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Thursday, April 05, 2007
Getting Christian fiction right
A few weeks ago, I posted about two contempoary Christian stories I'd experienced and how I'd come away from both feeling a bit unsatisfied.

Interestingly, one weekend I'm posting about how dissatisfying I find certain contempoary Christian stories and the next weekend, I see a Christian film and read a Christian fiction novel that both get it right. The movie was "The Second Chance" and the book was "Mountain Top" by Robert Whitlow.

The secret as to why these are so good--they don't feature characters who are cardboard cut-outs, nor do they present the world is absolutes. Both stories feature strong characters who have struggles, questions and hiccups in journeys through life. In both presentations, the characters are human, facing real human trials, journeys and awakenings.

"The Second Chance" is the story of two ministers, one played by Michael W. Smith. Smith's character has strong musical talents and is pursuing a ministry at his father's mega-church. Smith's character is basically being groomed to take over the pulpit when Dad retires or moves on to start another church. Which leads us to our second minister, an African-American preacher who runs the second chance ministry in the heart of downtown. The Second Chance church is supported by the mega-church, who sends a lot of funding their way but rarely show up in the form of volunteers or ministers to the community. Smith is sent to learn from the experience. In the course of the film, the mega-church is given a chance to sell the property of the Second Chance church and intends to use the funds for its global outreach.

At which point the question arises--what is the best way to fulfil the Great Commission? Which is better--reaching the lost in other places or reaching the lost in your own city and community? Thankfully, the film walks a fine line of not coming out and declaring one better than the other. Instead, we are led to understand the values and merits of both types ways of walking the walk and fulfiling the Great Commission.

And along the way, many of the characters have some real and intriuging revelations. Smith's character realizes that he has a different call to ministry than he originally thought. The African-American minister realizes he may need help more than he lets on and that help can come from the most unlikely of sources. Even the character of Smith's father realizes that he's lost sight of what is important to him in his ministry and what he's trying to do.

The thing is , the movie reaches a point where all three men have undergone there own journey of faith and then it ends. There are still some questions left unresolved and the movie veers away from having a happy, last-hour repreive ending that would have, quite frankly, seemed out of place. Instead it leaves the viewer contemplating what is the more important change that has been made in the lives of the characters we see on-screen.

"Mountain Top" does a simliar thing.

"Mountain Top" is the latest offering from Christian legal-thriller author, Robert Whitlow. Whitlow has been one of my favorite authors since I picked up his great story "Life Support" a few years ago. Whitlow averages about a novel a year and I always find myself looking forward to each new story.

As Whitlow has grown as an author, so have his books. At first his stories were about lawyers who found their faith due to a series of trials (no pun intended) in their lives. In "Mountain Top" we meet Mike, a lawyer turned pastor, who is asked to represent a local man accused of embezzling funds from a local church. But the twist is--the man, Sam, has dreams from God about various local community people, that he writes down and shares with the parties involved. Sam had a dream of Mike defending him and while Mike is reluctant at first, he eventually agrees to represent the man.

As the story unfolds, Mike faces a series of trials--pressure from the church elders about his role representing Sam, a startling confession from his wife and his starting to have his own dreams inspired by the Holy Spirit. The story takes Sam on a journey of faith as he questions his ministry and where the next stage in life should lead him.

Of course, along the way, there are some twists and turns in the legal manuevering and we find out that Sam is being framed as part of a larger, overall conspiracy.

Again, the characters here are human. Mike's wife, Peg, confesses a secret to him and it's one that Mike has a hard time with. We see Mike struggle with forgiveness and at one point he puts his foot firmly in his mouth, saying the exact wrong thing and unintentionally hurting his wife. But even though that happens, the story shows the two reconciling, working through the issue and coming to a new, stronger place in their marriage.

And then there's Sam, who's been out there, witnessing to anyone who will listen for years (or even those who aren't willing.) Sam sends out letters to people, talks to them and plants seeds that will one day later bear fruit. Sam send a letter to Peg before the story starts that has an impact on this story. Also, he and Mike go to the hospital to visit a potential witness in the trial, only to end up ministering to the man and his wife in her final hours. Sam is one of those who is open to the unexpected calls to ministry in his life.

But in both stories, all the characters are human. Sure, in Whitlow's novel, there has to be an obvious bad-guy, but even in the midst of his persecution, Sam prays for them. The stories are well done becuase they don't offer any easy solutions, but they also don't make things black and white either. Both are about the journeys of characters and as the audience, we go along for part of the journey. Both stories wrap-up, leaving you wanting more and curious about the next stage. But they also leave you satisfied that this one part of the journey is complete.

I highly recommend both of them to you.

Labels: ,

posted by Michael Hickerson at 4/05/2007 07:20:00 AM | |
Wondering what everyone one thinks about Ted Dekker vs. Frank Peretti. I like them both for different reasons, but did not like the book, "House," which they did together. Any thoughts?
I've read a few of their books. I like Dekker's novels but have found Petretti's a bit lacking. Monster was just not a great book IMHO.

I haven't picked up "House" yet.
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