The Weird World of Christian Sci-Fi

It’s been many years now, but I can still remember the intense emotional rush inspired by Luke Sky walker lifting an X-wing spacecraft in the murky swamp planet of Dagoba. It was a feeling of inexplicable awe and excitement, one that would help make the Star Wars trilogy one of the paramount events, not just in my childhood, but my life. This guy was lifting a spaceship…with his mind! With the FORCE!! How amazing is that?!

Fast for ward a number of years to the present, and I find myself reading a book that captures a scene very similar to that of the Star Wars movie. Only this time around I feel a very different, less significant type of excitement. And not so much because what used to be an X-wing is now an enormous boulder, but more because the hero of the story is doing a levitating act, NOT with the force…but with the Christian faith.

Welcome to the world of Ted Dekker, where the bizarre seems to out-jump its own apex. Jesus-powered super kids, demonic assassins, and (you guessed it) faith propelled boulders; it’s all in a days work for one of Christian fiction’s most talked about writers.

When trying to define Dekker as a novelist there is quite a bit of uncertainty. Some say he’s a horror writer, others say science-fiction, while most just see his work as f lat out strange literature. Saint What isn’t uncertain, however, is the fact that he’s quickly becoming more and more of a literary powerhouse within popular Christian circles. With a fast growing fan following, and a Holly wood title based on his work Thr3e, there’s no better time than now to start getting familiar with his work. His new book Saint, which hit book shelves last September, can be best described as an action-suspense political sci-fi thriller, with a dash of Christian theology. From the opening page, readers are pulled into a high octane adventure that doesn’t let up for a second. And Dekker keeps up the momentum, even beyond the last few words in print.

While reading Saint, I began my recollection of Star Wars and started to make emotional and contextual comparisons between the two. As mentioned above, my response to Star Wars was excitement characterized by awe. In contrast, my response to Saint was more like the excitement you feel while watching a soap opera you know you shouldn’t be enjoying but indulge in any way. I wasn’t spellbound. I was embarrassed. Yes, I genuinely felt uncomfortable reading some of Dekker’s work, because the honest truth of the matter is that his writing is downright cheesy. There’s something undeniably laughable about a man shouting “I believe!! ” and then lifting a boulder. Especially when put alongside Luke Sky walker using a pensive expression and shaky hands to move a spacecraft. But why? On paper, they both look either equally ridiculous or equally profound, so why exactly does the force get dealt a better hand than faith?

Some would argue that the reason so many people find works like Dekker’s a tad silly is because we (more specifically people in the Western World) tend to remove the miraculous and supernatural from our ever yday lives and limit it to the pages of the Bible and Sunday school class conversations. Yet we expect nothing less than the fantastic in all facets of our entertainment media, whether it’s movies, television, or novels. Why do we respond differently to Christian sci-fi?

I suspect that Dekker’s problem lies in his execution and not in the actual content of his books. We might want to accept faith on the same terms as the force, but Dekker isn’t writing in a way that makes faith easy to accept. Somewhere out there, in the secret places of all authors’ minds, is a formula box containing convenient equations for producing certain types of work. Some equations are for comedy, others for romance, and some are even for actionsuspense political sci-fi thrillers. What Dekker seems to be doing is taking out some of the original values in the equation and inserting the Christian faith in their place. Sadly, this doesn’t work out the same way it ordinarily would, because the final product’s value is now off. To use an analogy, rather than coming up with a new breed of animal, you get a very similar one with physical oddities.

This is a pit that many authors fall into, and not just in Christian literature. Sometimes changing core aspects of a genre works out, and other times it doesn’t. When Mel Gibson decided to tell the Passion story in a way that was mostly reser ved for movies like Gladiator and the Last Samurai, he was taking a huge risk, but somehow things fell together in perfect symmetr y. Regardless of your perspective on the theological emphases in this movie, no one could honestly say The Passion of the Christ was cheesy. But could it have turned out other wise? Of course! It is up to the creative mind behind the project to pick up on such errors before the work’s completion.

The final verdict: to say that Ted Dekker is a bad writer would be a far stretch from the truth. He has an incredible knack for gripping the heart and attention of the reader and holding on to them for the duration of his stories. He’s also bold enough to tr y and mix genres in daring and unorthodox ways, something which by itself deser ves the highest praise. But Dekker is no Chuck Palahniuk (Fight Club, Choke), and should not even be compared to the likes of Stephen K ing. Using them in direct analogy will only lead to disappointment, and the fault will be more of the reader’s than anyone else’s. Easy to read, and a whole lot of fun, Ted Dekker is a guilty pleasure of the highest caliber. For those already well read in suspenseful Christianfiction, Dekker’s work is a must read.

And for those less acquainted with the genre, now would be a great time to get your feet wet. Floating boulders aren’t half as impressive as an X-wing, but I guess they’ll do.

Edirin Ibru is a junior at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, studying philosophy and studio arts.