Charles Dickens hang out!), and informative! Give it a read and make sure to leave an amazon review!

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Drawn From the Water

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Drawn From the Water

Originally published in the literary journal, Greater Sum, this short story is now available in ebook format! Click here to purchase on amazon.com. 

Update! This story got a facelift thanks to the wonderfully talented graphic designer, JT Wynn, from stageandstory.org!

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Twelve year old Lexi has been a date picker in the nuli valley for four years. She, along with her entire people, are slave laborers, collecting the master’s food, mining their planet’s energy source. 

Yet the birth of Lexi’s baby brother has put her life, as well as her entire family, in danger. Due to the growing population of the workers, the masters have ordered the death of every male infant in the nuli valley. 

Lexi lives each moment in suspense, praying the God of All Realms would spare her brother from death. She must decide the lengths she’s willing to go to in order to help her brother survive.

When ancient history encounters modernity in this classic tale of slavery and genocide, one family will learn what it means for the God of all Realms to have control of their destiny. Star Wars meets the Bible in this sci fi retelling of Exodus 1 & 2.

 

Reviews are really valuable to authors, so please rate and write a review. Thank you!

 

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Review: The Oracle by K.B. Hoyle

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Review: The Oracle by K.B. Hoyle

Click here to read my review of book one of The Gateway Chronicles.

In K.B. Hoyle’s The Oracle, the second installment of The Gateway Chronicles, Darcy Pennington returns to the magical land of Alitheia. Unwilling to face a future betrothal to Prince Tellius, Darcy asks an oracle if the prophecy is accurate regarding their fate. She is completely unaware of the magnitude of her request. Her petition magically tied her to the oracle and she must travel on foot for months to receive an answer. What she didn’t anticipated was the cost. The evil entity not only demands payment, but requires something far more valuable than Darcy could have imagined--or is willing to part with.

It is undoubtedly a rite of passage for a youth to make a mistake in ignorance that has more negative ripple effects than they could have ever dreamed. At first, we look down on their actions, condemning them for their selfishness and stupidity. But in reality, we as adults are no different. We’re just a lot better at hiding it sometimes.

Although Darcy faces immense shame and guilt for her rash act of petitioning the oracle, someone else in the story did the very same thing years before: the mentor character, Rubidious. I find it sad and ironic that Darcy feels so much shame when Rubidious must have been a lot older when he asked a selfish question of the oracle. And that’s what made this story so real. Not only does this situation humble those who are tempted to condemn others for their folly, it also shows how God instills wisdom through suffering and sin.

Another wonderful journey through Alitheia! I can't wait to read book three!

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Review: The Six by K.B. Hoyle

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Review: The Six by K.B. Hoyle

I read K.B. Hoyle’s The Six (The Gateway Chronicles) years ago. It’s been so long, in fact, that I was actually surprised by some of the twists and turns this time around. With the rerelease, new edits, and cover, I just had to delve back into the world of Alitheia again!

If this is the first time you’ve heard of this series, think The Chronicles of Narnia meets The Maze Runner. It’s a portal fantasy much like Narnia yet with a darker, zombie-esque antagonistic force that will keep the cast of characters on their toes through all six installments.

The Six (book 1) follows thirteen year old Darcy Pennington from summer camp in Michigan through a gateway and into a magical world. Once an achingly average teenager, Darcy finds herself, along with her five friends, at the center of prophecy of epic proportions.  

What is striking and brilliant about this installment of The Gateway Chronicles is how well Hoyle portrays the awkward and truly painful insecurity of a thirteen year old girl. There are cringeworthy moments throughout the book because it just felt so real!

There are few people in the world who wear thirteen well and I certainly wasn’t one of them. My adult self felt the depth of how ludicrous her mistakes and self-centeredness was. Yet, my pre-teen self was right there with her, feeling the injustices, the need for recognition and affection.

I love it when I find an author who truly understands her characters and the depth of human sinfulness. But also hope. There is darkness in this world just like our own. But there is hope too!  

I’m so looking forward to rereading the series again.

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Lorehaven Summer Issue: How Does Your Family Read Fantasy?

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Lorehaven Summer Issue: How Does Your Family Read Fantasy?

Lorehaven Magazine Winter Issue!

Download for FREE!

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Lorehaven’s mission: to chase fantasy joys all the way back to their Giver.
 

  • Book Reviews

Lorehaven review team

Explore the best new fantastical novels from Christian authors. Browse each title and learn more at lorehaven.com/library.
 

  • Sponsored Reviews: The Ghost Mine

Ben Wolf’s sci-fi actioner escapes the haunts of space horrors.
 

  • Featured Review: Fawkes

Lorehaven review team

Guy Fawkes’s 1605 gunpowder plot gets a color-magical twist.
 

  • ‘I Process Big Questions Through Story’

Story: E. Stephen Burnett

Nadine Brandes loves heroes who fight to find themselves in the color of truth.
 

  • Fanservants: How to Become a Spiritually Leveled-Up Christian Geek

Paeter Frandsen

God encourages us to be kind and compassionate, even in our fandom fights.
 

  • Fanservants: How Does Your Family Read Fantasy?

Marian Jacobs

Parents, try these tips to help children mature as fantasy readers.
 

  • Sponsored Reviews: The Sorcerer’s Bane

C. S. Wachter flings thematic windows open to sunlight and storms.
 

  • New Worlds: Horror Reveals Human Sin in the Dark

Mike Duran

Classic novels and films trace their fears all the way back to the Bible.
 

  • Sponsored Reviews

Journey Into Legend

All the realism and complexity of Journey into Legend wraps around an old, blazing vision.
 

Road of the Lost

Aidan Russell creates action-driven fantasy of all the good old things.
 

  • Folklore: Flood Legends Rise from the Depths of History

Tim Chaffey

From the Bible to modern flood fiction, we keep encountering Noah’s Ark.
 

  • Roundtable: Engaging That @&*% Our Stories Often Say

Laura VanArendonk Baugh, Morgan L. Busse, Mike Duran, Steve Rzasa, E. Stephen Burnett

Join the debate over hot topics based on biblical grace and truth. Our expert panel explores how Christians discern ‘bad words’ in fiction.

Meanwhile, join Lorehaven Book Clubs, starting online! (And if you're an author or publisher, we're saving space in our fall 2018 issue for your next amazing advertisement—to share your story with new fans.)

Thank you for joining this mission to find truth in fantastic stories.

Godspeed!

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Selfless Theater

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Selfless Theater

As a theater major at a Christian university, I found myself stuck in the cycle of theatrical pride and low-self image. I sought to glorify God on and off stage but continuously fell short. So I quit. This is my story.

Selfless Theater is a two part article featured on Stage and Story. Click here for part one and here for part two

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Lorehaven Magazine Debut!

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Lorehaven Magazine Debut!

I'm so excited about this new digital magazine, guys!

In the Spring issue, you'll find my article, "What If Your Kids Don't Read Fantasy?" In the Summer issue, you can read the follow up article, "How Does Your Family Read Fantasy?"

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 Lorehaven Magazine finds truth in fantastic stories. This is the place where you will find:

- Flash reviews of excellent Christian-made fantastical novels.
- Book clubs to share these stories with friends and family.
- Articles that glorify God while exploring human imagination.

Subscribe today and get your free issue at Lorehaven.com!

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Review: Humble Roots

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Review: Humble Roots

Humility has long been my favorite of the virtues. Perhaps because it's the one that seems the hardest to obtain? This book on humility might be my new favorite—or perhaps tied with The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness by Timothy Keller.

The biggest difference I see between the two is thoroughness and more discussion of self-reflection in Humble Roots, a concept that can get easily lost in being self-forgetful. (Although, in defense of Keller, he was not writing an exhaustive book on humility.) I also am a huge fan of the discussion of self-deprecation being seen as a vice and the cure as humility. That is another reason I love this particular virtue so much as I struggled with self-deprecation in my teen years.

Anderson’s metaphors were careful, biblical, and easily applied. Also I loved her use of both philosophy and theology which I find is rare in evangelical circles.

I would highly recommend this to anyone looking for a deeper understanding of humility.

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Every Woman's Silent Struggle

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Every Woman's Silent Struggle

FEATURED BY DESIRING GOD

"Being a woman who struggles with lust can feel like being alone in a crowded room. You think you are the only one tempted when you watch that movie and read that book. Yet the opposite is true.

We’ve been told that lust is when a man looks at a woman (not his wife) and desires her. That definition is both misleading and incomplete. If women don’t begin to redefine what lust means for them, they will continue to isolate themselves from each other, their spouses, and, in so doing, cripple their chances of overcoming temptation. . . ."

Read more on Desiring God's website.

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