Can Fiction Teach Us Religious Truth?

The Scandal of Holiness: Renewing Your Imagination in the Company of Literary Saints, by Jessica Hooten Wilson (Brazos Press, 2022)

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

“Inspiration” from inspirational characters, isn’t the only benefit of fiction. Cultural awareness is equally valuable. There really isn’t anything fictitious about fiction. Anything coming from an expressive mind is instructive. It all depends how much “truth” we’re prepared to accept; and how mature we are to be able to get the “picture”.

The Adventist aversion to “fiction” has always amused me - from vilification of fairy tales to “animal stories” being categorized in the “zoology” section of school libraries (no kidding); and productions like “Pollyanna” used for college-age Saturday night entertainment. I hope that was only a mid-century cultural hangup that produced these attitudes, but I suspect it’s more about Adventist values. There actually are some valuable and incredibly produced films and literature from “fiction” that anyone can benefit from.


After a tragedy in my life I was sitting in my livingroom discussing Rembrandts “Sacrifice of Isaac” - the depictions of his three versions ( Eremitage St. Petersburg, Pinakothek Munich and Albertina Vienna ) were on the floor. A dear friend remarked : “That is you also !” What, the rebellious Isaac in painting number one ? - - It took a long time until I could accept this - and search for my goal- the sbmissiveness shown in the Albertina drawing - -there three in compassion : Abraham, Isaac . - and the messenger of God - “fear and compassion” in classic Greek dramas should guide to the “katharsis pathhmaton” - purifying the passions. well, see, hear, experience Sophkles’ “Antigone” or Elliots “Murder in the Cathedral” - - and compare / feel /experience / with Anouhils “Becket” - - -


All books-including the putatively “holy” ones-are essentially fictitious in that they do not and cannot tell the whole truth.

So you’re right.

SDA aversion to fiction, and religious distrust of secular literature, is like hating the sand upon which one’s house is built.



Can Fiction Teach Us Religious Truth?

Fiction could be treated as parable, as both are aimed to bring moral lessons. For example, much of Ellen White’s writings are laced with fiction, starting with her first vision. Her Great Controversy theme was based on John Milton’s Paradise Lost.


Fiction, truth, and reality are all “loaded” words. They have all been framed by a cultural mentality that apparently knows what they mean and how they are to be applied. Having the “truth” is a liability in appreciating the value of fiction, especially for religious and ethical aims. Yet who would be so presumptuous as to claim to have the truth about God. God would become subordinate to the methodology. Truth and reality kill the imagination, which is the only way forward in any discipline. Ultimately, we have to let silence do the talking, then allow the imagination create its narrative. The only way we can speak of the unknown is by metaphor, neither true or false, but evocative. Here, fiction serves us well.

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If so, the truth of any book is in the white space between the words and is found by reading what’s tacitly expressed between the lines.

(Alternatively, google “Apophatic Theology”….)


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