Two friends will ask me this question periodically, “What was the last fiction book you read?” Most of my reading list includes books on theology, leadership, and biographies. Those topics have direct application to life. The question my friends ask challenges my assumptions on fiction.

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In our book lists, we tend to rush to consume and apply content. For those of us stuck in non-fiction, we might miss out on what reading fiction can offer us. When we participate in a story, the characters invite us into their lives. Growing in following Jesus involves renewing our mind. Many of the great writers of fiction offer keen observations about life and faith.

I have slowly read through The Samurai by Endo Shusaku over the past year. The narrative weaves the interplay of religion, faith, culture, and community. A book like this has enhanced my understanding of the Gospel by observing the attitudes and motivations of the characters.

You might find yourself in a stale season of faith. Perhaps, you may want to consider engaging fiction. Here are a few benefits of reading fiction for spiritual growth:

1. Reframing our assumptions on grace.

Recognizing the grace of God can seem at times abstract. Certain fiction authors like Frederick Buechner and Fyodor Dostoevsky share episodes that cause us to question our understanding of grace. Our reactions to characters receiving grace tell us something about ourselves. Maybe this gives us a little insight into why Jesus told the parable of the Prodigal Son.

2. Develops a greater understanding and compassion for people.

Can you think of a character who frustrates you? Many times an author will let you into their thoughts and feelings. For me, I have experienced this a little bit in the short stories of Flannery O’Connor. These characters teach us how to understand and have compassion for others.

3. Changes our conversations about faith.

A group of four of us read Chasing Francis by Ian Morgan Cron. At times when we talk about theology and discipleship, we can debate the issues. Cron, through the character Chase, got us to discuss the heart of the theology. Great stories allow us to identify and then we can have a different conversation with others about faith.

4. Enhances our engagement in scripture.

One of the most important aspects of reading the Bible is recognizing genre. By reading different authors and fiction, we learn to contextualize. Fiction invites us to come to scripture appreciating the style and genre of the book, chapter, and verse we engage.

What fiction books have influenced your faith? Share in the comment section below.

Photo credit by Glen Noble.