What Is Good Literature and What Isn’t?

Originally written for http://fortyone20ministries.wordpress.com/.

Five or so years ago, I was standing in a small bathroom stall, up on top of the toilet lid, being as quiet as I could be. My hand was stretched all the way up and I was feeling for the top of a ledge that ran around the ceiling for decoration. Seeing that I could reach it and that it would be wide enough to suit my needs, I picked up the book I had left on the toilet bowl and, gingerly, with two fingers, as if the cover could burn poison straight into my blood stream, I hastily flipped it up over the ceiling molding, only to feel it leave my fingers and drop into a recess I hadn’t known existed. The ledge was hollow! Even better. I could not have been happier. Exiting the rarely-used second story library girls’ bathroom, I wickedly laughed to myself a few times as I feigned innocence and hurried down the stairs to leave.

The title of the book isn’t important – I’d hate to have anyone look it up on account of me – but it was a young adult novel written the previous year that I had stumbled across when searching for other works by an author I thought I had liked. The morally depraved work of fiction, with its evil young people whose minds are full of all sorts of sexual perversions, had stopped me cold just after a few chapters. I remember not even being able to sleep the night I threw the novel to my bedroom floor and kicked it under my bed, not wanting even the cover to haunt me. Quickly gaining number one on my mental Most-Hated-Books-Of-All-Time list, the thought of returning the thing to the library, where other young people could stumble upon it and be educated of its horrors, made me angry enough to wish I could seek out the author myself and give her a thrashing. Feeling completely incapable of preventing such a travesty as others reading it, I felt like burning the book or tossing it deep into a dumpster. However, the library would then call me and have me pay for it. Knowing my money was going into that author’s pocket angered me even more. Therefore, I came up with this juvenile plan to hide it within the library itself so it would never be found, never be checked out, and thus never be read. It isn’t something I’m necessarily proud of doing, and if I ever get back to that specific library, I’d have to make it right. I have to laugh at the righteous indignation and passion that led me to act out such a scheme, but I learned a valuable lesson from that experience.

The powerless feeling I had felt turned into a desire to do something for others to spare them, especially for parents of children who don’t know any better and whose minds are soft and pliable and easily led astray. I came up with a book review website, after much thought and conviction, a few years later. This website is currently only in a newborn stage, but is steadily growing, when I have the time to spare from my own fifteen-month-old daughter and preparations for another daughter due this summer. However, I want to have a comprehensive site ready for them by the time they get around to visiting our local library and spending any time reading anything other than Goodnight Moon.

I also continued my own writing, self-publishing two novels for Christian young people, and finishing up an evangelistic novel for the unchurched and unsaved only a year and a half ago. I wanted to write something good. Something that would bring God honor and would shine like tiny lightning bugs amidst the large and seemingly insurmountable darkness that sat all around my little inspirations on the library shelves and book-selling websites.

What is good literature? Since only God’s Word is inerrant, it’s hard to call anything else truly good. It’s no wonder that some of our forefathers, people who founded this country, refused to read anything other than the Bible.

However, I have been astounded by adults, young people, and readers alike who jump into the latest craze of fiction without stopping to consider the Christian principles behind it. I’m not going to name all of the book series that have hit the bestseller lists lately, but we all know what they are. Would Christ call them “true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, or praiseworthy”? (Philippians 4:8) It is commanded that our thinking be on things of that nature. Would reading about kids killing each other while selfishly trying to keep themselves alive and a few they’ve, in a God-like way, deemed worthy fit the bill? Would lying nonstop to your parents and keeping a boy in your bedroom, a boy who wants to kill you, has killed before, and says is going to hell for a lack of a soul, be something God would want young women to dwell on?

There are some Christians who agree on the above books, but there are harder ones that people don’t think about. What about the Newberry Medal winner, Bridge to Terabithia, where a little girl denies her need for believing in Jesus’ death and resurrection, rejecting what Christ did for her because she thinks God is too busy with all of creation to bother punishing people for sin? When this girl dies in her unbelief, her grieving best friend, who is rightfully afraid for her eternal state, is told that “God won’t send her to hell.” Where do we see that in Scripture? She was clearly old enough to have heard the gospel and choose to turn her back on it.

I think that Christians fall prey to “The Emperor’s New Clothes” mentality far too often where they don’t even stop to think that a worldview, often a false one, is being poured slowly into their minds like acid. It’s easier to be swept away with a writing style, fast plot, juicy romance, or the mere fact that their child is enjoying reading (“Look, honey! She picked up a novel all by herself! I don’t care if it’s called The Killer Angels From Hell Reject the Cross! She’s reading!” – I have heard parents use this argument before.) Flashy worldly things can suck us in as easily as it can children (“Twi-moms”?) and can blind us to the lies satan is feeding us. Instead, we should shove every book under a detailed microscope that exists through the Holy Spirit living in our soul. Focus that lens over and over on every page, evaluating whether what is being taught is a false gospel or a direct line from the devil. The Precious Moments book, Heaven’s Little Helpers, may be adorable, colorful, and as G-rated as you could get, but I’d rather have heard that my kids stumbled upon Lord of the Flies. In one, “uncorrupted” children in a “perfect” environment show innate sinful nature and consequences are portrayed accurately, whereas, in the Precious Moments book, we are taught that pretty babies with wings created the earth. It’s all about the worldview. Not to say that everyone needs to read the aforementioned violent book or that some things aren’t age appropriate, but at any age it could possibly be highly detrimental to expose oneself to untruths according to Scripture.

Jesus charged us to “Beware of false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” (Matthew 7:15)

Jeremiah said something that is exactly true of many authors today: “And the Lord said to me: ‘The prophets are prophesying lies in My Name; I did not send them, nor did I command them or speak to them. They are prophesying to you a lying vision, worthless divination, and the deceit of their own minds.” (Jeremiah 14:14)

“For false Christs and false prophets will arise and show great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.” (Matthew 24:24)

Could they be leading astray with literature? Our culture deems a best-selling book series a great “wonder.” It’s entertainment, people. It’s not like you’re going to the mission field and have to be tough because of the sin you’ll be exposed to there. There is no need to sacrifice your soul and expose your heart to sin and wickedness for entertainment. We’re commanded to be holy. That’s first priority. I think that we, believers, should put aside our longing for entertainment, and take every thought captive unto Christ. We live in a world where peers skip around from relationship to relationship, where everyone is sleeping with everyone else, where violence has hit new creative levels or become commonplace (like abortion), and where families are devoid of communication, love, and respect for each other. They did not learn all of this from TV and movies. Much of it comes from the books that line the shelves, some of which turn into the movies and TV shows. This stems from the idea of the authors wanting to be their own gods and live their lives “finding themselves” and “needing no one,” especially an all-powerful Creator God who tells them what holiness is and that they fall short of the mark.

And artists, we have a commission to write the books that are true, noble, excellent, and pure! We need to portray principles that line up with Scripture and who God is. We need to show consequences for sin and the fact that there is a God all must answer to. May we always line up our thinking with God’s Word so that we do not lead others’ astray. When we know that our inspirations will reach many, God holds us even more responsible. It would be better that a millstone be tied around our neck than we let a little one stumble.

4 thoughts on “What Is Good Literature and What Isn’t?

  1. Good Message!! I almost think I know what book you were reading. It is also a great reminder as parents that we have a great responsibility to our young children to pour good, not evil, into their growing minds.


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