Christians should read fiction. Not only that, they should read great fiction. The Christian who reads great fiction will find a rich source of instruction in the spiritual life – perhaps even more instruction than can be found in devotional literature.
I was fortunate to grow up surrounded by a family that cherished reading. From the earliest days I was read to and encouraged to read. But the first book I really remember was Snow Treasure. Set in World War 2, this tale thrilled me with the adventures of Norwegian children smuggling gold past Nazis. I imagined myself making the daring sled ride from the village, past the German camp, to the drop off point by the fjord. Courage, loyalty, perseverance, sacrifice – I learned about great virtues from this little tale.
I was hooked. I’ve been a fiction lover ever sense. And my life has been the better for it.
Sadly, many Christians have a standoffish attitude toward books, a posture I find puzzling, since we are people who look to a 66 book collection as our guide for faith and life. My little corner of Christianity, the Reformed tradition, is known for being a bookish bunch. And yet among the Reformed, there is a marked preference for theology, history, and philosophy.
Those Christians that do venture into fiction often stay in the safe territories of Narnia and Middle Earth. I love CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien as wise mentors who taught me deep truths through their tales, but there are vast terrains of great writers for you to explore. Here are 8 books to check out over the July 4 weekend:
Peace Like A River by Leif Enger
Told from the perspective of 11 year old Rueben Land, this is a story about family, betrayal, redemption, sacrifice, and faith. This story begins slowly but builds in intensity, culminating in a breathtakingly beautiful conclusion. This is a fine example of contemporary literature that takes faith seriously without approaching it in a trite manner.
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
Robinson is possibly the finest prose stylist in America right now. The book is written as an extended letter of an elderly congregational minister to his 7 year old son. He tells the stories of his father and grandfather in this fascinating narrative about fathers, sons, Calvinism, the frontier, and the quiet dignity of the midwest.
A Good Man Is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor
O’Connor’s name is synonymous with “southern gothic.” This collection of short stories is dark, strange, and filled with ironic twists. One could say it provides terrific insight into the sinful nature of humanity. Redemption can be found in these stories, but it lurks at the corner of your eyesight, like a specter that can only be seen in peripheral vision.
A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller
This science fiction tale imagines how a post apocalyptic civilization crawls out of the rubble and rebuilds. Told in three sections, it traces the exploits of a monk and the order that is founded upon his name, first in a dark ages setting, then in a new renaissance, and finally at the dawn of a new space age.
The Father Brown Mysteries by GK Chesterton
Short story mysteries in which the detective is an English country priest who uses his knowledge of human nature alongside a keen sense of reason to solve the puzzle and catch the villain. Be forewarned though, if you get a taste for Chesterton, you’ll be sucked in to a veritable library of his works of theology, biography, and essays.
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solshenytzin
Solshenytzin was the moral conscience of Russia during the Soviet era. This little book is a great intro to his work – it chronicles a single day in the life of a gulag prisoner. It’s a reflection on the human spirit and the powers that contrive to break it.
The Moviegoer by Walker Percy
Walker Percy’s work captures the angst of mid 20th century society. The Moviegoer explores the spiritual wanderings of a New Orleans stockbroker in search of meaning in his life. The Modern Library listed this as one of the 100 best novels of the 20th century.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Bradbury is the only author on this list who is not explicitly Christian, though his themes and his sensibilities are right in line with Christianity. This famous book envisions a dystopian future in which books are banned and firemen are tasked with hunting out books and burning them. The hero, Guy Montag, is a fireman who secretly discovers a love of reading and books. A powerful and relevant story for today.
Maybe you’re a lover of great books with redemptive themes – what have you read that you would commend? Comments are open.