Weaving In Jesus

Blame this on Mark Bertrand. I try not to spend too much time writing about writing in these posts, because I hope people of all walks of life will be interested in the site. Also, I was going to spend the afternoon working on a novel. But then I read Mark's post on the state of Christian fiction today in which he linked to an interview I did, and I had to comment. One thing led to another, and the comment grew too long to post on Mark's site (it is his site, after all) so here it is instead. If you are a Christian writer or artist, what follows may be of particular interest. But even if that's not your line of work, it shouldn't take much imagination to apply some of these thoughts to your corner of Christian life.

So whether you're a writer or an artist or not, you might want to go read what Mark wrote, and perhaps the comments of his readers there, then come back to consider this:

All five of the points in Mark's blog strike me as important, and well made. I had not thought about the issue raised in number five, but it does ring true. Even the Christian authors I know often hesitate to admit a preference of one author over another for fear of causing offense. This is probably a function of good Christian charity to some extent, and to that extent it should be valued, although Mark's right to imply it sometimes gets in the way of constructive criticism. As the genre continues to mature, I suspect it will sort itself out.

It seems to me the elephant in the room is what a Christian novelist ought to do about Jesus, whether the author is published by a Christian or a secular house. And as Christian authors, we have to rigidly separate two concerns when it comes to “steering” stories toward our worldview. First there is the question of whether we should steer stories toward Him at all, and if so, then we have the question of how it should be done.

Regarding the first question, all great music, dance, painting, sculpture, poetry, motion pictures and novels communicate something fundamental yet ineffable about life as the author understands it. Some artists do that more transparently than others, but once the basics of craftsmanship have been learned, the communication of ineffable truth is precisely what separates great and timeless art from the merely entertaining or the decorative. Since life is short and every artist will produce a limited number of works in his career, it seems to me self-evident that the truth communicated should be the most important one the artist knows. If the artist is a Christian, yet he does not speak the truth of Christ somehow, he is like a doctor who has discovered the cure for cancer yet chosen to limit himself to cosmetic surgery. I will never understand how any Christian artist could paint or sculpt or dance or compose or film or write with anything but the gracious love of Jesus Christ as his underlying theme.

So, it seems to me the next question applies: not if a Christian author ought to point his readers toward the gospel, but rather, how?

Regarding this I think we should first of all remember Paul’s words: “The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor.” This means one novel might prepare the human heart to receive the gospel, and another might explain it. Some people (glossing too much onto the oft-quoted Mystery and Manners, I think) seem to believe a novel should serve only the former purpose, and it is somehow bad art to attempt the latter. This is nonsense. Consider The Last Supper. Consider the Sistine Chapel. It may require an artist who is a consummate master of his form to get an unbeliever to accept it, but the gospel can and should be spoken via every kind of art, including novels.

Also, Mark makes an excellent point on this score when he writes, “We have unique visions and we seek to implement them in various ways.” While God is one, every Christian knows Jesus in a unique way. It makes sense that every Christian author will write about Jesus uniquely. Some will bury Him deep; others will place him front and center. Who are we to say one approach is superior to the other, so long as good craftsmanship is there? It’s certainly na├»ve (or perhaps supercilious) to suggest a Christian novel is inferior to the secular variety because the underlying Christian message is not altogether underlying. Consider Robert B. Parker for example, whose serial protagonists, Spencer and Stone, almost never fail to moralize on feminism or on psychiatry, which Parker sometimes seems to treat like a religion. I disagree with Parker on both subjects, yet like millions of others, I thoroughly enjoy his work and read it anyway. If Parker (and dozens of other ABA authors I could mention) can get away with overt presentations of their belief systems, why can’t a Christian who is writing at the same level of skill do the same? I believe the Bible, so I believe the answer is, because “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing.” Yet Paul often preached the gospel plainly, and so should any novelist who feels the call to do so.

None of this should be interpreted to mean Christian novelists are exempt from good craftsmanship. Christians of all people must attend to quality, because slip-shod work reflects directly on Jesus’ reputation among unbelievers. As with any theme in any novel, if the gospel is there it must be essential to the story, woven in from the outset as the very heart of the thing. This is the true message of Mystery and Manners, and it is not a Christian fiction issue in particular. It is Creative Writing 101.

Posted byAthol Dickson at 4:50 PM  


Nicole said... October 12, 2007 at 8:01 AM  

No one in the blogosphere has said this better, Athol. No one. Amen and Amen. Well done.

Kay said... October 12, 2007 at 9:34 AM  

The past two posts on my blog are about this topic -- more or less. Why I read Christian Fiction.
So, I'm not going to go into it here. :)

Athol Dickson said... October 12, 2007 at 9:52 AM  

Thanks for the encouraging words, Nicole.

And Kay, I went over to your blog and read that post. Thank you for that great reminder of why I write Christian fiction! I recommended it and sent the link to about 200 of my closest Christian novelist friends :) via a loop I'm on, so expect a ton of hits.

Nicole said... October 12, 2007 at 10:31 AM  

[Well, gee, if we're talkin' blogs here, I also wrote an entry on mine entitled "Why I Read Christian Novels . . . Exclusively" 07/16/07(hopeofglory.typepad.com/into_the_fire). :)]

Becky said... October 12, 2007 at 10:55 AM  

Athol, this is an outstanding post. I agree with Nicole--you said what I believe with expert clarity. You also have the reputation to stand behind it.

As I mentioned in my comment at Mark's blog, this line, above all, resonated: the communication of ineffable truth is precisely what separates great and timeless art from the merely entertaining or the decorative. Thanks for posting, especially in light of the fact that it breaks from you usual pattern.


Kay said... October 12, 2007 at 5:24 PM  

Wow, thanks for the referral. I suddenly feel very shy.
But if I can't handle a few people looking at my blog -- what am I doing writing a book?!!

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