The Keys of the Kingdom, by A.J. Cronin (historical fiction)
“Francis Chisholm is a compassionate and humble priest whose individuality and directness make him unpopular with other clergy. Considered a failure by his superiors, he is sent to China to maintain a mission amid desperate poverty, civil war, plague, and the hostility of his superiors. In the face of this constant danger and hardship, Father Chisholm finds the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Recognized as A. J. Cronin’s best novel, The Keys of the Kingdom is an enthralling, fast-moving, colorful tale of a deeply spiritual man called to do good in an imperfect world.”
I just finished The Keys of the Kingdom and believe it’s a perfect novel to read during the Christmas season. It doesn’t contain the aura of glitter and magic of modern Christmas stories, but it is a love story—it dramatizes the love that a Christ-like priest has for his fellow human beings, his church, and God. Father Chisholm experiences many horrific situations, and during much of his life, he believes he’s a failure. Through it all, however, he never loses his focus—never forgets the Being he is really serving. Later in his life, he writes, “I have bumped my head so often . . . and so hard, in my strivings after God” (Part 4, Chapter 11).
I absolutely love this book! It engaged me completely, and I came away from it with a more refined vision of what holiness looks like as described in this verse from the Bible:
Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.
The Dark Trench Saga, by Kerry Nietz (Christian fiction, Evangelical)
“Sandfly is a debugger. He is property, bought and paid for in an Earth under sharia law. All faiths but one have been banned. And the rule of the great Imam is supreme.
“As a debugger, Sandfly has an implant in his head that connects him to the world’s technology—and doles out mental shocks to keep him obedient. All he wants is to fix bots and avoid shocks.
“Now he’s been called into Earth orbit. The masters have a new spacecraft—one capable of interstellar flight. On its maiden voyage, the only robot on board went mad and tore itself apart.
“Why? Better question: does it pose any risk to humans?
“When Sandfly reviews the bot’s final moments, he perceives something unexpected. Something impossible.
“As Sandfly pieces together the clues, a trap spreads beneath his feet. If he solves the mystery, he may doom himself. And if he fixes the robot, he may shatter his world.
“Suspenseful, unique, and awash in cyberpunk jive, A Star Curiously Singing presents a bleak future that might be closer than we think.”
The Dark Trench Saga is Christian science fiction at its best—the setting is unique and well-executed, and the faith-based aspect of the story is perceptive and complex enough to inspire thought. Nietz brilliantly uses a continuous digital “stream” of information as a symbol for the knowledge of God that flows to humanity from Heaven. This “superlative stream” provides a flow of light and truth to those who are spiritually prepared to receive it—sanctifying power that “reprograms” the person’s mind and heart.
The Return of the King, by J.R.R. Tolkien (fantasy)
“The Companions of the Ring have become involved in separate adventures as the quest continues. Aragorn, revealed as the hidden heir of the ancient Kings of the West, joined with the Riders of Rohan against the forces of Isengard, and took part in the desperate victory of the Hornburg. Merry and Pippin, captured by Orcs, escaped into Fangorn Forest and there encountered the Ents. Gandalf returned, miraculously, and defeated the evil wizard, Saruman.
“Meanwhile, Sam and Frodo progressed towards Mordor to destroy the Ring, accompanied by Smeagol—Gollum, still obsessed by his ‘precious’. After a battle with the giant spider, Shelob, Sam left his master for dead; but Frodo is still alive—in the hands of the Orcs. And all the time the armies of the Dark Lord are massing.”
As the armies of the Dark Lord amass, Denethor, the Lord and Steward of Minas Tirith, sends his son Faramir on a hopeless mission to fortify the garrison on the river, where the first assault will fall. Faramir and his men are forced to retreat. While doing so, Faramir is shot with a poisonous dart and is carried, unconscious, to his father. At this point, Minas Tirith is besieged and surrounded by enemies. Denethor sits with his almost-dead son, so consumed by grief, guilt, and despair that he no longer cares about defending the city. When Denethor commands his servants to burn Faramir and him alive on a funeral pyre, the hobbit Pippin realizes that Denethor’s mind is overthrown before the city is overrun and goes for help.
The Fellowship of the Ring, by J.R.R. Tolkien (fantasy)
“In ancient times the Rings of Power were crafted by the Elven-smiths, and Sauron, the Dark Lord, forged the One Ring, filling it with his own power so that he could rule all others. But the One Ring was taken from him, and though he sought it throughout Middle-earth, it remained lost to him. After many ages it fell into the hands of Bilbo Baggins, as told in The Hobbit.
“In a sleepy village in the Shire, young Frodo Baggins finds himself faced with an immense task, as his elderly cousin Bilbo entrusts the Ring to his care. Frodo must leave his home and make a perilous journey across Middle-earth to the Cracks of Doom, there to destroy the Ring and foil the Dark Lord in his evil purpose.”
We are told in the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring that Saruman the White is the most powerful of the wizards in Middle-earth and trusted by wizards and Elves as a wise, formidable enemy to Sauron, the Dark Lord. When Gandalf the Grey goes to Saruman for help, he learns that Saruman is no longer working to destroy Sauron but to supplant him and has, therefore, become a traitor.
“A body is found in the Thames and identified as that of John Harmon, a young man recently returned to London to receive his inheritance. Were he alive, his father’s will would require him to marry Bella Wilfer, a beautiful, mercenary girl whom he had never met. Instead, the money passes to the working-class Boffins, and the effects spread into various corners of London society.”
Our Mutual Friend details corruption and falsity in those “various corners of London society” to such a degree that a glimpse of Zion didn’t come easily to me as I read it. In this Babylon-like society, the altruistic mingle with the mercenaries, and distinguishing between them isn’t always simple. One thing that Dickens does well in this novel is show how these types exist at all levels of society and that it is possible for a person to change—sometimes for the better and, just as often, for the worse.
“Set in Colonial America during the Revolutionary era, the play tells the story of Richard Dudgeon, a local outcast and self-proclaimed ‘Devil’s disciple’. In a twist characteristic of Shaw’s love of paradox, Dudgeon sacrifices himself in a Christ-like gesture despite his professed Infernal allegiance.”
The above description sounds serious, but the play itself is quite satirical. While Dudgeon is certainly a Christ figure, he is an unlikely and irreverent one, although he fills this role in a way I don’t find offensive. I love satire, however, so if you don’t, you might come away from this play with a different opinion. The mix-up of identities that leads to Dudgeon going to the gallows will inevitably remind readers of the switch that occurs between Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton in A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens. One of the primary differences between Carton and Dudgeon, however, is that Carton acts on feelings of sincere love, and Dudgeon sets out to sacrifice himself for entirely different reasons:
“. . . a saintly man, Prince Myshkin, is thrust into the heart of a society more concerned with wealth, power and sexual conquest than with the ideals of Christianity. Myshkin soon finds himself at the center of a violent love triangle in which a notorious woman and a beautiful young girl become rivals for his affections.”
Daystar, by Kathy Tyers (Christian fiction, Evangelical)
After fleeing to their sanctuary world for safety with other telepathic Sentinels, members of the Caldwell family must decide whether to accept or reject the claim of a previously unknown family member that he is Boh-Dabar, the prophesied Messiah.
Okay, I know what you’re thinking—that only a person with a very strange brain would talk about a Russian classic and a Christian science fiction novel in the same breath. Despite the obvious differences between these two books, they are based on the same premise: What would happen if Jesus Christ came to live among a particular group of people? How would He act? How would people react to Him? What would He require of those people individually and as a community?
“The Men of the Mark do not lie, and therefore they are not easily deceived” (J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers).
“God has just such gladness every time he sees from heaven that a sinner is praying to Him with all his heart, as a mother has when she sees the first smile on her baby’s face” (Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Idiot).
“God’s love and mercy can overcome all things—our ignorance, and weakness, and all the burden of our past wickedness—all things but our wilful sin, sin that we cling to, and will not give up” (George Eliot, Adam Bede).
“Unlimited power is in itself a bad and dangerous thing; human beings are not competent to exercise it with discretion, and God alone can be omnipotent, because His wisdom and His justice are always equal to His power” (Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America).
“I decided that God, a kind and loving God, could never be proved. In fact there are . . . a lot of arguments against him. But there isn’t any point to life without him. Without him we’re just a skin disease on the face of the earth, and I feel too strongly about the human spirit to be able to settle for that. So what I did for a long time was to live life as though I believed in God. And eventually I found out that the as though had turned into a reality” (Madeleine L’Engle, The Moon by Night).
About the Author
Creator of spaced-out Christian fiction and clean-reading resources. See my BIO.