Stories on the edge of familiarity

The Dilemma of Christian Writing… It’s Not What You Think

How shall we talk about God?
Do we veil him in the secret place and keep him out of sight?
Do we shove him at the public and challenge them to fight?
Or maybe we should make him into who we’ve decided he is.
Yes, that is better; then we understand him.
Then we won’t have to change.

The biggest challenge that Christian writers face isn’t “How should I portray God/Christianity in my books?”, though many have touted it as such.

Evangelism is deeply ingrained within Christian culture. Nearly every Christian would agree that telling others about Jesus is extremely important, although their reasons may vary.

This comes out in the kinds of struggles Christian writers have with their books. They know that not everyone is interested in hearing about God, but they also consider including him in their work to be very important.

They want to talk about him without being preachy.

They want to encourage what they believe to be right, while also acknowledging the existence of what they believe is wrong.

And, in an increasingly secular society, they want to write stories about the things that matter most to them while connecting with those that may not agree with them.

If you’ve ever gotten frustrated with reading Christian fiction, trust me. Authors are frustrated, too. They want to write the books that you will love. And they want to do it without compromise.

But how to do that?

Is this about theological accuracy?

Edgy content?

Should we directly mention God, or just include “Christian themes”? (whatever that means)

Do we use our books as tools of evangelism? If not, why are we writing them?

While all those questions are important, they fail to address the true crux of being a Christian and a writer.

Do I trust what God says about me enough to write a story that makes me come alive?

That’s it.

That’s all there is to it.

Worrying about how everyone is going to perceive your book will kill you.

Worrying about the theological accuracy of your book will kill you.

Worrying about the amount or portrayal of [insert potentially problematic element here] in your book will kill you.

Worry in general will kill you, both figuratively and literally, but it’s not just the author we’re talking about here.

It will also kill the book.

Because I can’t be the only one who’s read a Christian speculative fiction book that goes to such lengths to theologically justify the existence of magic (or what have you) that I wanted to scream: “GO READ FREAKING REVELATIONS OR EZEKIEL AGAIN! NOT EVERYTHING HAS TO MAKE SENSE!”

(Seriously. Revelations is nuts. I love it.)

Well, ok, that’s not exactly what I wanted to scream right then. That’s generally what comes afterwards. What I want to scream first is more like: “SHUT UP AND TELL THE STORY GODAMMIT.”

And I can’t be the only person who’s read Christian fiction that has the potential to venture into areas that are so real, so raw, so messy, and deal with them beautifully, but then, every time it might go there, it veers back into “safe” topics. It’s enough to make me want to pull my hair out.

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” ~ Howard Thurman

Troof.

I long for the day when I find Christians writing books that are so lit up with passion that it’s contagious.

That look at humanity in all its contradiction right in the eyes and say: “I love you.”

That lead the way in setting standards for creativity, imagination, and quality.

That talk about God so honestly, so fearlessly, that there is absolutely no pressure to love him, and yet you can’t help but fall in love just a little because of their words.

Screw questions of theology.

I want to read words written by someone who really believes that the God of all Creation lives inside of them.

And that he talks.

Ok, yes, there have been numerous unspeakably horrible works of “art” whose creators say God gave to them. That’s not the kind of thing that I’m advocating. Here’s what I really advocate as a standard for writers:

Write what excites your imagination and inspires your heart.

“But Thea, I can’t do that. Don’t you know that ‘the heart is deceitful above all things’? Don’t you know that we have to be constantly battling to keep our mind from temptation?” (quotation from Jeremiah 17:9)

There’s a difference between lust and love. In the same way, there’s a difference between temptation and inspiration.

Learn it.

And as to the bullshit about being so weak to the power of sin, let me ‘splain something:

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”
2 Corinthians 5:17 (NIV)

“…as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”
Psalm 103:12 (NIV)

“If God is for us, who can be against us?”
Romans 8:31b (NIV)

According to the Bible, if someone is a Christian, their heart has been made completely new. That verse about the heart being deceitful is from the Old Testament. We gots a better one now, kay? Plus, we’ve got Jesus living inside of us, who conquered sin and death, and the Holy Spirit, who empowers us to live the amazing life God has for us.

“What about when Paul talking about how he does the things he doesn’t want to do, and doesn’t do things he wants to do?”

Do you trust that God has made you into a new creature? That you have victory over sin through Jesus?

Yes?

Cool.

Now read my lips: Christians still sin. And that’s ok.

Because sin doesn’t define us (and neither does it define anyone else). And you know what else? Imperfect books can still kick ass. Leave perfection to God.

Yes, I’m cranky. It happens.

I’m just tired of people hiding behind the questions they think they should be asking while their art suffers for it.

I’m also cranky because I got the biggest issue Christian writers face wrong earlier. It’s not about stories that make them come alive. It’s actually about this:

Do they trust what God says about them enough to write what makes them come alive?

Can you tell when an author is in love with the story they’ve created? How does that affect your experience reading it?

4 Responses to The Dilemma of Christian Writing… It’s Not What You Think

  1. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, YES. YES!!!!

    My head and heart are full of this resounding agreement, so it’s tough to think of anything else to say. But if I don’t say something better than that, you’ll delete this comment as some of that lame spam that gives vague accolades but says nothing in hopes that you’ll allow it to appear on your blog and provide a link to their lame website. Heh!

    I saw your comment on Mike Duran’s blog about Communion and hopped over to see what your site was about. I’m super excited at what I’ve found, overwhelmed really, because so much here seems reflective of thoughts I’ve had.

    Wish that my current sites had more content that resonates with some of this, but I’m in an awkward state of transition right now. Neglected old sites, current sites with sporadic content, nothing that indicates that I’ve finally made the leap to focusing on writing. Nothing that delves deeply into my thoughts on writing speculative fiction as a Christian.

    So, I’ll just say, “Hi. Let’s be friends.” And see where it goes. ;-)

    • Haha got your message loud and clear: “I am a real human being” :)

      And thanks so much for your thoughts! I’ve been reading Mike’s blog for a while now and, while I always enjoy his posts, the lack of this aspect of the discussion on his and other Christian blogs was kind of bugging me. So I decided to rant. Well, with structure and a point, but it still does have rantish bits.

      I’m glad you like what you’ve found here. And, yes, let’s be friends. :)