Archive for the ‘Christian literature’ Tag

Believable Writing   1 comment

When considering a movie or a book, Christians are often told to avoid sexual content, drug use, foul language, violence, etc. We do this for a few reasons. We don’t want to appear to be condoning these activities. We don’t want to expose ourselves to things that adversely affect our relationship with Jesus. We don’t want to promote activities that children might idolize or mimic.

Thepassionposterface-1-.jpgThose are worthy reason for avoiding some films and books. Kill Bill comes to mind as a movie filled with images I could easily not have seen.

On the other hand, some movies contain images where the violence, sex or drug use are an integral part of the story. The conception of John Connor, for example, or the brutal death scene in Braveheart that drives home the point of what the main character was fighting for. I know Christians who rejected Lord of the Rings because of the war scenes.

And, that fine … if those sorts of scenes bother you. But recognize that the real world has violence, death, sex, drug abuse and foul language. I’m not proposing to write erotica, but it seems to me that if Christian writers want to reach the world for Christ, it might be a good idea to acknowledge the reality of the real world.

Several years ago, we took our kids to see The Passion of the Christ. It’s a brutal movie filled with hard images. My coworkers objected. How could I take my children to such a violent movie. My answer was “Jesus didn’t die a PG death.” My daughter still remembers scenes from it that she says help her to hang onto her faith as a 20-something. My son says he thinks about that movie every time we take the Lord’s supper when the line “This is my body which is broken for you” comes.

The Bible itself contains a good deal of violence and sex (Song of Songs) for example. I’m not saying we should glorify these things, but that we should not hide from them and that they do have a place in Christian literature.

Letting God Into Christian Literature   2 comments

The sorry religious novel comes about when the writer supposes that because of his belief, he is somehow dispensed from the obligation to penetrate concrete reality. He will think that the eyes of the Church or of the Bible or of his particular theology have already done the seeing for him, and that his business is to rearrange this essential vision into satisfying patterns, getting himself as little dirty in the process as possible. (Flannery O’Connor, Mystery and Manners, Page163)

What an indictment of much contemporary “Christian literature”! I could have written that myself, but O’Connor wrote it in 1963. I wonder what she would say about evangelical literature today. Probably the same thing.

Ask your neighbors for a spontenous reaction to the phrase “Christian literature.” At best you’ll get a stumbling list of belittling adjectives. My neighbor Matt’s kindest one was “sweet?” No, the question mark was in his voice. How sad! Christian writers can count among their literary antecedents such greats as Chaucer, Milton, Donne, Tolstoy, Dostoyevski, Chesterton, Sayers, Tolkien, Lewis and O’Connor, but we are now viewed as in inconsequential presence in the world of literature, even as “Christian” is the third largest selling genre in the United States.

We have volitionally banished ourselves ot the “inspiration” section at Barnes & Noble, abandoning our neighbors and leaving literature in the hands of writers who leave readers hopeless.

The worthies I listed above were great writers because of their Christian faith. They appreciated the inherent goodness of God’s creation while also recognizing the pervasive consequences of mankind’s fall. Relishing the hope found in Christ’s resurrection and anticipating His redemption, the combined talen with an irresistable urge to tell stories. Armed with a powerful worldview, they made sense of a seemingly senseless world in books and poems that provided eternal significance to the mundane. While never flinching from the cold, hard truth of life in a sin-afflicted world, they held out hope and their works are appreciated today by the vast majority of readers.

For example – Dorothy Sayers wrote the Peter Wimsey detective stories. In the 1920s, she took a lightly-regarded genre and transformed it by employing who-done-it plots and recurring characters to illustrate the conflict between sin and Christian virtue, showing readers how evil might be restrained in the world but never ended by human effort. Sayers was wildly popular. My mother and father, living 1000 miles apart and neither of them particularly religious, both grew up eagerly awaiting each new installment and Sayers’ stories are still available at Barnes & Noble 70 years later.

O’Connor recognized some 20 years later that Christians were expected to write “to prove the truth of the Faith.” She was pressured to tame her “grotesque” characters and to sanitize her Southern gothic fiction, but refused, deploring the sentimental drift of Christian writing into a “distortion that overemphasized innocence.”

When we exaggerate innocence in fallen world, we mock the true condition of man and society, but we also devalue the price paid for the redemption of man and society.

The things we see, hear, taste, smell and touch (what O’Connor called “concrete realities”) are the only medium an artist can work in. We should create characters, invent action and dialogue, and concoct settings that look a lot like places we might visit. For our stories to transcend our present reality, they must be firmly rooted in that reality, not concerned with “unfleshed ideas and emotions.”

O’Connor complained that many Christian writers were “reformers” possessed not by a story, but by the bare bones of some abstract notion. They attempt to use their fiction to deal with problems rather characters. They want to deal with questions and issues, not existence. Everything smacks of sociology rather than those concrete details of life that would give characters and the scenery they inhabit a true realism.

Only through that true realism can writers hope to touch the inner life of the reader where the message we hope to convey can be received. We want to reach the world for Jesus, Christian writers need to demonstrate that we are in this world, that we love our fellow man and that we recognize there are hard edges to reality. When our stories do that, they become real life rendered into fiction that can give hope rather than despair. If readers love it, then we’ve done our part and it is time to step aside and let God do His.

Christian Fiction As Propaganda   4 comments

As a Christian who is a writer, I don’t necessarily seek to write Christian literature. However, I believe true Christians cannot help to exude our faith as we live our lives or write our books and I do hope Christians won’t avoid my work because I am not writing specifically for them.

Far too often, when I browse the “Christian” section at Barnes & Noble, I see a lot of propaganda wrapped up in books of fiction. It’s worse when I go to the Christian bookstore. The vast majority of what passes for Christian literature is banal, poorly written, dull as tears and message-driven.

I could blame the writers, the publishers or the audience, but I’m going to go out on a limb and blame the entire Christian community. Publishers know their market. That’s how they make money. There is a market for banal, poorly written, dull as tears, message-driven books that can be labeled “Christian”. That’s why these books get published. The Christian Book Association bases it criteria not on literary merit or commercial success, but on doctrine and message. If publishers want to put a Christian label on a book, the book has to meet a definitive standard. It can’t have sex, it can’t have a lot of violence, Christian characters must be at the center of the plot, and it can’t have a lot of drugs or drinking.

Whoops! There goes my work in progress about a young alcoholic facing the music for killing his sister. There’s a secondary character that’s a Christian, but Peter never is and he’s unlikely to become one soon because he has a lot to distract him from salvation. It’s more the story of his Christian friend’s failure to offer him solutions, so no publisher of Christian literature is going to be interested in it because CBA would say it doesn’t meet their guidelines.

Writers face a similar dilemma. If we don’t write to the CBA requirements, no matter how good our work is, it will be rejected. The Chronicles of Narnia couldn’t meet the current standards. We all know CS Lewis was a Christian. His book Mere Christianity was involved in some of us becoming Christians. Yet Chronicles has drinking, drug addiction (Turkish Delight), war and violence and it gets a little loose on some theology. Nobody ever bows a knee and accepts Christ either. Is Chronicles a Christian series or not? According to the CBA’s guidelines, it’s not.

Most of the books that receive the Christian label are message driven to the point where plot and character development are sacrificed. The message is often very compelling, but the plots feel contrived or sensationalized because it’s manipulating the reader to a preconceived place where everything turns out lovely because God intervenes. I stopped reading the Left Behind series when the Tribulation Force survived a nuclear blast, but I had already wearied of one-dimensional characters. I knew what they were going to say or do … well, all of the time. YAWN!

Then there’s that tendency to end stories with tidy conclusions that leave you feeling uplifted. Peter killed his sister. Realistically, do you think his life going forward is going to be easy, even if he were to accept Christ? And, should it be?

Writing to a message would have him repentant and forgiven, maybe a little sad, but secure in the support from his Christian friends. That’s not how I chose to write it because I don’t want to promote fantasy Christianity in a world that has never existed.

The Christian faith found within most Christian fiction does not exist. Demons are slain, sinners saved, prayers answered immediately, the righteous resist temptation and never fall, the unrighteous come to faith or a bad end through God’s power. Does this sound at all like real life?

Christian fiction has earned a bad reputation because of this. And, I hate that! Christianity should be synonymous with the highest quality of whatever craft we engage in. Christian fiction should be filled with solid characters you identify with and care about, a setting so vivid you feel you’ve been there, and a plot that transports you like you’re one of the characters. Christian writing should be the Bach of literature. Instead, it’s known for just the opposite and derided even by those who buy the books.

That’s the weird thing. Christians buy this awful stuff and read it … while at the same time, they also read George RR Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire (The Game of Thrones). Often they hide Martin’s books from the Small-Group Bible Study — which also makes me sad.

I used to do that too, until I realized what a travesty we are creating by pretending Christianity is something it isn’t. Now some of my favorite authors grace shelves in the public areas of my home. It’s fun to gauge the reaction of visitors who are Christians.

The pursed lips or the guilty chuckle? Those who do the guilty chuckle get to be my alpha readers.

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