I will thank the Lord with all my heart as I meet with his godly people. How amazing are the deeds of the Lord! All who delight in him should ponder them. Psalm 111:1-2 NLT

Monday, June 11, 2012

Lions and Lambs and Talking Donkeys, Oh My!

by Jenness Walker

In my last local writers’ group meeting, we critiqued an article by the esteemed Ava Pennington (author of One Year Alone With God, more Chicken Soup stories than you can count, and a whole lot more). She was writing about summer Bible study ideas, and she had some great ones. (By the way, you can pick up her devotional book on the names of God here. It’s endorsed by Kay Arthur!)
As I was considering what to blog about on this faith-themed day, I got to thinking about another way to study the Bible. Through fiction! J Hey, I’ll create any excuse I can to read a good book. Have you read Havah: The Story of Eve by Tosca Lee? After I finished it, a pastor preached out of Genesis, and I felt like standing up and telling him he didn’t have a clue. Had he read Eve’s diary? J Tosca did an incredible job of picturing what bliss in the Garden might have looked like…and then the horror of leaving it. She brought up things I’d never thought about—like the fact that Eve had to live for so long, watching the world change from utter perfection she’d first known. What must that have been like?

Then there’s the Christy-Award-winning Madman by Tracy Groot. (Which is on sale right now!)This may be my all-time favorite biblical fiction book. Tracy really dug into the culture and the history around the time of the demoniac at the tombs, even helping me make sense of the significance of casting the demons into swine. Though the actual Bible story it’s built around takes up only a small amount of time on the page, wow, is it ever powerful.

Yes, I know these are works of fiction. But, like The Action Bible does for kids/teens, biblical fiction helps God’s Word come alive. And while I’m not advocating substituting novels for time spent in the Word, I think it might not be a bad idea to use it as collateral reading. J

My husband taught a high school Bible class for years. His favorite section covered the Temple. The attention God gave to each detail and the importance of them that we see in hind sight—everything comes together to make the coming of Jesus as the final sacrifice even more significant. Understanding the people and the times can lead to a richer understanding of God’s grace and His overarching plan.

There’s a lot of biblical fiction out there. Anything from the new wives series by Jill Eileen Smith, to stories given a twist by being set in different time periods a la Liz Curtis Higgs’ Scottish series, Francine Rivers’ Redeeming Love, and even Tosca Lee’s Demon: A Memoir, to Angela Hunt’s older series about Joseph—Legacies of the Ancient River.
So here’s my little summer Bible study idea.

For readers—choose a biblical fiction book that appeals to you. Read it and answer the discussion questions at the back of the book, if there are any. If not, create your own. See if you can find any of the author’s sources and do a little research, maybe finding other sources of your own. Read the passages of Scripture that pertain to the novel’s plot. Look at the maps at the back of your Bible and trace the journey of the Bible character. Where is that today? What affect did that character have on biblical history? On world history? Why was their story important enough to be referenced in the Bible? What can you learn from their lives? From their relationship with God and others? Etc.
For writers—This week in your devotions, see if there’s anything that gives you a story idea. Even the rules in Deuteronomy can spark some “what ifs.” Or maybe you already have a story nugget you haven’t gotten around to researching. Check out a book on the customs of the time period, find a timeline comparing historical and biblical happenings in that era, see if anyone else has written a novel on the same character or one who lived in the same time period. Do you agree with their interpretation of the character’s motives? How would you write it differently? What does God have to say to us today through this character/situation/custom/whatever?

Oh, and just for fun: What’s your favorite biblical fiction book so far?

16 comments:

  1. Love this idea, Jenness!
    One of my favorite biblical fiction series is Liz Curtis Higgs' books.
    And, believe it or not, I do have a story for a biblical historical novel based on something from the OT.
    All in good time, all in good time ...

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  2. What a neat take on reading and writing. Thanks for lots of breaths of fresh air.

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  3. Love this idea, Jenness. I have the series on Joseph's life by Angela Hunt. I loved it. Maybe it's time to pick it up again. Loved Redeeming Love too. :)

    I have a couple of Biblical fiction ideas floating arond in my head. Thanks for the ideas!

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  4. This is a great idea! Thanks for sharing.

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  5. Hi Jenness!
    I was a brand new christian when I read Frank Peretti's book, "This Present Darkness". Totally revolutionized my perception of the unseen realm.

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  6. Great post, Jenness. Loved the thought-provoking books you've cited.

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  7. I think we'll find that the essence of all great stories have their root in the Bible. If we think about Susie's teaching on "the lie they believe" and "the truth that sets them free" all stories will be rooted in the Word of God.

    Any "underdog" story has it's foundation in David and Goliath or maybe Joseph and his brothers.

    An outcast who ends up marrying the king or a great ruler has a foundation in the book of Ruth.

    Any betrayal story cannot find a more true essence than when Judas betrayed Jesus.

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  8. This is an awesome idea, Jenness. Confession: Sometimes I shy away from Biblical fiction because I (stupidly) assume I know how it's going to end and thus, won't get into the story...but retellings can be sooo powerful. I did read the series on Joseph's life that Jeanne mentioned and it's so good! And I've heard Tosca Lee is an amazing writer...

    So, you've inspired me to branch out! :)

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  9. I remember when the Left Behind series was so popular. It generated a lot of talk at work, and a few admitted they were afraid they would be left behind if the rapture happened. Great opportunity to talk about Jesus' saving grace.

    And I love This Present Darkness!
    Great post, Jenness.

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  10. Beth, I have one, too. :-) Mine sort of has to do with the cities of refuge. For some reason those have always fascinated me. We'll have to compare notes sometime.

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  11. Alena, I don't know how many times I read that book. I think I picked it up for the first time in 8th grade, and I fell half in love with Tal. :-)

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  12. Teri, I remember your post about that! It was a good one--very thought-provoking.

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  13. Melissa, I admit I have some of that prejudice, too. Same with historical fiction. If I know the character's ending is unhappy, I am much less likely to read it. Although Tosca's next one on Judas will be a definite exception!

    Liz's series on Jacob helped me like him a little better--kind of see how it might have gone down. Before, I always kind of disliked him. :-)

    You know who I wish could have lived longer? Jonathan. (As in David's friend and Saul's son.) I totally think his story wasn't finished. Maybe someone should do an alternate history version of his story. Please? :-)

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  14. Thanks for the shout-out, Jenness!
    What a great idea for a Bible study - wish I'd thought to include it in the article. (Though I did switch the focus after the terrific crits you all provided!)
    This Present Darkness was the first Christian novel I read. My friends and I would joke that our next car would be a station wagon - to give Tal (or whichever angels were assigned to us) lots of room on top to accompany us wherever we went!

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  15. Thanks for giving me the Bible study idea, Ava. :-)

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  16. I haven't read any Biblical fiction in a long time, but when I was a child, There was a book called "The Bronze Bow" Set in the holy land during biblical times. I loved it enough to read it several times.

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