Craig Hazen, 2008.
Notice the question mark in the blog title. If I had ended with an exclamation point, this little essay would most likely be a warning for all of you never to try this. I did go through the “what was I thinking!” stage. But I am not there anymore. Indeed, I think many more thoughtful Christians should be experimenting with the fiction genre.
My new book, Five Sacred Crossings, has been out for a number of weeks and people are actually reading it in good numbers. People stop me in the street, at church, and on campus to tell me they have read it—and that they really enjoyed it.
This is not an experience that most academics have writing “scholarly monographs.” (Yes, we even have disturbing names for this category of literature to make sure that average people know to run away quickly.) Normally, these tomes are read by a few specialists in the discipline and then purchased only by the most erudite research libraries to hide in dark and musty stacks. If it is really a specialized book then it might get put in the library’s “annex” where patrons must wait a day or two for an unmarked minivan to transport it to the circulation desk at the main facility. I think Amazon.com is lying when it says it carries these volumes for sale. And Amazon is probably safe to lie in that way when the Amazon sales rank of a book is over 4,000,000. (See for instance, Corals and Stromatoporoids from the Ordovician and Silurian of Kronprins Christian Land, Northeast Greenland at rank #6,284,964—I dare you to order one.)
I’m loving this experience of writing a popular book. To think that I wrote something that ordinary people “couldn’t put down” or that they had get two more to give to cousin Matilda and the grocer is a wildly new experience. Why did I write a novel? I don’t think the publisher will mind me reproducing the brief introduction to the book to answer that question:
There are a number of foundational life-questions for which we would all like answers. Is there meaning in our existence? Is there a God? Can anyone properly claim to have â€˜absolute’ truth? Are all religions basically the same? Is humankind in need of salvation, and if so, what would that salvation look like? Why is there evil and suffering in the world? What role does reason play in a religious journey? And so on.
However, it is very easy to get discouraged when you begin to talk to friends, family, and neighbors, or hear from teachers, celebrities, and scholars about such things. There are so many different answers offered that it’s very tempting to throw up one’s hands and conclude that even if there are answers to the most profound questions, there is simply no way to know what those answers are with any authority or clarity.
Well, we should not lose heart because there seems to be confusion on these issues on a popular level. If these questions are approached properly, then reasonable, persuasive, and satisfying answers are available. Very often, though, those with the best answers speak in an unfamiliar academic language. So even if the answers are being presented, it seems that only a few people are able to have access to them.
The field of Christian Apologetics has often found itself in this predicament—having reasonable answers, but not having the language and context really to resonate with average people where they are. Apologetics is the traditional area of Christian thinking that offers reasons for believing the core Gospel message and the biblical view of the world. Apologetics is a discipline that has been a central element in Judeo-Christian history and was used by the prophets and apostles very effectively. To be sure, there is even a command to engage in this activity of “defending the faith” by the Apostle Peter in 1 Peter 3:15—”Always be prepared to give an answer [the Greek word apologian] to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”
In Christian history various “apologies” or defenses have been given in almost every generation to help answer objections to the traditional Christian views on God, man, sin, and salvation. But these defenses have usually been offered by believing theologians, philosophers, lawyers, and scholars of various stripes often using their more difficult technical language. From time to time, however, the scholars who are fascinated by presenting reasons for faith have used allegories, analogies, novels, and all modes of story telling to make specific points about the truth of the Christian view of the world. Many names come to my mind, but one that almost everyone is familiar with is the British scholar and author, C.S. Lewis, who in the mid-Twentieth Century wrote such classics as The Chronicles of Narnia, The Great Divorce, The Screwtape Letters, and many more.
This present work should certainly not in any way be compared to what Lewis produced (that would be madness for any contemporary author) except in terms of the category of literature. In the Five Sacred Crossings I am attempting to tell a story that carries along with it compelling answers (or at least sketches of such answers) to some of the big questions of life.
I do this in the course of a stand alone story about a man named Dr. Michael Jernigan and his experiences with the mountain people of Cambodia and a group of curious college students in southern California. This is a fictional account meant to communicate real truths about the most important religious questions that human beings ask. Although the story is fictional, it is not at all far fetched since I based much of it on real-life encounters I have had in secular college classrooms around the world. The ancient text I refer to in the story as “The Five Sacred Crossings,” however, does not exist. I thought I should say that up front lest there be any confusion about where fiction ends and reality starts.
It is my hope that the story will be compelling enough to entice readers who may never read an apologetics text book to encounter some thoughtful answers to real religious questions. It is also my hope that you will enjoy the story because if the story brings you any measure of joy, much of the work of apologetics has already been done. As C.S. Lewis pointed out joy is the “secret signature of each soul.” It is an experience that undermines misguided views of the world and drives one to a true foretaste of ultimate reality.
Craig Hazen, Ph.D. is the Founder and Director of the M.A. Program in Christian Apologetics and the Professor of Comparative Religion and Apologetics at Biola University.