Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,
Most of us have never critically examined the genre of fiction. We have simply been swimming in it for decades in its various forms. We know that there are bad things to listen to, watch and read, and that from those things a Christian should steer clear. But what about the genre as a whole? Are there characteristics inherent to the whole category that pose risks? I believe J.C. Ryle has identified one such characteristic in his book “Practical Religion” (Chapter 7, “Charity”). As a preemptive note of explanation, Ryle was writing in the mid eighteen hundreds, and so when he uses the term “charity,” we would substitute the word “love.”
“The delusion which I am trying to combat is helped forward to a most mischievous degree by the vast majority of novels, romances, and tales of fiction. Who does not know that the heroes and heroines of these works are constantly described as patterns of perfection? They are always doing the right thing, saying the right thing, and showing the proper temper! They are always kind, and amiable, and unselfish, and forgiving! And yet you never hear a word about their religion! In short, to judge by the generality of works of fiction, it is possible to have excellent practical religion without doctrine, the fruits of the Spirit without the grace of the Spirit, and the mind of Christ without union with Christ!
Here, in short, is the great danger of reading most novels, romances, and works of fiction. The greater part of them give a false or incorrect view of human nature. They paint their model men and women as they ought to be, and not as they really are. The readers of such writings get their minds filled with wrong conceptions of what the world is. Their notions of mankind become visionary and unreal. They are constantly looking for men and women such as they never meet, and expecting what they never find.
Let me entreat my readers, once for all, to draw their ideas of human nature from the Bible, and not from novels. Settle it down in your mind, that there cannot be true charity without a heart renewed by grace. A certain degree of kindness, courtesy, amiability, good nature, may undoubtedly be seen in many who have no vital religion. But the glorious plant of Bible charity, in all its fullness and perfection, will never be found without union with Christ, and the work of the Holy Ghost.”
His point is that in our intake of fiction, we enter worlds where the heroes have the fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23) – without being indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and this can never be! This errant view of mankind can detach us from a sense of our desperate need for Christ.
And losing site of that is a high price to pay for having been entertained.