Reading Fiction

Many Christians have criticized the reading of fiction by other believers. They have voiced three major concerns. First, it is a waste of time and more benefit could be had in reading more spiritual literature or in spending time in Christian service…Second, fiction is fundamentally dishonest since it speaks of things that have not happened as if they did. Third, it is often morally corrupting.

CS Lewis makes a case for Christ-followers to read fiction. While Lews is best remembered as a Christian apologist and as an author or children’s books, professionally he was an outstanding professor of literature. In his book An Experiment in Criticism he offered an insightful defense of reading books which are not immediately or obviously edifying.

First, Lewis suggested that we read literature because it is enjoyable. He recognized that some Christian traditions questioned the legitimacy of doing anything simply for enjoyment, but Lewis rejected such a form of Christianity. God made many things in this world for enjoyment, among them the joy of well-crafted words and ideas, the joy of seeing an author’s creative mind at work.

Second, Lewis argued that the value of reading literature was a way to experience many things that we would not otherwise experience. Through literature we can fully enter into the opinions, attitudes, feelings and total experience of others. Though we may not be materialists or atheists or hedonists, we by reading can learn what it is like to be one.

Third, Lewis goes on to write that as we enjoy and experience good literature we will ourselves grow as human beings in the understanding of others. He remarks, “Literary experience heals the wound, without undermining the privilege, of individuality…in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself.”

My experience has been that those who read widely in addition to reading the Bible understand better what the Bible has to say because they fully enter into that reading with a wider grasp of the human condition. To read the Bible with a fuller appreciation of our longings, failures, aspirations, hopes, sorrows, disappointments, etc., is to be ready to receive the true balm that is the Bible hope.

So I am just as likely to ask you what literature you are reading as whether or not you have a daily Quiet Time. I have found that the more I read my Bible the more I want to read the great books of our civilization. Somehow they go together for me.

One thought on “Reading Fiction

  1. I’m not sure that reading the fiction is any different than reading the religous thoughts of someone who is writing their own commentary on what they interpret the scriptures to say. The only difference I see is that one paints a picture of their thoughts while the other is just commentary. If we were to confine ourselves to just the absolute truths, we could only read the scriptures themseves and pray that God would interpret them to us. Even scripture resorted to fiction. Jesus used many parables to give a word picture of His thoughts. Isn’t that a form of fiction? Sometimes, peoples beliefs and thoughts are much clearer when applied to a fictional story so we can see it in practice.

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