Why do Christian writers write? No doubt there are as many answers to this question as there are there are Christian writers. I know I write my blogs and fantasy stories because I love writing and I have these stories and ideas buzzing around in my head demanding to be told. Yet I also want to communicate God’s love – the love that I have experienced and that gives meaning and purpose to my life - to the hurting world around me. I want my stories to connect with people who may never walk into a church, who may run a mile from an evangelistic crusade, who may in fact be antagonistic to God and Christians and who may not know the difference between Jesus and soap. Of course to do this, my stories need to be published and read. If I can make a living doing it that would be a wonderful bonus.
Perhaps you have similar motives for writing. Your passion may be non-fiction or it may be a different genre of fiction such as romance, crime, suspense, historical or adventure and you may also wish to communicate God’s love and grace in your writing. The question is how do we do this and I suspect that the answer to “the how” depends a great deal on “the who” (we wish to connect with) and “the where” (the community they belong to). Mike Duran suggests that there are two main approaches in Christian fiction – the “holiness” and “honesty” camps. In the first, the focus is on upholding God’s standards while in the second the focus is engaging with the brokenness of the world. It is clear Duran favours the “honesty” camp and claims that the “holiness” camp’s driving concern is God’s law. The law gets a bad rap these days for as Paul said two thousand years ago our standing with God depends on accepting His offer of forgiveness not our (failed) ability to keep His law (e.g. Rom 3:20-28; Gal 3:11). Yet God gave us the law to show us His vision of how we should live and what type of people we should be (e.g. Deut 12:28; 28:9-10; Rom 7:12). As Paul says it is through love that we do what the law demands (Rom 13:8-10). So a concern for God’s standards is not a bad thing. We are called to be prophetic and counter-cultural as well as compassionate.
On the other hand, Jesus associated with sinners to the extent that the religious people of His day called him a glutton and a drunkard (Luke 7:34). Jesus sends us out into the world as the Father sent Him (Matt 17:18; John 20:21). He calls us to be salt and light – we are not to hide our light nor are we to stay in the saltshaker (Matt 5:13-16). As Christians our calling is to engage with the world that the Father loved so much that He sent His Son as ransom to reclaim it (John 3:16). As far as I can see, it is not an either/or proposition – either uphold God’s standards and the truth of His Word OR connect and engage with the hurting world that Jesus came to rescue. So I prefer Tony Whittaker’s more nuanced analogy of three ways of moving across the ocean – as a hovercraft (the “holiness camp”), a submarine (“the honesty camp”) and a ship cutting through the waves. Or as Jesus intimated, we are to be “in” the world but not “of” it (John 17:14-18). Whittaker is discussing the design and writing of websites but I think much of what he says is relevant to literature including fiction. He says that 99% ofChristian websites are written for the saints (i.e. Christians) and much of the rest is written for seekers (people who are positive towards Christianity and/or are already familiar with Christian concepts). However there are many people (over a third of Australians) who have little or no contact with the church, who are unfamiliar with Christian concepts and who are indifferent or antagonistic to the Christian message. Perhaps we could call these people the Sleepers for they are unaware of their need for God and/or His existence (and, okay, it keeps my “S” theme going).
Does that mean that I am arguing that all Christian writing should be explicitly evangelistic? Not at all! This is for three main reasons. Firstly, to my mind good fiction does not preach overtly. Rather, as Robin Phillips suggests good fiction immerses us in a journey which engages and changes us. The message flows organically through the story rather than being imposed from outside of it. Secondly, I am convinced we need writers who write to inspire, challenge and strengthen believers (the saints) and engage those close to the Kingdom (seekers) both with good Christian nonfiction and fiction. Thirdly, we actually need a more subtle and nuanced approach with Sleepers in contrast to Saints and Seekers. This may mean presenting a Christian world view or concepts in a winsome and understated way. It definitely means avoiding Christian jargon or stereotyped scenes. It means engaging the reader wherever they are on their spiritual journey. It may mean a layered approach or moving one step at a time. To be honest I am still exploring what this may look like (and would like to explore this further in a future blog). I am sure that as Christian writers we are called to write the stories God gives us. To paraphrase Whittaker, any story that brings people further along on their journey towards God is evangelistic. So a large part of why I write is to strengthen the saints, guide seekers and to begin to awaken sleepers so that they might turn to the Light.
As the early Christians sang:
“Awake, O sleeper,
rise up from the dead,
and Christ will give you light.”
rise up from the dead,
and Christ will give you light.”
(Ephesians 5:14, NLT)
May God's love, peace and joy bring life and light to you, your family and neighbourhood this Christmas.
Jeanette (Jenny) O’Hagan
Jeanette has lived in Australia and Africa and has studied medicine, history, communication, ethics and theology. She has practiced medicine, taught theology, spoken at various groups, accumulated a few degrees and is focusing on caring for her young children and writing. She currently writing her fantasy fiction Akrad series and has several concept plans for non-fiction books as well.