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Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Argument Against Christian Horror -- A Response

Is the horror genre incompatible with the Christian faith? Many would say so. But a closer inspection of the arguments reveal flaws.
What are those arguments? Perhaps the most common is the one that centers around this verse:

Philippians 4:8 – “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.”

The argument goes like this: Stories that involve ghosts, demons, gore, and occultism draw our minds away from the things we should be dwelling upon. The Christian who spends too much time contemplating evil will be corrupted by it. We are commanded to focus upon “good” things, which is why Christian fiction has no business flirting with “horror.”

At first glance, this argument sounds reasonable. There should be a qualitative difference between what Christians write and the mindless splatter and occultism that defines much of today’s horror. Furthermore, Christians who “dwell” upon what is untrue, dishonorable, and impure are indeed setting themselves up for problems. But does this verse actually say what the “Christian horror” objectors intend? Does Philippians 4:8 teach that believers should “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil”? I don’t think so. Let me offer two responses.

First, the Bible is perhaps the greatest refutation of the argument against “Christian horror.” Remember, Philippians 4:8 is but one verse amidst 66 books. Many of those books contain scenes of gore, torment, destruction, demons, plagues, catastrophe, divine judgment and eternal anguish. The reader who wants to “dwell” only on what is “pure” may want to avoid the Fall of Man (Gen. 3), Noah’s Flood (Gen. 7), the Slaughter of the Firstborn (Ex. 11), the Destruction of Sodom (Gen. 19), the Great White Throne Judgment (Rev. 20), and The Crucifixion of Christ (which involves one of the most brutal forms of execution ever devised). 

While the Bible’s message is one of redemption, that redemption unfolds amidst a dark world that is pummeled by evil beings and plummeting toward chaos and destruction.

Secondly, there’s a difference between what we observe and what we choose to focus on. We have all witnessed evil, ugly, disturbing things. We have seen atrocities and wept over the wreckage of human lives. This verse is not telling us to turn away from what is unlovely and impure, but to not focus on them. In fact, Christians are commanded to NOT turn away from evil, injustice, poverty, hate, bigotry, and pain. Refusing to look upon or acknowledge evil may in fact BE evil.

Furthermore, if evil is "true," then in fact, Phil. 4:8 actually commands us to think about it. Thinking about evil is different than thinking evil. Yes, we are called to think pure thoughts and meditate on that which is good. However, that does not mean we should live in denial about the darkness all around us. Nor should we eschew the horrific simply because it is unsettling. In fact, it is this “unsettling” that may make our stories more efficacious. Prairie romances should have a place in the Christian catalog, but so should tales of woe. As long as there really is a place like Hell, then horror must inhabit part of the “Christian imagination.”

The famed Japanese director Akira Kurosawa simply said, “The role of the artist is to not look away.”

Christian artists, perhaps more than any other, should abide this proverb. We should not “look away.” I don’t mean that we should delight in evil, be captivated by the macabre, or celebrate darkness (which is the most common charge against “dark” art), but that our perspective of the human condition should be unflinching and particularly acute. Feel-good story-telling may have its place. But artists — especially Christian artists — who only subscribe to a “feel-good” world have violated an essential artistic law… they have “looked away.”

Philippians 4:8 is not a prescription against writing “Christian horror.” It is an exhortation to focus our minds on the Truth. In this sense, turning our eyes away from darkness may be the most dishonorable, unhealthy, deceptive thing we can do.
Mike is a monthly contributor to Novel Journey. He is represented by the rockin' Rachelle Gardner of WordServe Literary. Mike's debut novel, "The Resurrection," is in stores now and his novella, "Winterland," will be available in e-book November 2011. You can visit his website at


  1. Very well said. No topic should be off limits to a Christian author who uses a story to reveal transformation or revelation.

  2. Wow, that was wonderful. I plan to hold on to this one for reference.

  3. This is a well-written argument, Mike. I wondered at first where you were going. :) While the jury is still out on the subject of ghosts with me, when Jesus walked on the water, he told the disciples not to be afraid, he wasn't a ghost. I've known good Christians who claim to have seen one. It's more what they are that has me wondering. However, that's another subject for you to plumb. :)

  4. Excellent post. Makes me think of Precious Moments Christianity--where Christianity is supposed to be sweet and cute and suitable for display on the mantle (nothing against PM figurines). Life is hard, gritty, uncomfortable and twitchy, and the world needs Christians to be able to get in there and be effective.

  5. Sally Jo, you're the first person I've heard describe life as "twitchy." I think I know what you mean. But does this imply that Christians want non-twitchy fiction?

  6. It's not just Christians. Most people in this world seem to go through life with blinders,only seeing what they want to see; and ear buds, only hearing what they want to hear. Like a spoiled child who refuses to receive a lecture: eyes clamped tight, fingers in ears, singing non-sense at the top of his lungs.

    When we ignore the evil in this world we are turning our backs on its victims: the abused children; the homeless veterans; the widows and orphans; their loved ones were taken from this life by wars, natural disasters, genocide, homicide, persecution... the evil in this word touches all of our lives whether we acknowledge it or not. Ignoring does not make it go away.

    "Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them."- Ephesians 5:11

    We can't expose what we claim no awareness of. We can't stand and fight against an enemy we pretend does not exist. While our eyes and ears are closed... while we sleep in sugar plum dreams, evil continues to plague the rest of the world in nightmares.

    Thanks, Mike, for this post.

  7. Good, thought-provoking post, Mike. I think of the mainstream "horror" genre (which I now avoid reading or watching) as portraying evil / torture / gore as an end in itself. So, to me, the very phrase "Christian horror" was an oxymoron.

    But if the thing that makes a story Christian is its redemptive purpose, then I can see that the background you describe -- of "a dark world pummeled by evil beings..." -- only highlights the need for redemption. Everyone needs the Savior, from the conscientious prairie girl to the most twisted serial killer. I'm glad there are different genres of stories that can illuminate for different people both the need and its Provision.

  8. I think it's all the in the presentation. If you revel in the blackness, graphically describing gory, violent deaths just to up the gross factor, or if you're reveling in fear as an end in itself, it's not going to serve the Kingdom well. In fact, quite the opposite.

    However, if you're covering your book in prayer, trying to stay as true to Biblical accounts as you can (demons, witches, etc. and GOD'S PERSPECTIVE on said things), as well as motivating people to be aware of the dangers out there, I think that's using the gift of discernment while spreading the Kingdom message.

    There are some Christians who are going to avoid the horror genre because it's offensive to them, and it's wise for them to avoid it. If Satan can use any genre to gain a foothold in your life, he will. From fear (horror) to covetousness (unrealistic romance), different books hit people different ways. As authors, we need to be sensitive to this and be sure we have our Christian worldview locked and loaded before we start handling difficult topics like the supernatural. OR romance. God does have a POV on all these things. The more we read/understand the Bible before writing, the better.

  9. "Horror is that which cannot be made safe -- evolving, ever-changing -- because it is about our relentless need to confront the unknown, the unknowable, and the emotion we experience when in its thrall." Douglas E. Winter

    I think, like with all genres, we have to approach it with God's wisdom and employ our discernment to what we read (I personally think Amish books are dangerous to a Christian). We don't want to shut out evil and nor do we want to glorify it. As long as we remain in God's Word and we seek him in all that we do, our conscience, hopefully rooted in truth, will pipe up and let us know when we're sinning or when we're looking at something disturbing that has value. We can perhaps judge whether the book is glorifying God by what it produces in us? The emotions of dread and horror for their own sake are certainly not God-glorifying, but if they prompt a holy fear that impels us to look at reality correctly...

    On the other hand, God is knowable and He has promised us we will find him if we seek him. If horror is about the pursuit of the unknown or unsafe, maybe it's a lie?

    This issue really falls down on how you define the genre of horror. It's not just about "evil" since every genre has evil in it. It goes beyond that.

  10. This is a good post. I write an inspirational blog from the Bible. My posts are my thoughts as I read the Bible each day. Last week I did a post on angels- it was a photography challenge. I felt convicted that I should also tell people about demons. We just ignore them today. But they contribute to our distress. To be honest, I'm sick of the Christian romance novels where everything is easy. But I do love to write. Not sure which genre I'll land in- but it must be for the Lord.

    I come from a rough background and can't spend a lot of time thinking about fear- but I would like to give this type of writing a try. There's a few places I can't go in my mind. I wonder if writing from a hero's perspective might even be healing. : ) I also keep thinking of this verse: "You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that--and shudder." James 2:19

    Thanks for this- it's a good thought-provoking challenge and an unmentionable reality of our lives and time.

  11. Anonymous summarized, "If horror is about the pursuit of the unknown or unsafe, maybe it's a lie?" Agreed. However, horror can equally be a "revelation" of the "unknown or unsafe." Surely, Jesus's descriptions about hell, as are those found in the Book of Revelation, are horrific. But it is precisely the truth, not a lie, which makes them horrific. That to say, horror can be a revelation of the true nature of things.

  12. What you say is true, Mike, about the revelation of truth being horrifying -- but Jesus and the Scripture are speaking of reality, not fiction. And Jesus' purpose was to warn people to repent or face eternal punishment. Outside of Scripture, we can only speculate on supernatural "revelations". People are so in favour of not ignoring demons and the supernatural, but perhaps they ought to tread more carefully. I think playing with demonology, even for a fictional and apparently "beneficial" reason, is dangerous.

    Someone has also said, "the medium is the message." When someone picks up a horror book, Christian or otherwise, they are doing so with the primary intention of being afraid and disturbed. Yes, they might learn something while they're being entertained, but feeling horror for the sake of horror is still their first goal.

    A major part of this issue is the Christian's love relationship with the world. We see something we enjoy that belongs to the world and we try to justify a way to keep it. Can you really say that horror literature is part of our pursuit of holiness? I think we forget that God has zero tolerance for lies or evil. I think it's possible that horror fiction is a compromise with the world.

    The whole idea of an artist's calling being "not to look away" strikes me as worldly philosophy. Why do we need to buy into that? Does the Bible say that? Our mandate to obey Christ comes before any artist's mandate. I agree that we can't avoid or ignore evil. But that doesn't mean we have to purposefully dabble in it either.

  13. I agree with you anonymous- about being scared just for the feeling. My husband is a big fan of suspense, thriller and horror. I asked him how he can watch this stuff. He explained to me, he doesn't read or watch horror to be traumatized- he reads it to see good triumph over evil. If there's no happy ending he won't watch the movie or read the book. He reads Ted Dekker and I enjoy sitting and talking with him about what the hidden message is in the end. Ted has some pretty profound stuff in his books. I have some good Christian scarey books that have kept me up all night reading.

    Isn't that what it's all about? The day will come when all evil will be destroyed and we will be free. Jesus will set us free and evil will be revealed as what it is. Good will triumph at last.

    One of my concerns is how in this generation, people believe that Christians are the cause of wars and there is no evil. The man who shot victims in Norway, was described as a "Christian." I was shocked. There was absolutely no evidence from his blog or anywhere that he'd read the Bible. Some people believe if they eliminated religion, there would be peace. It's been tried before and it didn't work, but hey, who wants to believe there's a devil? And they cling to John Lennon's song, "Imagine." (which describes Heaven). And is probably one of Satan's favorite games today.

    I agree we do need to be cautious about spending too much time on demons and evil. We don't want to get caught up in it. But Jesus death on the cross has protected us, His blood. There is power in His name, many don't understand this.

    Hope it's ok to comment 2 times, I'm enjoying this. It's making me think.

    I need to read Mike's book now : )

  14. One more thing- this is the verse that came to mind when I was posting about angels:

    Ephesians 6:12
    For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. NIV


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