How To Weave the Gospel into Your Stories—Hint: Don’t Try
By Ryan Robidoux, Guest Contributor
If you’re a One Year Adventure Novel student and a Christian, you are not unusual. Many “OYANers” write faith-informed stories. As Christian writers, we know stories are powerful, and we want to impact people with our stories. Indeed, that’s our calling, isn’t it? To share the Gospel?
Easy enough, right?
Well, if we want to write novels with Christian characters or allegories like The Chronicles of Narnia, then, yes, weaving the Gospel into our stories would be relatively easy. But what if we want to write non-allegorical fantasy or science fiction or historical fiction with pagan characters? It wouldn’t be very historical to give a conversion scene to characters living in pre-Christian Greece, nor would it be realistic to make all our characters Christian in our mythical, high fantasy worlds.
“How can I proclaim the Gospel in my stories, then?”
Don’t . . . at least, not consciously. Now, I’m not talking about tossing all Christian themes out the window; do include that theme of forgiveness or courage or sacrifice. What I’m talking about is intentionally including direct Gospel parallels in our stories—for example, creating a Christ- figure or giving characters Christ-like arcs or creating a plot that looks an awful lot like the Christian journey—seemingly allegorical elements.
We don’t have to intentionally include those elements because they will show up in our stories on their own—without our conscious effort—and they will be better for it.
Writers often joke about their characters having wills of their own, doing things and saying things the authors did not plan for. J. R. R. Tolkien, were he alive, could confirm that this happens: when he first started The Lord of the Rings, Aragorn was a hobbit-prince named “Trotter” (instead of the human ranger called “Strider”) and Faramir was never supposed to meet Frodo and Sam in Ithilien. Likewise, the Gospel story will show up in our stories whether we want it to or not—and the reason is a bit more profound than Faramir becoming self-aware and ruining Tolkien’s outline.
The Gospel Story Is Set in Your Heart
As John Eldredge points out in his book, Epic, the author of Ecclesiastes tells us, “[God] has planted eternity in the human heart” (3:11). The Gospel Story—the great Epic and Romance of Reality—is in our blood; we can’t escape it. Almost every story ever told, in some way or another, follows the same structure as the Gospel story. The world was good. Something dark and terrible happened. A hero must arise and fix things, usually fighting a battle or embarking on a quest and fighting for someone he or she loves (whether romantically or not).
As Christians, when we write stories, The Story will find its way into ours, and our readers will pick up on it and be impacted by it because we all have eternity set in our hearts. I never notice the Gospel story flowing in as I outline and write my stories; it’s only after I’ve written a scene or designed a character that I notice the Gospel story has woven itself in.
To show you what I mean, in the fantasy novel I’ve been writing, one of the characters ends up sacrificing himself to prevent the woman he loves from dying. I outlined that scene many times, and it went through many drafts, but it wasn’t until I had finally nailed down a version I actually liked that I realized it contained so many parallels with the Gospel’s story of Jesus choosing to die to prevent the people He loves from dying.
Tolkien provides another great example. How many of you have been inspired, encouraged, or challenged by The Lord of the Rings? How many of you have noted how strikingly similar its elements are to the Gospel story? A great battle between good and evil. An intimate fellowship to see the quest through to the end. The return of the rightful king to his throne. Would you be surprised to learn that Tolkien did not intentionally include those Gospel parallels when writing The Lord of the Rings?
It’s true. You might have heard this often-quoted statement from one of Tolkien’s letters: “The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work.” People often leave off the second half of that sentence, though: “unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision.” As Tolkien was writing The Lord of the Rings, he was not thinking of his faith, but, when he was going back and reading it, he noticed those Christian themes.
We can take heart, then, as Christian writers: we can write powerful, Gospel-centered stories without even trying! We can write fantasy, sci-fi, historical fiction, or stories of any other genre without Christian characters or a salvation sermon and still preach the Gospel. The Lord of the Rings takes place in a polytheistic world and doesn’t mention God once, yet it has impacted generations with the inspiring and life-changing message of the Gospel.
If you want to write an allegory like Narnia, that’s fine. If you want to write a story with Christian characters, that’s fine. But if you don’t want to write those kinds of stories—or your genre doesn’t allow you to—you can still have an impact; you can still live out your calling . . . and that’s an encouraging thought.
Which stories (your own or others’) have impacted you the most with their (unintentional) Gospel parallels?
Ryan has grown up with a love for storytelling and has been a One Year Adventure Novel student (an “OYANer”) since 2013. He spends most of his free time working on his novel-in- progress (almost always speculative fiction), playing the piano, reading, contra dancing, or swing dancing. He unashamedly proclaims his favorite genres of music to listen to and play are Celtic and folk music and Broadway, film, and video game soundtracks. A student at Charleston Southern University, he is majoring in English with a Writing Emphasis and minoring in French.
Thank you for sharing this, Ryan! 😀 This was so encouraging, and confirmed what I believe God has been subconsciously teaching me. Keep up the great work! 🙂
I’m glad you were encouraged! Isn’t it neat how God likes to continually confirm what He’s teaching us?
Excellent post; thanks for sharing! As a writer of mainly mythological-based works, I sometimes worry that my pieces will be rejected by the broader Christian community, which is used to seeing the Gospel message presented in a very straight-forward literary manner. However, as you pointed out, many works can present Christian values in a non-traditional setting, such as a fictional, fantasy world, the ancient past, or even a space-age future. Tolkien’s works are wonderful, because they not only entertain, drawing in the unbeliever, but present core Gospel values as well. For myself, although my work takes place within, at first glance, a very pagan landscape, it presents extremely pro-family and pro-life values that will be hard to miss in the completed picture.
You’re exactly right! That’s part of why I love Tolkien so much! I’m glad you brought up science fiction as well; C. S. Lewis’s Out of the Silent Planet is another good example of a fictional work with Gospel themes, except this one’s in space! Happy writing!
Great post! In the process of writing my novel I have stumbled across the same problem – the dilemma of finding a balance between “preaching” to our audience and remaining silent about Christ. I think you are very right in saying that those Biblical themes will sneak into our novel unlooked for – only a few chapters through my novel I already have a Calvary parallel. Anyhow, great post!
Wow, this is so encouraging. I’ve had several older men in our church, when I tell them my story plot, ask me how am I incorporating a Christian theme into it. I’ve always been trying to explain that the 1357 setting doesn’t allow for a blatant “This is a Christian book!” setting, and that it would be corny and forced anyway.
Now I can say with confidence that it has an underlying Christian theme without being forced.
Thank you so much for this.
Thunderous applause. You have put into words what I’ve often thought. If you just concentrate on telling a good story, your Christian themes will flow in naturally. However, if you put the themes first, then the story often sounds forced and stilted.