Wednesday, August 14, 2013

But Does It Have to Have a Message?

I'm going to start off by launching right into the question at hand:

Does a Christian writer have an obligation to be sure his writing advances the gospel (a.k.a. helps people come to a belief in the redemptive work of Christ or in some way build up the existing church) to be using his time in a way that is worthwhile? What if a writer chooses to write solely for the entertainment value he and his readers find in his books? Does that mean he is being a bad steward of the talent that God has given him?

As you can imagine, Christians in the arts fall on every part of the spectrum when they endeavor to answer this question. But when I look at it, I have to wonder...is writing any different than any other hobby or profession?

If you scrapbook avidly, should you be only putting together albums that preach the gospel or commemorate church events?

If you're a cabinet maker, does your woodwork need to have scripture graven upon it?

If you golf, is it a waste of time if you're not using the time to witness to your companions on the course?

If you're an accountant at a big corporation, are you spending too much time earning a paycheck and not enough serving God? And what if you work for a company that actively discourages any sort of religious dialogue in the workplace?

Cobblestone Brooke by Thomas Kinkade
Now, I realize the examples I've thrown out there are borderline absurd. But is there something about narrative that somehow bears a greater responsibility to convey biblical truth than cabinetmaking? What about visual arts? Thomas Kinkade, the "painter of light," was said to be a man of faith, but he painted tons upon tons of pictures that were merely pretty with no significant gospel narrative attached. Does that make his entire wall art empire a sham?

As you can probably tell, I am not of the mind that we have to tell the story of Christ in order to write fiction Christians can feel good about reading or I can justify writing. I am of the belief that if my work engages the reader with excellence, that we honor God through a job well done. We small-time authors might not get to engage thousands of fans and share the way we try to live out the gospel with them, but we might get to someday do so with one, or six, twenty. Last I checked, God doesn't keep a tally of how many people we told our testimony or mete out rewards accordingly. And it's not as if our writing is the only route we have to touching the lives of others.

This is one of those blog posts that exists mainly to pose questions. I have come to place of peace on writing "entertainment" fiction. What do you, as a reader or a writer, have to say on your own stance?

9 comments:

  1. Gee, Becky, them's fightin words. :-)

    A long while ago I read a book about the secular/sacred split in our society. It's this idea that you can only glorify God in the church ministry somewhere, not in your daily life. You can't glorify Him as a house painter or a burger-flipper--only as a pastor or possibly by changing diapers in the nursery. We have the same split in our thinking about writing. Instead of spec fic, we have to have Christian spec fic or God will frown on it.

    I'm personally writing to entertain my husband and kids, and if I entertain other people, too, bonus! I'm not going to try to convert anybody. They want to discuss Jesus, they can come do it on my blog or in an email.

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  2. In the words of Fred Savage: 'Kidnapped by Pirates is good.'Honestly I think that just about sums it up. At least for my opinion.

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  3. Just getting ready to write a post on the same topic. Guess Realm Makers and Mike Duran got us all thinking, eh?

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    1. Yeah, it does seem to be the topic du jour...though honestly, this is something I think about almost every time I sit down to write. The thing that struck me most recently is how there is nothing much more ridiculous than a person who takes themselves too seriously. We hide our pride problem behind the noble pursuit of excellence. I'm all for excellence. I'm not so much for anyone patting me on the back and saying, "You, dear author, have become very Important." For me, I'd much rather hear, "I had a blast reading that book--and oh, yeah, I liked the message too."

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  4. The golf example, and maybe also the accountant example, are a little different from the others. I think some Evangelicals might answer affirmatively to the questions, that not explicitly telling your acquaintances in recreational activities or the workplace about Christ is indeed a waste of your time and a rejection of your duty and reason for still being alive in the world.

    "Last I checked, God doesn't keep a tally of how many people we told our testimony or mete out rewards accordingly."
    I think that is critical. I don't want to be yet another church-detractor, but I think many Evangelicals really get that wrong. They really believe that the quantity of the times that we "witness," as well as the regularity and the amount of deliberate intentionality behind the act of "witnessing" really does signify the value and the quality of our faith. I've heard a pastor say that the only reason we aren't immediately raptured into heaven when we are saved is so that we can witness to unsaved. (Typing that previous sentence with all those Evangelical hot words without putting quotation marks around them really makes skin crawl.) I'm still conflicted about all of this.

    Sorry for ranting.

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    1. Not at all, Bainespal--you always bring up good food for thought, and I appreciate your input. And yes, you're right that the examples aren't exactly parallel, but I wanted to be sure to include points that made sense to the person who isn't necessarily creative in the overt sense.

      Thanks for adding your perspective the discussion!

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  5. My writing has a lot of references or parallels to my faith in it - some of them very overt - but in truth it just comes organically, on its own. I've found that when I have a story idea in which I can't immediately see any Christian themes or messages, if I try to "force the issue" the whole thing seems stilted, stiff, and... well, forced. But if I just write the story the way it comes to me, let it grow and develop on its own, the spiritual aspects grow naturally too, whether overt or deeply subtle. Our imaginations are the soil our stories grow from. If that soil is completely saturated with the context of a Christian worldview, then the story can't help but reflect that. Again, it may not be overt - the writer might not even be able to see it, if its a worldview aspect they take for granted - but it will be there.
    I'll be honest: it's hard for me sometimes, not to force the issue. But I'm learning that letting the story grow on its own is best. My attention is put to better use maintaining and continuing to develop my worldview and thinking; the spirituality of my writing will follow naturally.

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  6. I think Mary Ruth nailed it. Does it have to have a message? Maybe.

    There are those who say put a message in, or it's not really Christian fiction. There are others who say don't put a message in, you'll turn people off.

    How 'bout if I write the story I want, and you write the story you want. Mine will probably have a message in it, or two or three, just because my characters tend to go off in Plato-style dialogs. I figure the greatest Storyteller ever always had messages in his stories. Plato always had a message too. So why not?

    I realize some people will brush off my work as too intellectual or too religious. that's fine. I consider myself to be writing for intellectual religious people. ;)

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  7. Becky, I applaud you writing this post because I definitely agree that some writers are called to have a "blatant" message in their storyline while others are simply called to write from a Christian worldview. It all goes to who they are "destined" to reach with their writing. :)

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