Sunday, July 22, 2012
Christian Fiction and Correct Theology
Now, I am not talking here about the issue of denomination-wide allegedly flawed theology, since that is not the topic of my little apostolate/ministry. I am content when an Evangelical writer sticks to the theology his denomination says is correct, and the same with the other branches of Christianity.
The problem is that virtually every living Christian has got some of his theology wrong by the standards of his own denomination, simply because there are doctrines he has not learned/studied very intensely yet. That's because unless you are a theology professor by profession, you may not have had the time to study doctrines very fully.
Now, there are denominational differences in the way the individual believer thinks about theology. In the Catholic faith, the theology comes in a package--- we believe that Jesus Christ founded our Church, made Peter our first Pope, and divinely protected our Church from teaching wrong theology as official Church teachings even in the times of the bad popes.
On the other hand, many Protestants are not convinced that every doctrine taught by the church they now attend is correct. There are many people in Presbyterian churches, for example, who do not believe in predestination.
But I believe that no matter which church you are connected with, you ought to take the time to learn what teachings that church officially believes. I'm not saying you have to believe and accept all of them as true--- you will want to understand why these things are believed and how they connect to what's in the Bible.
The best way for many of us to improve our doctrinal knowledge is to go back to our youth and haul out that old catechism book we studied. I remember as a girl in the 4th or 5th grade, I and my younger brother went evenings to sessions at our Presbyterian church in which we memorized the questions and answers of the Heidelberg Catechism. Later in life I learned Luther's Small Catechism. Later still, I got a second-hand copy of the Baltimore Catechism, a Catholic catechism.
A childhood catechism is a start, but there may be more grown up versions to study now. For Lutherans, there is the Book of Concord which has the two Lutheran catechisms as well as a number of Reformation-era documents. For Catholics, there is the new Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Some of you may go to churches where there is no official catechism. You might ask your pastor if there is some book he can recommend about basic Christian doctrines. Likely he has one or two to recommend.
You may be asking, why study a catechism or doctrine book? Why not just read the Bible? The problem is that the Bible is not organized as a doctrine book or catechism. In addition, the many denominations read the same Bible, but believe different doctrines, each thinking that their doctrine is the one taught in the Bible. Now, you may in the course of your studies conclude that your particular church is wrong about some doctrine or other, and after further study if you still think that way, you will have to decide what to do about that. But it's quite important to at least be aware of the doctrines, and the reasons for them.
How does this impact your life as a writer? A Christian novel is not a theology text, how often do you deal with doctrines? Well, in the Left Behind series, authors Jenkins and Lehaye dealt with one doctrine, that of the Rapture, almost constantly through the story. (Interestingly, that is one doctrine taught by none of the churches I've ever belonged to--- Presbyterian, Lutheran, Mormon or Catholic.) Imagine what the Left Behind series would have been like if the authors hadn't known their doctrine on this issue very well. In fact, one of the authors, Tim Lehaye, was there as the theologian, while Jenkins did the writing-work based on that theological basis.
Most Christian writers don't use enough explicit doctrine to need a full time theologian on the team. But it will help your writing career to have a better degree of knowledge about what your church teaches.
I once read about a faithful Baptist lady who, when doctrines relating to the Lord's Supper were mentioned, insisted on the doctrine of transubstantiation--- a Catholic doctrine quite different from what the Baptist church teaches. If that Baptist lady had been a writer, and if her novel had contained descriptions of the Lord's Supper in which her beliefs in this area were made plain, she would have a hard time getting published at a Baptist or Evangelical publisher (unless she made changes.)
Studying your own doctrines is also important if you have to study some other faith's doctrines as research. For example, if you are not Catholic but have a Catholic character, you might want to read some Catholic sources so you don't mess up on a doctrinal issue. But you don't want to let that study cause you to pick up some Catholic beliefs that your own church would disagree with--- at least, you don't want to do so out of ignorance of your own church's doctrine.
For Catholics: Read the whole Catholic Bible plus the Catechism in one year! There is a PDF guide that will help you do it: http://www.chnetwork.org/readguide04.pdf You might consider, as you read the Catechism passages, looking up any Bible verse references in your Bible as you encounter them.
For Protestants/Evangelicals/Others: If you have a Bible with the 'Apocrypha'--- I have a King James Version Bible with Apocrypha on my Kindle--- you can use the very same reading guide given above. In place of the Catholic catechism, substitute reading from your own catechism or doctrinal book. If you prefer not to read the 'Apocrypha' this time through, there are many Bible in a Year guides that you could use.