Monday, 9 July 2018

Rights and Responsibilities of a Christian Writer - by Melinda Jensen

I have always been an avid asker of questions. Growing up, I spent inordinate amounts of time poring over Encyclopaedia and other reference books. If it wasn’t on the somewhat lean family bookshelves, I’d search the school library, snatching segments of time from my lunch break while others played sport or gossiped with their friends.

The information age is, to me, an absolute Godsend, one that is routinely hijacked by less than Godly forces. Such has always been the battle.

How do we sift through the wealth of information and make sense of what is true and what is false? Even more difficult, how do we determine what is conjecture? How educated or informed is our source? And far more importantly, what is the truth according to this world and yet not God’s truth?

Being a Christian writer is clearly not for the fainthearted. We have the right, of course, as human beings, to churn out whatever inspiration comes our way. That’s what so many writers are all about, after all, isn’t it? Freedom of speech? Freedom of the press? Creative license?

As Christians though, our rights are coupled with a weighty responsibility. We are to be ‘in’ this world but not ‘of’ it. Romans 12:2 makes this very clear.

‘Do not conform yourselves to the standards of this world, but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind. Then you will be able to know the will of God--what is good and is pleasing to him and is perfect.’

Immediately then, we find ourselves limited. That’s not easy for a creative soul and yet, it is a very clear requirement from our Father-Creator.

1 Peter 1:14
‘As obedient children, do not conform to the passions of your former ignorance.’

Despite our human right to self-expression, our responsibility as followers of Christ is to ensure our words do no harm, spiritually or emotionally, for words are, indeed capable of deep wounding. Words are also capable of persuading our readers’ thoughts, modifying their attitudes and inciting their passions, whether those passions are positive or negative. It can be extremely difficult to fashion our writing in a way that is real and engaging while maintaining our spiritual integrity. Steering away completely from difficult subjects (eg physical intimacy, domestic violence, and the brutality of war) tends to create a writing style that is flimsy, na├»ve and almost certain to languish in the slush piles of editors and publishers. Our books need to carry fire, whet the appetite for deeper thinking and sometimes, just plain entertain.

A month ago, I dusted off a book I’d found on my mother’s bookshelves and contemplated whether to read it or donate it to a second-hand book store. It was written by the acclaimed Morris West whom I’d studiously avoided in the past, assuming his writing would be a little too racy for me. In the end I decided it was arrogant for an aspiring Aussie writer like me to shun such a hugely successful Aussie author like Morris West. I should at least give it a try. I could always put it down if it took a distasteful turn.

And so I read it, right to the end as it happens. The subject matter was very much fast-paced political intrigue with a plot that followed the dubious activities of a fictional New South Wales politician and the hapless son-in-law who inherited his legacy. ‘Cassidy’ was neck-deep in corruption and swam in the muddy waters of drug trafficking and prostitution. There were murders and love affairs, infidelity and backstabbing on nearly every page. Yet, to my surprise, the author tackled these subjects with a great deal of aplomb and subtlety. At no point did he descend into lurid descriptions or tasteless dialogue. Instead, what emerged was an incredibly skilled expose of the potential corruption inherent in the human heart and the struggles that take place between the dual sides of our natures – the saint and the sinner.

As an example, the scene in which the hapless son-in-law succumbs to a night of adultery with a young temptress is 'suggested' rather than made explicit. There's no huffing and puffing, no unnecessary descriptions of anatomy or passion, yet we all know exactly what happened. Throughout the book the young woman is described rather fetchingly as 'Miss Owl Eyes' and no tacky objectification of her arises anywhere in the text. The scene in question simply fades after the young woman says that he and she should at least give each other one night before going back to their respective families. He agrees and the chapter ends. The next chapter begins with a hearty shared breakfast in the hotel dining room the next morning. Simple and effective.

That book taught me a lot. I’ve long held the belief that a rollicking good story, captured either on the page or on the screen, benefits nothing from the inclusion of lewdness and graphic description. We can, quite frankly, do without the nudity, the objectification, the horror, blood and gore, and most definitely without the (ever-increasing) presence of rape scenes. We don’t have to cater to the lowest common denominator. In fact, we can help raise the bar for the betterment of society.

In fact, as Christian writers it is our God-given responsibility to do so. I’ll leave you to contemplate Matthew 18:6:

‘If anyone causes one of these little ones--those who believe in me--to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.’

Melinda blogs extensively on emotional and psychological abuse at She has had a smattering of short stories, poems and articles published by both print and online publications over the last ten years. Her current efforts focus on scripting and illustrating a book aimed at helping the disadvantaged to make the most of their lives, discover their God-ordained purpose and break free from the chains of poverty. She has walked the walk for decades and, in fact, still does.


  1. Great post Melinda with lots of pertinent reminders. Yes, indeed - we Christian writers are accountable to Jesus. What we say and what we don't say as writers is vital. I loved your pictures and the Bible verses which express so much. Good on you for reading the Morris West book and glad it was a positive experience. I do agree that this information age is both good and bad - it's such a gift to mankind and yet fraught with peril and danger. Sifting out what is true and good and right and God-honouring is not always easy. Several years ago, during a season of shaping and pruning, God showed me how vital it is as a Christian writer to be a person of integrity. My walk with God was fundamental in my writing efforts. I have never forgotten that. I believe it adds a deeper layer of authenticity which the Holy Spirit can use. Bless you for sharing so well and for a much needed reminder.

  2. Thanks, Melinda, for a thoughtful and thought provoking blog.

    1. I'm glad you enjoyed it Jeanette. It was a difficult subject to tackle and I think that not everyone will agree with my words, which is perfectly okay, of course. We each have our own walks with God and he leads us all step by step.

    2. Yes, this is true. There are definitely different perspectives and approaches, but as a Christian I do agree we need to honour God, which doesn't mean shying away from the grittiness of life, but bringing grace and hope into dark places.

  3. Thank you Melinda,for a wonderful post. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on such a difficult topic.

  4. Great point, Melinda. It can be a challenge to be real and show the grittiness of true life, yet at the same time not cross boundaries we shouldn't as Christians. There are some grey areas that can be hard to navigate. Thanks for a thought-provoking post.

  5. Good thought-provoking thoughts, here. We can learn a lot from non-Christian writers with God-given talents, even though they don't recognise where or Who their creativity originally comes from.

  6. Interesting post, Morris West is an Australian writer who has grappled with faith and written from a Christian perspective more than any other best-selling Aussie writer I can think of. I haven't read the novel you speak of here but a long time ago I read "The Shoes of the Fisherman" and remember the tension of being Christ-like versus the politics of institutional religion(in this case the RC church but every denomination has its politics) played out in the novel profoundly challenging and deeply sympathetic to the experiences of the follower of Christ.

  7. Thought-provoking, and very relevant. Great post!