Why Fiction is Important in the Development of Kids’ Faith

Why Fiction is Important in the Development of Kids' Faith | Christian Mom ThoughtsI’m excited today to feature a guest post from Christian adult fiction author Regina Jennings! Her newest historical romance, Love in the Balance, comes out on March 1. 

Once upon a time…

When those four words are said, the toys become quiet, little heads lean closer, and older siblings come running from their bedrooms. What’s Mom going to read? Which story is it today?

Yes, reading fiction is a nice way to spend a rainy afternoon. It benefits kids academically, increases vocabulary, stirs their imagination and exposes them to cultures they won’t have a chance to experience in real life. But fiction is…well, it’s not really essential for Christians, is it? We have the Bible. We have sermons. What can we learn from fiction that we won’t learn there?

Unfortunately, in the Christian propensity to divide the world into sacred and secular we often toss fiction into the bin of the unnecessary, suspect and potentially corrupting. But stories are powerful and influential — used for millennia to encourage virtue and teach truth — and parents shouldn’t neglect literature as a tool to shape their children’s character.

Here are three benefits I’ve noticed from reading fiction with my children:

 

1. We get a bigger picture of God’s story than we can experience in one lifetime.

If we had unlimited time and money, I’d arranged for my children to spend time with an Indian orphan, a South American nun and an Oxford student. From those individuals’ varied experiences, my kids would be better able to evaluate their own culture and how we apply the Bible. They’d learn how God’s precepts look outside of their mid-American philosophy and how eternal concepts like faith, grace and justice are lived out in different communities.

Of course this kind of travel is impossible, but they can meet Christians of different cultures and different eras through stories. We’ve stood by the side of an underground church planter in China. We’ve gone on a pilgrimage to Spain with a very young betrothed couple. We’ve helped a boy catch runaway circus monkeys to pay for his sister’s surgery. Through their adventures we see people following God on paths that we’ll never travel. We get a sense of the praise and obedience offered by generations before us and tongues unknown.

 

2. Stories are the laboratory of truth.

When scientists experiment, they isolate the subject into a controlled atmosphere.  To judge the influence of various stimulants, they need to know exactly what the subject was exposed to. In real life, even if children recognize dishonesty, bullying, or greed in their peers the consequences are not instantaneous. Stories, on the other hand, give them a chance to connect the dots. They will remember the flaw that led to a character’s downfall. They won’t forget the virtue that helped him through his blackest moment. Good children’s fiction draws a clear connection between the eventual triumph of the hero and his virtue or faith.

Even Jesus used fiction to teach eternal truths—the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, the Good Shepherd. I’ve never heard a sermon on these passages that was as powerful as the stories themselves. Instead of using real examples, Jesus boiled down a storyline to focus on one truth, clarifying a difficult concept and branding it into our hearts.

 

3. Fiction is convicting.

As a child, I can remember going to church on nights when the sermon was going to be about child-rearing. I have wonderful parents, and we got along great, but I still dreaded those Sundays. My neck would get stiff before I ever opened my Bible to Ephesians Six. Why? Because knowing that a lecture was coming raised my defenses. I didn’t want to hear something that would change me. I wanted to be left alone.

Evidently, the prophet Nathan anticipated this same reaction when he went to speak to David about his adultery with Bathsheba. Now, I’m sure David had a list of excuses ready for when this moment came, but Nathan outwitted him. Instead of lecturing him, Nathan told David a fictional story about a poor man who’d been wronged by a rich man. Failing to see the connection, David reacted with righteous outrage. The man should be killed, David said—a sentence that he would have never pronounced on himself, until the story convicted him.

In our arsenal of character building tools we have scripture, devotionals, check-lists, and chores, but let’s not neglect quality fiction…because the story doesn’t have to be true to teach us the truth.

Here are a few lists of character building books for kids to get you started:

http://charactercounts.org/resources/booklist.php

http://www.johnsenfam.com/charbook.htm

http://www.teachingvalues.com/childrensbooks.html

What fictional books have you read that shaped your or your kids’ character?

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Love in the Balance | Christian Mom ThoughtsRegina Jennings is a homeschooling mother of four from Oklahoma. Once she’s finished reading to her children for the day, she gets out the laptop and writes Christian fiction for grown-ups. Her family enjoys serving on their church mission team together and playing Uno.

Regina’s books Love in the Balance and Sixty Acres and a Bride are available at your local bookstore and online retailers.

Web: www.reginajennings.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/ReginaLJennings

Twitter – www.twitter.com/ReginaJennings

3 Comments

  1. […] 2/18/13 – Christian Mom Thoughts (Why Fiction is Important in the Development of Kids’ Faith) […]



  2. Lee Stephen on February 21, 2013 at 10:00 PM

    This is an awesome entry, and I can totally attest to every single point you made (and hey, authors can guest-post here? AHERM! AHERM!). I think the ultimate compliment for any writer to receive has to be when a reader says, “You know, I never thought about something like this until I read it in your book.” As individuals and especially Americans (most of us, anyway, I presume), we have a tendency to see life through exceedingly narrow eyes. We judge quickly, we enjoy our comfort zones, and we tend to view anything that occurs outside of our scope of personal experience as inherently unimportant. Because of this, we miss out on so many life lessons. Perspective is vial for growth, especially for Christians, as the Bible is a book that’s all about perspective. If you can’t put yourself in David’s shoes (excellent example, by the way) in David’s circumstance, how could you hope to ever learn something from his story of adultery and murder? Looking through the eyes of others is often unsettling, so we tend to shy away from it. But there’s so much to be learned by it.

    One of the biggest, but most rewarding challenges a Christian author faces is willingness to go into uncomfortable territory. Territory that Christians may not necessarily want to venture into. I think there’s a responsibility on our part to delve into things that make us squirm, because if left to our own devices, we won’t go there at all. I’m a big fan of doubt and skepticism, not because I think there are things that shouldn’t be believed, but because doubt and skepticism, when worked out like a muscle group, lead to a strengthening of faith. If we aren’t willing to ask questions that make us genuinely seek, what exactly do we hope to ever find? Writers have a tremendous opportunity to lead people into uncomfortable territory through plot-lines and character development, to places that get people thinking. When done in a tactful and appropriate way, it really does create an open doorway for the discussion of serious topics pertaining to faith, for believers and nonbelievers alike.



  3. Glenn on March 20, 2014 at 10:24 AM

    Excellent points Regina. Good fiction can expand understanding, convict and teach powerful truths. I still remember my first reading of C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, it shook me to my core, stimulating a deeper understanding of my relationship to God.

    One key point that I’d like to add is that fiction Must Entertain if we expect children to read Christian fiction on their own (which is also extremely important). We don’t want a tween or teen to pick up a work of Christian fiction and then put it down because it is boring—and worse, then judge all Christian fiction as boring.

    I’ve developed another resource to find great Christian fiction at: Christian Books for Tweens and Teens, at http://www.christianbooksfortweensandteens.com there’s a load of titles, reviewed and evaluated primarily for entertainment but also for spirituality, romance and violence. The search engine is super easy to use and if you give it a try, you can leave your own rating for titles you’ve read. The more Christian fiction for kids that I read, the more excited I get for the value it can bring into tweens and teens lives.