History’s fondest masterpieces of art were inspired by Christian theology: Handel’s Messiah, Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, John Milton’s Paradise Lost, to name a few. Every generation enjoys the talents of saints who pour their faith into their talents in order to bolster the faith of others and communicate truth to the world.
As of late, however, the competition has grown fierce. We are constantly bombarded with endless options of art, entertainment, and media, and new, popular content is made available almost daily, none of which have any concern with the spiritual welfare of the recipients. Concerning young adult literature, there are many popular titles: Percy Jackson, Harry Potter, and Twilight, for example, and many of them have a certain mythical, magical, or supernatural aspect about them that provides substance to the plot. Additionally, they all revolve around kids as the main protagonists!
Perhaps, then, it is the cynic in me who despairs the awkward, seemingly unnatural or tacky way that artists and authors of the 21st century tend to portray Christian truths via fictional literature. Can Christianity enter into this competitive field of teen literature unscathed?
Now enter Jerel Law onto the scene. In his first book, Spirit Fighter, he has attempted to create the very object of this discussion: a fictional story on par with the action-packed, supernatural fads, yet heavily infused with Christian truths. Though similar in scope to C.S. Lewis and his Space Trilogy or Narnia series, Law decides to cover nothing in allegory, preferring to create a story blatantly Christian in nature. Scripture is quoted; the characters pray to God; actual figures from the Bible appear in the story; spiritual development is encouraged. It is also a story full of action. The story moves along quickly; spears and arrows fly everywhere; possessed cougars and a Leviathan attack; Fallen angels troop here and there. And of course, children are the ones who must save the day.
Is Law successful in creating a fantasy story that children will enjoy and Christians can be proud of? I would say for the most part yes. Keeping the target audience in mind, the story is entertaining, though this story is much simpler and more straightforward than any of the examples above. Keeping the overarching purpose in mind, the reader is blatantly challenged with his/her awareness of the spiritual struggle that is constantly raging around us.
The question parents will want to ask is how much speculation and imagination they are comfortable with regarding some passages of Scripture. This is because of the direct correlation between a fictional story and the Scriptures. The very plot of the book relies on a particular interpretation of Genesis 6:4, where angels create offspring with humans, resulting in the Nephilim, humans with superhuman powers. The armor of God is Ephesians 6 is also extrapolated to be God-given angelic powers to help fight off the fallen angels and their schemes.
I personally do not think this is anything to be concerned about for our young readers out there, though parents should be prepared for the opportunity to clarify what parts of the book are in Scripture and what parts were embellished for the sake of the story.
The only parts I found disappointing, and where the book had a tendency to stray toward the tacky side, were in matters relating to the faith of the main characters. Every time things were getting confusing or desperate, the children were encouraged to just have more faith. Don’t know where to go? Just have faith and you’ll figure it out. In a bind? Just pray with faith and you’ll suddenly have strength. Don’t know what to do? Your faith will make it clear as a summer sky. I wish Law took more time to discuss the complexities of faith without such a clichéd sense of simplicity and repetition. Rather, he could have used the opportunity to discuss how faith and prayer changes our perceptions, attitudes, and expectations in such a way as to better align ourselves with his will and make better decisions.
Instead, the children in this book simply squeezed out more faith or made a desperate prayer and miraculous things suddenly happened that saved the day. A more realistic approach would be for faith and prayer to guide the kids to make better decisions so that they avoided certain bad situations or to help them be content with the circumstance they faced.
Part of me truly desired for Spirit Fighter to compete in quality of storytelling with the popular series titles listed earlier, but even though it does not, I would recommend this book. It is a good Christian fantasy fiction resource to expose children to the spiritual side of their lives, and enjoy a fun story at the same time.