Featured Biblical Argument For Spending Valuable Time Reading Fiction?

Discussion in 'Theological Forum' started by Rutherglen1794, Jan 11, 2020.

  1. Rutherglen1794

    Rutherglen1794 Puritan Board Sophomore

    I’ve been reading The Lord Of The Rings recently, and as much as I enjoy well-written literature, I can’t come to a firm conviction that reading fiction is a wise activity for the serious Christian.

    I know that a book of fiction can have glorious themes, and be full of truths about reality. It doesn’t have to be an immoral book. But, is it the best use of the time? And how many truly soul-bettering books of fiction are out there, really?

    Also, it is my understanding that the Puritans considered such reading a waste of valuable time.

    Can anyone provide a biblical argument in favour of reading fiction books for entertainment?
  2. py3ak

    py3ak They're stalling and plotting against me Staff Member

    The Biblical argument, in brief, is that God has given us all things richly to enjoy; that this is a faculty that is legitimately used for recreation; that we profit more when the profit is mixed or alternated with pleasure; and that people in the Bible (e.g., Jotham, Nathan) use fiction, and that Paul evidences an acquaintance with pagan literature.

    The subject has been discussed at some length before:

  3. Rutherglen1794

    Rutherglen1794 Puritan Board Sophomore

    Thank you.

    Post #2 in that thread may have already put the nail in the coffin:

    “The idea of history as philosophy teaching by example has opened the door for fiction to imitate history. But fiction is rarely used so well, which is why I tend to avoid it. Besides, I prefer spending time in actual history and getting to know real people; and there are only so many hours in a day.”

    It’s not black and white. There’s worthwhile fiction, and garbage fiction. The same book might not be a good idea for two different people, or at two different times in life. It can be a waste of time, or it may not be. Etc.

    Good discussion, thanks! Haha
    Last edited: Jan 12, 2020
  4. Reformed Covenanter

    Reformed Covenanter Puritanboard Commissioner

    Speaking as one who generally dislikes fiction and thus hardly ever reads fiction, the only "biblical" argument you need to justify reading it in moderation is that it is not forbidden.
  5. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritanboard Amanuensis

    Like anything else, depends on the fiction. All of the great church fathers read Homer. Full Stop. On his deathbed Gregory of Nazianzus, without whom we probably wouldn't have had the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, wanted Homer's Iliad.

    Another argument is that Grace restores nature, it doesn't destroy it. Anyone who says we shouldn't read fiction because it is lies or something, has just destroyed nature. They are probably an Anabaptist.

    Good fiction can teach you how to think critically on human development, psychology, etc. I wouldn't make it primary. My own fiction reading is maybe 20%.

    And, horror of horrors, if you are doing word studies in BDAG, you will note that they are referring to words in Greek fiction (Aristophanes, Sophocles, etc). So even when you are doing bible studies in Greek, you are going to be drawn to fictional accounts.
  6. Poimen

    Poimen Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    St. Basil, Address to Young Men on the Right Use of Greek Literature

    "it is sufficiently demonstrated that such heathen learning is not unprofitable for the soul… [for] we shall receive gladly those passages in which they praise virtue or condemn vice. For just as bees know how to extract honey from flowers, which to men are agreeable only for their fragrance and color, even so here also those who look for something more than pleasure and enjoyment in such writers may derive profit for their souls. Now, then, altogether after the manner of bees must we use these writings, for the bees do not visit all the flowers without discrimination, nor indeed do they seek to carry away entire those upon which they light, but rather, having taken so much as is adapted to their needs, they let the rest go. So we, if wise, shall take from heathen books whatever befits us and is allied to the truth, and shall pass over the rest. And just as in culling roses we avoid the thorns, from such writings as these we will gather everything useful, and guard against the noxious. So, from the very beginning, we must examine each of their teachings, to harmonize it with our ultimate purpose, according to the Doric proverb, '‘testing each stone by the measuring-line.' "
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  7. Reformed Covenanter

    Reformed Covenanter Puritanboard Commissioner

    The reference to the bee is interesting because John of Damascus later used a similar illustration with respect to reading the philosophers: "In imitation of the method of the bee, I shall make my composition from those things which are conformable with the truth and from our enemies themselves gather the fruit of salvation. But all that is worthless and falsely labelled as knowledge I shall reject." For the full quotation, see John of Damascus and reading ancient philosophers discerningly.
  8. Ed Walsh

    Ed Walsh Puritan Board Junior

    I am 68 years old and, therefore can only plan for two more years. (Psalm 90:10) And I do have a plan. But when I meditate on this before the Lord, I am instant in telling Him that I am far presumptuous knowing that even now I may be uttering my last breath. I have a big Logos library with most books yet unread. I just don't have the time for fiction.
  9. wcf_linux

    wcf_linux Puritan Board Freshman

    As for the Biblical argument, I'm with Reformed Covenanter:

    Since we're talking about "moderation" and implicitly Christian liberty, I'll add a practical argument.

    The Bible contains a rich and varied set of texts, so a person's ability to read it well is aided by reading a variety of different genres and categories of books. (To the extent that is practical and prudent, of course.) Even if a given genre or type of writing is not represented in the Bible, reading it builds ones general literacy and so potentially improves the ability to profitably read the scriptures.

    As for fiction vs historical writings: modern histories (as in post-1800) as a rule do not put the same emphasis on narrative and rhetoric that the classical histories did. That means in part that modern histories don't give practice for all the same literary elements that classical or ancient histories covered. Luke wasn't writing a modern biography, and 1 & 2 Kings have a very different style and organization of writing than modern historical narrative. In a way, Tolkien in Lord of the Rings and the Silmarillion wrote in forms and styles more similar to ancient histories than those seen in modern histories.

    Not all fiction is equally useful, but reading it can double as practice at the kinds of literacy that is useful for reading the scriptures.
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  10. Rutherglen1794

    Rutherglen1794 Puritan Board Sophomore

    This isn why I can’t put LOTR down:

    Before Gandalf, Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli leave Fangorn Forest to go to Rohan:

    ‘Yes, we will set out together,’ said Aragorn. ‘But I do not doubt that you will come there before me, if you wish.’ He rose and looked long at Gandalf. The others gazed at them in silence as they stood there facing one another. The grey figure of the Man, Aragorn son of Arathorn, was tall, and stern as stone, his hand upon the hilt of his sword; he looked as if some king out of the mists of the sea had stepped upon the shores of lesser men. Before him stooped the old figure, white, shining now as if with some light kindled within, bent, laden with years, but holding a power beyond the strength of kings.
  11. Edward

    Edward Puritanboard Commissioner

    And why do you read the books that you have in Logos?
  12. Ed Walsh

    Ed Walsh Puritan Board Junior

    Now that's a question that needs an explanation before I can answer. ???
  13. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritanboard Amanuensis

    The passage on Glorfindel is similarly majestic. We read LOTR because it is near perfect English prose. When cage-stage Calvinist bloggers can write at that level, then I might listen to them.
  14. Edward

    Edward Puritanboard Commissioner

    There are a number of reasons a person might read certain books. A few:

    Professional growth
    Personal enrichment
    Personal enjoyment
    Sense of duty

    Most would work for fiction as well as non-fiction
  15. Wretched Man

    Wretched Man Puritan Board Freshman

    I would be interested in someone (more theologically advanced than myself) interpreting Ecclesiastes with regard to this subject. In particular, the end of Chapter 2.
    “24 There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, 25 for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? 26 For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner he has given the business of gathering and collecting, only to give to one who pleases God. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.”

    This is then followed up by the “For everything there is a season” list of various faucets of life.

    In contrast, I get hung up on Amos 6:4-5; “Woe to those... who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp and like David invent for themselves instruments of music”
  16. jwithnell

    jwithnell Moderator Staff Member

    Our conversations, music, entertainment, sports, could all require such a test.
  17. bookslover

    bookslover Puritan Board Doctor

    Nothing wrong with reading fiction. Chosen wisely, fiction can be edifying as well as entertaining.

    And don't forget: the Apostle Paul - a trained Pharisee - was quite familiar with pagan writings.
  18. Andrew35

    Andrew35 Puritan Board Freshman

    I feel this question contains something of a false dilemma: i.e. "entertainment" vs "soul-bettering."

    Edward gives a fine range of alternative reasons (above) why someone might want to read fiction.
  19. a mere housewife

    a mere housewife Not your cup of tea

    Added to the reasons above (I especially like the one about becoming a more sensitive reader generally, and how that helps us when we come to the Word of God): one which is probably scattered through numerous other threads here: the prophets themselves used fiction to move their hearers and bring them to a place of greater insight about their own condition. Ie, Nathan confronting David. Jesus also told fictional stories. Imagination is a God-given faculty for enjoyment yes, but also for a more vivid grasp of truth. Fiction does not mean false, void of truth. It means unfactual. Truth is worth engaging with, with all our faculties.
  20. Reformed Covenanter

    Reformed Covenanter Puritanboard Commissioner

    I would reiterate it does depend on what sort of fiction you are consuming. Even someone as libertine as myself on these issues cannot defend reading the CNN website on a regular basis. ;)
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  21. a mere housewife

    a mere housewife Not your cup of tea

    I actually deleted a comment from my post about the low-quality fiction of the news :) ... I agree that it does depend on what sort of fiction we are consuming. Not just those venues that are designed to reinforce inaccurate perceptions and self-justifying responses, but venues that are about wish-fulfillment, a softer reality with us at the center and all we want come true, escaping from the resistant edges of truth, of real people and the real world, are very damaging. I found this copied into my journal from Lewis' letters on the right use of imagination -- bracketed comment my own:

    ‘The true exercise of imagination, in my view, is (a) To help us to understand other people (b) To respond to, and, some of us, to produce, art [which furthers our apprehension of reality]. But it has also a bad use: to provide for us, in shadowy form, a substitute for virtues, successes, distinctions, etc. which ought to be sought outside in the real world -- e.g. picture all I’d do if I were rich, instead of earning and saving.'
  22. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Graduate

    Why would you need a biblical argument for reading fiction? A biblical argument against reading fiction in general would be worthwhile but I don't think/feel that I need a biblical argument for something as much as I need to know what I shouldn't do. These matters are complex and require wisdom to sort through. Paul understood this. As has been pointed out entertainment is a reason. But when I'm reading Langston Huege's or Walt Whitman and watching the Departed at the same time, great movie, I would find it odd to have to "justify" it from scripture to someone. "Quote the verse" type stuff.
  23. Rutherglen1794

    Rutherglen1794 Puritan Board Sophomore

    Short answer, because I believe that we should examine every aspect of our lives to see if it conforms to Scripture. That includes spending valuable time on entertainment. But I fail miserably at doing so.
  24. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Graduate

    Ok, my position is read what you want, how does one differentiate between what is ok and what I s not?
  25. bookslover

    bookslover Puritan Board Doctor

    If you love good literature - both fiction and non-fiction - you should check out Patrick Kurp's marvelous - and marvelously written - blog, called "Anecdotal Evidence." I enjoy just about every entry, and he posts daily. His blog will give you many examples of how good literature intersects with life. I love it.

    A good example is his current top post (January 13), in which he describes the writings of Sir Roger Scruton (who died just yesterday [January 12], at 75) on the subject of beauty, one of Scruton's favorite subjects.

    It's here: www.evidenceanecdotal.blogspot.com.
  26. Ed Walsh

    Ed Walsh Puritan Board Junior

    What kind of statement is that? Or, is your assumption that you would never "want" to read something you should not?
    Didn't you ever want something you shouldn't have? If not, you must be constituted very differently from me.
  27. John Yap

    John Yap Puritan Board Freshman

    I would love to read recreationally, but I do not have the self discipline to put down a good book. I find myself charging to the end. Thus I set aside the hobby altogether except for some non-fiction books here and there.
  28. Jo_Was

    Jo_Was Puritan Board Freshman

    I think also it's helpful to point out that reading has value for more than just the adult mind, but is especially formative for the developing mind. Humans are story-centered, empathetic creatures; often how we work through problems and come to new understandings is by being confronted with something new, or framing situations within a story arc to make sense of some things. I wonder if at one point in our ancient history someone looked to their neighbor and asked what the point is of the oral stories XD I like Kevin's pragmatic approach that it's is near necessary to read different forms of literature in order to even understand or contextualize the literature we see in the Bible. Remember, the Scriptures were not made in a vacuum, and the books -- their styles and literary merit don't appear out of nothing, but rather build on existing traditions of narrative style and, even further back beyond script to oral tradition.

    And these things that Edward noted are especially helpful in training up a child to actually be literate in the first place but also help them to grow in understanding. Christ spoke in parables to a people of an oral, story-telling tradition whose understanding was bettered by images and pictures within a narrative framework. David was brought to realization of his own sin and depravity through the example of the "rich man and the poor man." Often, fiction, though it might have baubles like dragons, or talking penguins, or spaceships, still reflects the life of humans and expresses those emotions and conflicts still in everyday life that can be still as revealing to a person in reflection on their own life as reading a biography or a historical account (though even those do not always connect as much in some aspects!)

    Also, poetry is largely fiction and an oddly structured one at that. It has grandiose images and ideas that try to convey (usually) a deeper meaning. We are not faulted for reading of trees clapping their hands, Leviathan playing in the ocean like a child, or the story of a man and a woman in love. In considering these kinds of narrative devices, it starts to turn from a question of reading fiction in general to where one wants to draw the line of fiction-devices.
  29. Relztrah

    Relztrah Puritan Board Freshman

    At 65 I'm catching up with you! And likewise, I just don't have time for fiction. Curiously, however, I find countless hours to spend watching sports on TV.
  30. Ed Walsh

    Ed Walsh Puritan Board Junior

    When someone asks me, "How 'bout those Tigers," or whatever team they mention, I have to ask them three questions. Is that the team that plays with the little round white ball? Or the oblong ball? Or the larger round ball they bounce and try to through a ring? I do know what Super Bowl Sunday is, though. Of course, I never watch it, but sometimes I record it to watch the commercials after the Lord's Day. I guess I don't have a problem with sports. :)
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2020 at 12:10 PM

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